Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Season's Greetings!

Red and Fluffy


A couple of weeks ago, we revisited Nandi Hills. It is the perfect place for the lazy birder. If waking up at unearthly hours is not for you, this is where you want to go.

Morning comes late to Nandi Hills, and on lazy weekends one can reach there comfortably at 10am and the dense cover and higher altitude will fool you and the birds that it is but 7am.
On this particular occasion, we didn't really go for any serious birding, more for a lazy stroll. The crisp cool air and gentle mist is wonderfully refreshing.

With the festive season approaching, offices and malls are all decked up with lights, wooden reindeer, Snow men and snow flakes of the styrofoam variety and plastic wreaths and trees.
Mother Nature, it must be said is not one to be left behind. The park was festooned with these glorious red fluffy flowers. ( To see the pink variety - head to Hebbal Lake )

These are Albizia julibrissin (red variety), also called the Persian Silk Tree.

Something new, that I had not seen on previous visits, most likely because I was concentrating on birding, was this flower. Growing in tall dense bushes, they hung down like tiny delicate Chinese lanterns.

Orange Flower - Abutilon pictum


Thanks to Arvind for helping to Id this for me as - Abutilon pictum. It is a native of South America and common as an ornamental plant in gardens.

Near the Nehru statue, along the walking path, I came upon a perfect spider web hanging on a low tree branch. Nearly invisible, unless viewed from a particular angle; it swayed gently in the breeze.

Natural Christmas Lights


After waiting for 10 odd minutes and praying for the breeze to cease, I decided to just try a few shots. This isn't a good shot, but I assure you it looked so much better when I was there. Taken hand held, while Keshav attempted the impossible with the tripod. The two of us trying to photograph this nearly invisible thing must have looked strange, for we attracted a few curious onlookers who nudged each other wondering what the object of our interest was.

The variety of flowering plants is wonderful at nandi hills, and if you stop to ask the gardeners, you will find they are very knowledgeable too. No plants or gardening equipment is for sale though.

Pretty in Pink


This little plant I really liked, more sober than most, growing under the shade of towering giants, it was a humble little plant. I liked it at once. Hypoestes phyllostachya, (polka dot plant). The muted colours and the greyish background reminded me of a Japanese painting.

With Christmas round the corner, one mustn't forget the all important tree. Christmas lights as nature intended - 100% eco friendly :) If you look closely, you can see the tiny decorator as well. There were dozens of these, and all the trees were covered. With the sun shining directly on them, the effect was dazzling.

Christmas Tree with lights


The only birds of the day were a yellow wagtail, a small green barbet and a host of white-eyes. A chocolate pansy also stopped to be photographed.

The monkey population of nandi hills have grown in number and in courage. They now boldly approach people and snatch bags of food. Please do exercise caution. I also thought the butterfly population has come down, or perhaps it was just that I only saw one.

On our way back to the Car, this little beauty caught my attention, a small wild flower ( i wont call it a weed), growing among the grass, untended and ignored, it was elegant in its simplicity.

Simplicity


This will be the last post for the year, Im off on holiday. Should be back with some interesting photos in the new year. I shall leave you with my attempt at rhymes.



Greetings People, it is time to cheer,
We are heading off for the new year.
With bags packed full like Santa Claus,
praying we don't violate the baggage clause!

It is the season to be jolly,
Of Styrofoam snow and plastic holly.
A time of beautiful misty morning sights,
and people stranded by fog delayed flights!

The prices are high, the markets low,
But if you looked around, you'd never know.
It is the time to keep the spirits high,
to look at winter wonders and let out a sigh.

While at work, a sudden idea shone,
I quickly typed this on my phone,
A desire to wish my near and dear -
a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!



Sleepy


If cold winter mornings leave you feeling like this, not to worry, you are not alone. :)

Cheers!
Rohini

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Highway Wanderings

ScareCrow in Paradise


The good weather is upon us people, bringing with it long aimless drives and impromptu photography expeditions. We have been taking full advantage of it. Driving out of Bangalore, leaving behind "Namma" dust and "Namma" potholes is a real joy.

We have 8 little Ferrari models from Shell (you get one when you do a full tank)
that bear testimony to the amount of fuel that has been consumed recently.


This panorama is by keshav, click to see a bigger image on his site


At almost every turn the scenery is breathtaking, Karnataka is a beautiful state. The period after the monsoon is my favorite. Here's a small sampling of some of what we have seen so far. There are times when I want to stop every few meters to capture it all.

