Thursday, January 3, 2013

Valley of Flowers National Park (June`13) Batch I


Weather Bhyunder Valley deserves the title 'Valley of Flowers', others will visit, analyse it, probe it but whatever their opinion, to me it will remains as "Valley of Flowers", a valley of piece and perfect beauty where human spirit may find repose – Frank Smythe

We did Valley of Flowers National Park in 2012 and covered with more then 180 species of flora, 20 species of butterflies, one mammal and 10 species of birds. This was the first experiment which brought a very good response with 23 participation from all parts of the country. Now in 2013 we are doing it again. In two batches . June and August. June is the time to see the flowers freshly blooming . This is also the time when tourism in this Himalayan protected area is little away to start. Probably less crowd and more sightings. Precisely orchids, climbers and trees are the target for this batch. 

Schedule-
10th June`13 
06.00 AM - Departure from Haridwar by private vehicle
07.00 PM - Arrival at Govind Ghat, hotel stay and dinner

11th June`13
07.00 AM - Start trekking for Ghanghariya (VoF base camp) - 14 Kms uphill
06.00 PM - Reach Ghanghariya, hotel stay & dinner

12th June` 13
07.00 AM - Start exploring VoF, trek ( 4 Kms uphill trek with packed food)
05.00 PM - Reach Ghanghariya base camp (night stay & dinner)

13th June`13
07.00 AM - Start exploring Hemkund Saheb (5 Kms uphill steep trek with packed food)
06.00 PM - Reach Ghanghariya base camp

14th June`13
08.00 AM - Start trekking down to Govind Ghat (14 Kms)
06.00 PM reach Govind Ghat, stay and dinner

15th June`13
05.00 AM - Travel from Govind Ghat to Haridwar
06.00 PM - Arrival at Haridwar.

Those travelling by train from their origin are advised to keep a buffer day before and after the departure and arrival from Haridwar.

Anyone having reasonable interest in Himalayan Flora is welcomed to join in. Though this is not a commercial event but neither is volunteer work. Tentative charges for this event would be Rs 10,000 per head . That includes travel from Haridwar to Govind Ghat (base of Valley of Flowers) & return. Food during the travel. Stay at Govind Ghat with food. Mule charges for carrying luggage from Govind Ghat to Ghanghariya. Stay at Ghanghariya & food (for 2 nights). Park entry fees for Valley of Flowers National Park. Mule charges for carrying luggage from Ghanghariya to Govind Ghat. Stay at Govind Ghat with food. Travel from Govind Ghat to Haridwar , and food. This also includes very much nominal VoF event organising charges. 

This doesnt include anything above then mentioned. Please note that this is a nature outing hence the kind of stay and food would be very local and not luxurious. Participants having stamina to walk/trek above 3000 mtrs altitude and are physically fit can opt for this trek. Those willing to hire helicopter or mule for lifting can do it at their own expenses. 

For more details with regards to registration etc, please email to rajeshdsachdev@gmail.com or call on 9890255616

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Photos of the year - 2011




Bird of the year

Name of the Species: Ocyceros griseus

Common Name: Malabar Grey Hornbill

Photographed on: 18th Dec., 2011

Location: Siddhagad, Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary, Maharashtra.

Habitat: Hill slope, moist deciduous forest; on the north-west part of the sanctuary.

Description: Taking a short-cut may be rewarding sometime, but not always and there are exceptions, such as this. Avinash Bhagat, Sushant More and I were on two days outing in Murbad - Bhimashankar range for two days, practically in a field type excursion, documenting every form and sign of wildlife was the motive. We took a short-cut to ascend towards the hill, leading towards the main road and then there was a loud shrill call. Avinash shouted “Hornbill”. All eyes were on the nearby trees, searching for this large forest bird. Camouflaged in the forest canopy, it was initially difficult to locate it but after continuous calls, this bird was making perhaps for its mate, we could locate it and photographed this endemic hornbill of Western Ghats.


Flora of the year

Name of the Species: Ceropegia vincaefolia

Common Name: Forest Flytrap (English), Kharchudi Kandil (Marathi)

Photographed on: 7th August, 2011

Location : Jummapatti, Matheran-Neral Route, Maharashtra.

Habitat: Hill slope, open forest.

Description: Termed as endemic (Western Ghats) and rare/threatened plant of the region, we (Sushant & me) were not expecting to see it in Matheran. Matheran although resembles most of Sahyadri (Western Ghats) but is not literally connected to the main ridge and perhaps that is the reason that we were not actually expecting this at the said location. This record has inspired me, by and large, to prepare the check-list of flora of this hill station. The documentation, field work, is likely to start soon and would go on for couple of years.


