Another year comes to a close, and as I look back at the year that was, I find many amazing trips not written about and many images not posted. So what better way to close the year than to share some pictures that I have enjoyed taking in 2009, and the story associated with them.
January – Valparai. The highlight at Valparai, of course, was the lion-tailed macaque, endangered by loss of habitat. The birding was great too, the Malabar whistling thrushes were everywhere, and this one came really close as I imitated its call and engaged in a long conversation with it. The Valparai trip was also memorable because of Hotel Treat, possibly the worst hotel I have ever stayed at, for which Anush is teased to this day!
February – Kolkata. Had gone for my cousin’s wedding and managed some birding there, with an early morning visit to Victoria Memorial where a pair of now rare white-rumped vultures were seen, and big flocks of roosting yellow-footed green pigeons. Another day I joined the Kolkata birders for a wonderful morning of birding at Chintamani Kar Bird Sanctuary in Narendrapur, a small but lovely sanctuary where the notable sightings were of blue-throated barbet, bronzed, racket-tailed and ashy drongos together, and this rufous woodpecker on its favourite banana plant.
March – Corbett. The trip organized by Adesh was absolutely unforgettable, we got 200+ species of birds and a brilliant tiger sighting! Despite my best intentions I have not managed to write about this, so I refer you to Vamsee’s amusing blog posts for her impressions. In terms of birding, one of the highlights of the trip was the number of woodpeckers seen – a total of 11 species including the largest woodpecker in India, the increasingly rare great slaty! My friend Jan shared this piece of info about this woodpecker – “It is a very interesting species. I was reading the Phd-Thesis of Martjan Lammertink on South-East Asian woodpeckers. It seems the great slaty is `too big’ for its ecological niche. If you plot the size of the 14 woodpeckers occuring in primeval lowland forests on Borneo against the mean size of the trunks/branches they forage on, then most fit on a neat curve, but the great slaty sits on trunks/branches that are ‘too small’ for its size. In fact, according to its size, it ought to sit on the lower parts of the very largest trees, but that may be too dangerous in view of predators. Lammertink is quite worried about its long-time survival, noting that it seems to occur in lowland forest only (not in the hills) where human pressure is largest.” Here is the link to my pictures of the woodpeckers of Corbett.
April – Nandi Hills. Had a fabulous trip to Nandi Hills in Bangalore with my birding group, where the nursery area near the entrance turned out to be really productive as the soil had been freshly turned and was presumably crawling with delicious morsels. In that small patch we got great views of a male and female Indian blue robin, rusty-tailed flycatcher, Eurasian blackbirds, olive-backed pipits, orange-headed thrush, blue-capped rock thrush, in addition to the resident Tickell’s blue flycatcher and white-throated fantails. We were about to leave when a common buzzard flew into a nearby tree, a fitting finale to a superb morning!
May – Bhadra. Made a 3-day trip to Jungle Lodges property located at the edge of the Bhadra reservoir, a fantastic place for breeding colonies of river terns. The evening boat ride gave us the opportunity to observe thousands of river terns in various stages of their life. Scores of adults flew around fishing in the reservoir and carrying the feed back to their young. They would take a long time to locate their young ones by their calls while the juveniles on the shore anxiously awaited their parents’ return. One such juvenile appeared very hungry and would start running after any adult that landed near it, calling loudly all the time.
June – B.R. Hills. During a late morning jeep ride through the forest around K. Gudi (B.R. Hills) we came across this juvenile Indian cuckoo half-hidden in the tree canopy. A pair of black drongos flitted around nearby catching insects. The cuckoo would start calling out occasionally, and the sequence of events which followed almost made us fall out of the jeep in surprise. The drongos were responding to the cuckoo’s call and feeding it! It is well known that cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, but to actually see the foster parents lovingly feed the “off-spring” – which in this case was almost double the size of the parents and looked nothing like them – was amazing!
September – Bharatpur. Made a trip to Rajasthan, started with some birding at Jaipur, and then drove to Bharatpur where we stayed for 2 days. In 2008 the rains were good, after several years, and Keoladeo Ghana National Park at Bharatpur had regained some of its former glory (refer this excellent piece by Bikram Grewal). Last year the rains failed, though, and with the dismal water situation, the park was in a sorry state. The painted storks had started nesting earlier in the year, but in the absence of rain, had abandoned the nests and moved elsewhere. Two pumps were working 24/7 to pump groundwater to fill the lakes, but clearly it seemed a hopeless task. Inspite of the near total absence of water birds, we did have some good birding including this nightjar pointed out by our guide Raju Singh.
October – Ranthambhor. From Bharatpur we drove to Ranthambhor which opens only in October. The online safari booking system was not working at the time, and the experience of queueing up in a mad crowd to get tickets, followed by a most frustrating jeep ride in which the guide focused only on the tiger (which obviously we never saw) and passed distasteful (pun intended) remarks about the tastiness of grey francolin meat made us decide to skip further safaris and do a hike up Ranthambhor fort in the morning. This was really superb, with painted spurfowl at the base of the fort, brown rock chats on the way up, and European rollers and crested buntings at the top, with a stunning view of the landscape below.
November – Manchinabele. Did some local birding around Bangalore, starting with a fabulous full-day trip to Maidanahalli grasslands in early November, where we had a veritable raptor-fest, with excellent sightings of various eagles, harriers, kestrel! This was followed up a few weeks later by a half day trip to Manchinabele, with the BULBs almost in full strength. En route to Manchinabele we spent quite some time by a small pond with reed beds that held a colony of the strikingly coloured black-throated munias. At Manchinabele, a short-toed snake eagle and tawny eagle gave us a side-by-side comparison, while at the water a brahminy kite chased a pied kingfisher with a catch. The highlight of the trip though was a white-naped woodpecker which gave us fantastic views for around fifteen minutes as it traversed the tree trunk looking for breakfast.
December – Nandi Hills. The final birding trip of the year was a less-than-ideal visit to Nandi Hills, which in retrospect should have been avoided given that we chose to go on the Sunday of the Christmas weekend. Half of Bangalore seemed to have shown up there, mostly picnicers and noisy college kids out to have a good time. The only redeeming feature of the trip was this handsome male paradise flycatcher which we observed in a quiet area above the nursery. It flew about catching insects, its beautiful white streamers trailing behind it and making lovely patterns as it went in and out of the sunlight. A nice close to a wonderful year! Hope your 2009 was good too and here’s wishing you a magical 2010! Happy New Year!