Category Archives: Trip Reports

Birds 011 - Red Wattled Lapwing

Gujarat (LRK, GRK & Jamnagar) Trip Report

By | Trip Reports | 6 Comments

After a long research and getting loads of information from many I had finalized Little Rann of Kutch (LRK), Greater Rann of Kutch (GRK) and Jamnagar trip for about 2 weeks in December 2015.
Mr Rajendra, fellow INWian and my Nephew joined me in this trip from 23rd Dec 2015 to 3rd Jan 2016.

It went tough on bookings as majority of the resorts were already booked so we had to compromise on few things like accommodation, dates etc.
We booked Bhavna Resorts in LRK for 3 nights (Average Guides for Wildlife enthusiasts, Very good rooms with manageable food)
Kutch Fossils in GRK for 4 nights – (Excellent Guide, average rooms but Excellent food)
Hotel President in Jamnagar for 2 nights – (Decent Guide we had, Excellent accommodation and Very Good food)

A summary before a long story:
Provided a very good rain fall that year at these places,

Little Rann of Kutch (LRK)Not Recommended
Greater Rann of Kutch (GRK)Highly Recommended
JamnagarRecommended

LRK

We landed in Mumbai on 23rd Dec and took a train from Bandra which goes to the nearest railway station to Padti, Viramgam.
We reached around 8:30 a.m. as the train got delayed by an hour and a taxi from Bhavna Resort was waiting for us.
Prashanth ji, who runs this resort was very kind in arranging all the transportation during our stay, it was a great support.
His hospitality was also very good. Food at the resort is authentic Gujarati style which was manageable. Rooms are clean and air conditioned.

Our first birding trip started at 4 pm to Bajana, we were already late by an hour despite we were free from 11 a.m. spending all the time in and around the resort.
It was a very disappointing trip, adding to that our vehicle broke down while returning to resort but luckily another one was arranged.

We informed Prashanth ji over dinner to arrange a better Guide for the rest of the trip. He was kind enough and considered our request.

After first few bird safaris we realized the reality of LRK

  1. LRK is an Ocean of Dust, we must cover ourselves completely and the Camera & Equipment need special care
  2. Due to open Jeep Safari’s the dust issue is magnified multifolds, to avoid this dust and cold wind (in winters) Ninja Caps (which covers everything but eyes) are mandatory to have
  3. Gloves, Warmers and Socks are mandatory in Winter
  4. Better to use Sun glasses for eye protection from dust & wind
  5. Need to carry lots of water, resort also arranges
  6. The worst part is travelling a minimum of 150 kilometers (100 miles) per day yet chances of spotting Raptors is a big challenge. Getting good images is purely luck.
    1. First day we travelled around 60 kms to Bajana
    2. Second day we covered Taragoda and Oodi which is about 150 KMs in total
    3. Third day we covered Zinzuwada, Osaraj and Bajana in the evening which is around 300 KMs !!!
  7. There are few places where Harriers can be found but they are found only during sunset where light is the biggest challenge, high ISOs 3200 and above are a must.
  8. The loud noise of our Jeeps scared away the wildlife both Birds & Mammals at many places, realized Petrol vehicles were ideal
  9. Finally it’s all dry land with thorny shrubs at some places

We felt the amount of effort VS the returns in LRK is not justified. So we cancelled our 4th day morning birding safari and started to GRK in the morning itself by 7 am on 27th Dec.
We were unable to find the main attractions of this place or photograph Short Eared Owl (a glimpse), Mac Queen Bustard or even Desert Fox (lots of missed opportunities).

High ISO shots (ISO 3200) of Harriers, difficult to approach near with a Jeep due to the huge noise the jeep makes.
Harrier at LRK
Below list of birds were first timers to me.

White WagtailCommon BabblerDesert WheatearDesert LarkCrested Lark
Hoope LarkGriffon VultureImperial EagleGreater FlamingoLesser Flamingo
MerlinIris BillPallid Scops OwlPied AvocetNorthern Shevrolet
Common Teal DuckDalmatian PelicanRuddy ShelduckGreylag GooseFerruginous Pochard

GRK

We reached GRK at 2 pm by road thru Bhuj. The roads were excellent. We had a good lunch and started for Birding at 4 pm to watch resident birds.
It was not so exciting with no luck returned to resort by 7 pm, relaxed and planned for next 3 days birding.

We covered

  1. Chari lake
  2. Banni Grasslands
  3. Naliya
  4. Mandvi
  5. Nakhatrana

Mandvi was rocking and had the best time, Naliya was disappointing without Indian Bustard sightings :)
All the places at GRK were very good and we could approach the birds carefully and as a guide, Mr Vikramsinh Sodha was “outstanding”, the same applies to his hospitality.
Enjoyed GRK stay to the core and we were very happy with the decision we made to spend the maximum time here.