Reptile of the year

Name of the species: Calliophis melanurus

Common Name: Slender Coral Snake

Photographed on: 18th December, 2011

Location: Siddhagad, Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary, Maharashtra.

Habitat: Rock formation on the hill slope.

Description: Rare and dangerous. One of the most venomous snakes of the region could have gone un-attended, had I not stepped on the nearby rock. Basking under the sun light, this reptile was lazy enough to move or might have had its meal and as it is known that the snakes relax for long time after finishing their prey. Well, my only request to those snake rescuers, who intend to bottle these snakes for the sake of photography or exchange, is that please don’t do this for such a lousy reason. The snake could die in the process and the definition of snake rescuing might be just other way round.


Butterfly of the year

Name of the species: Papilio polymnestor

Common Name: Blue Mormon

Photographed on: 5th November, 2011

Location: Mukki Range, Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh.

Habitat: Under forest canopy of typical Sal forest of Satpuda Range.

Description: A usual talk with Vinay, a local naturalist, turned out to be productive when he pointed out to the large flying butterfly. Blue Mormon, otherwise quick flier was looking for place to rest. And that was, the never lose, opportunity for me, which I grabbed. Otherwise, this chap is always far away from photographing. Termed as , if not rare, uncommon bigger butterfly of the region.


Mammal of the year

Name of the Species: Cervus duvauceli branderi

Common Name: Central Indian Hard-ground Barasingha

Photographed on: 20th October, 2011

Location: Mukki Range, Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh.

Habitat: Reclaimed lake, fine grassland.

Description: Huge building pressure for tiger sighting, people forget to feel the realm of something called endemism. Everyone is just behind the stripped beauty but get disappointed, if tigers, just, don’t show off. But is that all about the great Indian Biodiversity? Those promoting the TIGER TOURISM need to think and tour beyond tigers. Before I joined for my assignment, at Kanha, I was reminded to photograph and document the behaviour of these large ungulates. Unfortunately I had to drop my assignment for my family commitments but those working in this landscape, please pursue this study and it is worth a much.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Report : Rajmachi Nature Trek






Amidst the natural calls of Brown Headed Barbet, Grey Jungle Fowl and Greater Coucal, my mobile alarm at 6`o clock performed the role of perfect alien and played no difference to us since we were little tired and decided to sleep for another extra hour, which was beyond the schedule. This was the story of the second day`s start at Rajmachi, which had heavy cloud gatherings on atop the fort, for which we were planned to explore on this day, but couldn`t. The first day, given us many sightings, few of them lifer, few were uncommon and few were expected but the second day, was not that much promising.

The Rajmachi Nature Trek got 6 participants, a very decent number, ensured good sightings. Specially, at such famous trekking destinations, where hoards of people drop in during weekends and disturb the whole environs, we were much comfortable in this size.

The 10th September, 2011, Sarang Naik, Tushar Parab, Sushant More, Manish Nakhwa, Advait Ghaisas and me started our trek from Tungarli village, after having our breakfast at Lonavala city, at sharp 9.15am, as pre-decided. Rajmachi, was a long trek, covering 16 Kms of uphill walk, the closest point for Mumbaikars in Western Ghats. The sky was filled with clouds with slight rains and limited light for camera savvys. Our day started with as usual Red Whiskered Bulbul right at the base of Tungarli Dam and finished with a filmy type fight between multiple frogs at night, for an earth worm. The stunning Ulhas Valley and River, mesmerized all of us, with its fate, further down at Karjat, where it is most polluted. The short discussion with the local villager, confirmed the number of wild denizens have declined over the last 4-5 years, along with tree cover as well. He affirmed that Hyeana, Leopard and wild boar are still seen at occasions and predators were blamed for carrying away the local poultry occasionally. He denied to have seen vultures from last few years, which used to be abundant here, earlier according to him.

The second day 11th September, was spend much of trekking down on slippery hill slopes, on the way to Kondane caves and village, resulting in sudden fall on mossy rocks and getting hurt and obvious victims were Sushant, Advait and me. This day given us unforgettable sighting of an Orange Oakleaf, which was in my wish list, and was earlier recorded from Bhimashankar WLS. The surprising sighting was of Karvi, a single shrub, seen in blooming.

The two days nature trek went absolutely fine and all of us were very happy with the experience that we all had and promised to meet each other for our next trek to Kas (Maharashtra`s valley of flowers), Satara, scheduled in this month end.

