Monday, November 14, 2011

Bhimashankar (December 2008)

Since 'birdie' Adesh Shivkar began Nature India Tours, this is the second time I have been with him to Bhimashankar (December 2008). The first was in June this year when much to the chagrin of the group of 23-odd 'bird brains', the rains set in early! Swirling mists and pelting rain was all we got when we landed in the Blue Mormon resort. Of course, going on trails during the monsoon has a beauty all its own. However, I wanted to visit the place once more and got my wish this last weekend (12-14 Dec).
Though a number of people dropped out at the last minute and only three were left at last count, Adesh did not cancel the trip (thank  god!). There were, besides me, Vamsee who had come to Mumbai 6 months ago from the U.S. and Father Luke, a priest from Byculla. Best of all, we got Adesh all to ourselves for almost three full days, which I consider a bonus...Normally he has an eager group of a dozen or more people crowding about him and queueing up at the spotting scope :) It was wonderful to bird in this leisurely fashion, stopping to stand and stare as long as we wanted.
First stop was Uran, near Jasai. The water body there was swarming with waders and Adesh said we could spend an hour there. It was amazing, to say the least. Scores of painted storks, a regal white stork, grey herons, black winged stilts tripping about on their spindly red legs and pied avocets preening in their smart black and white suits. Far away were three kinds of terns - the rare river tern, the gull-billed tern and the whiskered tern - a fantastic sight to see them all in a row near a rock! Adesh pointed out the difference in the beak length and colours of the curlew and marsh sandpiper and the common and green sandpiper. Pointing to a cormorant in the middle of the pond, he told us that people often confuse the little and Indian coromorants and that this was the 'little' species.
Ruddy shelducks and shovellers were paddling about busily while ruffs and black tailed godwits swept their bills in the mud searching for food. Suddenly, soaring high above us, there appeared a marsh harrier and then a brahminy kite. There was a blue flash as a common kingfisher dove into the water.
Uran done, we drove on to Bhimashankar in the Qualis, stopping for breakfast at Khopoli. The journey was a bit tiring and the roads were very rough in some parts. When Adesh was not sleeping, he entertained us with stories of his days working in the pharma industry and how he decided to quit one fine day. Vamsee told us about her time in the US and why she decided to return to India and how India had changed completely. Father Luke and I proved good listeners (well somebody had to listen!!).
Bhimashankar...finally after a good 5+ hours on the road...first trail in the evening was nearby as we were all a bit tired. There were plenty of birds on the telegraph wires including tiny malabar crested larks, small green bee eaters (Father commented that the poor birds were on a 'restricted diet'!) and rosy starlings. A lone white eyed buzzard stood sentinel on a pole and we spotted him there almost every time we passed. In the distance were a flock of tree pipits and Adesh asked us to note the little waggling movement they made with their tails. Pied bushchats were aplenty both near the resort and on the roadside. One dried tree was a favourite resting spot for hoopoes, bee eaters, drongos and a shikhra. An oriental turtle dove was cooing in the grass and through the scope we could see the beautiful markings on the neck. It was a full moon night and we spent quite a while enjoying the cool breeze and the vast open spaces. We tried to star gaze but clouds put paid to that.
The Gupt Bhimashankar trail on the morning of the 13th led past the temple. The last time it was slick with rain and it was all we could do to pick our way over the boulders, leave alone watch for birds! This time round, it was easier to walk and also watch. The crowning moment was our sighting of the glorious paradise flycatcher, flitting through the trees like a Romeo in white coat tails, pursuing his love, equally beautiful in her rufous dress. Adesh of course, had to make his cheeky comment that the males were better to look at than the females - umpteen times!! The white bellied blue flycatcher, both male and female, was a lifer for me as was the chiffchaff, the greenish warbler and white cheeked fulvetta.
A sudden commotion in the trees above and an indignant 'chik chik chik' meant the Malabar giant squirrel. We saw at least four or five of these magnificent bushy tailed creatures and one spent a good five minutes on a branch above us, staring down with his bright button eyes. In a clearing quite near the destination, we spotted the Verditer flycatcher, the black naped monarch, the yellow browed bulbul (besides of course the red vented and red whiskered varieties). At the end of the trail, Adesh took us up a slope in search of what he said were tej patta or bay leaves though we could not get the smell however much we sniffed!! Returning, we saw more squirrels and heard the booming call of a langur.
Nagphani, the highest point in Bhimashankar was memorable because Adesh of the eagle eyes located the nest of a kestrel in the cliffs! Through the scope we saw the female sitting inside the hollow. There were dusky crag martins and red rumped swallows zooming around in the air above. On the way back from Nagphani, it was dark though it was just 6 pm. We decided to sit in the middle of an open field near an abandoned house. It was one of the most tranquil and fulfilling moments of my life - the silence around, the stars above and a sharp breeze wafting in the scent of the forest. Adesh scanned the nearby trees with his torch to see if there were any nightjars, or owls, but no such luck.
However, on the road back, the headlights heart stoppingly revealed a collared scops owl sitting all by himself! Then a night walk. Though Adesh said there were a lot of grey nightjars about the place, we spotted only one and by chance, very near the resort. It was Vamsee who pointed it out to us.
Sunday morning, our last trail (sigh!) on the Ahupe road. Adesh took us to a quiet dell off the road side and here we saw tickell's leaf warbler, scarlet minivet, common woodshrike, ashy drongo, spotted dove, sky blue monarch flycatchers and crimson backed sunbirds glinting like rubies in the bushes. Then who should come out from behind a clump of grass but a grey jungle fowl, in all his feathered glory! Wowwwww! What a sight! He stood for a full half a minute out in the open strutting his stuff before he realised he had an audience and vanished in a hurry.
Before we knew it, it was time to leave...sighhh!! What a wondrous trip it had been, notwithstanding the nonstop talkathon on the return journey between Vamsee and Adesh! I will also remember Father Luke's rich baritone humming snatches of hymns and songs to suit the occasion - whether it was the fantastically shaped rocks or the white clouds above!
I am sure each of us took a part of the peace and quiet and beauty of the forest back with us to dusty, dirty, crowded Mumbai. On Monday, deep in the middle of work, I thought back to our sojourn in the wild
and was immediately uplifted…

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