GRK is a great place to get good photos of Indian Courser
Indian Courser
Approaching Harriers in GRK is also a challenge, Bangalore is far better to photograph these raptors :)
Harrier at GRK
Below list of birds were first timers to me.

Indian CourserVariable WheaterCommon CraneRed Tailed WheatearTawny Pipit
Grey HypocoliusBlue ThroatRufous ShrikeWhite ThroatSteppe Eagle
Citrine WagtailGreat White PelicanDunlinSanderlingCrab Plover
OyestercatcherWestern Reef HeronPacific Golden PloverCommon RedshankPalla’s Gull
Yellow Legged GullHeuglins GullGull Bill TernCaspien TernWhiskered Tern
Black Tailed GodwitKentish PloverEurasian WryneckBlack FrancolinStoliczka’s bushchat (White-browed bush chat)
Long Legged BuzzardEurasian HobbyGreat Toed LarkIndian Bush LarkIndian Nightjar
Ruddy Turnstone

Western Reef Herons and Shrikes are easily found.
Western Reef Heron
Shrike

The main difference between LRK and GRK was, birding happens “on the drive” in LRK whereas we travel to a place and do birding at GRK.
At LRK, we used to return to resort after morning safari whereas in GRK we were returning only in the night.

Jamnagar

After a great time at GRK, we headed to Jamnagar on 31st Dec post lunch. We reached Jamnagar by 8 pm by taxi.
Mr. Chirag (Chiku) had made all our arrangements, a nice person. We had a quick discussion with him about the birding plans and retired for the day with no celebration on 31st Dec :)
Two days of birding was good and covered Marine National Park in Gulf of Kutch too.

Below list of birds were first timers to me .

Nothern PintailSand LarkLong Billed PipitTerek SandpiperSlender Billed Gull
Gretaer Sand PloverLesser Sand PloverGreat KnotBroad Billed SandpiperRuff
Red Turtle DoveGrey PloverBrown Headed GullBlack Headed GullCommon Pochard Duck
Mallard Duck

Interestingly, I don’t even know that there is a bird called “Sand Lark” which was the first one I photographed in Jamnagar.
The best place for birding in Jamnager is Lakhota Lake, next time I will definitely plan a full day birding there.
Lakhota lake made me realize how sharp Sigma Sports 150-600mm lens is at f/9 (Below image).

After almost 12 days of exclusive birding, on 3rd Jan 2016, we traveled to Rajkot post morning birding session to catch our Bangalore flight, ended our tour.

Over these days, I shot 9,800+ photos which were majorly record shots.
Below are few images (ADOBE RGB color profile) which I was able to process in 11 months time :)
All the images were shot with Nikon D750 Camera (my kind cousin lent me for this trip) with Sigma Sports 150-600mm lens.

Thank you very much for your valuable time, please correct me the IDs of birds which are incorrect. I am very poor at identifying these aquatic birds :(

—————> Trip Photos <—————

Have a great time.

Thanks,
Sravan

Bharatpur

Bharatpur – A first timer’s insights

By | Trip Reports | 4 Comments

Trip Dates: 8th & 9th Feb 2016

With the great help of India Nature Watch (INW) members I was able to book a guide in very short time and arranged transportation accordingly for the planned dates 8th & 9th Feb 2016.

Confirmed with all once I reached Agra on 7th Feb and was ready for a 2 day trip.
On 8th Morning at 6am I got a call from Mr. Birendar (guide whom I booked) to start little late by around 7:30am as it was very foggy.
The journey would take about 1.5 hours from Agra on a Taxi. I started at 7:20am and the road conditions were as in This Short Clip.

Thanks to the driver who had an amazing skill of driving in this kind of Fog!
We stopped for few minutes once we enter into Rajasthan for Vehicle permit and reached Bharatpur sanctuary by around 8:45 am.
I called up Birendar on reaching who already purchased the Park entry tickets and my photography journey had started there after.

First stop was right after entering into the park where people were photographing a Spotted Owlet.
I was expecting to see few Spotted Owlets after seeing famous images of Mr. Ganesh H Shankar & Mr. Sudhir Shivaram from this place. I  quickly took 3 images as a record. Below is a time pass image with time pass processing :)

Birds 255 - Spotted OwletI set the expectation to the guide that as this was my first visit to the place, I want to understand the place and subjects than giving priority to photography and the next day I may try making few photographs.