Classified Sightings:

Birding –

Jungle Bush Quail

Grey Junglefowl

Indian Peafowl (heard)

White Cheeked Barbet

Brown Headed Barbet

Grey Hornbill (heard)

Small Blue Kingfisher

White Throated Kingfisher (heard)

Eurasian Cuckoo (heard)

Greater Coucal

House Swift

Alpine Swift

Laughing Dove

Spotted Dove

Yellow Footed Green Pigeon (observed at Karjat station)

Oriental Honey Buzzard

Pair of Common Kestrel (probably have killed a wolf snake)

Little Cormorant

Indian Cormorant

Rufous Treepie (Heard)

Large Billed Crow

Eurasian Golden Oriole

Large Cuckooshrike

Common Iora

Malabar Whistling Thrush (Heard)

Oriental Magpie Robin

Pied Bushchat

Dusky Craig Martin

Red Vented Bulbul

Red Whiskered Bulbul

Ashy Prinia

Grey Breasted Prinia

Jungle Babbler

Sunbird (?)

Wagtail (?)

Scaly Breasted Munia

Butterflies –

Plain Banded Awl

Malabar Spotted Flat

Common Spotted Flat

Tamil Grass Dart

Rice Swift

Chestnut Bob

Tailed Jay

Common Mormon

Blue Mormon

Common Grass Yellow

Common Jezebel

Glassy Tiger

Common Crow

Baronet

Common Castor

Chocolate Pansy

Great Eggfly

Lemon Pansy

Orange Oakleaf

Blue Oakleaf

Common Hedge Blue

Flora- (the name in brackets refer to local marathi name)

Costus speciosus (Koshta)

Clerodendrum serratum (Bharang)

Hibiscus Tetraphyllus (Ran bhendi)

Helicteres isora (Murud Sheng)

Carvia callosa (Karvi)

Ecbolium ligustrinum (Ekboli)

Lantana Camara (ghaneri)

Momordica dioica (Kartoli)

Thunbergia fragrans (Chimine)

Curculigo orchiodes (kali musali)

Curcuma Pseudomontana (Ran halad)

Hypoxis aurea (Sontara)

Zingiber neesanum (Nisam)

Eriocaulon sedgewickii (Gend)

Pinda Concanensis (Panda)

Begonia Crenata (Kapru)

Celosia argentea (Kombda)

Trichodesma indicum (Chhota kalpa)

Corchorus olitorius (Banpat)

Chlorophytum breviscapum (Phulkadi)

Habenaria longicorniculata (sheput Habe-amri)

Impatiens balsamina (Terda)

Impatiens lawii (Jambhala terda)

Exacum lawii (Lahan chirayat)

Exacum pumilum (Jambhli chirayat)

Aeginetia indica (Gulab-dani)

Conscora diffusa (Kilwar)

Senecio bombayensis (Sonki)

Commelina haskarlii (Kamalini)

Acacia Torta (Chilarwel)

Commelina diffusa (Gandologi)

Paracaryopsis lambertiana (Hirvi nisurdi)

Eclipta Prostrata (Bhringaraj)

Murdannia Spirata

Murdannia wightii

Murdannia versicolor

So, this was an end of the trip report………

Best Regards

Rajesh Sachdev

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nature Trail to Matheran






It was my preconceived notion that our day would be extremely good, if our first sighting, at Matheran, is Indian Giant Squirrel. At time and again, the Shakharoo (state animal of Maharashtra), had given me its appearance in this hill station at every alternative visit. The last visit, just two weeks ago, we (Me and Sushant More) saw one with its identical rattling cries. This time, although we were not optimistic for its sighting, but it would have been more welcomed, if at all any.

Ten suburbanites from Mumbai (Sarang Naik, Sushant More, Avinash Bhagat, Sonal Naik, Saurabh Gokhale, Tushar Parab, Anish Kadam, Nilesh Bhanage, Mandar Sawant and myself) attended the Matheran nature trail on August, 21st 2011 , a plain downhill walk (of apprx 15 Kms), along the Matheran- Neral toy train route. Our last visit, as mentioned, after seeing the Indian Giant Squirrel, was very much fascinating in terms of observing two Ceropegia species (ceropegia attenuata and ceropegia Vincaefolia), which are termed as not only endemic to Western Ghats, but also rare enough in the region.

At around 7.30 AM we all reached at Neral station, as pre-decided. After having our light breakfast, in nearby restaurant, we took shared taxis to Dastoori point (the last limit of motor vehicles), and started the trail. 10 people, with different mindset and different objectives to photography, ensured the group is not assembling or walking in bulk, but scattering oneself individually. Initially, me and Sushant scanned the nearby tree line for Indian Giant Squirrel, but later given up with perhaps no hope. Avinash, for his earlier leg injury, had to compromise on speed of walk, but we were not in hurry atleast for next 8 hours. The day started with small herb Utricularia striatula (local name chire-papni) and ended with Common Tree Brown butterfly.

