To Urigam after 4 long months…

A scene by the Cauvery
Finally, after four months of inactivity, I got an opportunity to head once again to Urigam, along with some KANS* members (by now even I was one). This is the very same place I had been to for a ground survey a few months ago. Except it had a stark contrast in colour: it was now covered in green. A couple of weeks prior to our visit, it had rained well, triggering an almost complete transformation of the vegetation. Trees that were bone-dry months ago had sprouted new green leaves. Grass and shrubs shot up from the ground. The entire forest looked refreshed and recharged.

We were welcomed by a Green Bee-Eater (Merops orientalis) as we approached Uganiyam. He sat bang in the middle of the jeep track and I could not resist clicking his portrait.

Welcomed by a Green Bee-eater

We reached around noon, ate our packed lunches which we had bought from one of the small eateries at a village nearby, and set off to do what we came to do – roam around! Most of us decided to take the route from Uganiyam to Dabbagulli (approximately 7 km).

Apart from the Grey Hornbills, which were all over the place, the first bird we saw as we started walking was the Sirkeer Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus leschenaultii) — a lifer for me. Along the way, we split into three groups and took separate tracks away from the main jeep trail which led to Dabbagulli. Khusro, Valli and I walked till we reached a dry stream bed and then walked along the dry stream to reach the Cauvery river.

Here we sat down and relaxed for a while near the bank as it was getting really hot and we were quite tired after walking for around 4 km. I sat watching a flock of Small Green Bee-Eaters conduct their aerial sorties close to the water’s surface, when all of a sudden Khusro exclaimed, “Deer! Spotted deer! Across the river!”

We froze, not moving a muscle, as we knew that even the slightest movement would scare them away. All this while I strained my eyes to catch a glimpse of them. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t spot them. Finally, by the time I caught sight of them, the deer spotted us, froze for a second and then took off. But not before I managed a shot of their escape. Happy with our spotting, we began walking back towards Uganiyam.

The deer take to their heels

We reached Uganiyam around 5 pm and sat by the Cauvery. By this time Laxmi, George, Satish and the doc had joined us. We sat on the rocks whiling away time talking about various things but mostly just relaxing and taking in the breath-taking beauty of the forest around us. After a while, all of a sudden, Satish shouted from behind me: “Elephants!”

I whipped around to see a herd of about 10-11 animals across the river. They had come down for a drink and a couple of individuals had entered the water. There were two calves in the herd. They were only about 100 meters away from us so I dashed closer to get a better shot using every possible boulder and shrub as cover. As I was doing this, a villager in a WHITE shirt appeared out of nowhere, right in front of the line of sight of the herd. As soon as they saw him, the herd started moving away into the forest. All I could do was curse him for the rest of the day, and the next!

After our excitement of seeing the herd so close had waned a bit, we were in for another treat. A Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) perched on a tree on the opposite bank. Thanks to Khusro’s spotting scope we all had a good look at it.

Elephants by the river bank

It was getting dark. Doc, Valli and I decided to go in search of Aparna and Anand in Doc’s Tata Safari (they had not returned yet). We found them along the way and they hopped in with us. On our way back, I was in for another lifer – Nightjars. Though they were all over the place, we could not identify the species. Some of them did not move from the ground until the vehicle was almost on top of them. One even flew onto the bonnet and sat on the windshield for a second. At one point I asked Doc to stop the vehicle as I wanted to get a better look at one of the nightjars on the jeep track. While we were observing the bird intently, a movement next to the bird caught my eye. There, in the grass, crossing the track, was a baby Indian Rock Python (Python molurus). We held our breath in excitement, watching the snake cross and disappear into the shrubs. Excited with our sightings and thanking the lord for our good luck, we continued back to Uganiyam.

We reached to find a very common but disturbing scene. A herdsman along with a herd of cattle about 50-60 in number had settled near the Uganiyam Anti-Poaching Camp for the night. Even though grazing inside the Reserve Forest is allowed, keeping the cattle overnight is not. But we were just mute spectators as there was nothing much we could do. The forest officials know of this and refuse to do anything about it.

The next morning I woke before six, picked up my camera and went down to the Cauvery for a little photo-shoot. My ‘model’ was looking gorgeous as ever, draped in green…

Sometime later a small herd of Chital (Axis axis) with a couple of stags appeared near the opposite bank. Bonnet Macaques (Macaca radiata) accompanied the deer. It is said that they forage together in the forest and rely on each other to detect predators.

After a couple of hours, I went for a walk along the path (which I have named the ‘Bear Highway’) where I had found Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus) tracks during the ground survey. Although I did not find as many tracks as last time, I did spot a couple of them. After walking down the ‘Bear Highway’ I reached the stream which joins the Cauvery, sat beside it for a while and headed back to camp. On the way back heard a loud whistling call which told me to look up instinctively – it was a Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela) flying high in the sky!

With this last sighting ended my short but very rewarding trip to Urigam after a long time.

A cicada bid us goodbye

*KANS – Kenneth Anderson Nature Society
Text and photographs: Arun Menon


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