The sacred grove at Oorani is the last stand of Tropical Dry Evergreen Forests — a postage stamp-sized green patch in the middle of insipid featureless coastal plain dotted with coconut plantations. It does not exactly draw your attention. That, however, would be a huge miss.
Trees are an inconvenience. Leaves falling, light being blocked, snakes showing up, tree roots destabilizing the walls, the need to widen the approach road - we have so many excuses to cut down our trees, and none for planting one.
While the glens and vales of the Nilgiris cope with a torrent of tourists, the resident and endemic birds have the hills to themselves. There's no better time to observe them nesting and bringing up their families. Without moving a muscle, just to prove that lazy birding does have its rewards.
Many birders shun Ranganathittu for the artifice of its environs and the easy photographic pickings. But the birds seem at home here, and that matters! Here's a photo-essay from a recent visit when the Eurasian Spoonbills had just started to fledge and the Asian Openbill Storks were nesting
Visiting the same location time and again has been the secret of this year's winter birding escapades. It's March but the migrants are still here. Among this week's surprises was a flock of Garganey, wintering ducks from Europe that I have observed at Kaikondrahalli for the first time
At first they looked like coconuts bobbing in the water. The next second we were gaping with wide-eyed delight at a family of Smooth-coated Otters!
Champion Swimmer’s Rule #1: Keep your nose above the water
My first brush with the Smooth-coated Otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) was back in 2008 when I saw one surface near a small rock islet in Ranganathittu bird sanctuary near Mysore. Seeing our boat it dived underwater immediately and we never saw it again.
Curious otters look at their visitors
Three years later I ran into them again in an irrigation channel near Mysore. On a random Saturday stroll along the agricultural lands around the outskirts of the city we heard a strange barking call from a brimming irrigation channel. A casual glance turned up nothing but a second later we saw a head rising from the water – it could have easily been mistaken for a shrivelled and dried coconut floating on water. From a distance they looked like floating coconut husks
The otter then let itself be washed away downstream by the currents and we thought we had seen the last of it. But a few minutes later we saw the otter again with the rest of its group. There were about seven individuals and they were climbing up on to the agricultural land above using the roots of trees that were jutting out on the embankment. Check out the webbed feet!
In the final episode of her Bedni Bugyal travelogue, Jennifer Nandi crosses a bridge and a river into another consciousness, one that holds the tranquility of the Himalaya and perturbation over its future in delicate balance
The snow-clad flanks of the hills reflected in Bedni Kund was a vision that sustained us on that trying and redeeming journey
The day breaks warm with birdsong. Always and every time, new and irresistible distractions wake us early. It is a good thing we are birders since the rooms are saturated with dust and stale odours. So, we escape the fusty accommodation to strain our ears at the muted lisps of birds fussing in the underbrush near the sun-baked mud hut of our host. With permission we approach, and watch her deft use of primitive tools to prepare our meal for the day.
The locals gather around and we learn their hazardous ways. They complain of diminishing reserves of fuel wood for cooking and heating homes, depleted soils, and overgrazed pastures. This surely suggests worsening conditions for life in the mountains. It brings notice to the linkage between alpine deforestation and lowland floods. The degraded forests hold less soil, catch less runoff and stabilize fewer slopes. Rapid weathering renders the soil fragile. Nature at odds with its environment can’t thrive; and when the depredation is ruthless, no seed can survive in such uncongenial ground.
Amid the balmy verdant forests are vast monocultures of blue pine
Water is a fragile commodity – the scarcity of drinking water in the villages is growing. In 2007 there was a high rate of run-off because of the variability of precipitation. The monsoon-like downpours we experienced in early May that year caused higher sediment loads in the rivers which must have surged in floods onto the Ganges plain – washing our future into the sea. The fragility of the biota is compounded by bedrock shifts. The Himalaya are dramatic testimony to the relentless power of drifting continents. In this context, is the … → Read more →
The Asian Paradise Flycatcher can appear quite unbelievable for those laying eyes on it for the first time
A female Asian Paradise Flycatcher
I distinctly remember the first time I saw an Asian Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi). It was May or early June and I was in my mango orchard in Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh. The orchard with its motley grove of mangoes, bamboo clumps, figs, amla and guava trees reeled under the tropical summer afternoon. Sweat ran down my back and the loo — the hot, dry summer wind — blustered through the orchard, its pitch rising and falling as it singed the trees. The ground was littered with leaves so dry that they crumbled to dust at the slightest footfall. Long lines of soldier ants went about their business, a peafowl fluttered occasionally, laboriously cutting through the heat, and a few langur monkeys waited out the afternoon, their natural ruffian instincts curbed by the heat.
Oblivious to all this, my attention was focused on hurling stones to bring down “amiyas”, as unripe mangoes are called in those parts. Stone in hand I scanned the trees to locate a suitable target, when I saw a small white bird with a black head and extremely long trailing streamers fly in and perch on a horizontal branch about 15 feet from the ground. I froze in mid-throw, staring like never before. There was a sudden break in the loo and the long white streamers of the bird dropped flaccidly below the branch while the bird stared towards the bamboo clump nearby. It was there for about 30 seconds and then it flew. The spectacular male in white morph, photographed in the Nilgiris at over 2,200 metres … → Read more →
Bright yellow, almost 12 inches long and half a foot across, it seemed almost artificial among the bright green leaves where I found it. I wondered first if it was a life-like miniature kite that was stuck in the leaves. I called out to the Green Ogres and exclaimed “Butterfly!” and got a curt rap on the knuckles. “Moth!” Well, most of the moths I had come across hardly had the vivid patterns I was looking at, so I knew this one was special. We were looking at the Malaysian Moon Moth (Actias maenas)
Though dirt-common, the Brahminy Kite is both gorgeous and majestic if you care to give it a second glance An adult Brahminy Kite surveys the landscape beneath overcast skies To quote my good friend Nikhil: “The only mistake the Brahminy Kite ever committed that made him a non-celebrity among birders is that he became a little too common.” That sums up the Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) for you. Elegant, breathtakingly colorful, and boasting of a close-to-divine place in Hindu mythology and religion, it happens to be only a little too common for people to take a second glance… Back in my childhood, my mother used to say that sighting the bird (called Krishnaparunthu in Malayalam) brought luck as it was a harbinger of god’s blessings. A couple shares an intimate moment
The bird, which occurs widely across Asia, has many names. In India it is the Brahminy Kite and Garuda (the steed of Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the Hindu divine trinity).Elsewhere, it is known as the Red-backed Sea Eagle. An adult Brahminy Kite keeps watch from a high vantage point
Adults have a white head, neck, breast and nape and chestnut-brown wings darkening to black wingtips. The beak is pale yellow, almost ivory-coloured, and the eyes are black. Juveniles have duller, brownish plumage and can be distinguished from the similar-coloured Black Kite by the rounded tail. The call, a shrill “keeew”, sounds a little meek for so majestic a bird. Two juveniles soar – the rounded tail is diagnostic in differentiating it from Black Kites