Thursday, June 26, 2008

Nagla Block

On Saturday, Shirish and I decided to visit the Nagla Block area near Bhayinder. The place is known for sightings of the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher which arrives in Mumbai around this time of the year. Since the ODKF is such a colourful bird, motivation for this trip was quite high.

Note: I've provided links to photographs of the birds mentioned...


The forest was lush green and though we heard many birds calling, we saw quite few. One of the more vocal ones was the Puff-Throated Babbler making its “Ithe-ye-tu” call (as Adesh describes it!). The calls seemed to be pretty loud, but we never actually saw the bird.

Puff-Throated Babbler:

Brown-Headed Barbet:

The first birds we saw were the Indian Grey Hornbills calling away merrily on a nearby tree with their typical “kiiaeaeae….” call. Later, we also heard the Brown-Headed Barbet and got only a brief glimpse of the bird.

Indian Grey Hornbill:

Walking on, we soon reached the “tower” which is a ~15 feet tall structure like a machan. We climbed aboard, and almost instantly saw a male White-Rumped Shama sitting not too far away in a clearing. The bird had something pinkish in its mouth and was giving all kinds of poses on the branch. It jumped, hopped, tweaked its tail, much like a Magpie Robin, and was curiously making a “krack-krack-KRACK” call…It was soon joined by the female, which perched only inches away from its mate. It too had something in its mouth, and we thought it was nesting material. I spoke to Adesh about this, and he says it was probably food for the chicks. Whatever it was, the birds kept us company for nearly 40 minutes.

The view of these birds was so good that we could literally examine each feature of the bird’s plumage and compare it with the illustration in Grimmett. Particularly noticeable was the size difference between the male and the female.

White-Rumped Shama:

While on the tower, we also saw a large raptor swooping about, like it was scanning the forest for food. I’m quite sure it was a Tawny Eagle. It flew past quite close to our tower, and seeing a big bird fly so close was quite rewarding. Besides the raptor, some sunbirds and bulbuls also kept us company.

The forest right now is filled with mosquitoes, and had it not been for Shirish’s Odomos cream, we’d look quite ungainly when we came out. The mosquitoes are quite stubborn and one even bit me through my socks! What’s worse is that they stay put even when you try to swap them!!

We couldn’t see the ODKF on our trip. That was a little disappointing. But it’s a long season, and I hope to see it soon!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Malshej Ghat

I visited Malshej Ghat on 16th June for a 2 day overnight trip with my mom and dad. It's a beautiful forested area about 160km from Mumbai, and even more so during the monsoons. We stayed at the MTDC resort, which provides decent accommodation for trekkers/birdwatchers. We roamed around in this lush green area a lot, and we saw many birds. Here's a brief account of that trip:

As soon as you step out of your vehicle at Malshej, the first sound you'll probably hear is the Malabar Whistling Thrush singing in the background. The other sound you'll hear is that of the non-stop strong winds that blow in almost all directions at this place!

Our first bird was a Laughing Dove sitting right outside the MTDC canteen….I saw it while sipping tea! I went outside for a better look, and this fellow wasn't disturbed at all. He was looking at me no doubt, occasionally shutting his eyes tight in a rather cute way. The dove seemed to be totally at ease, strutting along on the small path it was on. I'm used to seeing Spotted Doves fly away at the slightest disturbance in Mumbai, so this was a welcome change! I silently acknowledged a good start to this trip…

After checking in to my room, I asked the locals if they knew any nature trails that birdwatchers normally take in this region, but they had no clue. All they could tell me was that the flamingoes hadn't arrived yet at the "dam", which we could see from the resort. The dam actually starts at a place called Khubi Phata, which is a 40 min walk along the highway (NH 222) from the MTDC resort. The dam goes all the way upto the village Khireshwar, which is the base village for a trek to Harishchandragad. Dad and I decided to take a walk along the highway, and try to do some bird-watching, for there's good forest cover on either side of the highway. We set off.

Soon enough we saw a Brown-Headed Barbet on a tree somewhere off the highway. It kept visiting a neighbouring tree quite often, and was quite well camouflaged against the green leaves. Since this bird is relatively rarer than the Coppersmith Barbet which we see so often in Mumbai, I was quite happy. I've seen it in Mumbai also only on 2 occasions, once at Tulsi Lake, and once at Tungareshwar.

Red-Whiskered and Red-Vented Bulbuls are pretty common in the area and are also quite vocal. Their typical "qui-qwayou" was heard I think as often as the whistling thrush. And soon enough, I saw the myna sized black bird land next to the highway and disappear in the next-door bush. We heard a loud continuous whistling, louder and clearer than ever before. A quick flight revealed its shiny Prussian blue plumage, and I knew it was the Malabar Whistling Thrush. There were two of them, and they settled on a nearby tree and kept hopping about on branches that were about 30 feet above the ground. It really is a splendid bird. And when it flies, the dark-bluish wings make it even more beautiful. Lifer #1.

Walking on, we reached the Khubi village, indicated by a sign-board off the highway. There's a small parallel road to the highway that goes past some houses and fields though this village. Since there'd be less traffic on this road, we took it. Looking at the village life here was rather touching. A woman was sifting through a huge heap of bajri seeds that she claimed had got spoilt due to the rain. We also met an old farmer who wasn't too happy about the dam forcing some of the fields to be drowned. How, I don't know. But the simple style of talking, walking, living, was a welcome change from the life in Mumbai. A few more paces down the road, we saw a group of Brahmini Mynas on a tree next to a house.

We reached the dam. Surprise! A couple of Wooly Necked Storks were standing gracefully on the water's edge, about 200 feet away. And quite close to them, say 50 feet or so, a couple of village women were sitting on the ground and doing something like washing clothes, I'm not sure exactly what….Emboldened, we tried to approach the storks. We deliberately walked at an angle, so as not to scare them off. But when we were only 100 feet away, they flew off without warning! They settled in the distance, and there wasn't any point in following them there…it was getting late for lunch. Lifer #2.

Before they took off, I tried to take some pictures through my 4x optical zoom Canon PowerShot A520. I even tried to stick the camera behind my 8x Stokes Talon binoculars, and the result wasn't too bad! Talk about digi-binoc-ing! OK, sad joke…

On the way back, we saw a Pied Bushchat. Sure enough, it was on a "bush" next to the small parallel road I mentioned. It was flying around quite close to the ground, visiting this bush then the next. We got a particularly good view of this bird when it was about to land on a dried bush: a small black bird with three white patches, 2 on the shoulders and one on the rump. Too good. This too was a lifer.

3 lifers in one day isn't too bad!

In the evening too, we set off along the area right behind the MTDC resort. It’s a vast expanse with trees, bushes and moderate forest. Here too we saw the Whistling Thrush, and this time I noticed an almost indigo patch on its shoulder. Perhaps it was my imagination!

And just before we left the resort to start on this trail, I saw a quail!!! There's this small platform between the canteen and the main building, and the quail was standing silently at the end of the small "wall" of the platform, probably to shield itself from the wind. The winds at Malshej are simply incessant. And strong. Anyway, having never seen a quail before, I couldn't identify it at once. I registered a grey head and a brown body. I went towards it. And I couldn’t find it at al!!! I took one more step and this fellow flew away from a distance of less than 10 feet! The flight was quick and direct. It flew only 4-5 feet off the ground and landed about 30 feet away, at the base of the small 1-storeyed building. The flight reminded me of the flight of a sandpiper. I followed. I noticed some barring or lines on the chest. But again, it flew before I could see more of its features. This time it landed farther off, but not too far. And then I lost it in the bushes! I tried to identify the quail using the book by Grimmett…but couldn’t find a match. I was a little disappointed.

Back to the trail. We were walking along, when suddenly, a large bird came from nowhere and settled on a cactus/bush, about 70 feet away. To my delight, it was a male Common Kestrel. In these overcast conditions, the bird looked simply awesome. And it was nearing sunset too, although there wasn’t the typical sunset lighting. Looks like these winter visitors come in June itself! A sighting to remember!

The next day too, we tried to do some birding. But this time luck wasn’t on our side. We saw the thrushes, barbets, and also a Crow Pheasant. But no new species.

So! An excellent trip to an excellent place. Do visit Malshej. I'm not sure if birding in the heavy rains is a good idea, but when I went, there wasn’t any rain. It had rained a week back, and had made the place quite green. I'm sure you'll take back fantastic memories….the way I did.

I compiled a 360 degree view of the area just behind the MTDC resort. You can see the dam which looks like a flat wall to the left of the buildings. Here it is:

Here are some random pictures taken on this trip:

Farmers ploughing the field

A dead snake. If you know which species it is, please let me know.

This bright green bug is known as the Jewel Bug. What a fitting name!

Pretty flowers on a tree

Common Garden Lizard

The winding road offers good birding opportunities, but mind the traffic!