Pink Asters


Some of the snaps were taken with my Motorola Milestone because I couldn't be bothered to get the camera out of the boot. Ive also borrowed some from Keshav.

HillRoads
Taken with Motorola Milestone


Having a pocketable camera phone that takes fairly decent photos is a nice experience. I have also tried taking photos through the windshield, and while the vehicle is at higher speeds - quite interesting effects can be achieved. And I get to upload them instantly too! Waiting for 3G.

MarigoldTree
Taken using the Milestone


Ofcourse, quality of camera and skill makes a huge difference. Compare with Keshav's version of the same field below, achieved after 20 minutes spent squatting in various yogic poses in the mud that had the farmer beginning to look concerned.


This one is by keshav, click to see a bigger image on his site


Sometimes though with luck and prayer, even the careless and the impatient can chance on a nice frame. I like the one below as well.

Tree with Flowers


So get out there, with camera and a map (my phone has MotoNav GPS turn by turn directions, so we skip this). Charge your phone, carry some change for the toll gates, take a bottle of water along ( you wont really need it ).
For bathroom breaks stop at the A2B outlets near petrol bunks. Coffee days are also great for this, but the food is awful, so just buy water, use the loo and head to a Kamat upchar. :)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Diwali Wishes


SpiderLights

Everyone is preparing for Diwali, even the spiders. :) The owner of this art work is a large signature spider who had put this up on a nearby tree. She must have been at it all night and the gentle drizzle in the morning made it very festive. Her photo is present at the bottom of this post.

This blog post is to wish you all a very happy and prosperous Diwali from K and myself.

For those wondering where Ive been the last few months, given the silence on both Flickr and Blogger, Im alive and kicking. Drowning in a stream of endless work; both professional and personal.

KWithSparkles


Since our short trip to Chennai and Mahab. in Aug ( photos are on Flickr, trickling out slowly but surely. ) I haven't found much time to process or post, and as a result there has not been much to blog about.

The photos featured in this post are from last year's diwali, and were taken with my old Canon S3. After using a DSLR, there is no way Im going back to that, I can tell you. Makes a world of difference not only to the quality of the shot but also the experience of shooting the subject, whatever it be.

Diwali 003


K has been working very hard on revamping his new website, my only contribution being the design of his logo and a few photos. Do check out some of our recent snaps from Somnathpura,KA at the site. More photos as time permits.

Signature Spider


The artist herself. Im guessing that this is a female, since the males are very puny and this was a large spider. Signature spiders are called so because they have a large X like signature in the center of their webs, the X is added to warn larger animals and birds so that they don't accidentally walk/fly through the web. They keep their legs in pairs so that they appear to have only 4 legs. Their venom is harmless to humans. The live on wasps and other insects.

Source and read more: http://scienceray.com/biology/zoology/the-signature-spider/

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Birds of Ranganthittu

Over the years, I have often visited Ranganthittu and with growing familiarity I've become quite fond of it. Its a must visit spot if you're into birds and even though its rather small ( around 60 odd sq km ) it does boast of a nice variety of bird life, if you know where to look.

The park consists of little islands on the banks of the river Cauvery, and is near Srirangapatna town.

Some history that I became aware of only recently - the islands were artificially created when a dam across the Cauvery was built in the 1700s. It was ornithologist Dr. Salim Ali who persuaded the Wodeyar royal family of Mysore to convert the area to a bird sanctuary in the 1940s.

If you time your visit to the sanctuary in the nesting season, you will be treated to quite a sight ( if you can tolerate the pungent odor of bird droppings )

The birds are seen from boats ( human powered with oars ) or by walking along the banks or from a watch tower. The park also has gardens, lawns and artificial ponds which host other little birds.

Black headed Ibis


Black headed Ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus)

Being large birds, these are usually the first to be seen from the boat ride.
These birds breed in South Asia and Southeast Asia from Pakistan to India, Sri Lanka east up to Japan. They build a nest of twigs and lay 2 to 4 eggs.
They feed on fish, frogs and other water creatures, as well as on insects.

Spot Billed Pelican


Spot Billed Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis)

They breed in southern Asia from southern Pakistan across India east to Indonesia. They can be identified at close range by the spots on the upper mandible. It is a colonial breeder, often breeding in the company of other waterbirds. The birds nest in gregarious colonies and the nest is a thick platform of twigs placed on a low tree. Breeding season from October to May.

