Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary & Mannar - Batch1 - 22 to 25 Jan.2011

As I said in last posting, we will going to totally different habitat, from Rann of Gujarat to Western Ghat forests of Kerala. One of my favorite places for Birdwatching, Thattekkad & Munnar. I was really looking forward for the trip. 4 of us, Me, Adesh, Dr. Vaibhav & Dr. Deepali were in train, rest were coming by flight. A train journey of about 23 hours was a bit long. We reached Ernakulam Town railway station at about 4.00pm. We sent one jeep ahead for the paritcipants who were already at airport, so that they can go a bit early and relax. We started in another jeep and picked Amey, Rujuta & Anand from the airport. Its about 2 hours journey from airport to reach Thattekkad Bird Sanctury.

Our stay was with Gireesh Chandran, a lawyer by profession and a good bird guide by hobby :-). We were greeted by Gireesh & Amma (Gireesh's mother). Amma is one of the is official guides for the sanctuary. After a small round of introduction we had nice diner and went off for our first night trail of the trip, to a nearby trail from where we were staying. First sighting was of a Malabar Pit Viper. Then we tried for Srilanka Frogmouth and it responded!!, after few seconds we all could see a male Frogmouth sitting quitely on a branch. We also saw a Bark Gecko carrying eggs. The eggs could be seen clearly. Time for good night sleep, as we need to start early next morning.

First session was at my favorite spot, a rocky patch not very far from the sactuary. As expected the birding was awesome. Yellow-browed, Grey-headed & Ruby-throated Bulbuls, White-bellied Treepie, Malabar Parakeets, Crimson-fronted Barbets, Crested Goshawk, Asian Fairy Bluebirds we seen by all through scope. Later we went inside the forest and got some nice views of Brown-breasted & Blue-throated Flycatcher, Forest Wagtail etc. Afternoon session was at an interesting place, called "Bhootatankettu". We were fortunate to see Sri-lanka Frogmouth, Malabar Trogon, Black Baza were seen among other birds. In the evening we got an opportunity to meet Dr. Sugathan, colleague of Indian Birdman, Salim Ali, who played a major role in declaring Thattekkas as Salim Ali Bird Sanctury and discovering Ceylon (Sri-lanka) Frogmouth in India. His thoughts we were very inspiring and gave an insight about work done by forest department in Thattekkad.

Day 2 is for Munnar. We need to start at 4.30 hours from Thattekkad. In Munnar, Eravikulam National Park, though famous for Nilgiri Tahr, is special place for birdwatcher to see few endemic species like Nilgiri Pipit, Nilgiri and Black & Ornage Flycatcher, Pacific Swallow, White-bellied Blue Robin (White-bellied Shortwing), Grey-breasted Laughingthrush,. We saw all these... :-) After lunch we spent some time at another place in Munnar and then started to move back to Thettekkad. It was a very hectic day as lot of travelling was involved.

Last day and last session for few members (as they were to leave early to catch flight). This session was also equally good with some special sightings of Malabar Trogon, Rufous-bellied Eagle, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, Little Spiderhunter etc... Time to say goodbye to those going by flight. But rest, travelling by train had opportunity for another session, we went to a forest patch opposite to sanctuary and saw a mix-hunting party of Black-hooded Orioles, Racket-tailed & Bronze Drongos, Black-rumped Flameback etc...

Another wonderful trip to this wonderful place. One of my favoite birding destinations!! After saying goodbye to all participants, me & Adesh searched for 2/3 hotels and finally check-in Hat Residency. We will be staying here for next 3 days to welcome batch-2. But we didn't have time to relax, as we need to announce few trips, 2 for Bhigwan and 1 for Bandhavgarh... We distributed the work, I will be woking in cyber cafe and Adesh from his notebook.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Little Rann of Kutch Batch - 2 (15-19 Jan.2011)

After very satisfying 1st batch, we headed for LRK batch-2 on 15th Jan.2011. Second batch is just replica of first one, with all Itinerary, Travel everything same, but the participants were different. This time 3-4 totally new to birding participants were there.

