Monday, October 7, 2013

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


As a naturalist, most of us understand the importance of dynamics of the ecosystems in which everyone from the blade of grass to huge trees, small ant to large predator, butterfly to birds, is holding the delicate fabric of interdependence for survival. The ecosystems work as closed system where all elements go from one life form to other and keeps of repeating the cycles. As a human being our existence is grace of all those living beings. Every molecule of oxygen we inhale is a free gift from the large surviving forests. They also maintain essential water sources required to keep ourselves alive. In a fact these large forests are kept in good health by large amount of lesser fauna i.e. amphibians, reptiles, insects, birds, bees etc. which are real  dwellers, service providers and backbone of forests. They though being the essential elements are often neglected.

My recent trip to Amboli ghats, with aim to explore its wonderful forest floor to meet and learn about its real treasures ended in a mind blowing sightings and wholesome experience, thanks to Nature India's best efforts by captains Adesh Shivkar and Mandar Khadilkar. Special thanks to Dr. Varad Giri from BNHS who taught us the basics about Amphibians and reptiles, how to observe them in field, how to identify them, appreciate and develop respect for them and their habitats. 

Our trip started from Kolhapur, on 26th July morning, After traveling from Mumbai we boarded the hired vehicle to proceed to Amboli ghats. On the way to Amboli, we halted at a small plateau which was full of ground orchid, Habenaria longicorniculata (शेपूट हबे आमरी ).

 Habenaria longicorniculata (शेपूट हबे आमरी )
  Habenaria longicorniculata (शेपूट हबे आमरी )

In Amboli we stayed at Whistling Woods Resort run by Mr. Heman Ogale, who is a gem of personality, with a very warm, humble attitude. He is well known naturalists with commendable knowledge of butterflies, reptiles, amphibians. He is the best person to be contacted to learn about Amboli and its forests.

In our first trail nearby the resort, we came across a big caterpillar of Golden emperor moth.

Caterpillar of  Golden emperor moth

We further went to a small open area with big rocks. The small puddles on the rock surfaces is the starting point of life-cycle of Indirana sp. frogs. (??) Tiny eggs are deposited in those puddles and the tadpoles  move on rock surface and feed on plant subtracts available on surface.
 Tadpol of Indirana sp. frog

 Caterpillar (ID not known)

After a meal and rest, we had gathering to listen to Dr. Varad Giri talking about the Amphibians and his most dear subject of Ceacilians. Amphibians are the animals which spend part of their life-cycle in water and land. These are cold blooded vertebrates that can spend their life on land. The breathing is either through moist skin or lungs. Amphibians are seen mostly near the water bodies, streams, moist places. Generally the adults lay large number eggs without shells, in or near water, the larvae/tadpols emerged from eggs, undergo metamorphosis, a process where body structure changes and organs are developed to adapt the life on land. 

The first group/order in Amphibians is known as "Gymnophonia" means naked & snake like, or also as "Apoda", i.e without legs. These are almost blind, legless, burrowing amphibians and resemble to worm/snake. These either have a very short tail or no tail in adults. Body structure is groovy. Ceacilians belong to this order. Ceacilians are different than earthworm in a respect that they have bone structure in body and do not show elongation or contraction of body during movement. The ceacilians have distinct head. Presence of tentacles between eye and nostril is unique feature of ceacilians.

Second group/order of Amphibians is known as "Caudata" in which adults have tail and two pairs of equal limbs. Absence of scales on body differentiate them from lizards. Salamander are from this group. Salamanders have slender lizard like body, have long tail, moist and smooth skin. Only salamander found in India is Himalayn newt.

Third and Largest group is known as "Anura" meaning 'without tail'.  Frogs and toads are part of this group. These have stout body, protruding eyes, limbs folded underneath and have no tail. These are found in water, land, trees and some are burrowing. Toads have dry skin and warts. Frogs have slimy moist skin. The frogs which can swim in water have webbed feet, example-wrinkled frog. Frogs that can climb trees and rocks have dilated toe tips, example-tree frogs.  Malabar gliding frog has developed flat body and skin webs to have maximum surface area while gliding from treetop to downward. 