Then moved away from the owlet, then he was showing other places and birds and I was asking few questions about park etc then suddenly a rickshaw person approached us and showed me a camera and lens which was broken and in a bad state of operation (shutter was occasionally went on shooting without stopping for few seconds).

He informed me that the camera and lens were dropped off from the hands of a photographer and the camera hit the ground directly which caused this damage.

Broken 6D 1 Broken 6D 2I inspected and removed the memory card from the camera (Canon 6D full frame camera with a Tamron 150-600mm VC lens attached) and handed over it to him and said not to keep the card back in the camera as the card might get corrupted and loose all the images and also removed the battery to stop this shutter releases.

But interestingly without even the battery the shutter was still firing with few movements, concluded that this could be mechanical failure and should be inspected in Canon Service center and handed over the camera back to him and left the place. My guide arranged a temporary camera to that guest talking to someone and did not want to spoil the guest’s spirit. A great gesture!

So the conclusion is Canon 6D shutter can fire more than 4.5 frames per second and can go for a while without stopping, the limitation here is the software but not the hardware :)

We moved along finding other birds and found Ferruginous Duck where I was taking few record shots, suddenly Birendar shouted to come over to another place where he heard Sarus Crane’s calls. We started searching and found two of them little far (a little rare display and of a call what I was said), quickly grabbed few shots.

During tea break and lunch time, I observed that the resident birds are pretty much approachable and habituated to humans may be due to the huge number of visitors. But the winter visitors are not much approachable, they are still shy hence need lot of patience and time to approach them closely.

So Bharatpur is a great place to get Full Frame closeups of resident birds.

Birds 252 - Closeup ~ White Throated KingfisherThe main attraction of this place is firstly “Black Necked Stork”. A brief information was shared that a lonely juvenile stork was parented by two visitor storks and they see now a positive growth in their numbers in future in the park.
The primary target for photographers is to capture the hunting sequences of these storks typically when preyed on coots etc.

Second attraction is “Sarus Cranes”, especially photographing calling behavior, wing display etc.
Among migratory birds, visitors are passionate about Bar Headed Goose, which are difficult to approach, need around 1200mm effective focal length on an average to get good shots.
Among raptors, Eurasian Marsh Harriers and Greater Spotted Eagles are abundant and were very active. Oriental Scops Owl and Dusky Eagle Owl are residents in the park.

I was lucky to find one Monitor Lizard (first time for me) that too pretty close in good evening light. One of the guides informed us about its sighting and we rushed to that place (on the main road itself).

Also was lucky to find one juvenile Python.

Indian Rock Python JuvenileApart from the birds quite a few mammals were seen, typically Squirrels, Spotter Deer and Neelgai were everywhere and found Jackals in the  evening at the distance of mere Three (3) feet! Looks like Jackals were too comfortable here.

Came to know that Bharatpur is very famous for Sunsets especially Birds in Sun backdrop.

Bird Scape - 2First day without much planning and being not a photography day, saving the camera battery & memory card for next day, I ended up with 1800 photos (!) before I left the park at 6 pm to Agra back.

Next day, weather was great when started from Agra at 7:20 am and reached Bharatpur by 8:30 am and started birding.
Found peafowls at a temple, which was my closest encounter when I had a camera with me. Spent half an hour with them, they were occasionally disturbed and left the place because of visitors.

Birds 233 - Indian PeafowlThen again heard that the Sarus Cranes were back and were close enough from the main road. So we headed for them and spent close to an hour with them before my camera battery was dead. I  neither carried a spare battery  nor a charger to charge it as I had a battery pack with 12 Duracell batteries. Unfortunately these did not work as expected and my day became challenging as I had to remove the battery compartment after each shot. I recollected my film camera days and followed the core principles of photography, “Plan and Shoot” not having the digital camera luxury.

End of the day when I looked back I shot around 70 photos after my battery was dead compared to my previous day’s 1800!!!
The below are few from plan and shoot concept in digital era :)

Birds 215 - Ashy Prinia Interestingly the bird activity was pretty low compared to the first day and I conclude that when the weather is hot the activity would be low! So this also adds to the lower number of frames on the second day. I opted for boating to see Gray Nightjar as I found bird activity was low as well having challenging time with batteries.

Boating costs Rs. 300 for individual trip and about Rs 75 when shared, I opted for an individual trip due to time constraint.
After boating at 4:30 pm I started back to Agra without waiting for the sunset or further birding as the opportunities for photography were far less compared to the previous day and also had some important work at Agra where I can utilize the rest of the time.
I paid the guide charges and all other expenses like food, entry fee etc to Birendar and bid farewell to this world heritage site at 5:15pm.