We reached Viramgaum by 4.00Am, and this time, it was not open vehicle, we have arranged for 2 closed jeeps for travel between station and resort. This travel was very very comfortable. On way to stopped over for tea and also bought some biscuits & snacks for the trip. Everyone was realy impressed by the site of resort. We asked all to gather at reception by 7.00AM. As usual after the introduction, we gave some instructions regarding the Itinerary etc... and stared for Bajana wetland. We were greeted Lesser Flamingos, whose no. was more than last trip. Few flamingos were in dark pink (breeding plumage). It was amazing to see them in lovely morning light. Also few Greater Flamingos were present. Other birds seen in Bajana were, Dalmatian Pelican, Common Cranes, Eurasian Spoonbills, Northern Shovellers & Pintails, Eurasian Wigeons etc.... Post lunch we started for our Rann safari. We were fortunate to see a pair of Houbara (Macqueen's Bustard), one jeep also saw Short-eared Owl, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Asiatic Wild Ass etc... There was one very interesting sighting. I was in the first jeep and Adesh was in 2nd. Both of us were looking at one Kestrel like bird sitting at some distance, and we realize that the streaking on chest were more prominent and dark than the female Kestrel, also the overall coloration was very dark, pointing out to Female Merlin. But one thing was missing, the white eyebrow. We requested photographers to taker some pictures, so that we can Id it later. In all the trips I carry my field guide by Pamela Anderton, I mean Pamela Rammuessen & Paul Amderton :-)), but dont know why, I forgot to carry it this time. And the illustration of Female Merlin is best given in Pamela's book...:-( We decided to Id it later and moved back to the resort as light was almost gone... Later after dinner we searched some info and photos of Merlin and Kestrel female on Internet and found that among all other small differences between female of Common Kestrel and Merlin, the main difference in tail pattern. Merlin female will have equal terminal bands, while Common Kestrel will have only one big band and the tail tip then, relatively small bands...Ufff... it was difficult to zero in from the available pictures, so we decided to send the image to experts to Id. If it was Merlin, then that's my Lifer!!

Day 2, the morning destination was Savda wetland or Nava Talav. This time we divided the group in 2 parts, one for photographer and one for birders. One big jeep was allocated for birders and Adesh accompanied them. I went with 2 jeeps of Photographers. We stopped on the way for Pied kingfisher, there are 7 Kingfishers near a small water body with nest on the bank. Always a wonderful sight to see Pied kingfisher howering and jumping in water to catch fish. On the way we keep on stopping where-ever there was opportunity to photograph. We quickly had our breakfast at one water body, and proceeded to see Greylag Goose, at the same place where we saw them in batch-1. We also saw Orphean Warbler and Graceful Prinia around the water body. On the way back, something special was awaiting!!! Yes, some thing very very special!!! It was amazingly camouflaged, sitting in a small bush, just at about 5 feets from ground.... We were strucked to see a Pallied Scops Owl. A Lifer for me :-)))

After a happy lunch and some rest we headed for our seconf desert safari. We saw good nos. of Lesser Flamingos in the water body inside Rann and later in the day saw 3 to 4 Short-eared Owls roosting on ground. Another special sighting was of Deset Warbler. And yes, very photogenic group of Asiatic Wild Ass...

Last day, we started a bit late, like Day 2 we kept 2 jeeps for photographers and one for bird-watchers. Spend some good time photographing Rosy Starlings, Bank Mynas, Indian Roller, Blue-throat, Common Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon etc... Another successful Nature India trip, with sighting of about 130 bird species. After revision we started for Viramgaum station in open vehicle. This time train was late by an hour or so, but it reached almost in time at Borivali.

Next trip is totally different than LRK. Now from deset land, we are going to evergreen forests of Western Ghats. Alltogether different set of birds, habitat everything...We need to adjust our eye to look out for birds in evergreen trees and not on brown desert land... But I'm sure we take hardly any time to adjust to new settings... Will keep you all posted, till then ... Adios....