Frogs, toads provide their important contribution in maintaining ecosystems by preying on insects and pests, and act as prey base for larger frogs, lizards, snakes, mammals. Global warming, ground water pollution, habitat destruction has threatened the existence of large number of species throughout the world. Loosing amphibians isn't good sign of change and conservation is alarmingly requires attention.

 Forest Calotes

Narrow mouthed frog (Ramanella sp.)
Malabar Gliding frog (Rhacophorus Malabaricus )

We can observe the  flattened body, dilated finger tips, flashy webbing between fingers for Malabar gliding frog, all features necessary for their life on trees and movement.

Malabar Gliding frog (Rhacophorus Malabaricus )

 Malabar Gliding frog (Rhacophorus Malabaricus )

Dwarf Geko - communal nesting behaviour

We could observe the communal nesting of Dwarf Geko, in the crevices where the geko lays 2-3 eggs which stick to the surface. Various females visit the nesting place to put the eggs together. This perhaps increases their breeding success.

Dwarf Geko

 Eggs of Wrinkled frog

Above photograph shows the clutch of eggs of wrinkled frog placed on tree trunk, just above the fast flowing water stream. As explained by Dr. Varad Giri, the tadpols directly fall into streams and are spread downstream. As the eggs are without shell we can see the tadpols inside eggs being developed.

Malaxis Versocolor Orchid

 Adesh showed us a beautiful terrestrial orchid "Malaxis Versicolor", which has very tiny cute flowers. 

Next day, we started for bigger trail in search of Ceacilians. We were asked to look under rocks and leaf litters. I could find one spider under a stone.

 Wolf spider female

To our luck, first ceacilian sighting under the leaf litter and it was identified as Amboli ceacilian, Gegneophis Danielli. Following photograph gives some identification features of the ceacilian.

The Amboli Ceacilian (Gegneophis Danielli) and its identification features

Head close-up of  Gegneophis Danielli 

Under another rock we found a beautiful geko which appears to be not described to science yet.

 Hemidactylus (Geko) exact description not available yet.

And FINALLY, the beauty, burrowing gem, Ichtyophis Davidii was found. It has the yellow stripe running from jaw to tail, only breaking near neck. Number of closely placed grooves and a tail can be observed .

Chorla giant striped caecilian (Ichtyophis Davidii)

Identification features of Chorla giant striped ceacilian

Some of the exciting sightings included Bedome's Keelback snake, another ceacilian specimen, wine snake, orange crab.

Green vine snake 

Orange crab

Amboli toad

Amboli toad

Probably Gegneophis Danielli juvenile

Adesh spotted this Malabar pit viper coiled on a branch of tree at higher elevation. We could photograph it without disturbing its position. 

Malabar Pit Viper - Adult

Malabar pit viper

Tadpol of Indirana sp.

camouflage of tadpols

Baby Malabar pit viper resting after meal

After dinner we again set out to the field to find the wrinkled frogs along the water streams. This frog has a call like a bird in distress. We could hear the faint calls of the frog. Also saw a Indirana sp. frog following a female for mating. 

After long search Adesh could spot the wrinkled grog in the stream. This frog breeds above the streams and has body features well developed for that habitat. Hind legs have webbed feets, the finger tips are dilated to gain grip on the surfaces, the nostrils and eyes are placed on top so that body can remain submerged in water and eyes remain above the water surface. All these features we tried to capture, you can observe them in following photographs.

Wrinkled Frog (Nictibatrachus sp.)

Wrinkled Frog (Nictibatrachus sp.)

Wrinkled Frog (Nictibatrachus sp.)

In the open grassland area number frogs were calling and a Fejervarya sp. frog we could observe and photograph while calling by inflating its vocal sacks.

Fejervarya calling

 Malabar Pit Viper, baby or juvenile.

