Hornbill Holiday – Part 2

Continued from Part 1

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The day began exactly like yesterday – rain washing out the pre-breakfast walk. So we had an early breakfast, and were ready to hit the road by 9:30 A.M. Manohar was there to pick us up in his Indica. We were going to look for the Hornbill that had so far been eluding us. We planned to hit the Timber Yard at Dandeli, where we’d read Hornbills abounded, and then go out to the Syntheri rock. Parasuram, the resort in-charge at Old Magazine House told us we could have lunch at Kali Adventure Camp in Dandeli, also a Jungle Lodges resort. Accompanying us on this day out was none other than the trusty Joma. And so we set out in search of the Hornbills.

The drive to Dandeli was pleasant. The highway was good and the traffic negligible – the only thing we encountered en route that could have delayed us was a peacock crossing the road. We reached Dandeli in about half an hour. We finally found Duracell AAs at Bangalore Stores in the Dandeli market. If you are ever in Dandeli and would like to buy something – anything – just head for Bangalore Stores! On a side note, there seems to be one store like this in most smaller towns. Shanti Stores in Yercaud and the small but amply-stocked store in Kodaikanal next to the wonderful bakery immediately spring to mind. The batteries set Vidya free from her dependence on the Nexus One for pictures – she was soon snapping away with the Sony S730 we were carrying. From the market to the Timber Yard was less than five minutes.

The Dandeli Timber Yard is the name given to a vast rambling campus with a lot of tall trees, piles of logs lying around, various offices of the Karnataka Forest Department and a bunch of homes, presumably of employees of the Yard (Timber, not Scotland). The vegetation is varied – there are open grasslands interspersed with stands of very tall trees. This makes spotting birds fairly easy, and it was not long before we spotted our first Hornbills. In fact, it was within a few minutes of alighting from our cab.

Leaving Manohar in the cab, we struck out down a trail when we heard the distinctive cacophony of the Hornbill coming from the opposite directions, on top of some habitations. We immediately followed the sounds and were rewarded with the sight of three Malabar Pied Hornbills. They were roughhousing in the trees a bit away, but took off as we were walking towards them. As we went in search of them, we saw a whole bunch of other birds – Bee-eaters with their prey, Racket-tailed Drongos, Black-headed Munia, the upside down Vernal Hanging Parrot, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Scarlet Minivets – but we were keen on the trail of the Hornbill, and did not linger as long as we would have done otherwise.

Photographing at the Timber Yard

Photographing at the Timber Yard

Our focus was soon rewarded when Joma spotted one, then another and then yet another Hornbill up in a tall tree. This time we approached them more cautiously, and we were able to get good vantage points from which we watched them for a while. I managed to take a few clear photographs of them as well. Till then, the weather had been holding, and was even sunny in patches. However, it broke all of a sudden, and the rain started in earnest. We managed to get  a few shots of a bunch of Langurs in the trees before heading out.

Malabar Pied Hornbill

Malabar Pied Hornbill

Common Langur

Common Langur

Our next stop was at the Kali Adventure Camp, Jungle Lodges’ resort in downtown Dandeli. We were stopping there for lunch before going on part two of the day’s activities. However, the stop proved to be providential as we will see later. Once we reached the resort, we were welcomed by a JLR employee, who gave us a room to freshen up in before lunch. We then walked down to the river Kali, from where we had a grandstand view of the entire opposite bank – a well-wooded stretch with lots of tall trees and bamboos. This was also where a whole bunch of Malabar Pied Hornbills hung out, and we got quite a few pictures of them.

We also saw the newly-constructed tented cottage facing the river, and we knew we had to stay there for a night. So we quickly made a change in our itinerary – our last night would be spent in Kali Adventure Camp instead of Old Magazine House.

We set out for Syntheri Rock after a sumptuous lunch (where we ended up feeding scraps of food to one of the numerous resident cats in the resort.) Syntheri Rock was a forty-minute drive away, and we soon reached there in the rain. We had to descend a long flight of slippery steps to reach the Rock, but when we did, we were glad we made the descent. From a viewpoint at the foot of the descent, we could see the Syntheri Rock – a 300-foot tall monolithic granite rock with a gushing torrent at its foot. On the sheer rock face, a multitude of plants grew, and we could see spotted dove nests and honeycombs. The sight was breathtaking – the rock face with the plants on it and the birds around it were very reminiscent of the place in Avatar where the Na’vi capture the Ikran. We spent some time just taking in the atmosphere of the place before climbing back to the top.