Few words about the guide:
Generally a good trip is not possible without a good guide. I was lucky enough to get a good guide who is not only knowledgeable about the subjects and place but also the timing. Mr. Birendar who was my guide had his own Rickshaw for transportation within the park.
He assists his guests in almost everything (that’s required before/after we enter into the park) like

  1. Entry tickets
  2. Food arrangements (Breakfast/Lunch/Tea) etc
  3. Few things like getting any local help (camera repairs, battery charging, purchases, arranging any facilities needed for the taxi drivers etc)
  4. Extremely supportive in field

He was talking to me about the renowned photographer’s in India whom he frequently guides and told that he enjoys a lot working with Mr. Ganesh H Shankar and also shared his feelings about CNP and INW websites!

The only thing that I was not very comfortable with Birendar was that he forces sometimes to take photos and gets upset when we don’t. I can understand his efforts in getting the things but ultimately the photographer should have the creativity and should know when/what/how/capture a moment or not etc. Otherwise  he is excellent.

Few things to note:
1. Minimal focal length required for photography – 600mm and above for closeups or Wide angle lenses for land/animal scapes
2. Few places require 1200mm effective focal lengths for close shots
3. Few water bodies are not accessible for close shots
4. Few areas are not supportive for ground-level shots
5. Majority of the times Light would be good so no high ISOs are required except shady areas where ISO 3200 is handy (below one)

Birds 204 - Siberian Rubythroat6. Bird activity is more in colder weather
7. Lot of opportunities for Action shots (Flights/Hunting/Feeding/Attacking etc), so better be prepared for that.
8. Birds come as close as 1 Feet and Mammals around 3 feet on multiple occasions at many places.
9. Morning and evening light should never be missed, better to be in the park when the park opens
10. Sunset is another thing that should not be missed in bird’s backdrop
11. Better to have warmers handy when visiting in winters
12. Camouflage clothing is always preferred with a Camo hat/cap
13. Keep tripod handy (typically carry and keep it in rickshaw), may need it for early morning/late evening photos
14. Better to shoot sunset photos through Live View/Electronic View finder to avoid risk to eyes
15. Waterproof shoes/sandals may help while walking on water body edges
16. Be careful when walking along the road next to thorny bushes
17. Carry plenty of water and do not throw any plastic/covers in the park
18. Be little careful from the grazing cattle in the park, they may snatch your food bags!
19. I felt park is little more secure than I expected, where we can leave our belongings including lenses unattended for a little while
(due to the fact that other rickshaw people knew your guide/rickshaw and some or the other guide will be roaming around)
20. Never trust Alkaline batteries for Camera Grips, NiMH in India are reliable, a big lesson to me
21. Water bodies are not much cleaner and clear hence taking photos of water birds in water would be tricky

To conclude, Bharatpur is a very nice place to visit especially in winters (when there are good rains that year) and should plan spending around 3 days a minimum.

Please find other images from this & other trips as well

Thanks for your time. Have a nice day.
Sravan

Mammals 096 - Blackbuck or Indian Antelope

Maidanahalli

By | Trip Reports | 3 Comments

I planned my trip for 2 days and 1 night hence needed to stay nearby and went for the forest guest house within the reserve.
One can book the guest house from the forest department either at Bangalore, Tumkur or at Madhugiri. I booked through Tumkur.
People around/Care takers of the guest house were good and have good knowledge about the reserve and wildlife.
I booked for 2 days and realized 1 day means 1 night. So 1 day booking is for 2 days and 1 night stay.

Here now I’ll start my trip report without wasting much time.
This was my first trip ever into any forest or reserve, so was wondering how it would be.

Rented an Indica cab as I was alone, for 2 days on 250KM per day basis and started from home at 7:15am on 26th October.
Had breakfast in Hotel Kamat on Tumkur highway, and reached the CFO office at 10am.
I waited for CFO for about 45 mins and came to know that he’s on leave.
The staff were very co-operative and processed my guest house allotment papers in next 15 mins.
I started from there reached Maidanahalli at 1:15pm, the road through Tumkur is very average(4.5 out of 10).
Please see the following discussion for more information on route and accommodation.
Route and Accommodation

I have to wait 45 mins at the guest house to get the keys as it was the lunch time.
I quickly finished my lunch which I have packed and started for Black Buck sighting at 2:30pm.
I got assisted by the care taker of the guest house and he was my guide till 5pm.
We had to drive through a very rough routes/paths and also on some rocky places where one feels he/she would have come by a SUV.
I avoided my car for the same reason :)

So better vehicles to opt for – SUVs or Jeeps etc.