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) - Batch1 - 8th to 12th Jan.2011

First trip of the new year, Little Rann of Kutch (LRK), Gujarat. Now-a-days we are more in Gujarat than Maharashtra... 2 Jamnagar, 1 GRK trips and now 2 back-to-back LRK trips..and 3rd Jamnagar trip coming up in Feb.

The train, Saurashtra Janata Express was on time to start with, I boarded the train from Borivali. As almost all the trips we have about 6/7 first timers on Nature India trips. I'm always curious to meet new people, with whom we spoke several times over phone regarding the trip, but see them first time mostly in train journey... As usual Adesh carried some food for me also for diner, as the train dose not have a pantry car. We make everyone sleep early, as we need to get down at Viramgaum at 3.50AM, yes no typo errors...3.50AM. The train reached 15 mins. late, it was chilling outside, I though good we told everybody again & again to bring warm clothes.:-)) Everybody has a tea on the station and then we all got one of the most amazing (?) chilled experience of travelling on windy, cold weather. I have told specifically to the resort person to send closed vehicle for pick-up, but that fellow, don't know why, sent open canter!!! Everybody was shocked to see the vehicle and then the 30km travel looked like 300km travel. Somehow, almost frozen, we reached the resort. The resort looked very impressive from the outskirts. We allocated rooms to all except 2 (Tanul & Radhika) who have already arrived by car. The rooms were excellent, specious and warm too.. :-).

Breakfast time was at 7.30, and then we were to start the first session. B'fast was awesome, Omelets, Aloo Parathas and pohas..we all gorged on it. After a quick introduction, we started for the session in 3 jeeps. We were heading towards a wetland in Bajana village, called as Bajana wetland. On the way we met 2 excellent photographers & birders from Gujarat, Neerav Bhatt and Yogendra Shah. On the way to wetland we saw, Variable, Isabelline & Desert Wheatears. The wetland was full of birds, but they were at some distance, but nothing to worry we had 2 Pentax spotting scopes this time, mine and Mayur & Prajakta's. There were Shoveller, Pintails, Common Teals, Wigeons, Gadwalls, Pied Avocets, Imperial Eagle and yes, Lesser Flamingos in good nos. Some of them were in breeding (dark pink) plumage. Few Juvenile Greater Flamingos were also present. Spent good time at the wetland and came back to resort. If B'fast was good, lunch was even better, and it was followed by Ice-cream too:-))

Evening session was for Rann Safari, my favorite one... Just before entering the Rann, there was some water stream across the village with few waders in it, but one of the them was different....with white head and red legs.. it was a Ruff in breeding plumage, looking very handsome. To go in Rann with dry/desert land all around you till horizon is something one can't explain in words, it has to be experienced!! The target was to look for Houbara (Macqueen's) Bustard and Short-eared Owl and obviously Wild Ass. Saw a family of 3 Wild Ass, all got some good snaps of them. Then we moved towards an area in the Rann which has some scrubs, we drove around the edges for Bustard and Owl. First to be seen was Houbara, but was quite far, and all could not see it, but then after some time another one was seen very clearly by everybody, wonderful site. Then the search for Owl started. I was also looking at each Kestrel female for a possible Merlin!! But all were turning out to be Kestrels...But there was something special, a falcon was sitting on a bush and because of vehicle it suddenly flew..initially I thought, it must be Kestrel, but no, it came again and settled down on another bush, we all could clearly saw through the scope, but what we saw??? was Amur Falcon, yes, a very significant sighting. Amur Falcons are passage migrant to our region. The breed in Amur Land (Mangolia) and spend there winter in Africa, On the way to Africa they stop over at few places in India, North-East(Assam), Central India, and western coast (Gujarat, Maharashtra & Goa). This year it was recorded, that Amur Falcons travelled from Mumbai coast to Africa, a distance of 1500kms, in 2 days non-stop!! Good nos. and variety of birds, we saw on first day. Had a local food (Kutchhee) for diner and slept early as it was a hectic day.