Here is the classified list of our observations of the day.

Birds

1) White rumped shama

2) Brown headed barbet (heard)

3) Indian Peafowl (female)

4) Rufous woodpecker

5) Greater Coucal

6) House swift

7) Laughing dove

8) Un IDed raptor (up for Identification)

9) Golden Fronted Leafbird

10) Scarlet Minivet

11) Malabar Whistling Thrush

12) Red Vented Bulbul

13) Red Whiskered Bulbul (the numbers of this most common bird of Matheran, is dwindling)

14) Ashy Prinia

15) Thick Billed Flowerpecker

Reptiles

1) Bamboo Pit Viper

2) Russel`s Viper

3) Indian garden Lizard

4) Keeled Grass Skink

Butterflies

1) Malabar Spotted Flat

2) Common Spotted Flat

3) Small Banded Swift

4) Grass Demon

5) Common Bluebottle

6) Blue Mormon

7) Common Grass Yellow

8) Glassy Tiger

9) Common Tree brown

10) Common Fivering

11) Chocolate Pansy

12) Painted Lady

13) Danaid Eggfly

14) Blue Oakleaf

Flora

1) Terminalia arjun (Arjun)

2) Acacia torta (Chilarwel)

3) Helicteres isora (murud-sheng)

4) Lantana camara (Ghaneri)

5) Ceropegia vincaefolia (Kandil kharchudi)

6) Tonningia axillaris (Bechka)

7) Chlorophytum tuberosum (kuli)

8) Curcuma pseudomontana (Ran halad)

9) Pinda Concanensis (Panda)

10) Begonia Crenata (Kapru)

11) Celosia argentea (Kombda)

12) Impatiens acaulis (Pan-terda)

13) Trichodesma indicum (chhota kalpa)

14) Sonerila scapigera (sonerila)

15) Rhamphicarpa longiflora (Tutari)

16) Impatiens balsamina (Terda)

17) Impatiens lawii (jambhala terda)

18) Neanotis lancifolia (Taraguchha)

19) Sesamum orientale (Rantil)

20) Utricularia striatula (Chire-papni)

21) Commelina Benghalensis (Kena)

22) Cynotis fasciculate (Nilwanti)

23) Smithia Sensitiva (Lajalu-kawla)

24) Aeginetia indica (Gulab-dani)

25) Senecio bombayensis (Sonki)

26) Acacia auriculiformis (Vilayati Babhul)

27) Solanum anguivi (Chinchurdi)

28) Aeschynomene americana

29) Commelina diffusa (Gandologi)

30) Paravaryopsis lambertiana (Hirvi nisurdi)

31) Ceropegia attenuate (Sada khantudi)

32) Eclipta prostrata (Maka)

33) Murdannia spirata

34) Sida rhombifolia (Sahadevi)

35) Chlorophytum ssp.

PS .: There are few species (flowers, Amphibian and a raptor) still to be IDed, shall update the same ASAP.

The weather was cloudy and it rained at fewer occasions. We were carrying our supply of light food (mainly snacks and biscuits and sweets) and water and took breaks at pre-decided time. The good rain cover (umbrella, rain coat and rucksack cover) ensured that we were in position to photograph, even when it rained. It was thoroughly an enjoyable trek for all of us and train journey was also quite comfortable.

The next trip is planned for Rajmachi (Two days nature trek in the mid of September) and Flora Walk to Kas (two days trip in the end of September). And then the Great Himalayan Birdcount, in start of November at Dehradun.

See you soon!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Harishchandragad -trek, transformation or expedition to wildlife sanctuary






“ALL THE BEST”, was regular SMS from one of my friend, who responded to my regular Facebook status update, on countdown for Trek to Harishchandragad. I took it very offhandedly, since these comments are quite casual. But, was there any need of him SMSing me on my mobile? I was not able to understand, perhaps, till I descended down from this high altitude trek of northern Sahyadri or let’s say 5B zone of Western Ghats.

This trek was organised by Kalavardhini Prathishthan, an organisation, which is in the field of trekking and mountaineering since last 10 years or so. Around 30 participants were suppose to attend it, which meant that planning of logistics and execution must be well managed. And that was the reason for the organisers to opt for a chartered bus, from the origin (Thane) to base (Khideshwar) and back, via Kalyan, for two days. I along with 5 more individuals were picked up from Shivaji Chowk, Kalyan at 1.00 AM on 25th June, 2011 and rest 22 individuals were already in bus from the origin i.e. Thane. The formal introduction, without waste of any time was done in the bus itself. I realize that apart from four individuals, I didn`t knew any one, and these four individuals were also unknown to the rest of team, and thus we were called as “new comers”.