Just after a few minutes drive we were able to find some Black Bucks gazing on some grass.
And suddenly I have seen a raptor soaring high and was coming towards us.
I started capturing it while coming closer and looked like a Tawny Eagle.
The below is a record shot. The images were not processed very accurately due the huge volume and time constraint.
Sorry for the quality. Also please correct/provide the IDs.

Pic 1:

We stayed there for some time and I have found a Grey Francolin and tried to approach, but it was too fast and disappeared in seconds.
Our guide suggested us another route for better sightings.
It was horrible place to drive but my drive was very kind enough to drive on that route.
We were able see a huge group, 100+ Black Bucks, walking with utmost discipline.

A raptor appeared suddenly, A Tawny and able to capture it for a record, the following.
Pic 2:

We followed the group for about 10 mins very slowly, and the guide was explaining their behavior.
The rain started suddenly and some started jumping and running in that group, it was good to watch and most challenging to photograph as the lens and camera was getting wet along with the Car and Car seats too!
So I closed the window glass and watching them but my guide and driver want me to capture those moments, so I have started taking some picture, following are some.

Pic 3:

Pic 4:

Some are standing still while raining.
Pic 5:

Just after the rain, want it to present in the low light mood.
Pic 6:

Returned back and took another route on our guide’s suggestion, as it may not be possible to drive back if we stay more because of the mud.
This is where I found a small mammal running beside a Black Buck and immediately realized it’s an Indian Fox!
very exciting siting that was! and we followed it for few seconds.
It stopped and looking at us whether we were doing anything, we stayed in the car itself and I clicked few snaps.
It got some confidence that nothing much harmful and quietly walked into nearby bushes.

Pic 7:

After sometime I walked on the rocks to see the wildlife around.
There were lot of birds flying around may be Sandgrouse and a beautiful butterfly.

Pic 8:

Pic 9: Blue Pansy

Other butterflies I have captured,
Pic 10: Danaid Eggfly

Pic 11:

Pic 12: Tawny Coaster

Then I have observed the light and landscapes, it was too good and the following were moments, captured over some time.
Pic 13:

Pic 14:

Pic 15:

Pic 16:

And a final one:
Pic 17:
Link to my India Nature Watch image

We returned back to the guest house and it was 5 pm, the time for the shift change for the attenders.
It took half an hour to get one more person to guide us and it was getting dark because of the cloudy weather.

With the new guide we went again in the routes he suggested, Suddenly I found two bucks started fighting.
We stopped our car and observed their behaviuor for 15 mins and captured some moments.
I had to bumo up my ISO to 1600 to capture the moment sue to the low light.
Looks like a male was trying to enter into other group with another male. There the fight started.

Pic 18:

Once the fight was over they returned to their original routes.

Pic 19:

Went on exploring for Wild Boars and a Bear. No luck, returned back around 6:30 pm and chit chatted with our guide.
It was good discussion today and got good information about the wild life. To summarize some,
1. There are around 1400 Black Bucks + Deers in and around the reserve.
2. Only one bear exists in the reserve and not so often sighted.
3. Three probable places where a sighting of Indian Fox is possible, rare though.
4. Wolves can be seen in dry season in the reserve boarders, near to sheep herds.
5. Chances of sighting of mammals is good in the evenings.
6. Birding is best in the morning before 9 am.
7. Black Bucks can be sighted through out the day, mostly in nearby farm land than the reserve.
8. Same is applicable to the deer.
9. The wild life here generally roam around in 20kms radius for food sometimes, especially Wolves and Hyenas.
10. Hyenas are extremely rare.
11. Peacocks do not present here.
12. The last learning: If you find horns its a Black Buck, without horns – Deers :)

Copied the photographs taken to my laptop and HDD and cleaned my memory card.
Here there was a good learning, I realized the UV filter on my lens killed the clarity and details, even more the Bokeh.
I Immediately removed it.
Had dinner that I brought from home at 8:00 pm and slept at 9:15 pm. Day 1 ended :)

The only issue with the guest house is the bathrooms, they were not so clean, one has to adjust. Rest all are very good.
Also the power is very unreliable. I was lucky and the power was there from 7 pm to morning 9 am.
But the most admiring part of my trip was there were no mosquitoes in the guest house and surroundings!!!

Day 2:

Got up at 6 am and waited for my driver and the guide till 7 am before I started.
In the meantime I took some misty hills and some flowers which I noticed the previous day.

Pic 20:

Pic 21:

Flowers:
Pic 22:

Pic 23:

Pic 24:

Pic 25:

Pic 26:

Pic 27:

Pic 28:
Link to my India Nature Watch image

As expected there were lot of birds in the morning.