Syntheri Rock

Syntheri Rock

On the way back from Syntheri Rock, we stopped for tea at a small teashop with a resident Persian cat. We also stopped for some breathtaking views of the Supa reservoir. We arrived back at the resort to hot tea and pakodas!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

We woke up late and spent some time packing stuff as we were checking out of Old Magazine House. We got breakfast and wandered around the resort, taking pictures and videos while waiting for Manohar. He arrived by noon, and we bade goodbye to Old Magazine House. A short drive later, we checked in at Kali Adventure Camp in Dandeli.

We were given a packed itinerary as soon as we checked in, including a jungle safari, a coracle ride and a bird walk. After checking in, we had lunch and walked down to the riverside to wait for our jungle safari.

At 4 P.M., it was time for the jungle safari into the Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve. Accompanied by a driver and a guide, we set out. A 45-minute drive brought us to the tiger reserve, and as we entered the gates, we were thankful we were in a jeep – the trail was a typical jungle trail, full of slush from the constant rain. As we drove on, the trail led into semi-evergreen forest dripping with moisture from the rain. The first animals we came across were a group of black-faced langurs, including a mother with her baby. A little while later, we saw a peacock with a long tail grazing by the roadside. Then came one of the best photo ops of the trip – a red wattled lapwing was standing beside a puddle just off the road, and as we drew near, stood his ground. The driver stopped the jeep, and I was able to get some really good pictures of the bird. We went on after this and saw a waterhen with her chicks by a waterhole. A bit further on, a peahen ran across the trail before us. Some time later, we came across a lone gaur peeping at us from the undergrowth. The guide guessed the rest of his herd must be behind him. As I photographed the gaur, he stood looking unblinkingly at us. After a while, he grew tired and turned away.

Red-wattled Lapwing

Red-wattled Lapwing

Gaur

Gaur

The trail ended in the Shanmuga Viewpoint, a concrete gazebo deep in the jungle from which there was a spectacular view of the surrounding hills. We had to go down a treacherously slippery path and up a couple of flights of stairs to reach this place, but the view was worth it. Swifts and swallows kept whooshing by as we stood there. We returned to the jeep and drove back along the same trail. This time we spotted a Crested Serpent Eagle sitting on a low branch, and a Great Hornbill diving from his perch into the trees.

After we left the jungle, the guide took us to see a sambar in the animal rehabilitation center of the Karnataka Forest Department. We walked over squishy ground to an enclosure, where he called out to a sambar who was sleeping inside a bamboo patch. Strangely enough, the sambar responded and ambled over like an obedient puppy. He was a sub-adult with an injured foreleg, and from his easy trust of us, had been around humans for a long time. He came right up to us and allowed us to pat him – the hair was wiry on his back and bristly on his horns – and he responded readily when we called him Pandu – the name the guide had called out. We later found that Pandu was not his name but that of a spotted deer who was also in the enclosure.

Not-Pandu, the Sambar

Not-Pandu, the Sambar

Ever since I read about the sore patch on sambar’s in M. Krishnan’s essay in Sprint of the Blackbuck, I was curious about it. Not-Pandu provided me with an opportunity right away, and I took it. Sure enough, there was a sore patch – it was bloody and it has flies buzzing around it. The really bad light and Not-Pandu’s enthusuaistic moving around did not permit me to get a good picture of it though.