The drive between Murbad to Malshej Ghat tunnel was very much misty, even the professional bus driver had to negotiate with such non-visibility. At often and again, he almost zeroed down the speed on the Ghats, and fortunately at that point of time (between 4AM – 5AM), the traffic was also sparse.

Anyways, at around 05.30 AM we all reached at Khideshwar (base of our expedition), Saurabh Thakekar (one of the founder member of Kalavardhini Prathishthan and my good friend), instructed us to have rest for another hour or so, before we start this trek. I don’t know, who followed him, but there was complete silence during this hour. And at around 6.30 AM, after having cup of hot tea, we started our trek.

The start of the trek was clear plain walk (around a kilometre), with beautiful landscaped scenes, including typical village life, cattle, well , rice fields and gushing waterfalls from the surrounding tall mountains. From 2600 feet (Mean Sea Level) to 4100 feet, this was to be uphill trek of around 7 Kms. Thankfully, the route was clearly indicated with arrow marks, making it easy for climbers to head towards right direction.

Must to mention, Harishchandragad is part of Kalsubai – Harishchandragad Wildlife Sanctuary, spread up in apprx 300 Sq. Kms of area, part of Nashik Wildlife Circle, in Maharashtra Western Ghats region, notified as protected area (PA) in 1986. This PA has few of the best surviving patches of northern evergreen forest types of Western Ghats, but majority of patches have declining close canopy forests, excluding the hills and hill tops, which are rugged and not easily accessible. Few of uncommon species which are reported in this PA , earlier, are Indian Giant Squirrel, Sambar, Indian Crested Porcupine, Leopard, Ruddy Mongoose, Hyena, Mouse Deer, Barking Deer, Palm Civet, Jungle Cat , Wild Boar, Indian Rufous Babbler, Bonelli`s Eagle, Yellow Wattled Lapwing, Hanging parrot, White Bellied Minivet, Long Billed Vultures and White Rumped Vultures.

Anyways, coming back to my trip, the patch of the initial plain walk had Persicaria glabra ( Marathi Name: Sheral, Common English Name : Common Marsh Buckwheat),this plant grows along the marshy areas, in this case, there were flooded rice fields, where a White Breasted Water-hen also feasted on these fields. Thereafter, as the terrain became hilly, the abundant cucurma pseudomontana (Marathi Name: Ran halad, Common English Name: Wild Turmeric) appeared on the forest floor. The identical whistling calls of Malabar Whistling Thrush, Brown Headed Barbet and Orange Headed Thrush were often heard then seen.

But the twist of the highly excited journey fussed, when my health collapsed, due to dehydration. My haversack was almost 10 Kgs in weight, which added up to another problem. The need of the urgency, as felt by my co-travellers, was to take away my bag and carry it up by them and to immediately offer me electoral mixed water, sweets and glucose biscuits. In honest approach, I was feeling ashamed, for all my preparations, which went in vain. Nilesh & Sushant took every step for my care and encouraged me at time and again that ALL IS WELL. I was afraid that all I ate, my stomach may throw out. But, we had to trek up and standing in the midst of rains was absolutely not the option.

I think, I was bit more comfortable, after we reached and relaxed for some time at Vyaghrashilp (a pass which connects, Khideshwar, Harishchandragad and Otur, at 3100 feet height), which is an ancient sculpture of Tiger, formed & worshipped by earlier nomads, in protection from wild animals. The team shared their meals and also shared, especially Nilesh, the knowledge, about this temple.

The need of energy was much high, hereafter, since we were suppose to traverse through Tolar Khind, a steep and erect terrain, with few old time railings on it and on top of it light showers. This steep hilly terrain would surely be a good platform for small herbs post monsoon, which are said to be endemic to Sahyadri or of medicinal importance. One among such important medicinal plant that I saw here was Tylophora indica (Marathi Name: Pitkari, Common English Name: Panacea Twiner).

Well trekked and well landed on the small platue, after crossing Tolar Khind, I heard someone calling me my name and this voice was of none among them, who were with me on this trek. Sipping cup of tea and raising his hand towards me, this was Nikhil Bhopale, one of well known naturalist, working with BNHS and a known friend to me from last few years. His team of less than 20 individuals were here for one day trek and were suppose to return back the same day to Panvel. Nikhil & I were together hereafter, at some occasions parted as well, till the Temple, our destination at Harishchandragad. This walk was sometimes, plain, uphill and downhill, crossing few smoothly flowing streams, much slippery and full of moss. So I think at around 12PM we reached the top and took refuge in one among the caves to freshen up our selves. Wherein as Nikhil and his team said us good bye and decided to descend down to Khideshwar, after having their food.