Pic 29:

Pic 30:

Pic 31:

Pic 32:

Pic 33:

Pic 34:

Pic 35:

This one went and sat on a tree afterwards for sometime.
Pic 36:

And some Black Bucks too, males some were alone without any groups…
Pic 37:

And I think these are the deer (without horns :))
Pic 38:

Saw a Kestrel and asked driver to approach slowly and was trying to get the Black Buck in the frame.
Got only couple of shots before the Kestrel flew off.
Pic 39:

Got another Kestrel on the drive back, but these were not like the Bangalore ones, these are shy :)
Never stayed even a second after spotting our car even from far distance!
Here is the only one I was managed:
Pic 40:
Link to my India Nature Watch image

Returned back guest house at 10 am and had breakfast Cup Noodles :)
My driver’s breakfast was not ready and hence I have to wait. So I decided to go for some photos in the nearby areas.
That fetched the following interesting behavioral shots.

Pic 41:

First time I have seen how ants build the molds, they bring the mud from the earth and leaves it outside restlessly!
Pic 42:

Other insects shots
Pic 43:

Pic 44:

And a glance of another raptor, looks like Bonelli’s eagle.

Pic 45:

Started for the last trip at 11 am for good Black Buck photos.
I have observed again a raptor approaching towards us from very far off distance and asked the driver to slow down.
It approached little nearer and looked like a Pallid Harrier.

Pic 46:

This time of the day saw lot of Green Bee Eaters!

Pic 47:

Pic 48:

Pic 49:
Link to my India Nature Watch image
Couple of other Black Buck images where I was able to shoot from a good distance.
A day learning of their behavior made these possible.

Pic 50:

Pic 51:

Pic 52:
Link to my India Nature Watch image

Pic 53:
Link to my India Nature Watch image

Also an afternoon fight too…
Pic 54:

Returned guest house at 1 pm, had ready made food as lunch and started from this beautiful place at 1:45 pm.
We took the Dobbaspet route on return and it took exactly 3 house to reach my home.
The road was very good expect few areas (6/10).

I reached at 4:45 pm and thanked my driver for his extended help on driving in the places from where roads were few miles away.
Luckily for me, even he enjoyed the trip and even he was very happy.

I relaxed for few minutes with a cup of tea and started preparations for my 5 day trip, leaving Bangalore at 4:30 am the next day, to Kabini and Bandipur National Park.

It was as a whole a good 7 day life in forests in wild in nature…

Many thanks for your time and reading.
Have a great day!

Thanks,
Sravan

Scapes 011

Thattekad

By | Trip Reports | 2 Comments

Note: This post is very lengthy, I recommend a good free time.

Planning

End of the year 2013, I had few leaves left which should be consumed, otherwise they will be lapsed.
So I started thinking whether I should visit any place for bird watching as it was winter.

After little bit of research on net, I finalized two places, Thattekad and Ganeshgudi.

Preparations for Thattekad

As always this time too I was alone for these trips without any company, for the reasons, one I didn’t know anyone who is into birding personally and the other, I know people who were not into birding!
Added to that, I was utilizing my lapsing leave and others wouldn’t be able to get that much leave in such a short notice.
So it’s only me again.

With the contact information available on the net, called Mr. Gireesh, Jungle Bird Homestay at Thattekad.
I asked for the availability for the dates from 19th to 23rd Dec for five days, and he quickly checked and informed me that no bookings were available from 10th Dec to Feb mid. So I had to change my plans
from Dec to Nov last week and finalized those dates in Nov after four phone calls and discussions.

Gireesh was suggesting it’s better if there were atleast two persons and asked me whether anyone could join me. I told him no one was there and asked whether it was mandatory.
He said it’s fine, not a problem and asked me to come. I got to know how it matters only on the last day of my trip, at billing time. But Girish was kind enough to me :)

Just before booking my train tickets next day, I called Gireesh for the confirmation and he did not remember at all about our conversations!!!
I was little bit worried and told him that he had informed me to come on those dates. Then he simply said “If I had said, then you could come, it should be in my diary”.

I was clueless on this until I met him. One can clearly see the traditional ways of booking still exists, noting in a Diary than in a laptop/iPad.

The Journey

Started by train from Bangalore and got down at Aluva station at 8:30 am and had a quick breakfast in a hotel next to the station and reached the bus stand which was a minutes walk from the station to catch the bus to Thattekad. People at enquiry were kind enough to guide me to the bus which goes to Kothamangalam (got into a bus to Munnar from where one should catch another bus to Thattekad).

I had to stand in the bus till Kothamangalam as the bus was full, and as I was alone with very less luggage it wasn’t a problem.
I got Thattekad bus immediately from Kothamangalam and I got a seat too.

