Since the visit with Jan last year, I’d made another half day trip to the Heganuru forest with my birding buddies in July 08. We had started out on Kanakapura Road as usual, and on a last minute whim decided to make the trip to Heganuru. As a result we had reached the area extremely late, and missed the early morning productive birding period. We did see white-throated fantail, blue faced malkoha, and the usual robins, babblers and prinias, but it was too late in the day for anything exciting, and too early in the season for the migrants. However, I had a good time photographing a number of very pretty butterflies, which I could later ID.
On the return journey we stopped by a small pond next to the road, and as soon as we stepped off the car a large bird flew out of the branches above us. The brief glimpse I got was enough to convince me that this was sirkeer malkoha, a bird I had never seen before. I chased it for a bit and then had to give up as it vanished out of sight. We reluctantly left after photographing a great egret giving a ghost-like pose, and made a resolve to return to the area soon for more.
That resolve came good last weekend, with M and I having booked a cottage at Jungle Lodges Galibore a few months back. We were eagerly anticipating the weekend of focused, intensive birding, spouse-free! 😉 J said she could join us on the trip, and the three of us set off just past 5 AM, so that we could bird at Heganuru in the early morning. After turning towards the Sangama Road at Kanakpura, a random stop next to some fields provided amazing variety, with golden orioles, silverbills, baya weavers, an olive-backed pipit and hoopoe granting us an audience.
At Heganuru, we got extremely close views of a grey-breasted prinia, the white-throated fantail was showing off as usual, while ioras and greenish warblers called incessantly. I wandered off in a direction different from my companions, and sighted a red throated flycatcher perched high up in a tree. My friends, however, had landed the catch of the day, with a white rumped shama appearing in front of their noses! While we compared notes and dug into cucumber sandwiches, some loud noises alerted us to the presence of chloropsis (leafbirds). There was a pair playfully chasing each other from tree to tree, and making all sorts of noises. We later realized that these birds are mimics and can imitate a number of other species. They had us entertained for a while, but we were unable to decide with certainty which species they were: gold-fronted or blue-winged leafbird. A crow-like call directly above us turned out to be a black hooded oriole.
Back on the road towards Sangama, where we encountered several herds of cows, sheep and assorted quadrupeds. Managed to get the car between two such herds separated by a couple of hundred metres, which turned out to be ideal speed for birding. Every 30 seconds or so we would stop to identify birds-on-the-wires and only start moving when the herd behind was in danger of overtaking us. A large flock of brahminy mynahs was practising their chorus, with a lone large grey babbler adding its nasal twanging. A purple sunbird glinting in the sun with pollen on its forehead posed superbly while J and I went into burst mode on our respective cameras. Indian rollers were ubiquitous, finally living up to their title of state bird of Karnataka.
Thus lurching forward at a cow’s pace, we finally reached the right turn to Galibore, just before Sangam. Decided to skip Sangam as it would be full of noisy day trippers, and started on the extremely poor road towards Galibore. Soon we were near the spot where last year we had seen small pratincoles (or rather, Jan had spotted them and identified them instantly, while we didn’t even know such a bird existed!) and we left the car by the side of the path and proceeded on foot. Clambering over the rocks in the hot sun, suddenly a bird flew up ahead of us. A rufous tailed lark! Strangely enough, it flew all around us and came back and settled down on a rock hardly a few metres away.
We proceeded gingerly over the rocks, towards the river, keeping a watchful eye about, lest a crocodile should come after us in search of a midday meal. Further ahead, a river tern called out to its mate, a flock of pratincoles stood baking in the sun looking like little wax statues, and the darters (also called snake bird) had their snake-like necks outstretched. The sun was directly overhead by this time and lunch at JLR beckoned, so we got back to the car and drove on, making very slow progress due to the road condition. A couple of times we had to cross small streams flowing over the rocks; at one of these a pair of lovely butterflies gave us a photo-op.
At JLR, we checked in and collapsed on our beds after lunch, sleeping through the afternoon. Later, while drinking our evening tea we were shocked to see some guests belonging to a large group of foreigners, teeing (plastic) golf balls into the river. We gave one of them a piece of our mind and he apologized, but also came up with some flimsy excuses. In order to avoid the crowd we decided to forgo the coracle ride in favour of an evening walk on the road past the camp. The jungle was surprisingly devoid of any activity, and we returned back to be told by the folks at the camp that we shouldn’t have gone without a guide. We arranged for a guide to accompany us in the morning, and settled down to wait for dinner. What followed was one of the most awful experiences of our recent trips. The pre-dinner barbecue strectched on into the night while the other guests (the foreigners, including a particularly obnoxious Accenture employee of Indian origin) got more and more drunk. Finally around 9 pm, dinner was served, which we quickly finished and retired to our cottage. The raucous activity continued well into the wee hours of the morning, and even a middle-of-the-night yelling seemed to have no effect on the drunkards. Shame, Jungle Lodges, for failing to maintain an acceptable standard of behaviour in a forest area.
Up early after a sleepless night, I was desperate for some good birding to get over the miserable experience. Tomraj was our guide, and we set off on the road towards Sangam. The first good sighting was a green imperial pigeon, unfortunately perched high in the trees, which proved difficult to photograph. Quite a few golden orioles, rufous treepies and white bellied drongos were encountered, while the yellow billed babbler population were by far the most abundant specie. A brown capped pygmy woodpecker gave us a brief but exciting sighting. Heading towards the river, suddenly a large raptor flew out and perched in another tree ahead of us. The lack of white banding on the tail confirmed it to be lesser fish eagle. As we advanced, the eagle flew out again and perched on a tree to our right, adjacent to the river. Slowly we approached the area and could get some good shots. While we were watching the eagle a pair of pied kingfishers flew up river, screeching. I managed some flight shots of the eagle when it finally decided to take our leave.
On our way back we decided to head towards the forested area at the base of the hills, and immediately were rewarded with a hoopoe, a warbler with grey back and yellow underside (later identified as Tickell’s leaf warbler) and an excellent sighting of blue faced malkoha perched out in the open. We hadn’t seen any flamebacks and were itching for a sighting. As we moved through the forest, I clicked a funky grasshopper and got a picture of a black drongo. Suddenly a movement in the undergrowth and there was a spurfowl scuttling away out of sight. Soon another one flew out of the bushes in a panic, but gave us enough time to identify it as painted spurfowl. Next up, a drumming noise followed by a sighting of the drummers – a pair of flamebacks! We decided to split up and approach them from either side, and they kept flying further away and just out of sight. However, I soon had a lucky moment when the pair perched on a tree trunk of which I had a clear view, and I was thrilled to capture both in a single frame! Heading back to camp, Tomraj located a jungle owlet, and right next to the camp we were pleased to find an adult male paradise flycatcher prancing about with its tail streaming behind.
After this superb morning of birding, we checked out and started the drive back, intending to make brief birding stops as appropriate. Inspection of every single bee-eater was mandated, lest we miss any European bee-eaters that may still be hanging around. We did not find any, but a sudden explosion of birdsong near a village settlement led us to take a longish break, in which we were delighted by a mixed hunting party of birds ranging from chestnut shouldered petronia, scaly breasted munias to ioras and tree pipits. In addition there were many unidentified calls which may have been scimitar babbler, but were impossible to track down. Regardless, the mixed hunting flock was surely a fitting finale to a fabulous birding trip.
Pics from July ’08:
Pics from Nov ’08: