Rendezvous with the jewel of monsoon

This is all about - undoubtedly the most COLOURFUL monsoon ever in my life.
Roaming around extensively in the jungles all these years, I have witnessed the most flooding monsoon, experienced excessively drenched outdoors, have been through the thickest green vegetation......BUT this recent India visit was an exclusive one - being blessed with some astonishing sightings of a spectacular jewel on earth - The Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher.
Meaning of the word "Colourful" has now been totally redefined for me!!!

During my past 20+years of extensive birding in India and especially in Western Ghats - I had always been dying to see this beauty - barely bigger than the thumb of my hand.
I have no words to describe how much this tiny feathered miracle mesmerises me. As if God probably had plenty of quality time and possibly the best palette of colours available to create this bird.

Ever since I have been in the UK , I missed the monsoon magic every year. When I lived in India - monsoon months used to be the most busy months for day outings and frequent mountain treks.
But travelling from the UK -it has always been a bit of a challenge for me to catch up with the lush green surroundings, moist soil, slippery rocks and fluffy clouds descending down to your feet !

Oh...I get so nostalgic for those foggy jungle walks, misty views, the sound of constantly dripping water drops from the trees and numerous waterfalls roaring down the mountain slopes!!

In addition to the Western ghats habitat, grassland sanctuary at Nannaj (Near Solapur) was also on my agenda of this visit. One of the reasons being the existence of Great Indian Bustard (a highly endangered species). For a long time I didn;t have any glimpse of this majestic bird and thus was a reason for a quick touch and go to Nannaj grasslands. Nannaj is also an interesting habitat for Black bucks - one of the most dynamic creatures.


First, about the Western ghats extravaganza -

All jungle streams start gushing with their full vigour and feels as if every drop of water has got a new life.This rejuvenation is the nature's life line and that is what keeps it alive throughout the year-

The fully drenched habitat provides some unique sightings as well. A Quail peeps out of the paddy fields fully soaked in water.

Floating clouds, emerald atmosphere and lingering mist and moist ambiance -

The valleys and mountains get a total different face lift during the magical monsoon months.

The outdoors everywhere speak only one language - water !

This wonderland provides an ideal habitat for these Little birdies to pair up and they find the monsoon mood perfect for courtship and mating.

These tiny birds dig a small nesting hole in the soft soil around the edges of waterfalls and scoop the soil out with their little beaks and its indeed a Herculean task !!

Its been talked that these cute little birds migrate from far away South Asian locations especially Sri-Lanka etc and spend their mating and nesting days in Indian subcontinent. but this only seems to be a speculative assumption. There hasn't been enough evidence of this yet. This is indeed a subject to be studied further. Probably, they display much more activity during the breeding season compared to rest of the year and hence are seen more frequently during monsoon.

Western Ghats always have plenty in stock to amaze a nature lover during monsoon and even after so many years of exploration in this area, I always get some pleasant monsoon special offerings -

Second spell
Moving on from the green and moist environs, my second spell was towards the grasslands. The area was relatively far more dry and the yellow-brown shades had still retained their summer inertia. Solapur is a shadow -zone region during monsoon and it desperately awaits some good rains every year to support the crops and the human lives together with the wildlife scattered in those drylands !

My visit to Nananj was with a wish to get at least a glimpse of "Maldhok"(local name for Great Indian Bustard) but this time my destiny was Blackbucks and few other winged wonders -

Romance in flight-

Grace is written all over the life of these speedy antelopes -

Agility is the way of life for a Blackbuck -

One on the ground , another one airborne !

In all it was just one week of monsoon mood ..and life long monsoon memories ....cherished for ever !!



More BIRDS, few words - Uttarakhand 2011

Usually my travelogues are quite verbose ; unfolding all the bits and bobs....about the journey, the food, the vehicles, the roads, the safaris, the beauties, the beasts of the jungle and so on…… once again, I have numerous anecdotes to share from the recent trip – however this time I’m keeping it to the minimum here – More BIRDS than WORDS !!
Mesmesrising colours from the Himalays- White Browed Shrike Babbler

Exploraing the wildernerss - in quest of the rare ones !
Up the hills - Where Eagles soar

Wilderness unplugged - the jungle lore !

The surroundings -abode to all those amazing species
Beginning of summer in Indian jungles has always been an obsession for me. This precisely was the motive fuelling my India visit in mid-April.
Call of the wild

The legacy forest rest house At Dhikala (Corbett)
Inside the tent - at Sattal Birding Camp - what a pleasure !
All my travel logistics were brilliantly done by Foliage, Pune – as always.
Staying in the wonderful Sattal Birding camp and Jungle lore lodge up the hills was another delight. Both these places are a real fruitful venture for any nature lover.
In addition to being located in some beautiful environs and lovely settings, all the staff members (cooks, guides, drivers) provide you such a warm and hospitality that you cannot resist visiting them again and again. On top of that - the internal d├ęcor of these lodges and collection of murals, terracotta, wall hangings are thoughtfully selected and so complimenting to the mood and spirit of birding enthusiasts, that it makes your stay – not merely a stay but a lifetime enjoyable experience.
Icing on the cake was the wonderful company of “Lokesh Kumar”. More than being just a guide for me..he is a superb birding companion all around and has got some excellent spotting and observational skills. His presence and assistance was indeed a great asset for me!

My guide companion Lokesh looking for something rare !

The Corbett country - a different meaning for every wildlifer

Enchanting Pheasant habitat - land of suspenses and surprises

The characterisstics slopes of Himalaya -rice fields
After finishing Corbett NP in the inital part - the real excitment started moving high up towards Vinayak – and on the very first morning, the maiden sighting turned out to be a glorious one – the elusive “Koklass pheasant ..can’t expect a better start of the day than this !

Koklass Pheasant - Indeed a rarity

Call of the casanova - A Koklass pheasant calling out to its female
And from there on, for the next three days in Sattal area - the birds were raining….....Tits, Thrushes, Leiothrixes, Minlas, Woodpeckers, Tree-pies, Flycatchers, Warblers, Owls and owlets, Forktails, Eagles, Sunbirds, Babblers and the list never ends…. an extensive feast of feathers all around !Out of these heaps of images – I can only share a few here….hope that’s a glimpse good enough to share the immense joy that this summer visit provided me! Rest of the images- I will try to upload on my website in due course of time, watch the space on – http://www.saleeltambe.com/

Green Magpie - magical greens

Spot Winged Tit

White Crested Laughing Thrush
Striated Laughing Thrush

Forktails - Charm of Sattal

Some lifers for me -Black Throated Sunbird

The cute - Black throated Tit

Tesia - the tiny wonder in the bushes

Fire on its tail !

The streaked dancer of Kumaon

Green Backed Tit

Grey Hooded Warbler

The colourful companions - Leiothrix

The familiar face of Himalays

Red Junglefowl - the feel of wilderness

Woody at work

Shikra -eyeing on its prey

Drying up after a dip - Verditer flycatcher

Plethroa of colours - White eye relishing April nectar

Mistle thrush

Carving the curve

Rhododendron dwellers

Pied Bushchat

Woody again !

Some Corbett NP highlights -

The initial two days of my visit were scheduled in Corbett NP area. But honestly speaking I found the Corbett NP habitat to be degraded a bit. It didn’t seem to me as charming as it used to be earlier. Probably this was partly due to the impact of severe floods last year. I could not sense the usual lure of Dhikala chaur and the Sambar road area was lacking its popular cadence. However, Corbett vicinity rewarded me with some good Avifauna and obviously some pachyderm excitement. A charge by a “mast” Elephant (image below) – was a bonus !

A challenging charge

I encountered a very diverse kind of accident this time inside Corbett NP. As my gypsy was heading towards the waterhole on Sambar road – A tiger was sighted near Khinnauli area. A whole convoy of vehicles started getting into the crazy tiger frenzy and the noise levels started booming up. I guess almost every vehicle present in the jungle crowded at the hotspot.
In all that psychosis – my driver tried to shove the vehicle through the extreme left side of the dirt track. His adrenalin rush could not speculate a big rock hidden under the undergrowth and with that stony bump- the vehicle jerked almost like an earthquake.
I was holding one of my camera body in my hand with a 100-400mm zoom lens, whereas the other body with the big prime lens & a converter was lying on the rear seat cushion. With this unexpected shock – the second body and the big lens assembly got tossed like a football and within the next fraction of second, I could observe a few springs, rings and broken pieces……Oh my God….I could not believe the manner in which my equipment was shattered into pieces. For a few minutes ..it was total dark in front of my eyes !
Being terribly annoyed – I asked the driver to immediately leave the so called “tiger hotspot” and come back to the resort. On a closer inspection, I discovered that the luck was still with me – though partly. The converter being the weakest link in the whole assembly – got ripped apart. My lens and body was still working fine and was not damaged.
But still it was a big despair - as the major part of my trip was still remaining. With this damage and the disappointment for the rest of the trip – I was feeling very dejected.
Suddenly the next morning – my gypsy crossed another gypsy on the jungle route – where I met a gentleman Mr Shahnawaz Khan from Delhi moving around with his equipment. I had never seen / known Shahnawaz before…may be we knew each other via facebook images or so…but as soon as I started with my story to him…before I could even complete my sentence…he pulled out a converter out of his bag and offered it straight to me…so that I carry on my trip uniterrupted……!!!
I don’t have words to thank him for this big-hearted help and all the joy of my trip and all the images are dedicated to his generosity! Else, right in the middle of a deep jungle- there was no way for me to obtain a replacement for my broken piece of equipment
I was overwhelmed by this wonderful and precious facet of friendship in the wilderness….something to cherish by all means !!
End of the day ( and the trip too !)