Painted Stork


Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala)

This is a very large wading bird. Its range extends from wetlands and plains of tropical Asia south of the Himalayas in South Asia to Southeast Asia. Being very colorful birds, identifying them couldn't be simpler. Their distinctive pink feathers near the tail give them their name.

Regrettably I always have very poor luck with these birds, I never seem to be able to capture them photogenically. I'm not happy with my photos of it, so I'm including one of Keshav's as well.

Painted Stork



They forage in flocks in shallow waters along rivers or lakes. They immerse their half open beaks in water and sweep them from side to side and snap up their prey of small fish that are sensed by touch. As they wade along they also stir the water with their feet to flush hiding fish. They nest colonially in trees, often along with other waterbirds.
In northern India, the breeding season begins in mid-August while in southern India the nest initiation begins around October and continues till February - April.

Asian Open Billed Stork
Juvenile Asian Open Bill


Asian Open Billed Stork (Anastomus oscitans)

It is a resident breeder in tropical southern Asia from India and Sri Lanka east to Southeast Asia.

Graceful in flight, this a broad-winged soaring bird, which is not particularly attractive or photogenic at close quarters. It can be seen flying overhead with its neck outstretched. Not as large as the painted stork, it can be easily identified by its unusually shaped beak, which only meets at the tip, leaving a gap between the upper and lower mandibles. They breed near inland wetlands and build stick nest in trees, typically laying 2-6 eggs.

Asian Open Billed Stork


Breeding adults are all white except for the black wing flight feathers, red legs and dull yellow-grey bill.


Eurasian Spoon Bill


Eurasian Spoon Bill (Common Spoonbill - Platalea leucorodia)

Breeds in southern Eurasia (Spain to Japan) and in North Africa. Most birds migrate to the tropics in winter, with European breeders mainly going to Africa, but a few remaining in mild winter areas of western Europe north to the United Kingdom.

The breeding bird is all white except for its dark legs, black bill with a yellow tip, and a yellow breast patch like a pelican. It has a crest in the breeding season. Non-breeders lack the crest and breast patch, and immature birds have a pale bill and black tips to the primary flight feathers. Unlike herons, spoonbills fly with their necks outstretched.

The Eurasian Spoonbill can be differentiated from the African Spoonbill by its crest. The African species also has a red face and legs which are absent here.

Purple Heron


Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)

This is among my personal favorites, since its not often seen and is painfully shy. It breeds in Africa, central and southern Europe, and southern and eastern Asia. The European populations are migratory, wintering in tropical Africa; the more northerly Asian populations also migrate further south within Asia.

It breeds in colonies in reed beds or trees close to large lakes or other extensive wetlands building a bulky stick nest. It feeds in shallow water, spearing fish, frogs, insects, small mammals, reptiles and small birds. When spotted, it will often be waiting motionless for prey, or slowly stalking its victim. It tends to keep within reed beds more than the Grey Heron and is therefore less often seen, despite its large size.

It has a slow flight, with its neck retracted. This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes and spoonbills, which extend their necks. The long neck of Purple Heron looks particularly snake-like, with more of an S-shape in flight. Its call is not melodious, a loud croaking "krek".

In the next parts of this series, I hope to cover :
Cattle Egret, Eurasian Thicknee, Kingfishers, River Tern, Blyth's Reed Warbler and the Streak-throated swallow

Monday, July 19, 2010

Thank You!

Lion1
Article and Photo



If you follow my blog, you'll notice that all my posts are about me, presenting my (often flawed) opinion. This post is not about me. This post is to extend my gratitude to friends, family, colleagues and subscribers who have supported and encouraged me in my crazy (often obsessive) hobbies.

Kingfisher
Index with my pied kingfisher


A couple of days ago I saw some of my photos in print for the first time, I thought I'd share these and my joy with you all.

A Bengali wildlife magazine (BON - means Forest in Bengali) kindly printed my Gir lion photos with a accompanying article based on my blog post. It appeared in the 3rd Edition.


