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
In the deciduous forests fringing the Western Ghats, look out for the charming Chestnut-headed Bee-Eater Bee eaters are probably a bird-lover’s (and photographer’s) favourite birds — breathtakingly beautiful, amazingly acrobatic and acquiescent. Early into my birding days, I ran into the Chestnut-headed Bee Eater (Meropus leschenaulti) when I had imagined that the Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis) was the end of the road to birding bliss. A Chestnut-headed Bee-eater looks out from its vantage near Valparai, Tamil Nadu The chestnut head and crown are definite pointers to identification. A chestnut-and-black line runs horizontally at the base of the neck, under the off-white/ cream-coloured cheeks and chin. The chestnut on the head tapers back, well beyond the shoulders to blend into the rich foliage-green of the wings and tail. The body, breast down to the vent, sports a lighter shade of green, and the inner tail-feathers are a dull olive. Perched on a mud bank, maybe near a nest, near Valparai, Tamil Nadu
Quite a few people, in my experience, confuse the European Bee Eater (Merops apiaster) and the Green Bee-eater for the Chestnut-headed. The chestnut head in this species is darker in comparison to the golden-yellow of the Green Bee-eater in breeding plumage, and the cheeks are off-white, compared to the blue cheeks of the Green Bee-eater. The European Bee-eater, too, sports a chestnut crown, but it ends a little above the forehead, and then a dark band like a highwayman’s hood runs over the eyes. In the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater the chestnut runs all the way to just above the beak and over the eyes, and ends in a dark line under the eye.
Showing off the bold brown collar
If you are straining against the bright sky, unable to discern the colors, the tail is an easy giveaway. The long spike, present in most bee eaters, is absent and the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater’s tail ends in a shallow w. The call is a repetitive ‘trill’ — gruffer than the … → Read more →
In the presence of two regal cats we watched mesmerised and awestruck. Some of that aura rubbed off on us
I have wandered only a handful of forests. Most wildlife enthusiasts might have traveled more in one year than I have over the last five. So I never complain about not having seen most of our mammals including the nation’s heartthrob, the tiger.
But I have always worried about not having met His Highness the Leopard. The jungles I have roamed have plenty of leopards and I have come across ample evidence that pointed towards their activity. In some cases I have missed the beast by a hair’s breadth: scores of pug marks, plenty of scat, but no leopard.
While I think of the tiger as a samurai — bold, always in the limelight and powerful — I equate the leopard to a ninja — silent, cunning, unseen and deadly. Maybe I’m getting carried away here so let me cut to the chase and tell you about my first leopard! It’s kinda obvious by now that I finally did see one, right?
A few weeks ago I was on safari in Mudumalai (it was in fact the first safari of the trip) along with some like-minded friends. Around 4:45 in the evening we were inside the tourist zone of the park looking at chital and gaur. We were talking in hushed whispers when, suddenly, the watcher who accompanied us called our attention to the other side of the vehicle exclaiming softly, “Leopard, leopard!”
At the sound of the word the adrenalin rush I felt must have clocked 240 kph. I frantically scanned the area to which he pointed. I was afraid that the cat would slink away into the undergrowth.
Then, through the dense clump of bushes I spied rosettes. The driver inched the vehicle forward. And there it was — a magnificent leopard bathing in the evening sun!
Half asleep and sunbathing
The scene was magical. The yellowish leopard dozing in orange sun-glow just a few yards away. Unbelievable. Unexpected. Lazing nonchalantly, it lifted its head and aimed a penetrating stare straight … → Read more →
A tree may be our primary connection with the universe — but it will take us all our lives to acknowledge it The Ficus virens that outgrew the shrineShashwat: Haven’t the Americans built big cities, warships, fighter jets and so on? Me: I guess so.Shashwat And the Germans have made very fine automobiles and autobahns?Me: Yes, they have.Shashwat: The French have the TGV!Me: Yes, so?Shashwat: So, in India, did we spend all our time celebrating festivals and meditating?Me: SilenceThe canopy, loved by both peacocks and Hanuman langurs Five minutes later the hush still rules as fervent devotees accompany the lord through the city, drumbeats announcing the procession a kilometre away from where a Sunday morning chat is languishing for lack of words. Blame it on Discovery Channel. The best I could do was distract him with a tale.
Once I saw a cobra make its way through the network of aerial roots
Back in my great-great-grandmother’s time, a young boy had the duty of striking the hour. One fateful day he may have dawdled after his morning smoke or perhaps gazed at a damsel too long – and missed striking an hour. This is where things get curious, for while he missed it, the hour was still struck. His inquiries failed to find the person who had struck the hour in his absence. The lad, true to instinct, concluded that it was none other than Lord Hanuman, whom he worshipped, who had done it on his behalf. Grateful to the Lord but mindful of the fact that he had inconvenienced Him, he gave up the job. He built a shrine, planted a Ficus sapling (Ficus virens) in front of it, and announced to all and sundry that from … → Read more →