Second day, we again started with wetland this time Savda wetland or Nava Talav. On the way to Savda we stopped at one water body which was full of Greylag Goose and they were quite close. Everybody got some good pictures... we then moved towards the main wetland. The wetland was fullllll of waterbirds. Lots of Shovellers, Pintails, Common Teals, Wigeons, Spot-billed Ducks, Gadwalls, Garganey, along with River & Whiskered Terns, Montegue's Harrier, Greater-spotted Eagle, with many other water birds, but the best sighting was of Pacific Golden Plover. We spent some wonderful time at Savda & returned back to the resort for lunch. Post lunch, again we went to Rann safari. This time Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse were seen very clearly through scope, along with other regular birds. One jeep did some prolong photography of Asiatic Wild Ass.

Last day, in fact last session. We started a bit late by 7.30 & tried for Sociable Lapwing in some open fields, but no luck this time... We then went to Savda wetland again, along with all other birds, this time we tried to show some new birds (not seen during the trip) through scope, like Wagtails, Common-ringed Plover, Paddyfield Warbler etc... While coming back to resort, inside Bajana village we went a place, near some school, the Painted Storks are nesting there since many years now. We also saw a juvenile Peregrine Falcon on the tower nearby. In the pond near school, we saw, so far not seen, Common Pochards, also some 20-30 Terrapins were seen.

So another wonderful Nature India [:-)] trip ended with sighting of about 125 bird species. As usual Adesh took the revision and also concluded the trip. Everyone was happy with the trip, so do we.

We will be going again to LRK for second batch from 15th to 19th Jan.2011. Will get back with some details about the trip. Till then...Adios....

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Jamnagar, Gujarat (29th Dec.2010 to 02nd Jan.2011)

Finally...finally....I managed to start my blog. It was in my mind since last 6 months or so, to write about bird-watching, experiences with various Nature India participants etc... Hope, I will update the blog regularly :-) Starting the blog with Jamnagar Trip.

It happens during almost all the trips, that since me & Adesh, we are with the group, we are not able to do any we (Mandar, Pallavi, Adesh & Abhijeet) decided to go only for photography, and what better we can choose than Jamnagar in Gujarat... Since the plan was fixed a bit late, the train tickets were not available, so we decided to go by road in Abhijeet's Maruti, Swift. Me and Abhijeet being the drivers. And you know what Pallavi said, read this...
"Abhijeet's car should have all the luxuries like pillow, good music, sun-curtains etc. for me & Adesh, who will enjoy the benefit of a chauffeur driven car with cleaner.."
Such a mean :-((
Anyways....can't help it :-)) so we started on 29th early morning at 5.30 from Dahisar, my place. First stop for Breakfast was near Vapi. After spending rather too much time for breakfast we again started with change in driver...its me driving now...We decided to not to go by Vadodara-Rajkot highway, but instead to take left from Ankaleshwar and go via Bharuch-Borsad-Bagodara (don't know why:-))...The road was not good, but its definitely a short distance route than highway... We had our lunch some where near Borsad on Vadodara-Rajkot highway, and then proceed to Jamnagar. Adesh & me (when not driving) were continuously looking at all possible mobile, electricity towers for falcons... Somewhere near Limbadi, Adesh suddenly saw something and we stopped the car. There was a falcon sitting on mobile tower. We saw through binocs, but could not confirm as the distance was too we put the spotting scope, and to our delight, it was a lifer for all of us...( In birding world, lifer means a bird which you see for the first time)... a Red-capped or Barbary Falcon!! Lifer no. 745 for wonderful sighting... We reached at about 10.30pm to Jamnagar...checked-in at our regular hotel, President...all were tired, sitting full day in car for about 800kms....

Next day, 30th Dec.2010, at 6.30AM, we started for Dhichada ( A water body, generally full of ducks, Painted Storks, Pelicans etc...), since Pallavi was not feeling well, she decided to skip the morning session. We took a round to Dhichada to look for best place for photography, and finally settled down at our regular place.:-))... We decided to spread out the take different positions and try own luck.