Lion2
Article
Lion3
Contd


Many thanks to Mr. Goutam Biswas, Mr Hironmoy Maiti and Mr. Sibbrata Basu for making this happen. The print quality is fabulous, and print articles on forests, conservation, birds, insects, endangered species and fauna with generous space for photos ( I cannot appreciate the writing since I cannot read Bengali, but those who have read it speak highly of the written content)

If you can read Bengali and are passionate about wildlife, this magazine is definitely for you. If you want to know how to subscribe to this magazine, please drop me a mail / comment and I will put you in touch with them. They dont have a website yet.

Cover
BON Cover Page, 3rd Edition


If you're wondering how my photos came to be printed in a Bengali magazine, the credit goes to Amalesh Dasgupta Uncle, who is our family friend, who befriended me one day as I was taking some photos on our terrace. Many many thanks uncle!

Many thanks also to my friend and colleague Ayan Kar who took the time to go through the Bengali article and read it for me :)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gir Part II : More than Lions

Peacock RoadShow
Keshav's gorgeous photo of Gir's gem.


In all national parks that have big cats, they tend to attain super star status. They dominate the conversation between guides, trackers, tourists and hotel staff. Be it tigers, lions or leopards.

When your jeep drops you off at your hotel, the hotel staff greets you with a drink, cold towels and the question " How many lions did you see? ". It is easy to get carried away by all the cat mania and count the day as lost if a feline was not glimpsed.

Gir is a birders paradise, and particularly so in summers. The brush is tinder dry and so drab, the more brightly coloured birds stick out like sore thumbs. Ive seen a lot of peacocks, but never have they looked more beautiful than in Gir. Take my word for it, my photos probably do not do them justice, but they are simply breathtaking.

During the evening, large numbers of them like to sit high up on electric pylons - the light is too poor to take pictures, but the unmistakable silhouettes look beautiful against the evening sky.

Peacock


As the jeep drives through the forest, the sound of multitudes of chirping birds rents the air. This can be experienced in most forests, but what really pleased me was that you can actually see little birds going about their activities even as you drive past, they are so easy to spot among the bare branches! Minivets, tickels blue fly catchers, bee eaters, magpie robins are present by the thousands. They are no longer nameless chirps in a sea of leaves.

Oriental White Eye


Of course, being able to see and being able to photograph are two completely different things. We saw a lot of dancing peacocks thanks to a heavy down pour on our first day at Gir. Unfortunately, peacocks dance for peahens; not for tourists. So most of the time, we get a back stage view of the performance. Thanks to K for lending me his peacock photo that Ive featured at the top of this blog.

TickelsBlue Fly Catcher Male


The birds were great, but the real bonus was yet to come.
As we tore through the forest in the quest for lions, our hawk eyed guide abruptly pointed out a movement in a tree. We backed up and stared in the direction he pointed and saw nothing.

A closer look revealed a large monitor lizard that was pretending to be a gnarled branch.

Monitor Lizard First Look


Fortunately it moved and gave a better pose, allowing us to see it better.
I'm glad that I was able to capture the leathery quality of its skin thanks to the sunlight and the new camera. It was a first for all of us, apparently they are not easily spotted.

Monitor_Lizard 2
Monitor Lizard


When not looking at lions, we saw :



Birds :

Black Ibis
Darter
Purple Heron
Painted stork
Wooly necked stork
Koucal
Red Wattled lapwings at nest
Brahminy starlings
Small green bee eater
Plum Headed parakeets at nest
Eurasian thickknees at nest
Changeable Hawk Eagle at Nest
Honey Buzzard pair



More Birds

White eyes
Great tits
Small grey un-identified woodpecker
Tailor birds
Babblers
Paradise Fly catcher ( Male, female, juvenile male )
Tickels blue fly catchers
Magpie Robin pairs
Sunbirds
Red vented bulbuls
White Breasted KingFisher
Small blue kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher
Yellow footed green pigeon
Minivets
Rose Ringed parakeet
Spotted Owlets at nest


Non-Birds:

Monitor lizards
Mongoose
Sambar Deer
Spotted Dear
Neelgai herd
Langoors
Crocodiles
Wild boar



I embed my Flickr photos in my blog, I do this because I have a Flickr pro account that gives me unlimited storage, and Flickr has some magic that makes my photos look some how better, no matter what the size.

