Monday 26 December 2011

Bird Watching at Siruthavur

Bird Watching at Siruthavur

I had planned to visit some "unconventional" place for Bird Watching near Chennai. Quite similar to what I had explored earlier this year. I inquired with a few people and I was informed about Siruthavur, which is about 5 kms or so off the Old Mahabalipuram Road.

I along with 3 more friends set out early on the morning before Christmas and reached the OMR around 6:30 AM. We searched for the place and to my pleasant surprise found it in the same route that we took last time for bird watching, and numerous times before for bike trips. Only that we had to take a small deviation from the route we took the last time to reach the Siruthavur lake and the adjoining forest.

We reached the place around 7:30AM, thanks to excellent sense of direction and distance of the guards in the toll booth.Once we reached there, I realized that the place had more of the native birds, that too the ground dwelling ones, than the waders, irrespective of the big lake. But that does not matter. We we there for bird watching and the purpose was served.

Following are the birds that we spotted here.

Green Bee Eater
Red-vented Bulbul
Pied Bushchat
Crested Bushlark
White-eyed Buzzard
Little Cormorant
Black Drongo
Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Pond Heron
Night Heron
Pied Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher
Asian Koel
Red-wattled Lapwing
Yellow-wattled Lapwing
Common Myna
Indian Peafowl (Peacock). Never expected this one there.
Paddyfield Pipit
Little Plover
Ashy Prinia
Indian Robin
Purple Sunbird
Purple-rumped Sunbird
White-browed Wagtail

The highlight of the day, according to me, was the spotting of the Peacocks and White-eyed Buzzard.

There are also opportunities for some good macro photography for people who are interested in that. This place is worth visiting another time and if we can spend more time, we can spot more birds.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Regency Park

Regency Park

Regency Parkway is actually not a park but the place where I stayed and went to work while I was in Cary, NC in USA. But the name is very apt for the place. The whole place looked as if it was built in the midst of some huge park or forest. It is one of the most beautiful, friendly and peaceful neighborhoods I have ever visited outside India. Heh Heh.. Now don't ask me how many places I have visited outside India.. It is certainly not much, but out of the places, including some of the tourist locations, this is one place which I really loved for everything it was. 

There were trees everywhere, small creeks within the town right next to the hotel I stayed and whats more? My office is located right next to a lake. This could very well be an artificial lake, but it is not without its beauty. There were turtles, fishes and birds in the lake. Especially the Great Blue Heron, which did not mind posing for me from just a few feet away. I have never known of any birds trust the humans this much. I wish, really wish, Chennai is like this. Here are a few photos from this naturally beautiful place, as I am really struggling for words to describe it!

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Coorg Bird Watching

Coorg Bird Watching

More photos in this link

Coorg was the one of the first places where I started photographing birds. This over a period of time got me a bit interested in watching the Birds. Hence over a period of time I developed some interest in birds and even started recognizing (ID-ing as it is commonly called) some of the birds.

But this trip has completely changed my perspective of bird watching. I started learning more about the bird’s behavior, where they dwell, where they migrate etc. Of course, I have just started learning! There is a long way ahead!!

When Kesavamurthy put up the invite for the Coorg Birding trip, I immediately pounced on the opportunity. One of the main reason being, this is not the Madikeri town that we are going to, but somewhere else about 40km away from Madikeri and perfectly hidden within the thick cover of the Western Ghats forests. It is a home-stay near Kabinkad.

Since the rest of 7 member team was from Bangalore and I was the only one from Chennai, Kesav had arranged a cab to pick me up from the Bangalore city railway station to his place. In spite of the early hour, he was already up by the time I reached his house. I got refreshed in a few minutes and waited for the others to arrive. Everyone arrived at Kesav’s house around 5:30 pm and within minutes we have started on our journey.

Srikanth had come in his Fial Palio in which Rohan and Shishir joined. Nanda had brought his new (just a week old) Mahindra Thar which he had brought specifically for the off-roading trips. He along with his son Rithest, myself and Kesav were in his jeep.

We stopped at Adigas in Mathur for our breakfast. Though Srikanth had deviated slightly from the route, he caught up with us within 5 minutes. After having a light breakfast we proceeded on our journey. We spotted our first bird or the trip which was a White-eyed Buzzard just before Srirangapatna and stopped for a minute to photograph it. We stopped once again before Virajpet near a lake where we spotted lots of Glossy Ibis and few other waders. We spend about 15 to 20 minutes here and resumed our journey.