We were so engrossed in looking out for frogs, we didn't knew it was past midnight and we came across this sight of pair of Malabar gliding frog in mating position. They were sitting at eye level branch, a rare photographic opportunity. We took caution to leave them immediately after taking couple of record shots.

Malabar Gliding Frog - mating ritual

Next day, Hemant informed us about a Bamboo pit viper which he had rescued from the village. We are thankful to him for providing the opportunity to photograph it before its release.

Bamboo pit viper
Bamboo pit viper

The trip ended there with this beautiful snake and we were little sad to leave the amboli ambience. The total experience has been extremely rich, I feel lucky to be able to listen experts, passionate naturalists presenting the world of amphibians and reptiles through their experiences and being lucky to sight beautiful species including the rare ceacilians in actual field, being lucky to experience of aura of evergreen jungle, the mystical curtains of fog, and being lucky to have company of all sincere individuals of the group and collective efforts to understand the life of the real dwellers of forest floor of Amboli.

I personally have derived immense inspiration to learn more about the lesser known fauna, and take this opportunity to share with all with a request to be aware and make aware who ever we meet, esp. next generation about the picture of meticulously designed cascade of species on the earth and importance of its each element.

Thank you,
Your comments and critic are all welcome.

Equipments used for Photography : Nikon D200 SLR, Tamron 90 mm Macro lens.
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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bharatpur-Dholpur 2013

Keoladeo Ghana National Park, Bharatpur, needs no introduction, it is world famous destination for bird watchers, home to more than 350 species of avian-fauna from all categories, resident, migratory, critically important species and various mammals and aquatics. Historical hunting ground, Bharatpur, is now maintained proudly by villagers and government authorities, and most important guardians are the guides and rickshaw drivers, who offer the best services to birders. Water is topmost essential commodity for survival of every living being, humans being the most dependent and topmost consumer, has duty to maintain it with care and responsibility. Few years before when Bharatpur was dry, as people tell us, the birds were driven away, and everything got affected. There was pressure on government to bring the Chambal water by pumping to the affected zones, and Water came, bringing back the life. 

Untill this year, the bharatpur was being missed by me due to some or other reason. Alok and Rohit were planning this trip and I happened to jump in at last moment. The Bharatpur season was just at its end, and we  were still hopeful that we wont be disappointed. We visited Bharatpur for two full days birding, one day at Chambal, one day at Jaipur and around while travelling back. Thanks to the rail availability, we had to put Jaipur in the plan.

Day-1 : March 2, 2013, Bharatpur

Upon reaching Bharatpur station at 3:30 pm, quickly checked in the Iora guest house, My rickshaw driver  Jeetu, was waiting to take me to sanctuary which is 1 km away from guest house. This cheerful guy pacified me and answered all my questions arising due to excitement and anxiety of the first time impressions I was going to have about this charismatic place....The path leading to temple surrounded by water bodies and huge flocks of birds settled in to it, was such site to cherish and I was stunned. From photography point of view a huge feast was awaiting to come....Sun was setting and casted beautiful golden light upon the place.

Sambar Deer

Painted Stork (juvenile) 

Neelgai - female

Neelgai - male

Jungle Babbler

Peacock - coming to roost

Day-2 : May 3, 2013, Chambal Sanctuary

We had spent wonderful time with our guest house owner, Mr. Devendra Singh discussing about Birds and Photography earlier night and his descriptions of Chambal and the show stopper..Skimmers, made us restless. Morning we started off the most wonderful and memorable day, with our guide Bholu Khan, who had arranged the conveyance to Chambal, situated at 60 Kms from Bharatpur. The road to chambal goes via beautiful villages and green mustard fields. We stopped along the road side to watch spotted owlets which were seen sitting out in open on a top of ruined structure made out of stone. Thanks to Rohit who spotted them from a moving car...We has a great time watching these owlets.

Spotted owlet

Spotted Owlet

Large Grey Babbler

There were many birds on the roadside fields and canals and villages like bushchats, babblers, peacocks, wooly necked stork, kingfishers etc. The views of large green mustard fields is signature of northern plains agriculture and were very pleasing to eyes.