We then drove back to the resort and got a good dinner. We turned in early as we had a 7 A.M. bird walk scheduled the next morning.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

We were awoken at 6:30 A.M. the next morning for the bird walk. After a refreshing morning tea, we set out with Mr. Sashidhar, the resident naturalist. He first showed us a few juvenile Malabar Pied Hornbills in the resort itself before taking us in a jeep to the Timber Yard. On the way, he stopped at a fruiting tree within the town, but we saw only a lone Malabar Grey Hornbill on a distant coconut tree.
At the Timber Yard, we struck pay dirt as soon as we got out of the jeep – a group of adult Malabar Pied Hornbills were sitting in a tree right where we stopped. After that, we followed the Hornbill trail – a 3-kilometer trail within the timber yard that is well signposted. We saw:

  • A group of Pompadour Green Pigeons basking in the sunlight on a leafless treetop.
  • A White-cheeked Barbet
  • A Chestnut-headed Bee-eater catching insects from a tree-top
  • A group of Black-headed Munias in the tall grass
  • A Plum-headed Parakeet hanging out on the top of a tall tree
  • A few Greater Flamebacks who kept flying from tree to tree, chasing one another
  • A White-throated Kingfisher trying his luck catching insects instead of fishes
  • A Jungle Owlet looking around cautiously
  • A Spangled Drongo sitting in a tree, looking for insects
  • A Malabar Giant Squirrel scampering about a treetop
  • A group of Southern Hill Mynas
  • A group of Coppersmith Barbets

At the end of our walk, as we were nearing the jeep, we got a real treat – two Horbills, an adult male and a juvenile male, settled on a branch with a clear view, and sat there for a good five minutes. The light was on them, and I was able to get a few decent pictures of the two.

Malabar Pied Hornbills

Malabar Pied Hornbills

Back at the resort, we got a good breakfast, and were sitting around when we noticed a lot of bird life in the trees around us. Just from our breakfast table, we spotted quite a few birds – Vidya was the spotter and I tried to get pictures of them. We saw Jungle Babblers, a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher and Red-vented Bulbuls.

Post-breakfast, we went on a coracle ride in the Kali River. This one was not as adventurous as our previous, wet one, but it also allowed us to take a few pictures and videos. The highlight of the ride was when we spotted a crocodile in the river. The boatman showed us crocodile paw-prints on the small islands in the river, and though we hung around for a bit, we couldn’t see any more crocodiles.

After the coracle ride, we climbed up to a machan about fifty feet off the ground. This was a solidly-made wood and metal platform in a really tall tree. We spent some time in the machan, and got some good photographs of a juvenile male Malabar Pied Hornbill who sat in a bamboo thicket next to the tree.

It was time to go back and get ready to catch the train home, and we did so after a substantial lunch. We caught the train at Londa station, and were back in Hyderabad the next day.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The day began exactly like yesterday – rain washing out the pre-breakfast walk. So we had an early breakfast, and were ready to hit the road by 9:30 A.M. Manohar was there to pick us up in his Indica. We were going to look for the Hornbill that had so far been eluding us. We planned to hit the Timber Yard at Dandeli, where we’d read Hornbills abounded, and then go out to the Syntheri rock. Parasuram, the resort in-charge at Old Magazine House told us we could have lunch at Kali Adventure Camp in Dandeli, also a Jungle Lodges resort. Accompanying us on this day out was none other than the trusty Joma. And so we set out in search of the Hornbills.

The drive to Dandeli was pleasant. The highway was good and the traffic negligible – the only thing we encountered en route that could have delayed us was a peacock crossing the road. We reached Dandeli in about half an hour. We finally found Duracell AAs at Bangalore Stores in the Dandeli market. If you are ever in Dandeli and would like to buy something – anything – just head for Bangalore Stores! On a side note, there seems to be one store like this in most smaller towns. Shanti Stores in Yercaud and the small but amply-stocked store in Kodaikanal next to the wonderful bakery immediately spring to mind. The batteries set Vidya free from her dependence on the Nexus One for pictures – she was soon snapping away with the Sony S730 we were carrying. From the market to the Timber Yard was less than five minutes.

The Dandeli Timber Yard is the name given to a vast rambling campus with a lot of tall trees, piles of logs lying around, various offices of the Karnataka Forest Department and a bunch of homes, presumably of employees of the Yard (Timber, not Scotland). The vegetation is varied – there are open grasslands interspersed with stands of very tall trees. This makes spotting birds fairly easy, and it was not long before we spotted our first Hornbills. In fact, it was within a few minutes of alighting from our cab.