Finally I reached Thattekad around 11:30 a.m. (the bus stop was at Dr. Salim Ali Sanctuary entrance).
I was confused about where the homestay was after seeing that place and then called Gireesh.
He told me to walk right inside the Sanctuary and told me to ask the person at the gate about the homestay.
Followed the instructions blindly and the good news was I have to walk inside the sanctuary only.

After a minute walk, I found few houses and tried to recognize the homestay with the pics I saw on net.
Surprisingly I was unable to recognize, but to my luck, saw Mrs. Gireesh at the gate. She smiled and asked me whether I was Sravan.
I had a great relief.

Why I am writing in this fashion is when we are clueless about the place we go that too alone, we’ll have lot of anxiety till we reach our destination, so this is just to project that :)
(To some extent Google Maps are helping now a days but not completely. In this case the map was showing Thattekad somewhere and the bus stop was somewhere else, I can see Dr. Salim Ali Sanctuary but the map was not showing that place near Thattekad, lot of confusion is there)

About the Homestay

Homestay is very basic and decent. A single room can accommodate three people and had three beds.
I had a luxury of staying alone.

The room had an attached bath but no hot water was available even in winters.
They had one A/C room and had plans to convert one room with A/C every year.
Mostly those were occupied by foreigners.

Food was pure authentic Kerala style. So initially I had some problems but got adjusted to that.
So if anyone is going with their family they have to think about the facilities and food especially for Kids.
But the best part was Gireesh and his family, they were very good. “Gireesh told me that one can cook for their kids if required”.

As the Homestay was in the Sanctuary, one can expect lot of insects around and also mosquitoes.
So it’s better to prepare for that and carry some insect/mosquito repellents.

Mobile signal was another problem, one should walk till the main road to get the signal.
In one way it was good, no one would be disturbed during the stay mostly while taking rest :)

The sanctuary road was not fully lit so it was mandatory to carry a torch if one wants to roam around in the night, esp. while talking on the phone.

No Wifi hubs too here :)

Tariff and Booking

While visiting in winters (peak season Dec-Feb), it’s better to book atleast 3-6 months in advance.
Lots of foreigners also visit during that time (so even more demand). I had atleast two foreigners with me in every birding trip.

In other months there won’t be much demand.
(That’s one reason Gireesh is a lawyer too by profession as he has to take care of his family during those dry months)

The tariff consists of following breakup.

1. Food and Accommodation per day
2. For each Birding trip (Two in a day, so have to pay for each)
3. Fuel cost for each Birding trip

I am not giving the price as it varies every year/as per the local rates.

This is where visitors can save money if they go in a group/atleast two as the fares like Birding trip are calculated for a minimum of two.

Gireesh set a good model here, the tariff was same for both Indians and foreigners.
He says all humans are equal, hence even foreigners get the same food (no continental) and no special treatment/facilities too.

As there were no ATMs/swipe/online transfer facilities, one must carry plenty of money there.
I remember the nearest ATM was around 15kms away from this place.

Bird Watching

By default, two birding sessions (morning and evening) are planned as per the day program.
But the most important one is the third one, that is after the breakfast on your own!
Typically I suggest to plan for this from 10:00 to 13:30 hrs.
Buy a ticket at the sanctuary entrance and walk into the permitted sanctuary area on the opposite side of the road.
It’s an “invaluable” treasure, where I saw lifers like White-Bellied Treepie, Nilgiri Wood-Pigeon and Rufous-Bellied Eagle.
I went on my own without any guide.

It will be tiring but most rewarding.

My suggestions/recommendations

During rains, there would be millions of leaches. One must be prepared for that.
Personally, I was ready to loose any greatest of greatest wildlife moment for a leech :)

Leech proof clothing:
I suggest people who are sensitive, to wear ankle length water resistant shoes.
Otherwise thick winter socks, and insert the trouser, preferably Jeans/Corduroy in the Socks.
This idea changed everyone’s life from leaches :)
Full hands shirts/T-Shirts too required to get rid of leeches from hands (surprising but a fact).

Camouflage clothes definitely help in approaching birds as mostly everyone will be on foot.

A camo hat too is useful, Mr. Gireesh always wears it.

Umbrella/Polythene covers for quick wrap-up of Camera/Lens when it suddenly rains (Have to take risk on cloudy days, cannot sit idle at homestay :) ).

Cameras which support High ISOs atleast ISO 6,400. Lenses a minimum of 300mm. I was using Nikon AF-S 70-300mm VR.
In some specific places 2,000-2,500 mm are recommended :)
Not many places for landscapes, hence no wide angle lens is required.

High power torch, sometimes required for nocturnal wildlife. I prefer this to a flash.