About 10 O'Clock we reached the banks of the Chambal river, The only pure river in India, with minimal or no industrial water pollution, until river meets Yamuna. Due to the river's pristine ecology indian dolphins, Ghariyal, Muggar and Indian skimmer population has survived in the wild. The river's banks are sandy and soft  that provide bed for breeding and nesting of these species.

We had a short boat safari run by forest department, the smooth flow of blue clean waters of Chambal soothed our minds, and our hearts overwhelmed with joy to see the landscape. Widely flowing waters with muddy banks on both sides appeared extremely unique and beautiful. The high sand hillls give altogether a different touch to the place.

We had spotted Greater Flamingos, Egyptian vultures (juv., adults), greater cormorants, river lapwings. We were delighted to see the *Red Crested Pochards*. Few hundred meters towards the up direction of river, on our left we could see to our excitement a group of *Indian Skimmers*, basking in sun on a sandy bank. Boatman approached slowly to the place. We could see Ghariyal, younger one with 2 feet length close to bank. Few ruddy shelducks were present among Skimmers. 

We watched the skimmers to our heart's content. Unforgettable moments were being imprinted in our memory..

Indian Skimmer

Indian skimmer

Ruddy shell-duck

Ruddy shell-duck

River Lapwing

River Lapwing

Great Thick-nee

Egyptian vulture

Ghariyal (three individuals with different sizes due to their age)

Black Necked Stork - Male

Ruddy Shellduck



A huge Muggar was basking in sun was encountered when we tried to get closer views of black stork male. This muggar was impressive in size, and experience of watching one of such strong creature in the wild was amazing.

Skimmer - orange candy bird


We decided to return as sun has already came overhead. We reached Bharatpur and spent evening time birding inside the sanctuary.

Day 3: May 4, 2013 : Bharatpur

We had this last day in our hand at Bharatpur, we had already seen *Black bittern*, *Dusky eagle owl*, *Bar headed Geese*, *Greater spotted Eagle*, several water bird species. We were surprised to see *Mallard* male and female, as our guide had information that mallards were not being located from last few days and they might have left back. We could observe a significant drop in numbers of ducks, during only last 2 days. And we were happy that we haven't missed much.

Few best sightings of the day included *Black necked stork-female*. Female has distinct yellow eye compared to male. There were number of painted storks, young ones learning to fly and soar along with adults, they soared high and high.We could add *Siberian rubythroat* ,*Saras Crane* to our list.

Yellow footed green pigeon

Brahminy Myna.

Spotted owlet - Resting after night shift.

Rose ringed parakeet - in search of nesting sites.

Lesser whistling teal

Siberian Rubythroat




Glossy Ibis

Saras Crane

Hoppoe -anting behaviour

A Hoopoe was seen on the lawn in the gardens with crest open, wings spread and allowing the ants to bite it, and release acid which acts as disinfectant.

Black Necked Stork - female

Little Grebe

We left Bharatpur with sinking heart, with plans to return again in next season, anybody will agree that one can not see so many of species and and so many in quantity anywhere in India. We reached Jaipur late in the night and waited for next day to bird at Sambar Lake,

Day 4: May 5, 2013 : Around Jaipur 

As we travelled towards Sambar Lake, we already had started missing the bird density effect of Bharatpur.  It was getting very hot and birds were few in sight. We could come across small ponds in and around villages. Where we could see some waders.

Pied Avocet

Pied Avocet

We pushed ourselves birding under the scorching sun. There were *Small pratincoles*, various waders  and a flock of *Great White Pelicans* at the distance end of the Naliyasar lake.

Garganey duck

Great white pelicans

Long legged Buzzard.

There were few sightings at Sambar Lake and we decided to have return migration.

Can't have enough of this Orange Eye Candy bird...Such a wonderful creation.

Equipments used for Photography : Nikon D200 SLRl, Nikon D50 SLR, 18-55 lens, 300mm f2.8 VR II lens+1.7x tc.
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