Just as we entered the Virajpet town, someone in the road yelled at us and was pointing towards the back of the jeep. To our shock, we saw that the fuel tank is leaking. I am sure it was not for a long time because we would not have reached that place at all had it been leaking for long time. Thankfully we found a garage within a kilometer and took the vehicle right in. The mechanics there were quite helpful. They understood that we are tourists and left behind whatever they had in hand and started attending to our vehicle.

Now we switched over to plan B (actually just created one). It was around 1:00PM and we still had time to reach our destination on time if we start immediately. There were lots of jeeps in Virajpet which can be hired to go to Coorg and nearby places. We took help from the garage owner and engaged a jeep which can take the rest of us to our destination while Nanda and Rithesh were to stay back in the garage. Kesav was to show us to the destination and return back in the same jeep back to Virajpet and join with Nanda and Rithesh. This is because only Kesav knew the place. We were waiting for Srikanth’s car. They had slowed down considerably due to the bad roads.

The irony is, if fate strikes, it strikes fully. It just does not do a half baked job! Nothing serious guys, but Srikanth’s car just got over heated and they had to pull over in about the same place where our jeep’s fuel tank was discovered to be leaking! Please don’t ask me if this is a coincidence or some kind of interference. This idea never occurred to me till now. Only when I just played back all the incidents that happened on that day to pen this, did I get realize this. So they too had to stop for some time to allow the vehicle to cool down.

That means, we will have to switch over to plan C. Since it is going to take some time to both the parties, we decided that we will stay in Virajpet itself till the jeep fuel tank is fixed and have our lunch in the meantime. We were never going to make it to our destination before lunch anyways. Thankfully this plan worked out well. By the time we all finished our lunch in turns, the jeep’s tank was welded properly and refit in the jeep and we were all set to go. It was about 4:00PM when we resumed the journey.

We reached the Kabinkad junction in about an hour from Virajpet, negotiating the bad roads cautiously. Mr. Suresh, our host from the Honey Valley home stay was there waiting for us in his jeep. Srikanth’s car had to be left back in the parking area near the place and had to use their jeep to reach the final destination as this is a complete terrain with 3 steep climbs which cannot be negotiated by a normal car. You need an all terrain 4X4 for this. Nanda decided to use his own jeep as this was the whole purpose why he bought it. Though it was his first 4X4 vehicle and his first try in the terrain, he was able to take it up like an experienced driver.

By the time we reached the Home Stay it was almost 6:00PM. The Honey Valley homet-stay has perfectly merged with the surrounding forests and they maintain the place as natural as possible. We ventured into the forest for a few feet in the twilight hour and see if we can spot any nocturnal creatures. Our effort paid off when we spotted something flying from one tree to another. Upon keen observation we could see that it was a Malabar Flying Squirrel. Unfortunately we cannot photograph it as it was almost dark by now. We spotted about 6 squirrels with one of them flying a distance of more than 50 feet. That was a sight to behold. We also spotted a couple of flying lizards in the same area. Then we returned back to our rooms, refreshed and had dinner. Though we were tired after the long day, we kept up late into the night to photograph the night sky which was glittering with diamonds. Something that we can never see in the cities anymore!

As planned earlier, we started the next day as early as 6:30 AM, walked down the same path in which we had come in the jeep the previous day in hope of spotting some butterflies as this would be the last season to see them. But we were gifted with spotting of some birds that we were hoping to, but no butterflies. Srikanth was the first one to spot the beautiful Malabar Trogon. It was there only for a few seconds and then took off. Only Srikanth was able to get an identifiable photograph. Though we waited for some more time in hopes of seeing it again, we were unlucky. We also spotted a few other birds which are common only in the forests. We roamed around till 08:30 and returned back to the home stay for breakfast. Since we had climbed down and up a lot we were famished and just gulped the food greedily.

We then relaxed for a few minutes and set out on a trek behind the home stay which again is a complete forest. We spotted quite a lot of butterflies in this area, but no birds. The plan was to walk through the track and return back to the home stay through the other side of the home stay. But we were excited, yes excited, to realize that we have lost the track and have ventured elsewhere. We used this lost time to photograph some more butterflies and dragonflies. Luckily we had mobile signal, so called up the home stay and gave them our location and they guided us back to the place over the phone. There was a small pond in this place (God knows where we were) and a small wooden bridge over it to cross it. We stopped to take a few photograph it. I ventured a bit near the pond to take some photographs and got bitten by half a dozen leeches. We returned back to the home stay just in time for lunch. Had a good lunch and decided to sit outside our rooms after the lunch and not relax the afternoon. Fortunately, it turned out to be a good idea because there were lots of birds in the tree right opposite the room and we were able to spot everything sitting in one place. Though photographing them was quite a challenge as the sun was on the wrong side and the distance was also too high. Sighting them was possible but photographing was quite a challenge. But that does not matter as our primary objective was to spot birds. We took a short walk again in the evening to spot some more birds.

