WHEN THE MONSOON ARRIVES IN SOUTH INDIA
Everyone of us know what the monsoon rain is like – it drenches, soothes, creates and make a complete turn around of events that affect each and every individual in this country one way or the other. The word monsoon literally means season. There is a seasonal shift from the dry heat and brightness of summer to wet and dark cloudy days. In this bulletin let us see how the birds behave during one particular quest of mine into the Western Ghats at the mighty Nilgiris Mountains.
It all started due to my inquisitiveness to find out what happens in this area (The Nilgiris) that I love so much when it is wet and windy when the southwest monsoon advances to this region. I have made many visits to The Nilgiris during summer and winter months but have made only a few visits during the monsoon, but not for only birding or photography. During the visit in past July I concentrated/trekked in one particular area which is in between Ooty and Gundlupet towns, called the “Frog Hill View” area.
We traveled through the Kalhatti Ghats on our way to Ooty. As always this place comes out with its magic of events every time. On the 3 or 4th hair pin bend I encountered 3 Changeable hawk eagles and one particular individual was as friendly as any birder or photographer can dream of. The eagle allowed our car as close as 15 feet and sat on its esteemed throne scanning the valley below. Due to the winding/ever climbing roads the eagle was at eye level and I was able to take some good pictures which turned out to be the best I have for this particular species thus far. Also the eye level shots with the valley in background made for a good background setting for the pictures. When I almost reached the top of the hill, there was a fruiting ficus tree in a private farms adjacent to the road, so there was a lot of birding activity and the birds seen out there were Black-headed Cuckoo Shrikes, Large Cuckoo Shrikes, Crimson Fronted Barbets, Jungle Babblers, Rufous Babblers, Ioras, Scarlet Minivet, Small Minivet, Common Grey Hornbill, Chestnut Headed Bee-eaters, White-eyes, Chestnut Bellied Nuthatch and Great Tits. The light drizzle together with the golden sunlight and chilly winds made it a magical birding evening.
Birding at Frog Hill View:
Being nested in the hotspots of Western Ghats, every stream was full and it was damp, cloudy, and rainy and the elements of nature were at their peak during this month of July. When you step into this place the fresh smell of the ground below just grips you, the wet leaves of the trees, the clouds just rising from the tree tops, the lightning, the thunder all captivate a nature lover and make it to be the best place on earth to be. Amidst all these wonderful things happening around you my winged friends were doing though they knew them all and it was just another day for them.
Some spectacular occurrences of bird congregations which I have never seen in the past which I want to mention here is around 30 spotted fantail flycatchers, fly catching together, never in my life that I have witnessed this. They were in all the stages of the forest, in the canopy, the middle tire and the ground level and chased each other, quarreled and finished off every insect on their way. Even those insects which hit the cocoon stage to protect themselves from the wind/rains were also not spared. The huge gang of fantails was joined by Nilgiri Laughing Thrushes, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Ioras, White-eyes, Cuckoo Shrikes and a surprise visitor who is seen in the plains most times – the White-browed Flycatcher also joined in the party. Most of the birds seen during this period were in their worn-out plumages as they had finished with their breeding. When the rains came down heavily, all of my winged friends just disappeared and a lull prevailed till the rains stopped. feeding was observed during the short breaks from the incessant rains.
On my way back to Bangalore, the landslides and the heavy rains slowed down the journey considerably. The 50-60kms of winding roads from Ooty to Gudalur took around 5 hours. There was not a soul on the road but only a few villagers collecting firewood and few tourist vehicles struggling to maneuver the pot-hole filled dangerous roads. All this was a good learning experience for me as we are so used to sitting in our air conditioned offices with all the comforts that life has to offer, but we need to venture out to see what’s happening out there, how the common man living close to our forests is battling the day to day hardships that life throws at them. Mother earth is alive and kicking, go out and appreciate her!!