This post is a continuation of a short series documenting our three night stay at the Old Magazine house in Ganeshgudi, Karnataka. While I had read about the reputation of this place as a bird photographer’s dream for a longtime, it was good to know that the reputation wasn’t a hyperbole by any means. On the first day itself we had seen and I had taken photos of a lot of the famed birdlife of this densely forested region. The lodge itself had managed to show us the so called “target bird” for this region – the magnificent Malabar Trogon (The Old Magazine House, Part 1 – Initiation into the birders paradise ). We had also managed to see lots of the Malabar Pied Hornbills in the fields where they take their mud baths & take photos of these graceful birds in flight (Old Magazine House , Part 2 – The Hide and the Hornbills ).
On the second day we had a dual agenda – While I am the hardcore birder, the better half is an adrenaline junkie. The Kali river that passes through the region is known for white water rafting in this part of the country. While not of the same thrill levels as those in the Himalayas it was the best that this part of the country had to offer. The catch being that the rafting only took place when water was released from the Supa dam to make the river fast and thrilling enough for rafting. As the rafting was carried out by the Jungle lodges group that the OMH was a part of, we had asked them to notify us whenever the water was released from the dam and reserve a spot for the better half.
The birding plan for the morning was a trip to the Government Timber Depot in the town of Dandeli. If you are wondering what a timber depot has to do with birding, the huge depot is full of ficus trees that when fruiting are the preferred food of the hornbills in addition to other birds. While the fruiting is usually good in the month of February, there was a tree which had fruits when we went in December. So we decided to take a chance and see what the timber depot held for us, at least till we got news of the waters being released from the dam.
We were up at the crack of dawn and with a hot cup of coffee in our tummies we were off in our own vehicle. It was a cloudy and overcast morning, hardly ideal for photography. But the weather is something that no one can control, you just have to make the most of what comes your way. We reached the timber depot and Vinayak, our guide told us the direction of where the fruiting tree was. It was still very dark and gloomy and although there were a lot of pied hornbills on the said tree we decided to just enjoy watching the birds at close quarters instead of taking a lot of grainy dark photos. But still I had to take a few just to show how close they were.
A Pied Hornbill sitting directly overhead at the Timber Depot, Dandeli
We stood and watch the birds enjoy their breakfast for some time before deciding to wander around the timber depot and see what else we could find. There were a couple of brown capped pygmy woodpeckers high up on a tree. These very small birds are one of the smallest woodpeckers found in India and even though the lighting was far from ideal, I wanted a few photos of these petite birds.
Brown capped Pygmy Woodpeckers in very bad light
There were a few people who had accompanied us from the OMH to the timber depot. Vinayak spotted a Hoopoe and the others started taking photos of this beautiful bird, albeit from a distance. Having recently seen and photographed these birds in brilliant sunlight and at close quarters in our time at Jadhavgadh I wasn’t very keen. (Jadhavgadh, Part 1 – a Mini Trip to get back into the groove). So we used this time to take a few photos of the timber depot itself.
My favourite model at the Govt Timber Depot , Dandeli
A mandatory selfie at the Govt Timber Depot, Dandeli
We then moved on with the others who were busy taking photos of a pair of golden fronted leaf birds high up in the flowering trees at the side of the main road. Though very high up and the light continuing to be far from ideal these birds were far too beautiful to ignore. They also posed beautifully on the huge blossoms making for pretty photos.
A Male Golden Fronted Leafbird at the Timber Depot
A female leafbird on the huge blossoms
A male leafbird poses for the photographers
We then got the much awaited call that the water from the dam was scheduled to be released today. So we decided to head back to the OMH for breakfast before the better half headed out for her dose of adrenaline. Before we left the Timber Depot I had to take a few more photos of the flagship birds of the region – The Malabar Pied Hornbills, before saying goodbye to the timber depot.
Few photos of the Malabar Pied hornbills before leaving the timber depot
We then had a quick breakfast ( well, I had a leisurely breakfast) and the better half rushed off for her white water rafting while I did the relatively relaxing job of staying at the lodge and waiting for birds at the hide. Over the past decade of travelling together we have learnt toggle each other the space of doing what they enjoy more and not forcing the other to join in. We also choose destinations that have something for the both of us, makes the vacation fun and enjoyable for everyone!
So as the better half enjoyed hurtling down a river in an inflated boat I settled down at the hide and waited for my feathered friends to arrive.
The better half enjoys the cold waters of the Kali River
The better half happy at having survived another round of White water rafting
The hide continued to be as productive as ever. The first to appear was a lone Emerald Dove. We had missed the doves the previous evening when we had gone to see the hornbills. So this lone specimen had decided to give me an out of turn appearance and tick off another species from the list.