I recently learnt that Flickr is still not visible in CamelCentral ( it is banned by UAE, Orkut is also banned )

So I thought I'd upload the gir photos of the previous blog to picasa ( not full size ), here is a shot slideshow of those, more will be added as I shake off laziness. :)




This post was delayed by too much work and too little electricity. The electricity part has been dealt with by investing in an inverter, photos can now be processed fearlessly. God bless Sukam and Exide!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gir Part I : Asiatic Lions

The Lady of Gir
Gorgeous, isnt she?


Gir had been on our plans for a long time and we finally made a trip this summer. (1st May to 5th May 2010)

Given that Gir is the only home of the Asiatic lion in the world, it is surprisingly poorly marketed probably because Gujarat depends little on tourism to bring in revenue. I was also surprised that there are so few detailed trip reports from Gir visitors. Hopefully, with this post and perhaps a couple more, I will be able to rectify that. :)

Why to Visit

The last lion census concluded just days before we visited, the park has 411 lions. This includes 77 cubs, 46 sub-adult lions (23 males and as many females), 29 unidentified lions, 162 adult females and 97 adult males. Gir also has a healthy leopard population numbering around 300.
If being the only place in the world where you can see Asiatic lions isn't enough for you, we found that Gir is also great for birding.
Yes, gujarati food is fabulous too and if you are vegetarian, you will find plenty at the buffet table.

When to Visit

The best time to visit is Summer. Mind you, it will be hot; but if you can bear it the rewards are great! The forest is as dry as a bone; nearly all the trees are bare, giving very good visibility into the park. Leaf-less trees are also excellent for birding.

I learnt from the locals that the most popular and also unproductive time ( holiday rush ) is Diwali and Christmas - so if you want to avoid the crowds, keep that in mind. Park is closed during the monsoon (Mid June to Mid October).

Plan a trip of atleast 6 safaris (3 days). We had planned 7 safaris but unseasonal rains confined us to 5. I feel at least 8 safaris should be done to get a real feel of things and to see the park at leisure.

Brother & Sister
Male cub in front, his sister behind


How to Reach Gir

Fly to Ahmedabad or Rajkot ( there are fewer flights to Rajkot ). From Rajkot the drive to Sasan Gir is 1hr 15 min on very good roads. From Ahmedabad it is 5.5 hrs to Sasan, the road is excellent.

Sasan also has a railway station, the train route is through the forest, its a meter gauge and will be slow. The chances of spotting wildlife on the train route are quite good. We first saw one of our male lions while he was crossing the track.

We hired a AC Tavera with driver for the entire duration of the trip. Handy if you want to see other places around Gir.

Mr. Ajay (Cab Service) - 09824066862

Where to Stay

Some amount of planning ahead is needed as the accommodation options in Gir are not as plentiful as you may find in kanha/ranthambore/bandhavgarh. Booking ahead is advised, I would recommend making as many payments as possible online since the ATMs are quite far away (1 hour drive).

We stayed at Gir Birding Lodge - a charming little property inside a mango orchard and shares a boundary with the national park. We really liked it. The birding in this lodge is just fabulous, food is great, service courteous. Just as important - rooms, esp. the bathrooms are particularly good ( We took AC deluxe cottages ) If you are visiting in Summer you will need the AC, trust me.

Mr.Pradeep (Manager of Gir Birding Lodge) : 09723971842

Another option which was recommended is Wonderland Resort - choose this if you have companions who aren't as into the animals or birds as you are.

Baby Yawn
Posing for photos is so boring :)


Guides

If you are in Gir for some serious birding or are very particular about getting good photos you will need to get in touch with a Guide who understands your requirements. The much famed and highly recommended Lalit Bhai was our guide, and he did not disappoint.

In all my trips so far, we had relied on our resorts arranging the guides/drivers (Kanha/Bandhavgarh/Bharatpur), or on the forest dept to provide them (Ranthambore/BR Hills); so this was different for us.

All about Safaris

Hiring the safari vehicle must be done in advance, either through your resort or by other means.

Each vehicle (the vehicle is an open top Gypsy) seats 6 thin passengers + 1 driver + 1 guide. If you have a tripod and gear, assume no more than 4 passengers. It is best to keep your gypsy to yourself and like-minded companions. Its more expensive obviously, but very worth it.

Once the permits are made ( they have to be made fresh each day ) the forest department allots a guide and a driver to each Jeep. Its a rotation basis allotment and you'll never get the same people again. ( This new system was introduced this year )

Lion Cub Male


The department allows only 30 vehicle permits, so book ahead. You will need to carry one ID proof ( I used drivers license ) to get the permit made the first time.

