Old Magazine House

I have been planning to go to the Western Ghats for a birding trip since long, many articles, pictures and stories have been coming my way since a long time about how the bio-diversity here is amazing. Eventually this Diwali we managed to go and finally made a road trip down to North Karnataka.

The first destination on the list was The Old Magazine House a jungle camp that is run and managed by The Jungle Lodges and Resorts. As it turned out this place is a heaven for bird watchers!

Tucked slightly away from the highway, a 2 kms off-road drive brings you to this small camp. Amidst tall trees and very little sun peeping through the camp gives you a feel of calm and peace and tranquility about it. They have a small area that has been cleared of the trees where they have put some bird baths and on days when there is no rain around these very bird baths are an absolute favourite of the birds. The birds come here in throngs and they have put some green nets with small gaps made for the camera so that the birds are not disturbed by the bird watchers and photographers.

The first evening itself after around 5 till around 7 we counted 32 different species of birds at one spot, all you had to do was keep your note and pen ready, we would sit around sipping tea or reading a book and the birds would come! I mean I have gone to a lot of places to spot birds and yes there is a lot of fun and a sense of achievement in walking on trails and identifying birds but this was a first!

 

Here you just wait and all the birds from the surrounding woods come and give their attendance! How cool is that!? We counted 48 species in 24 hours and that I think is an amazing number! So many firsts that I cannot even tell you! This place is an absolute paradise for bird watchers who are lazy to go on trails I tell you!

 

The staff in the place is also very well equipped in terms of bird, plant, reptile identification and can have a conversation with us quelling all our curiousness. They not only are efficient that ways but are extremely caring and hospitable, never imagined govt tourist houses to have such a courteous and caring staff. They made some awesome meals as well and also took us out on trails in the woods.

 

The boarding facilities are basic, whilst the cottages are under repair the dormitory that they have are quite simple and good and adequate. Very neatly run this place has to be up on your list if you are looking to go birding in the Western Ghats. Here are some of the birds that we spotted here!

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Flame Throated Bulbul

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White Bellied Flycatcher

 

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Spider Hunter playing hide and seek with us

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Orange Headed Thrush & Fulvetta

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Emerald Dove, the state bird of Tamil Nadu

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Asian Paradise Flycatcher (female)

 

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Hump Nosed Pit Viper. Apart from the birds there are many other things to spot too 😀

 

 

 

 

 

 

The birds of Binsar

So the road trip came to a brief halt for two days at Binsar, where we shun the car and took the boots, off we went walking on trails into the woods looking for the winged beauties, we did get to see a bounty, whilst all were not keen enough to be photographed but still the paparazzi in me did manage to catch hold of a few as these lil beauties hopped, strutted, jumped, laughed yes that too whilst I got busy with my Nikon.

Please do click on the collage to see individual photos of all the birds and the names of all of them are also revealed. Special thanks to our bird watching guide Jack who helped me identify all of them and showed me many others as well which we could not capture with our camera but remain in our hearts! 🙂

 

Pench National Park

I am sure most of you are aware that The Jungle Book is being remade and being released in April by Disney. Rudyard Kipling‘s imaginations about Mowgli, Bhageera, Sherkhan and Baloo is what most of us Indians have grown up on. I doubt there maybe any people of my generation that wouldn’t be aware of this story. What fuelled the imagination of Kipling were the jungles of Pench. Even the most famous documentary Tiger : The spy in the Jungle by BBC was shot here, which again I am sure most of us would have seen on TV.

 

Pench National Park derives its name from the river Pench, it can be best accesed via the Madhya Pradesh Side of Seoni and Chhindwara districts. The forest is a dry dedicious forest and sheds all leaves by March making it an excellent time for viewing during summers. We have made a pact as a family to spend atleast 2-4 days looking for a tiger in march every year and so this year it was the turn of Pench after we had visited Ranthambore, Kanha, Bandhavgarh & Melghat. The jungles of central India which many decades ago were all one are pretty diverse, whilst Bandhavgarh and Kanha side are sal forests which are evergreen, Melghat and Pench are dry deciduous forests with loads of teak trees.

 

The jungle was pretty dry when we went, there was a carpet of dry leaves all around the forest as the trees had shed them and were not yet ready with new growth. This is a great advantage if you want to spot birds, less leaves, less foliage always aid in great viewing of animals and birds.

 

Pench has its own charm, at the outset you might even feel the jungle can’t hold enough life as it seems so dry, however, only a small matter of about 35000 spotted deer, over 8000 sambar survive, making it a perfect place for Tigers to live and thrive. We did most of our safari’s via the Turia gate and the area in which we were searching for the tiger some 4 tigress’ lived and all of them were with cubs. This news brought us all great happiness, for we are yet to witness a full family of tiger in one frame. I have always seen tigers who are alone, it would be great to watch a group of them, playing with each other.

