Thursday, July 26, 2007

A leopard cub

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Owl in flight!

a Short-eared Owl being harried by a Drongo. - Rollapadu 14th Jan 2007

Grassland Birds

The Indian Courser seen in fallow lands and dry open places. A most striking little bird.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Rain In Spain Falls Mainly In The Plains; But Pours In The Hills Of Nallamalas!!!

The beauty of Farahabad - Pure Magic. Hazy today........

Clear tomorrow!!!!!

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Monday, June 18, 2007

The Eternal verdant hills of Nelliampathy


Nelliampathy hills in the Western Ghats are an ideal location for watching wildlife. It is an incredible place having a great array and numbers of wildlife and birdlife. I liked viewing the Nilgiri Thar commonly referred to as the Ibex here. They are seen here - as wild goats ought to be – far away silhouetted against the skyline and, panting up a rather steep hill to possibly a hundred yards from the nonchalant goats in a lather of sweat. At Eruvikulam near Munnar, the Thar are tame to the point of being blasé. Here it is not so and the chase after them is indeed thrilling! What with the possibility of putting up a covey of Red spur fowl or Grey jungle fowl, or, suddenly faced by a herd of Gaur that stare at you in utterly wild astonishment. Their soulful eyes wide with all slumber rubbed out.

My forays into the forest for bird watching were always accompanied by a staff from the estate. These guys were knowledgeable but always wondered why one would risk limb and life – especially life - to see some non-descript bird. The nervousness was palpable for they looked with terror and suspicion at anything that moved or rustled. I was to learn later that the cause of concern were the King Cobras, Elephants, Leopards and Tigers in that order. All of them dislike disturbances and they demonstrate their displeasure in a most terrifying manner.

Whatever my claims of experience in wildlife, the staff had orders at the pain of death that I should not be out of their sight even for a moment. They were ordered to keep me away from the furred and scaled tribes. I, in spite of their strict vigil got a glimpse of the Spotted Prince albeit in his very dark, almost midnight black suit.

The birding days passed by without much tension after they found that I was calm while we faced the Panther. I was then led to the nest of a King Cobra – in a Jeep – which looked much like a pile of leaf litter gathered by a gardener in the midst of which was the King Cobra – queen – seeming more like a coil of black electricity cable.

Our journey started from Hyderabad on a hot day in May to visit my in-laws. My wife and I talked of the plans each had made and there was no common ground other than that we were headed for the same place – Kerala; God’s own country – a few days spent in pacifying relatives had me in tears and I tore myself from all that and hurled myself into the lap of the hills south of the Palaghat gap; the eternally verdant hills of Nelliampathy.

A train journey to Trichur – home of the fabled Guruvayoor Temple and its larger than life elephant stables – where my friends eagerly awaited my arrival had gladdened my heart, my entire being. We bundled ourselves into a Jonga – more of a Jalopy – and headed off into the thick unknown after a hurried lunch.

Astounded I was by the calls of animals heard. Tiger at half-past six in the evening – three calls from about three hundred yards away, and we could still feel its presence long after it had presumably left the place. Soon Barking Deer were either barking at the Tiger or calling defiance to other males, I could not tell.

I consider the Barking Deer a great friend in the forest, for he warns me of any dangers ahead. During the rutting season, though when his mind is on other things I leave him alone with his hard won ladylove and look to the monkeys and peafowl that are always around, keeping a sharp lookout for any carnivores. The barking deer were wow-wowing all around at intervals; one though to my left was very persistent. I thought he was having a wordy duel with one of his kind. Soon dispelled was the premise when, with mortal terror in their voice, the Nilgiri Langoor boomed and coughed their alarm to all and sundry that their handsome killer prince – the Leopard - was afoot. All this not quite a hundred yards from the bungalow where I was staying with a ravine about eight feet across and a flimsy wire fence between us. All this enacted around eight o’ clock in the morning.

The very nature of the forest dissuaded me from following the Leopard. Apart from an angry display by the Leopard, I wonder whether it was the black prince – for it was very dark – there was a strong possibility of running into a herd of wild Elephants we could hear some distance away, not to mention the King Cobra whose nest we saw with the female cosily coiled on top, partly hidden by the mound of humus she had collected. Then there were the leeches that could get the better of me, in spite of the waders and the snuff I carried. Snuff is by far the best dodge against leeches, when mixed with oil and rubbed to the uncovered parts, the only objection being that one smells like a cheap, improperly cured, cigar!