Leaving Manohar in the cab, we struck out down a trail when we heard the distinctive cacophony of the Hornbill coming from the opposite directions, on top of some habitations. We immediately followed the sounds and were rewarded with the sight of three Malabar Pied Hornbills. They were roughhousing in the trees a bit away, but took off as we were walking towards them. As we went in search of them, we saw a whole bunch of other birds – Bee-eaters with their prey, Racket-tailed Drongos, Black-headed Munia, the upside down Vernal Hanging Parrot, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Scarlet Minivets – but we were keen on the trail of the Hornbill, and did not linger as long as we would have done otherwise.

Our focus was soon rewarded when Joma spotted one, then another and then yet another Hornbill up in a tall tree. This time we approached them more cautiously, and we were able to get good vantage points from which we watched them for a while. I managed to take a few clear photographs of them as well. Till then, the weather had been holding, and was even sunny in patches. However, it broke all of a sudden, and the rain started in earnest. We managed to get a few shots of a bunch of Langurs in the trees before heading out.

Our next stop was at the Kali Adventure Camp, Jungle Lodges’ resort in downtown Dandeli. We were stopping there for lunch before going on part two of the day’s activities. However, the stop proved to be providential as we will see later. Once we reached the resort, we were welcomed by a JLR employee, who gave us a room to freshen up in before lunch. We then walked down to the river Kali, from where we had a grandstand view of the entire opposite bank – a well-wooded stretch with lots of tall trees and bamboos. This was also where a whole bunch of Malabar Pied Hornbills hung out, and we got quite a few pictures of them.

We also saw the newly-constructed tented cottage facing the river, and we knew we had to stay there for a night. So we quickly made a change in our itinerary – our last night would be spent in Kali Adventure Camp instead of Old Magazine House.

We set out for Syntheri Rock after a sumptuous lunch (where we ended up feeding scraps of food to one of the numerous resident cats in the resort.) Syntheri Rock was a forty-minute drive away, and we soon reached there in the rain. We had to descend a long flight of slippery steps to reach the Rock, but when we did, we were glad we made the descent. From a viewpoint at the foot of the descent, we could see the Syntheri Rock – a 300-foot tall monolithic granite rock with a gushing torrent at its foot. On the sheer rock face, a multitude of plants grew, and we could see spotted dove nests and honeycombs. The sight was breathtaking – the rock face with the plants on it and the birds around it were very reminiscent of the place in Avatar where the Na’vi capture the Ikran. We spent some time just taking in the atmosphere of the place before climbing back to the top.

On the way back from Syntheri Rock, we stopped for tea at a small teashop with a resident Persian cat. We also stopped for some breathtaking views of the Supa reservoir. We arrived back at the resort to hot tea and pakodas!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

We woke up late and spent some time packing stuff as we were checking out of Old Magazine House. We got breakfast and wandered around the resort, taking pictures and videos while waiting for Manohar. He arrived by noon, and we bade goodbye to Old Magazine House. A short drive later, we checked in at Kali Adventure Camp in Dandeli.

We were given a packed itinerary as soon as we checked in, including a jungle safari, a coracle ride and a bird walk. After checking in, we had lunch and walked down to the riverside to wait for our jungle safari.

At 4 P.M., it was time for the jungle safari into the Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve. Accompanied by a driver and a guide, we set out. A 45-minute drive brought us to the tiger reserve, and as we entered the gates, we were thankful we were in a jeep – the trail was a typical jungle trail, full of slush from the constant rain. As we drove on, the trail led into semi-evergreen forest dripping with moisture from the rain. The first animals we came across were a group of black-faced langurs, including a mother with her baby. A little while later, we saw a peacock with a long tail grazing by the roadside. Then came one of the best photo ops of the trip – a red wattled lapwing was standing beside a puddle just off the road, and as we drew near, stood his ground. The driver stopped the jeep, and I was able to get some really good pictures of the bird. We went on after this and saw a waterhen with her chicks by a waterhole. A bit further on, a peahen ran across the trail before us. Some time later, we came across a lone gaur peeping at us from the undergrowth. The guide guessed the rest of his herd must be behind him. As I photographed the gaur, he stood looking unblinkingly at us. After a while, he grew tired and turned away.