Initially I took some pictures of Sand Lark, and then sat down near the water, just behind grass cover... For first 15 mins. there was nothing to click, but later the ducks, specially Northern Shovellers and Pintails started to come close & close... Enjoyed about an hour photographing them... Adesh and Abhijeet were also bust photographing same birds and different locations... I got up from my position and walked towards the road...just beside the road there is one "bund", I decided to walk along that to check for some other birds...and to my good luck I found a group of about 20 Painted Storks, Black-headed Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Great Egrets busy feeding. Lovely opportunity to get close-up shots. I got few good one. By that time the light was too harsh, so we decided to pack-up and go back to hotel.

Post lunch we went towards sea shore. Even though the high tide was in morning, we still decided to go there and have a look. But to our disappointment the water was receded too we quickly went to Dhichada to get some pictures, before light fades, but not much luck there the session was almost lost...

Last day of the year 2010, 31st Dec., started by 6.30 for famous Khijadia Bird Sanctuary. As other 3 were busy with Photography, I decided to do bird-watching with scope (not by choice). Had some nice views of Black-necked & Great-crested Grebe, Common Pochards, Pintails, Shovellers, Great-white (Rosy) & Dalmatian Pelicans, Darter, Indian & Little Cormorant, Comb Duck. Common Teal, Common Moorhen, Rufous-tailed ( Isabelline) Shrike etc... Spent lot of time at Khijadia.... Post lunch went to check few water logs near Jamnagar railway station and then went to some other place, which is at the backside of Khijadia ( cant recollect the name now)....saw lots & Rosy Starlings there.... but again a low end to the day... Last the day of the year 2010...what an year we had (Nature India - Me & Adesh)... travelled all over India, including Kaziranga, Nameri, Eaglenest, Sikkim, Thattekad, Dandeli, Goa, LRK, GRK, Jamnagar, Bandhavgarh, Tadoba, Corbett...amazing... It was great experience to travel with different participants..and yes off course saw 650+ birds:-))

Last day of our trip and first day of the new year 2011. Early morning we again drove to sea-shore, the high tide was at 11.10AM, we reached there by 7.00Am, water was still inside but slowly started to come towards shore. We went a bit inside walking through mud & again took separate positions... There were lots of waders including Crab Plovers... I was taking some pictures of Terek Sandpiper when suddenly 5 birds came flying from inside the sea and went over my head...they were Indian first lifer of the year 2011 and overall lifer no. 746. They suddenly came from nowhere and disappeared... I changed my position and then went further east and sat down there on the sand. After about 20mins. a floks of about 15 Crab Plovers came towards me and landed at a distance. I started to move towards them crawling... even though it was hearting my hands, I was deter mind to get some close pictures, which I got.. I retired from my position after about an hour and the the positions were taken by Adesh & Abhijeet. They also got good pictures...

Meanwhile Pallavi was busy birding through scope near the shore, she called to tell about some Skimmer coming towards shore...the attention shifted from Crab Plovers to Skimmers.... This time Skimmers didn't go away, then landed near the shore alongwith Crab Plovers and other waders.... Now there are about 100 Skimmers...Wohoooo....Again photography started...:-)) The session was one of the most satisfying session in terms of photography... After full high tide we went back to hotel...

Post lunch last session was at Lakhota lake, this lake is in the middle of Jamnagar City and an amazing place to watch birds like Common Pochards, Tufted Ducks, Pelicans, Great Cormorant, Brown-headed, Black-headed, Slender-billed Gulls, River, Gull-billed & Whiskered Terns, Spot-billed Ducks, Little Grebe, Common Coots etc... I got some very interesting shots of Dalmatian Pelican..:-))

2nd Jan.2011, started early morning for Mumbai, not much birding on the way, but in the evening, near Vapi, we enjoyed "ubadio" along the road side. Reached Mumbai by 10PM... It was indeed a wonderfull trip full of birds, delicious food and lot of special 'Ram Dairy' ice-cream :-)

Next trip is to Little Rann of Kutch (LRK), hope to see some desert specialities there...Wish me luck and keep visiting my blog for updates... adios...