Safaris are of 3 hours each, morning safari starts around 7am; evening safari 3:30 - 4pm. The timings are not written in stone and tend to vary.

The core park area is closed for tourists, so one only gets a glimpse into around 15% of the park area.

The park has lion trackers who station themselves near a lion sighting and keep a wary eye on the tourists and ensure that the lions are not harassed. The bonhomie between the trackers and guides is delightful to watch and a pleasant change from most of the parks Ive visited.

Queen of Gir
Adult Female walking towards our jeep, Tracker behind her


There are 8 Routes into the park, the routes tend to overlap in many places. People say 1,3,2, and 6 are the best routes. Personally, I also liked number 7. These are the only routes we got, so I cannot comment on the rest. Routes are also decided by the forest department.

Lalit Bhai took care of all of the above and was our single point of contact, making things so much easier. He also understands that you just aren't after lions and took us to a lot of bird hot spots. It helps to have a guide who knows your bird's favorite perch, nesting site and who is intimately familiar with its habits.
He was recommended to me by Misha Desai and to Keshav by Yogendra Bhai.

Lalit Bhai - 09879118283 ( Lalit bhai speaks Hindi very well and a little english )

How Asiatic lions differ from African lions

1. Asiatic lions are smaller with sparser manes than their African cousins. This means that the Male Asiatic lion's ears will always be visible. The largest Asiatic lion on record measured 2.9 m from nose to tail-tip.

2. Male Asiatic lions weigh between 160-190 kgs, while females weigh between 109-165 kgs. On the other hand, male African lions weigh between 150-227 kgs but the females weigh about the same as their Asiatic cousins.

2. Asiatic lions, have a longitudinal skin fold running along the belly in both sexes, while the skin fold is rarely seen in their African counterparts.

3. Asiatic lions have thicker tuft of hairs on their elbows and tail to distinguish them from African lions. I can vouch for this, the tail tufts were extremely bushy in all the lions I saw, compared to what we are used to seeing on Discovery channel :)

4. The skull difference - Fifty percent of Asiatic lions have two small apertures or holes (bifurcated infra-orbital foramina) that allow nerves and blood vessels to reach the eye, while there is only one infraorbital foramen in African lions.

The Pride of Gir
The Pride of Gujarat


5. Average pride strength in Asiatic lion is usually two or three, while African lion pride starts from 5 to many. Asiatic male lions do not form social group with females and they associate with female lions only when mating or sharing food. In fact, male Asiatic lions group together to defend their territory against rival males.

The last point is particularly significant, having seen so many African lions in huge numbers on TV, the pride size which we saw in Gir was of 3 adult females and 4 cubs. We also saw 2 different pairs of Male lions, both were brothers who jointly defended their territories.

The Experience

Compared to seeing tigers, this is a totally different experience. The animals are huge and very adorable, not to mention friendly. They exhibit excellent temperament and are happy to lounge around for extended periods of time and let you click photos. Compared to the female tigers Ive seen these lionesses were much larger.

The cubs provided endless entertainment, never sitting still and with plenty of funny facial expressions. The displays of affection between them were particularly lovely to watch.

The lions in the park are very used to the presence of humans and tend to be very comfortable in their company. Only one 3 year old Male whom we saw was edgy because he had just fought with his brother and was alone in another male's territory. He was the only one who did not give a seated audience, instead he dashed across the road, behind our jeep and vanished into the thickets.

Tree Hugger
Tree Hugger - Adult Male refused to move from his beloved tree


It must be mentioned though that it isn't as easy to sight lions as one might think. I guess since we are brought up on a steady diet of Discovery channel documentaries on African lions, we tend to expect the same from Gir. Do not expect them to sit in the open on golden grass with the nearest tree a kilometer away. Photos uncluttered by branches, twigs, leaves are not easy to come by.

The Gir forest is quite dense, unlike the african savanna. In the summer, the lions are well camouflaged and we nearly missed one female who sat right next to the road under a tree, as we drove past. Only my Mom's hawk like eyes spotted her and we reversed to where she sat.

Asiatic lion Facts Source:
Asiatic Lion
Asiactic Lion.org

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

First shots with Canon 350D

Sunflowers2


This blog post is to say goodbye to my companion of many years - my beloved Canon Powershot S3 IS.