The trail ended in the Sanmuga Viewpoint, a concrete gazebo deep in the jungle from which there was a spectacular view of the surrounding hills. We had to go down a treacherously slippery path and up a couple of flights of stairs to reach this place, but the view was worth it. Swifts and swallows kept whooshing by as we stood there. We returned to the jeep and drove back along the same trail. This time we spotted a Crested Serpent Eagle sitting on a low branch, and a Great Hornbill diving from his perch into the trees.

After we left the jungle, the guide took us to see a sambar in the animal rehabilitation center of the Karnataka Forest Department. We walked over squishy ground to an enclosure, where he called out to a sambar who was sleeping inside a bamboo patch. Strangely enough, the sambar responded and ambled over like an obedient puppy. He was a sub-adult with an injured foreleg, and from his easy trust of us, had been around humans for a long time. He came right up to us and allowed us to pat him – the hair was wiry on his back and bristly on his horns – and he responded readily when we called him Pandu – the name the guide had called out. We later found that Pandu was not his name but that of a spotted deer who was also in the enclosure.

Ever since I read about the sore patch on sambar’s in M. Krishnan’s essay in Sprint of the Blackbuck, I was curious about it. Not-Pandu provided me with an opportunity right away, and I took it. Sure enough, there was a sore patch – it was bloody and it has flies buzzing around it. The really bad light and Not-Pandu’s enthusuaistic moving around did not permit me to get a good picture of it though.

We then drove back to the resort and got a good dinner. We turned in early as we had a 7 A.M. bird walk scheduled the next morning.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

We were awoken at 6:30 A.M. the next morning for the bird walk. After a refreshing morning tea, we set out with Mr. Sashidhar, the resident naturalist. He first showed us a few juvenile Malabar Pied Hornbills in the resort itself before taking us in a jeep to the Timber Yard. On the way, he stopped at a fruiting tree within the town, but we saw only a lone Malabar Grey Hornbill on a distant coconut tree.

At the Timber Yard, we struck pay dirt as soon as we got out of the jeep – a group of adult Malabar Pied Hornbills were sitting in a tree right where we stopped. After that, we followed the Hornbill trail – a 3-kilometer trail within the timber yard that is well signposted. We saw:

  • A group of Pompadour Green pigeons basking in the sunlight on a leafless treetop.
  • A White-cheeked Barbet
  • A Chestnut-headed Bee-eater catching insects from a tree-top
  • A group of Black-headed Munias in the tall grass
  • A Plum-headed Parakeet hanging out on the top of a tall tree
  • A few Greater Flamebacks who kept flying from tree to tree, chasing one another
  • A White-throated Kingfisher trying his luck catching insects instead of fishes
  • A Jungle Owlet looking around cautiously
  • A Spangled Drongo sitting in a tree, looking for insects
  • A Malabar Giant Squirrel scampering about a treetop
  • A group of Southern Hill Mynas
  • A group of Coppersmith Barbets

At the end of our walk, as we were nearing the jeep, we got a real treat – two Horbills, an adult male and a juvenile male, settled on a branch with a clear view, and sat there for a good five minutes. The light was on them, and I was able to get a few decent pictures of the two.

Back at the resort, we got a good breakfast, and were sitting around when we noticed a lot of bird life in the trees around us. Just from our breakfast table, we spotted quite a few birds – Vidya was the spotter and I tried to get pictures of them. We saw Jungle Babblers, a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher and Red-vented Bulbuls.

Post-breakfast, we went on a coracle ride in the Kali River. This one was not as adventurous as our previous, wet one, but it also allowed us to take a few pictures and videos. The highlight of the ride was when we spotted a crocodile in the river. The boatman showed us crocodile paw-prints on the small islands in the river, and though we hung around for a bit, we couldn’t see any more crocodiles.

After the coracle ride, we climbed up to a machan about fifty feet off the ground. This was a solidly-made wood and metal platform in a really tall tree. We spent some time in the machan, and got some good photographs of a juvenile male Malabar Pied Hornbill who sat in a bamboo thicket next to the tree.

It was time to go back and get ready to catch the train home, and we did so after a substantial lunch. We caught the train at Londa station, and were back in Hyderabad the next day.

Posted in Birds, Experience, Pictures, Travel, Wildlife.

Navin Sigamany