Our team cleared up the caves and settled in to have the food, which we were carrying with us. It was enjoyable moment to share and pass on the food brought by everyone. I, still not all fine, decided to have some rest and went in my sleeping bag, immediately.

At 3 pm the instruction came that we all are leaving for Konkankada, Taramati and Rohidas hilltops. Unwillingly I also joined the rest of team, although my body was expecting more relax, which I ignored. We ventured in nearby areas and paid a visit to Kedarling, Ganesh Temple and Vishnu Temple. Near these ancient monuments, the vegetation cover was seasonal including arisaema murrayi.

By now the wind pressure and the its speed had increased many folded and on top of that heavy fog, at the height of 4135 feet , it was impossible to see anything beyond 4-5 feet of distance and we were heading towards Konkankada. The instructions came that all are to unzip the raincoat and tie it at waist. This situation was most difficult for those, with slim built, me being one among them. It won’t be wrong to say that this wind pressure was almost in capacity to blow away any unfixed object on that part of the earth. The monsoon vegetation had undone all the trace marks of human presence on this trail, making it difficult for leaders to find out the way. Up, down, here, there, left, right and where not, we tried all the directions, which could have lead us to Konkankada, but no success. And unfortunately, this area had no arrow marks, which only appeared from Khideshwar to Harishchandragad temple, only. Few of experts, tried to find out the trail, but again not to succeed. Raj, the technical resource person, in such attempt, had lost its way and didn`t returned in time, back to the group. The tensed group leaders realised that this is the time of dual crisis of not only one of the important member, who was missing but also of losing on the trail and our exact location of whereabouts.

Saurabh strategically chalked out a plan, by dividing the group in three unequal parts, one to find out Raj, second to find out the way and third to be at the present location. First two groups were given exact timing to return back, irrespective of results. This was 6PM and chances of any good finding were becoming grim by every passing minute. The second group came back in 5 minutes with no indication of finding the way to caves. The situation became tenser by now and all hopes were to find out the only technical person, who could have lead us to the right direction, was himself missing. Suddenly, someone shouted “Raj is found”, oh what a sigh of relief it was! All hugged him and thanked god that our friend was back.

We, within few seconds, decided to leave our quest for Konkankada or Taramati/Rohidas shikhar and to immediately return back to the caves and this was the need of the hour after the lost and found episode of Raj. We were hardly couple of hundreds of meters away from our caves, but in such environment, it took more than 30 minutes for us to reach back to caves.

At 7PM we all reached at caves, had a chit chat and shared our knowledge of earlier experiences, prepared food for night and at 11PM we all were slept. So, it was 22 degree Celsius temperature at 4135 feet height on 25th June, 2011. Forgot to mention, Deepti in her loud voice, instructed all to wake up next morning at sharp 6.30 AM.

Next morning, Sunday, 26th June, was relaxing day. It was relaxing because, we were not in mood to go to the areas, which we were planned to go the previous day. We all had our morning routines and had our tea and breakfast.

Some gossiped and some played games and some done abstract photography of monuments. I was part of the group, which was busy in playing Antakshri and a Marathi game called “Kaan Goshthi”. My very little knowledge about Marathi added a little of spice and sense of humour among the other players, during this game, which I enjoyed and it also helped me get more grip on the language.

By 11AM, we all were served with lunch and thereafter we packed ourselves to trek down to base i.e. Khideshwar. This trek was suppose to take 3 hours, depending on the rains, to reach down. I must say, in monsoon, trekking up is more easy then trekking down, specially at locations, which are of rugged terrain.

Considering my health problem, Chetan, Nilesh and Vaiibhav, helped me in by sharing my haversack at timely occasions and instructing me on where to put my feet and where to not.

At 4PM we all had reached down at Khideshwar, where we all had Poha and Tea. Few also paid a visit to nearby old Shiva Temple, which I and Mayuresh, didn’t opted for and relaxed at hotel.

At 6PM our way back journey from Khideshwar to Mumbai started and at around 9 to 10PM we all were back through our chartered bus, which was stationed for last two days at Khideshwar itself. In bus, we discussed and shared our review of our experience of this trek, which was much mixed up but all echoed it to be thrilling, adventurous and fantabulous trek with awesome food.

And, it was an end of an exciting trek.