My better (bigger actually) half has upgraded his equipment and I decided to finally take the big step and get into the big bad and very expensive world of DSLRs with the Canon 350D

One small step for me, a giant hole in my wallet


Currently I'm using a Sigma 70-300mm lens. I'd like to say that the choice of lens is a result of careful planning and extensive research. But, no.. its actually the only one I could comfortably hold. Since it also has a bit of macro capability it also helps me chase my butterflies and other little-er critters.

Butterfly - Id Pls


This one of a little blue insect particularly surprised me. The focus is on the insect.

Sun Flower with Little Blue Insect

When it comes to birds, its quite sufficient in my opinion, since I don't like to use a tripod ( especially if I have to carry the damn thing about ). True, I cannot look deep into the bird's eyeballs, but then if that's what you want to do, you're better off being a bird optician.

Swallow

Keshav and I spent a weekend making friends with the friendly neighborhood swallows and wagtails, to try out the new equipment, in preparation for the upcoming trip to Gir. ( Yes, finally, we're going )

WagTail


These shots came out quite well in my opinion, comments welcome as always.. The only issue I'm having currently is with the exposure settings - I think its a matter of getting the hang of it.

Btw, a purple sunbird male made a flying visit to our balcony. I'm now thinking of ways to make him come back again, preferably with friends in tow.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Wonderful Wayanad


Tea Estate
God's own Tea Estate


Last year after we had finalized our house, the stress of it all began to show on us. We needed a break, but budgets were tight. Did I say tight? I meant non-existent... Our search for a relaxing weekend getaway (non-birding) that would fall within our meager budget led us to Wayanad, Kerala.

Getting There

This was easy, there are a lot of websites that give great directions, so I wont repeat this here. Here's some of the ones which we used.
http://www.hampi.in/bangalore-to-wayanad-by-road.shtml
http://www.mustseeindia.com/driving-directions-from-Bangalore-to-Wayanad/travel-direction

We left in the morning and with lots of stops for stretching, leisurely breakfasts; we got to Sultan Bathery at lunch time.

Wayanad Roads
Kerala Roads


Barista on route (mysore road) is recommended (its a very pretty place) - we had 2 versions of the continental breakfast (which took for ever to come, given that we were the only customers. I think no one had ordered it before we got there, so it seemed that they went into a team huddle to figure out exactly what to serve us)

Infact, while we waited, a pair of Spotted munia had almost completed building their nest in the small tree next to our table. Ok, so I exaggerated a tad :)

Where to Stay

Vythri is very recommended as a swank place to stay. So is RainCountry.
But since we were on a budget this time, both were ruled out.
We wanted a clean, comfortable stay without too many frills, we settled on Wynberg Resorts.

It turned out happily, that we had made a great decision; and here's why - Wynberg is located away from the madding crowds ( which means its nearly inaccessible by road). There are no other resorts nearby, actually.. there is no other commercial establishment of any kind for several kms. While it may sound forbidding, it has its advantages. You have the place all to yourself, its not touristy and its surroundings are unbelievably pristine.


Lone Egret
At the paddy fields surrounding the resort


Its a tad hard to reach though, its location map says "call us after this point". And true enough we called often after that point and with increasing degrees of anxiety, and were greatly relieved when we got there.

This is the place to stay ONLY if you have your own car and a good direction sense. Even better if your car has high ground clearance.

What to See

1. Rock climbing is apparently what everyone does at Wayanad (Edakkal caves) - personally, unless you know what you're doing I wouldn't recommend this, since there is no gear nor any professionals to guide you ( or rescue you ). And did I mention the bad roads? You may suffer more shocks to your bones on the bumpy roads than from a fall from a high point. We didn't want to risk it, so we gave it a miss.

2. Pookote Lake - is a lake cum garden with boating facilities (pedal), known for its spectacular purple lotuses. ( As luck would have it, just before we got there, the lake authority wiped out every single bloom as a part of a cleaning operation )
So, find out if the lotuses are in bloom before you leave for this place.

WaterFall at Soochipara
Soochipara


3. Soochi para Waterfalls - an easy to reach waterfall ( reachable after a long walk on stone paved pathways and stone steps ). Can be attempted easily even without sensible footware. Not recommended for the elderly or the infirm though, the uphill walk on the way back, can cause much huffing and puffing for unfit software professionals. :) The walking route though is lovely and full of birding opportunities.