I prefer light weight gear as one has to walk and hike extensively.
For me, for these kind of trips, Tamron 150-600mm lens is a God send where a normal tripod is good enough and overall gear will be under 5Kg.

And finally I recommend Gireesh’s Jungle Bird Homestay for a memorable trip.

Few words about Gireesh

Trip report will not be complete without mentioning few words about Gireesh.
Very knowledgeable, he guessed a Frogmouth seeing the habitat at a new place we’re exploring http://www.indianaturewatch.net/displayimage.php?id=456743
A very hard working and busy person with two professions to support his family.
Away from internet, no time too for him to access internet hence all the reservations are noted down in his diary itself.
A kind person and important to note “He never had a harsh talk or scolded even once his wife”. I was joking with him saying he should have time for it :)

Way back home

Gireesh arranged a taxi for me to Ernakulam railway station at morning 6:00 and it took around 1.5 hours to reach there.
Had an amazing breakfast at IRCTC restaurant and boarded the train.
Reached Bangalore at 6:30 pm and had a different birding experience overall.

Birds Check List

First timers to me

1.  Banded Bay Cuckoo
2.  Black Baza (A total of 5 were seen)
3.  Black Headed Oriole
4.  Black Naped Oriole
5.  Blue Throated Bee-eater
6.  Brown Breasted Flycatcher
7.  Brown Hawk Owl
8.  Ceylon Frogmouth (A total of 5 were seen)
9.  Common Sandpiper
10. Crested Goshawk (only 1)
11. Dollar Bird
12. Golden Fronted Leafbird
13. Greater Flameback
14. Green Imperial Pigeon
15. Heart Spotted Woodpecker
16. Indian Blue Robin
17. Indian Swiflet
18. Lesser Whistling Teal
19. Little Spider hunter
20. Loten’s Sunbird
21. Malabar Trogon (A total of 5 were seen)
22. Nilgiri Wood Pigeon (only 1)
23. Oriental Scops Owl
24. Pompadour Green Pigeon
25. Rufous Bellied Eagle (only 1)
26. Rufous Woodpecker
27. White Bellied Treepie (only 1)
28. White Bellied Woodpecker
29. White Rumped Needle-tail

Other birds

30. Ashy Drongo
31. Asian Fairy Blue
32. Asian Paradise Flycatcher
33. Black Drongo
34. Black Headed Cuckoo Shrike
35. Black Kite
36. Black Naped Monarch
37. Black-rumped Flameback
38. Brahminy Kite
39. Bronzed Drongo
40. Brown Capped Pygmy Woodpecker
41. Brown Shrike
42. Chestnut tailed Starling
43. Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
44. Common Iora
45. Crested Serpent Eagle
46. Crimson Backed Sunbird
47. Crimson-fronted Barbet
48. Emerald Dove
49. Eurasian Golden Oriole
50. Greater Coucal
51. Greater Rocket Tailed Drongo
52. Green Bee-eater
53. Grey Jungle Fowl
54. Hill Myna
55. Indian Cormorant
56. Indian Pitta
57. Indian Pond Heron
58. Intermediate Egret
59. Jungle Babbler
60. Jungle Crow
61. Lesser Naped Woodpecker
62. Large Woodshrike
63. Little Cormarant
64. Little Egret
65. Malabar Grey Hornbill
66. Malabar Parakeet
67. Malabar Whistling Thrush
68. Orange Headed Thrush
69. Oriental Magpie Robin
70. Pale Billed Flowerpecker
71. Plum-headed parakeet
72. Purple Heron
73. Purple Rumped Sunbird
74. Purple Sunbird
75. Red-whiskered Bulbul
76. River Tern
77. Rock Pigeon
78. Ruby throated bulbul
79. Rufous Treepie
80. Rusty Tailed Flycatcher
81. Scarlet Minivet
82. Shikra
83. Small Blue Kingfisher
84. Stork Billed Kingfisher
85. Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
86. Verditer Flycatcher
87. Vernal Hanging Parrot
88. White Bellied Blue Flycatcher
89. White Breasted Water Hen
90. White Browed Wagtail
91. White Cheeked Barbet
92. White Throated Kingfisher
93. Yellow browed bulbul

Mammals Check List

Flying Squirrel
Hare
Spotted Deer
Palm Squirrel
Bonnet Macaque

Almost every image in this trip has atleast a small story behind it, some have bigger stories for a change when compared to my regular bird photography trips. Already this post is too lengthy so no more stories :)
I have added few rubber extraction photos for the people who are interested.

Given worst light and reach throughout the trip, I managed only record shots in terms of photography but more memories.
Hope this is not boring. Thanks for your very valuable time.

Many thanks for stopping by,
Sravan