The Harishchandragad trek was neither as easy as understood by me nor as difficult as it was projected by my friends. But yes, it was worth a visit and another, if not in rains.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Matheran Transformation






“Sorry Rajesh, just can`t join you for Matheran trek, due to heavy spell of rains, shall do it next time”. This was SMS, from my Mumbai based friend, received in my mobile inbox at 01.30 AM of 12th June, 2011. I would say he was lucky enough to have his Camera saved from the heavy rains or was he unlucky enough to feel the magic that was transforming the ‘WILD MATEHRAN’

On Sunday, at Neral Station, Nilesh Bhanage and me were waiting for our two more companions, who were suppose to join us from Thane in next coming train. Neral station, being on the fringes of Sahyadri Mountains has several streams and small fresh water bodies, during the monsoon, with very good tree cover. This resulted in good birding activity with sighting of around 15-20 Black Crown Night Herons, more than 10 Little Cormorants, around 5 Indian Cormorants, pair of Oriental Magpie Robin, pair of Jungle Myna, solitaire Asian Pied Starling scavenging on litter and a lone hovering Shikra. A toy train was just teaming up with its engine and tourists were ready to get aboard for their two hours journey to Matheran, which was not our plan. Our plan was to hire the cab till Dastoori and then walk till panorama point (3kms) and thereafter trek down through the narrow gauge railway tracks till Jumma Patti (10 Kms). Till the time, my two friends joined us, I photographed the flora around the station, including Cleome rutidosperma (Nili Tilwan), Heliotropium indicum (Bhurundi) and Tonningia axillaris (Bechka).

The tourists were getting themselves photographed in front of train engine to pose “Yes, I was there” and we were waiting for our friends, having sip of tea. At 7.30AM my friends arrived and immediately we hired the cab to Dastoori (Around 7 kms of uphill drive).

Viraj Kute (A botanist and photographer), Shubham Darveshi (A Class Tenth student), Nilesh and me adjusted in Taxi, reached at Dastoori Naka and had a quick breakfast and ventured into the deep forest, walking towards the Panorama Point. This patch of forest, in the heavy monsoon resembles to the rain forest of North East, very deep and dark, almost impossible to photograph anything without flash based camera.

The start of this trail and we were greeted with sighting of Orange Headed Thrush (cynotus race) , perhaps no one could photograph it, since we were not suppose to use flash, to shoo away the bird. But photography was not a major concern for all of us, we wanted to document “the transformation” as much as we can, which had just started. A single Amorphophallus commutatus (Shevla), among the dry leaf litter, given us a satisfying pose. The continuous calls of Malabar Whistling Thrush, Brown Headed Barbet, Red Whiskered Bulbul, White Rumped Shama and Puff Throated Babbler were chasing us like ghost but not giving their appearance. And these birds had a reason to not give us the appearance. In every five minutes, there was hoard of people (tourists), wearing red, white, yellow and what not, passing through us, and shouting, on this trail. We allowed those tourists to go ahead of us, for at least 500 mtrs., so that we can have some sightings, in tranquillity.

This traditionally used strategy worked well, Nilesh pointed out to a medium size bird perched high on a dry tree branch. The otherwise difficult to locate, in such dense tree cover, White Cheeked Barbet, at Matheran, was clearly exposed on this bare branch. The bird, which is endemic to Sahyadri, is my second sighting in last 7 years of birding, the earlier being at same place in 2009, during MBC birdwalk.

The forest floor was full of monsoon flora such as Arisaema murrayi (Padhra Sap-kanda), Curculigon orchioides (Kali-Musali) & Curcuma Pseudomantana (Ran Halad). The shrubs of Carvia callosa (Ka rvi) were also abundant, but with none among them flowering. My usual sighting of a parasitic shrub Tolypanthus legenifer (Pela band-gul) had its permanent location, which we all photographed. According to Viraj Kute (my companion of the day and Botanist as well), this shrub also flowers at Yeoor, which I am eager to document in the said area, during this monsoon. My search of unIDed flower is still not ending, which I have been looking for from 2009. And in 2011 I found another quest, one more flower to ID. We decided to have some pet pooja and after that we had a groupd photo as well. The place where we had taken our group photo, had a single small herb of Lamprachaenium microcephalum (Brahmadandi). What Nilesh and others missed out was a single Crested Serpent Eagle, flew above me and went towards the town.

The butterfly activity was absolute nil but several beetles and other insects were seen busy in mating. My team was high on hope for sighting (if not photographing) of Indian Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica) and Green Vine Snake (Ahaetulla nasuta), but the heavy rain, that spilled over at 700 mtrs (MSL) of elevation, spoiled the game. But this rains also brought many Malabar Whistling Thrushes giving their identical whistle call at very other curve, perhaps every time in pair, since this is their breeding time (I assume). These birds, would surely not give us any photograph and perhaps with no more chances of photographing in such heavy rain, we packed up our cameras & binocs , and decided to trek down to Neral via Toy Train railway track. This was suppose to be more than 15 Kms of route, but we were excited to JUST DO IT.