4. Banasura Sagar Dam - is the largest earthen dam in India. Project started in 1979 and looked to me like it was far from being complete given all the rubble and heavy machinery about, but apparently it is complete. Can be given a miss, but if want to do some birding, this place has potential.

IMO, the best and most sensible thing to do, is to drive around or walk around the tea estates of the resort and take in the serenity, beauty and sheer green-ness. Its the most relaxing thing to do.

What to buy / eat / do

All resorts will sell packaged locally grown spices. The prices are not too different from what you'd find in a Big Bazaar ( believe me, i checked ). But the quality is definitely superior.

Frog on leaf
Just outside our cottage, early morning


Jute and coir handicrafts and herbal oils are also hawked to tourists at all the attractions, but I was not impressed with the quality and standards here ( this is better done in Munnar/Thekaddy or some other more established destinations)
We bought a pair of beautiful earthen ware hanging candle holders from our resort and learnt later from the proprietor that they were sourced from Pondicherry. :)

Eating

Keshav and I live to eat and our expanding waistlines are testament to that. We were looking forward to some delightful kerala cuisine and were sadly disappointed. As our resort's owner candidly informed us, wayanad is not a foodie's delight. Your best bet for a good meal is to make friends of the locals and get them to invite you home.

And how right he was - our first meal in Wayanad was at Sultan Bathery at the Mint Flower Multi cuisine Family Restaurant. An establishment you should venture into only when faced with certain starvation. We were apparently the only people ordering Kerala style food because almost everything on that section of their extensive menu was not available.


Painted_Courtesan
PaintedCourtesan

butterfly_blackWhite
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We learnt later from experience that we should order NorthIndian (read Punjabi) food or indian chinese if we wanted to eat something remotely appetizing. We did this at the Chain Tree Restaurant and were not disappointed. It is bang opposite to the famous chain tree which apparently imprisons a spirit that caused road accidents. Although, I'm more of the opinion that the spirit responsible for the accidents was probably the alcoholic kind.

Our package at Wayanad included breakfast and dinner only. For lunches we were always at the mercy of eateries at the tourist spots. We made up for this by eating well at breakfast. Food at Wynberg is fabulous compared to what you'll get in the restaurants in Wayanad. Its very homely and is prepared by the cook who also cooks for the proprietor's family, who live on the estate.
But it doesn't beat our favourite place for Kerala food in Bangalore - BonSouth and SouthIndies.

What we did not like

Don't order coffee (ever), you should probably avoid the tea also if you don't like it nice and sugary with lots of milk (which is how I like it and which makes Keshav nauseous ). Stick to fruit juices or carbonated beverages (if you need the caffeine).

Green Tea
Tea, best viewed in Wayanad


Keshav and I tried the ayurvedic massage by trained professionals who work in the district hospital - its far from the relaxing dreamy vision that ad campaigns have led us to believe. While it did us no harm, it wasn't very nice either. The wooden table was extremely hard, the oil smelt like medicine and was very hard to get rid of. The masseuse was not exactly gentle; the experience while not relaxing, was probably very good for blood circulation and the like.

My only complaint with our resort was the dim lighting in both the room and the bathroom and the presence of a humongous but docile spider on our room wall that had Keshav and I drawing lots on who would sleep on the spider side of the bed. (honest)

I wouldn't recommend this resort to honeymooners (unless they are entomologists ), but I'd recommend it to nearly every one else.

What we loved

People are extremely friendly and helpful with directions. The scenery is of the kind that makes you reach for the camera every few meters. Aside from the inside of towns, the roads on the Kerala side of the border are very good indeed.
The houses surrounding the resort all have gardens filled with flowers, particularly hibiscus. Even small modest dwellings are spotlessly maintained, have small gardens with marigolds, asters and other flowers.

September is obviously a great time to visit. We had great weather through out. Book your resorts early. Very early.

RoomWithAView
The Room
The view from Wynberg
View from the Window


Service was delightful and Table tennis was part of the amenities on offer, which we used everyday.

We loved our resort and its surroundings. It is an eco-friendly resort and not a single tree was cut to build it, which I thought was just wonderful. There were lots of birds, butterflies and pretty frogs. We stayed in a cottage (vs. a tree house).
Accommodation was basic but clean and nicely done, the view couldn't be beaten.
We're definitely visiting again, hopefully with a bigger budget!
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