The previous evening, the jungle quietened down after the tiger stopped calling, my friends and I armed with searchlights stepped into a very dark forest. We avoided known elephant trails and, on turning a bend, were rewarded in that we spied the diminutive mouse deer, rather like a little piglet staring blue-green eyed into the light. We disturbed a couple of barking deer, lying in the impenetrable bramble, - a very good dodge - to avoid the night stalkers. In a little clearing we saw the Franklin’s Nightjar, or rather identified it by the call. The Mottled Wood Owl and the Jungle Owlet did not appreciate very much the glare of the searchlights in their eyes.

We were following a game trail in the glimmer of starlight and the light of the Moon in one of her not so bright quarters. In another glade, we came upon a herd of large animals. Relieved were we when realised that we had stumbled not onto a herd of Elephants, but that of female Gaur and calves, which suddenly stood up on our abrupt arrival. Startled as we were with searchlights blazing, we gave them a wide berth and then came upon a bull grazing about fifty yards from his temporary harem. He was trailing them and see if he could get lucky and pass on his genes down to the next generation.

Many animals not generally seen by day were about and were quite confiding. I was startled therefore when I heard a shot. I was reassured when I almost tripped on a trip wire. This simple device makes a loud bang when an animal sets it off. It is a debatably effective method of keeping wildlife out of estates, for once exploded; the device needs to be set the next time to be effective. The animals are used to this and after the initial fright, the sambur and barking deer come in and strip the silver oak off its bark while the wild boar are very pleased at having a go at the cassava tubers and other roots, which are a staple for the natives. The little mouse deer, which are very skittish, slips under the trip wire to crop the shoots of various plants.

The prowl by night was very successful. I was thrilled since my homemade leech guard and waders were very effective armour against the slimy bloodsuckers. We all enjoyed the trip thoroughly, and, we were comfortably tired and after a midnight dinner cooked on open red-hot coals, we stopped for the night since it was well past one O’ clock in the morning.

As the grey dawn broke at about five O’ clock in the morning, I was awake to greet it with a steaming cup of black coffee sweetened to excess with brown sugar made from coconut palm toddy. The exuberance of the calls of animals and birds apprised me of the fact that I was not the only one to welcome the newborn day, but that there were others that had survived the perils of the night!

By about half past seven, the steam rose in columns from the forest as apparitions, as if the earth were giving up the ghosts of those animals that had fallen prey to the Tiger and the Leopard and the Jungle Cat. This mist then mingled with the clouds above and covered the area in a blanket of fog. The fog lifted as the forest floor warmed up to the rays of the Sun, and the cloud emptied itself off its bulk as a light drizzle on all. A beautiful rainbow could then be seen which lost itself into the skies above, a stairway to heaven – a bridge for those whose toils and fears were over – conveying them to a land where there shall be terror no more.

We sat through the mist, which had engulfed the little cottage and shared its fleecy nothingness with us. Cold and shivering, and drinking gallons of steaming hot black coffee, barbecue for lunch and dinner with more coffee without milk – for the Tiger carried away the five milch cows - for a whole week in May was for me the ideal way to spend a vacation. Moreover, there were no telephones to disturb, no newspapers screaming the ills of the world, no television showcasing everything in a rectangle, and the icing on the cake; no electricity, for the good old Elephants had uprooted the posts, and the solar panels refusing to charge the batteries was for me panacea. The nightly hiss of the petromax lanterns, the smell of food cooking on an open fire, the bonfire to keep the chill out and a drink in hand is what I needed to charge my inner man for the urban onslaught I knew would come once I left this paradise in the hills.

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Of Fur, of Feather and of Scale

Many are the times when the wild bug bites. The itch too great to resist and this causes many to get out of the urban chaos and curl into the lap of the wild. Excitement is the key word, for, how else can be described this unusual urge to set out on a trip into the wilderness. The drive to some spot that offers a hope of seeing something wild; be they of fur or of feather. Oftentimes it also entails a visit with a rod, reel and line to match strength and cunning with a hidden and sporting adversary with scales; which scales more than the hook, line and sinker that, when presented in a most artistic manner takes it and then makes a dash, while burning furrows in the fingers as the line plays out and the reel sings a merry tune of strain and excitement. The exhilaration as the rod bends from a ramrod to a tapered ‘U’ has to be experienced to believe.

Fur entices more than feather; especially if the furry one is the striped King of beasts, whose calls send a cold shiver down the spine, whose supple grace, regal bearings and prowess are tales of truth and of legends. Closely followed is the spotted Prince, he has not earned his stripes yet, but is very handsome, climbs trees, is very nimble footed and a master at camouflage.