As usual Nilesh was busy attending and forwarding his rescue calls and due to poor mobile network he had to speak loudly at occasions and often, which was little irritating, but that was part of his noble cause and was sustainable. The topography of railways tracks (Neral Matheran Railway Track) is based on hill slopes and is fantastic platform for opportunistic flora Photographers, I proudly claim to be one, but this was little early for the season, or late to say. Chlorophytum bharuchii (phulbhajji) has just started flowering and Pancratium triflorum (pan kusum), Ecbolium ligustrinum (Ekboli), Abutilon persicum (Madam) were over on this the 12th June, 2011. But finally we got few good sightings and record shot (With Nilesh) of Malabar Whistling Thrush, which was just an end of the day.

The calls of Malabar Whistling Thrush are yet echoing in my mind. Am I still near a stream of Matheran?

The “Transformation” is series of my next few field trips and would be updated accordingly, having next destination at Malshej Ghat – Harishchandra Gad.



Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tungareshwar Transformation





“Transformation” is the word, which inspired me in Adesh Shivkar’s blog last year, in which he depicted the thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance and characters of Mumbai`s Wildlife region and that is what the OXFORD DICTIONERY defined it too.

Then, I had made up my mind that next year I would also gauge such transformation in hilly forests around Mumbai, including Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary (TWLS), Matheran Hill Forest, Rajmachi , Bhimashankar WLS and my soul Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). Tungareshwar was on priority having more pristine and closest approachable forest from Mumbai and around. On the World Environment Day, around 15 shutterbugs (mainly from Thane, Mulund and individuals from Dombivli, Vasai, Kandivali & Ulhasnagar) decided to feel such transformation at Tungareshwar. Most of these photographers were interested in macro world, two in butterflies, two in reptiles and four in birding etc. and this newly created WLS served us all that we were interested in, including heavy torrent rains.

Transformation, which changes the colour of forest floor, from brown leaf litter to fresh green grass. Transformation, which changes the mood of birds and reptiles, searching and running behind the mates. Transformation which enforces the spiders, butterflies, grass-hoppers, Mantids and other forest dwelling species to prepare new strategies to search for fresh food. Transformation, which changes the dry river beds to free flow fresh water streams, where several forms of aquatic life survives for these few months. But , this transformation also drives reptiles and amphibians to run behind their mates and sometimes get killed by uncontrolled speeding vehicles, even on the dirt roads of Tungareshwar.

At 8.00 AM we all started from the forest chowki of TWLS and ended up our day till 02.00 PM at Tungareshwar Temple; what followed on this route is listed below.

BIRDS

1) Indian Peafowl (sighting by Bhavik Thaker & Rajnikant Rathod)

2) Brown Capped Pygmy Woodpecker

3) Black Rumped Flameback

4) Brown Headed Barbet

5) Indian Grey Hornbill

6) Small Blue Kingfisher

7) White Throated Kingfisher

8) Green Bee-eater

9) Pied Cuckoo

10) Asian Koel

11) Greater Coucal

12) Plum Headed Parakeet

13) Asian Palm Swifts

14) Black Kite

15) Crested Serpent Eagle

16) Shikra

17) Little Cormorant

18) Cattle Egret

19) Indian Pond Heron

20) Golden Fronted Leafbird

21) Rufous Treepie

22) Large Billed Crow

23) Black Drongo

24) Greater Racket Tailed Drongo

25) Asian Paradise Flycatcher (fully grown male)

26) Common Iora

27) Jungle Myna

28) Red Whiskered Bulbul

29) Common Tailorbir

30) Purple Sunbird

31) Red Vented Bulbul

32) House Sparrow

33) Common Myna

34) House Crow

Butterflies

1) Malabar Spotted Flat

2) Golden Angle

3) Red Spotted Swordtail

4) Lime Butterfly

5) Common Rose

6) Common Grass Yellow

7) Great Orange Tip

8) Psyche

9) Plum Judy

10) Striped Tiger

11) Common Crow

12) Common Bushbrown

13) Baronet

14) Yellow Pansy

15) Chocolate Pansy

16) Blue Pansy

Reptiles

1) Common Bronzeback Tree Snake

2) Forest Calotes

3) Bronze Grass Skink

Monsoon Flora

1) Hill Turmeric

2) Indian Turnsole

The “Transformation” is series of my next few field trips and would be updated accordingly, having next destination at Matheran.