 

Anticipation was ripe as we started our first morning safari at the crack of dawn, the weather was cold and a nip in the air, we needed a pull over for the first two hours of the safari. The bird life viewing was excellent, within an hour into the park we had spotted a Pied Malabar Hornbill, Mottled wood owl, spotted owlet, jungle owlet, racket-tailed drongo, Indian Roller, Wooly necked Stork, Rudy Shelduck, Painted Storks, Great Teat, Flameback woodpecker, Vultures of two species to name a few!

 

Bare(bear) necessities was the song on my mind all the time, the jungle seemed just enough for the wildlife to thrive without being lush in greenery or water. The waterholes were all full of activity, after about two hours of driving and no calls or any clue about the Tiger’s movement we decided it was better to sit at a waterhole and wait. We selected a waterhole that the guide told us was the Baigan Nala Tigress’ favourite spot. She had 3 cubs and that sounded like music to my ears.

 

We spent about an hour and half at that waterhole, during which we got an inkling of life in the jungle, as we reached the waterhole we saw an egret and a wild boar drinking water, whilst an Indian Roller dived around for insects that only it could see, there was a white breasted kingfisher who stood transfixed in its spot, two cormorants were drying their wings in the sun after a dip in the pool and a bee eater hunting about as well. As we waited we saw the Boar disappear after a while and a group of langur’s came to drink water, after they departed a group of spotted deer came to quench their thirst, they drunk water in a peculiar manner, the fawns and females all drank leaving space in the middle where the antler came and took position and drank to its hearts content, Rhesus macaque followed the deer and then it was the turn of the sambar to take a dip.

 

Life around a waterhole was so busy, I had once read a book whose name I forget, written by an english lady who spent about a month in Dudhwa National Park, she would go to a waterhole everyday morning where her Mahaout would drop her and she would sit all day like a wood log observing and soaking in the jungle till sunset when her elephant would come to pick her up. I had loved reading her experience back then and it was good to have a slight insight into that this day.

 

The calmness, the activity, the sounds of nature, the way life moves about sitting and watching, talking less and just soaking does it for me. It gives me a kick that I doubt anything else would. The jungle is there to soak and I tried my best to soak as much of it in as I could.

 

We didn’t get to see the tiger this time around, however, the jungle was still pretty hustling with a lot of life and that kept us busy. I was fortunate enough to witness a Peregrine Falcon sitting on a far off branch and then taking off leisurely. For those who might not know, it is the fastest diving bird and one of the fastest members in the animal world. When it makes it scoop to hunt it can reach a speed of 350 kmph. Go tell that to Ferrari folks, now thats a standard to match up to! Just imagine it for a second, the bird hunts parrots in mid air, parrots are pretty swift flyers themselves!

 

Our luck with the Tigers was overwhelming in Bandhavgarh last year and so this time around we were not lucky enough to spot one however, I still have fallen for this jungle as it makes for excellent viewing of animals, the dry trees and low foliage are an advantage which many green forests at times though far more beautiful do not offer.

 

I will leave you with a few pictures of the sights of Pench NP. Hope you like them!

A herd of Sambar cross the road

A herd of Sambar cross the road

A Grey Hornbill

A Grey Hornbill

A Changeable Hawk-Eagle awaits its turn at the waterhole

A Changeable Hawk-Eagle awaits its turn at the waterhole

A family of wild boar run about

A family of wild boar run about

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A shikra keenly keeps an eye on proceedings

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The head of the herd takes the prime position for a drink!

Pench River Bed has maximum greenery for the deer to graze, boars to dig the dirt, jackals stalk them, peacocks strut about, the Vultures await an opportune moment!

Pench River Bed has maximum greenery for the deer to graze, boars to dig the dirt, jackals stalk them, peacocks strut about, the Vultures await an opportune moment!

A mottled wood owl didn't seem to amused at spotting us in their territory!

A mottled wood owl didn’t seem too amused at spotting us in their territory!

This handsome dude wanted to pose..

This handsome dude wanted to pose..

Finally a near good shot of the Greater Racket Tailed Drongo after 3 years!

Finally a near good shot of the Greater Racket Tailed Drongo after 3 years!

In the jungle, where ever you go, whatever you do, remember someone is watching you at all times!

In the jungle, where ever you go, whatever you do, remember someone is watching you at all times!