The Lords are the trunked ones, sporting ivory flamboyantly and blow their own trumpets. They love the water and snorkel and gambol in it for hours. They are the gardeners; they prune trees, mow the great lawns and plant new trees and bushes. The Lord-lings, for some time wonder where their noses have gone and find the hose pipes attached to their snouts most annoying.

The power houses are the beautifully curved horned, pitch black, white stockinged, black shod men in black while, the ladies are elegantly dressed in brown leather tights. They are the bulkily graceful fat of these lands who always stare bewildered wide-eyed at the world.

The doe eyed beauties with white dappled fawn coats; their masters similarly liveried, and sporting beautifully curved and polished sabres disguised as branches stand out as jewels in the emerald green glades. The glens are ranged by their somber coloured larger cousins, chocolate brown, walnut tine crowned, regal headed, sure footed, deep bellowers.

The bright eyed bushy tailed red racers, whistling and winking as they gambol and play, their large ears ready to pick up all that is to be heard in their country, eternal nomads, very restless spirits of the forests. Their cousins sing to the Moon, and steal from the King and the Prince; by whose antics most are fooled to the advantage of the howler.

The bone crusher lopes about his business, fore quarters powerful, hind quarters weak, heavy jawed, dirty white, bedraggled, striped coated; an undertaker; but he laughs; for, he who laughs last, laughs best!

The Crested, large taloned, dark backed, spotted chested stooper, the buoyant flier; the downy feathered killer rides the wind in circles with no purpose at hand but still purposeful; who folds into nerve wracking nose dives and scares the wits out of the beholders.

The grandiose fan of the mover and shaker to impress the somber beauties around; dazzling them with Argus eyes and rainbow colours, and, glistening in jewels befitting a queen.

Bejewelled little down-curved billed royal purple scintilla, some also with deep lemon breasts; they sip liquid gold daintily from the fragrant and nubile flowers.

The grandiloquent green flashes mingling with the leaves; ventriloquists, some fruit headed, others necklaced, some hanging upside down, while all kiss and make up with their curvaceous bills.

‘Did you do it?’ and ‘Why did you do it?’ cries the leggy, yellow legged, black and white, brown coated red faced whistle blower; while his pale, yellow faced cousin meekly rejoins ‘Why?’ , ‘Why?’

The mighty massive headed, large scaled King of the waters, sometimes auric, sometimes argentine, live in the fastest gin-clear tumbling waters shot through with a million fine bubbles on the rocks; which as Champagne, go to the head!

The big mouthed, stiff upper lip-less-ed, dour, deep-bodied, crimson fringed, silver ingots wander the waters, sucking the slime and clearing the waters for racy swimmers.

Snake-headed, top-beady-eyed; the black apparitions suddenly shoot up to take a gulp of air, they have the best of both worlds, they drink and breathe at the same time.

The knife edged silver cleavers, hunch backed, lean bellied and extremely flat chested many toothed, small mouthed nippers gambol and flash as they roll and boil the waters in mirth.

Such sights and sounds, of mad rushes and stern moods, of the roarer, of the bellower and of the screamer; the headlong dives and the native song and dance caused to be seen and heard by a bug that bites is the panacea of life to be lived under the watchful eye of Faunus.

I have spoken ought of the creepy crawlies, of boughs and of vines, for I know nought of them, and may not take too kindly if I describe them false.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

A small minivet female on the nest. While watching this nest the male came and brought food for the female which left the nest for a brief while and then settled in as the male left.

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This is the larva of the ant lion. It digs itself a funnel trap and shoots sand particles if its insect victims try to escape.

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Andhra Pradesh Forest Academy

Hoof mark of the Chousingah at the AP Forest Academy, Dulapally, close to Hyderabad.
A most interesting little antelope which is the only one in the world to sport two pairs of horns thus the name. Endemic to India, and dependant on the availablity of water.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Giant Squirrel

Quite often seen at Farahabad, Srisailem.

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Which Grypotyphlops?

This snake is about 22" or 55 cm long. Is blind. Pink in colour. One cannot overlook the fact that its colour matches closely the red laterite soil from where it was picked up. It has irregular bluish purple patches on it. Tail and head look similar. Tries to bore in with tail.
Any help in its identification would be appreciated.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Short eared owl

Chicken heart - a welcome change in diet!


Rescued Short Eared Owl

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