The Green Ogre has been away being more green and less ogre, and thus his stomping grounds have been quiet.
I have enjoyed the most immersive wildlife and nature experiences over the last few weeks at some exquisite biodiversity sites in southern India.
October 9 through 12, my friends Sahastra, Sandeep and I were at Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary, best known to most people as BR Hills. Thanks to Dr. Prashanth, who accompanied us on the trip, we experienced the forest like never before. For the first time in three trips, we enjoyed three days of clear weather. Undergrowth was thicker even in the drier areas of the forest, which made viewing difficult. However, we were lucky to see parts of the forest that we had never seen before and get a closer understanding of the Soligas, the tribe that inhabits the forests of the Biligirirangans. Also, we had some very good sightings of the Blue-bearded Bee Eater and Changeable Hawk Eagle. More about this later.
Last week, work took me to a few locations in Tamil Nadu that offered, as a sidelight, some very enriching birding and nature experiences. On October 14 and 15, I was in Meghamalai, a cluster of tea gardens tucked away in the HighWavy hills of Theni district. On our way up into the hills, we came across stands of exquisite moist deciduous and evergreen forest. We heard an elephant snort just a few feet away from the car and caught glimpses of the endangered Nilgiri LaughingThrush and the Painted Bush Quail.
On Friday and Saturday, I visited TopSlip and Valparai in the Anamalais. The northeast monsoon was active in the hills of Tamil Nadu and mist made viewing very difficult, but the few moments of clear light in the jungle offered me memorable glimpses of Yellow-browed Bulbuls, Asian Fairy Bluebirds, White-bellied Treepies and a variety of other birds endemic to the moist-deciduous and evergreen forests.
In Valparai, I was introduced to the Jungle Striped Squirrel. As if not to be ignored, a pair of Malabar Giant Squirrels came up to the car to get a good look at me. Very cute, but also very dangerous for the squirrels. On the 40 hair-pin-bend climb to Valparai, there are tracts of lush forest where the endangered Lion-tailed Macaque and Nilgiri Tahr can be seen. We were unlucky not to see any, mostly due to the bad weather. Tourists often feed the animals, and of late, there have been a number of road casualties including a few Lion-tailed Macaques.
The Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) runs an excellent information centre, one of the best of its kind in the country, at Aiyarpadi just before the road winds onto the Valparai plateau. It is a must-stop for all those who want to learn about the biodiversity of the Anamalais.
Detailed reports will follow.
(For the Gaur photograph, thanks to Nadine)