A lone Emerald Dove at the hide at the OMH
As I waited for more birds to make an appearance I spent the time getting to know the other photographers at the hide better. There was a couple from Pune who were like us with the husband being a hard core birder ( much more than me!) while the wife was his expert spotter. There was a politico from the sugar belt of Maharashtra with his entourage, but he was a very atypical Indian politician and had created least amount of fuss even as the staff tried to butter him up in every way. Then there was a group from Bangalore who were regulars at the OMH and had huge lenses that gave me a tennis elbow just looking at them!
We were all chatting and sharing our past birding experiences all over the country when the birds decided to cut our conversation short. A white breasted blue fly catcher and a blacknaped monarch came simultaneously to the bird baths and competed in who gave the better poses to the crowd of waiting eager photographers. My favourite was the Monarch -you can decide your own!
Various poses of the White Breasted Blue flycatcher
Various poses of the Black Naped Monarch – My favourite bird at the hide
Just as the beautiful little blue birds left after giving a show that made us smile from ear to ear and filling out parts of everyone’s SD cards, the others arrived. First was the juvenile Asian Paradise Flycatcher. I hope he gets comfortable with the hide and returns as a full-grown adult with flowing white tassels. More than that I hope I get a chance to return photograph him in all his glory!
A juvenile Asian Paradise Flycatcher at the hide at the OMH
While all of the birds in this session were repeats of the birds I had seen on the first day the perfect photo opportunities at the hide means that its very difficult to resist taking more photos. No birder worth his salt will ignore a bird posing on a perch close by in perfect light, that’s just birding blasphemy!
So we rattled away shot after shot of Puff throated babblers, dark fronted babblers, yellow browed bulbuls, brown cheeked Fulvettas and even drongos as they enjoyed a dip and a sip at the bird baths.
A Puff throated Babbler before and after a dip in the baths
A brightly coloured Yellow Browed Bulbul
Brown Cheeked Fulvettas in all poses possible
The hyperactive dark fronted Babblers drive the bulbul away
Even the otherwise ignored Drongo gets some attention
As the activity at the hide subsided Vinayak suggested a walk around the lodge road to see if we had any other sightings. While the walk outside the lodge gates hardly yielded any fruit except for a few photos of butterflies enjoying the nectar of the wild flowers on the roadside, the situation changed as soon as we re-entered the gates.
Butterflies enjoying the plentiful wild flowers on the roadside
First we spotted a female Trogon. Unlike the male that had been at eye level, this was higher up. But a Trogon is a Trogon and received its due attention. The ones with longer lenses went crazy while I satisfied myself with some decent shots before the bird flew off.
A female Trogon high up in the trees inside the lodge premises
Then there were a group of little minivets, these birds move in mixed hunting parties and zoom through one patch of the forest to another. While the male eluded my lens Got a decent enough photo of the female. Well, something to look forward to on a repeat visit!
A female minivet stays still long enough to get a photo!
In the mixed hunting party were a few velvet fronted nuthatches. These brightly coloured small birds were posing around in what is known as a typical nuthatch pose. Even though it was far from perfect, I was happy with the photos I got.
Velvet Fronted Nuthatch in a typical nuthatch pose
The better half returned from her rafting just in time for the sighting of the day. A blue capped Rock Thrush posing on a perch with light shining perfectly on it. It was like the bird was in a professional photo studio! Needless to say everyone went crazy and the cameras were going off faster than a machine gun. Perfect distance, perfect light, beautiful bird – Nothing more a bird photographer can ask for!
The Blue Capped Rock Thrush at the OMH photo studio!
After staying there for much longer than we anticipated and filling up the rest of our memory cards the Rock Thrush flew off and we returned to the chairs around the hide. As we waited for lunch and compared photos we saw a hanuman langur sitting on a thick vine & a malabar squirrel nibbling on some leaves. I started taking photos just to pass time when the langur reached out for a flower. I was wondering what he would do with it, when he shoved it straight into his mouth and looked straight into the camera giving me a great photo. There is always something new to be experienced in the jungle!
A Malabar Giant Squirrel posing for the camera
A Hanuman Langur reaches out for a flower!
The Langur looks right at me with his snack!
It had been a great start to our last full day at the OMH, both of us had done what we enjoyed and now we were looking forward to a relaxing half day inland around the lodge itself. I was hoping that I would get a few more good photos before it was time to return home.
But that is the topic for another post some other time, some other day.