The Miracle

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“To be standing together in a frosty field, looking up into the sky, marvelling at birds and revelling in the natural world around us, was a simple miracle. And I wondered why we were so rarely able to appreciate it.”
Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Memoir

I read that quote at Cedo centre in Moti Virani in Kutch and it made me stop and think, the world is abundant of things to marvel at and revelling in ain’t it? If you want to that is, if you are able to stop for a moment, pause, breathe, think and let it dawn upon you! How busy have we become in our routines that we have just stopped noticing so many wonderful things around us. Let us endeavour to just give things one moment more, let us soak up things around us, find the joy of small things and I am quite sure they can make us so much more thankful to this world around us! 🙂

Bird Watching

Honestly, till before I bought my camera, I was never inclined in watching birds or identifying them, I did know a few species that were common but nothing more than that. Its the camera’s advent in my life and simultaneously friends like Shail, IHM and Sangeeta that I slowly but surely started identifying the birds. Once into the identifying thing, I realised how little we took notice of such pretty creatures, even though some of them were so near us we knew so little about them. After beginning to identify thanks to these buddies, internet and FB Group like the Indian birds, I have noted that as many as 19 different species visit my garden!!!! I never knew so many different fella’s actually came about to take a look at me every year!

The Birds of Indian Subcontinent (book), internet amazingly aided in the keen interest that was not developing. In fact since I started noticing these birds and I am thankful once again to my lovely friends Shail, Ihm and Sangeeta for this I have realised that every step I take outdoors is now so much more interesting than before, that so many of these fellas are there to be looked at, identified and noted albeit in the mind!

The day my friend Nitinbhai sent me the details of the Bird Conservation Society of Gujarat’s program of bird watching in Kutch I had decided that I was going to go. It was a total no-brainer, I knew that perhaps the best season is probably still about 50 days away but I wanted to find out the places where to look more than anything. What I did not anticipate was the fact that I was going to be amidst a crowd of hard core bird watchers (read lovers), Ornithologists, Botanists, Conservationalists and Environment activists!

It was fascinating to listen to these folks either when I asked them something or whilst they conversed with each other. To be frank I felt tiny, there was so little I knew about the world around us and I wondered what the hell was I doing all this while? So many questions never arised in my mind about how what happened and why? The finer details of all things around us amazed me and that there are so many people who actually look out for these things and appreciate it and try to understand solve the puzzle is surely something to be appreciated.

I also met one very senior bird watcher, Mr Shantilal Varu, apparently he has been keenly into bird watching and record keeping since over 50 years!!!! I found it quite staggering really, in an age when no such bird books were available as easily, there was no internet how this gentleman went about watching birds and identifying them. Fortunately for me, he was in our jeep at all times during this trip and I absolutely was amazed by the amount of knowledge the man had gathered about birds from so many years of observing them, he could tell us their traits, flight patterns, their call types and so much more. Also he would just not guess any bird unless he got a clear sight of it. Everything thing he saw, he would carefully note it down in small writing pad he had at all times. He then regularly transfer’s all this records into a diary that he maintains which could be useful for bird record keeping! Quite intriguing to me how much a man can love something and how dedicated and disciplined he becomes thanks to it. Simple pleasures of life I guess are just around us, its only about when do we realise them!

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All in all I must confess I am falling in love with this activity, yes, perhaps I will never be as dedicated to this one thing or be very disciplined about record keeping and yet I must say this bird watching is enthralling. 🙂

Since we are onto the bird watching theme, here is one passage migrant, a first timer for me, Red Backed Shrike, that Mr. Shantilal helped me identify. This Red Backed Shrike is a carnivorous passerine bird of the Shrike family, also known as the butcher bird for the way it consumes its prey. You can visit here to see how it holds its prey and eats it. This bird breeds in most of Europe and western Asia and winters in tropical Africa. Whilst it makes its journey to Africa for about a month in September you can spot them in Kutch! Amazing traveller these birds are I tell you! Here are a few shots of it that I managed to capture! 🙂

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Cat on the prowl! The Warning calls galore!

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Constant tweeting made me open my hall window and check out and amidst the foliage of the peacock flower stood this little imp making a racket of sorts, it had actually spotted a little cat in the bushes below tending to its three little ones and this one had decided they were all threats and kept on calling all and sundry!

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Jumping up and down, screaming for attention!

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Which it got plenty from me, thankfully hid behind the curtain of my window it didn’t see me and allowed me to get a few close up shots!

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Handsome na???

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Once all others were called, the babblers, mynah’s and bulbul’s he then quietly stood displaying the fact that he had poise too, he then just looked about as the bigger birds got to the job of warning all others about the cat and the kitten! He spotted them and relayed the message to the others. Job well done I say!