The next day, we ventured out in the same place as yesterday and were able to spot the Asian Fairy bluebird, Rocket-tailed Drongo and the Crimson-fronted Barbet. But unfortunately it was too far away for us to even see these clearly and much less photograph. We approached the very accommodating care takers of the place and got their permission to get near the tree in which many birds were roosting. The place was quite damp due to the morning mist and a falls nearby. We did get the chance to see these birds at a close range and even lucky to get some identifiable photographs. Of course, we had to pay the leeches for exploring the place, but it was completely worth it!

We reached back the home stay again for the breakfast on time; had a hearty breakfast; packed our stuff and got ready to return back around 11:30AM. Except Nanda who had to drive the jeep and Shishir, the rest of us decided to walk down the way and try our luck in spotting any more birds. Since my camera’s battery had drained out, I dumped the camera as well in the jeep and walked along with the others. Ironically I was able to spot some beautiful birds very near us, when the camera was not in hand. We spotted the While-bellied Woodpecker, Black bulbul, Asian Brown Flycatcher on the way back. It took more than an hour to reach the parking lot where we had parked the vehicle on the day we arrived. It was almost 1:00 PM by the time we started our journey back. We decided to take the route through Madikeri as the roads would be a lot better and can drive without problems. We stopped in Madikeri around 2:00PM to have our lunch and started back on the return journey by 3:00PM and reached Bangalore by 9:00PM.

Following are the list of the birds we spotted. Thanks to Kesava and his Birdwing club for organizing this amazing trip. I am eagerly looking forward for the next trips! Who is joining me??

1. Common Swift

2. Indian Scimitar Babbler
3. Large-billed Crow
4. Malabar Grey Hornbill
5. Grey Wagtail
6. Kentish Plover
7. Black Drongo
8. Barn Swallow
9. Black-crested Bulbul
10. White-cheeked Barbet
11. Coppersmith Barbet
12. Hill Myna (Common Hill Myna)
13. Blue-capped Rock Thrush
14. Crimson-fronted Barbet (Malabar Barbet)
15. Pompadour Green Pigeon
16. Asian Brown Flycatcher
17. White-bellied Woodpecker
18. Greater Coucal
19. Brahminy Kite
20. Scaly-breasted Munia
21. Black Kite
22. Spotted Dove
23. Laughing Dove
24. Purple Sunbird
25. Pale-billed Flowerpecker
26. House Sparrow
27. Red-whiskered Bulbul
28. Malabar Whistling Thrush
29. Long-tailed Shrike
30. Blyth's Leaf Warbler
31. Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher
32. Asian Fairy Bluebird
33. Common Flameback (Common Goldenback)
34. Rose-ringed Parakeet
35. Malabar Parakeet (Blue-winged Parakeet)
36. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
37. Purple-rumped Sunbird
38. Ashy Drongo
39. Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
40. Oriental White-eye
41. Eurasian Golden Oriole
42. Scarlet Minivet
43. Bonelli's Eagle
44. Black Bulbul
45. Golden-fronted Leafbird
46. Malabar Trogon
47. Vernal Hanging Parrot
48. Little Grebe
49. Common Sandpiper
50. Black-winged Stilt
51. Little Ringed Plover
52. Black Ibis (Red-naped Ibis)
53. White-eyed Buzzard

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Deep Run Park

Deep Run Park

The Deep Run Park in Glen Allen, VA is very much within the city amidst the neighborhood. Just as any other park in the US, this one is also a big one with naturally developed trees. For someone who travels from countries like India, this park would look like a forest! In the literal sense, it also has a good number birds and small animals like squirrels and rabbits.

The park has been lined with trails which can used for walking, jogging and even roller skating. At any point of time one can see people doing various activities here. There are viewpoints created with ample space for anyone who wants to just have a picnic. These viewpoints are not created with concrete like other places, but created completely with wood, merging with the surroundings entirely.

There is not much to say about the place, except for its serene natural beauty, which cannot be described in words. Hence the photos below :-)

Bee - Photographed using the 50mm macro and cropped as much as possible!

Friendly squirrel, did not bother to come near humans and pose. Olympus E5 + Sigma 105mm

A young Skater - Olympus E5 + Sigma 105mm
Mr and Mrs Ducky in the glow of the afternoon sun. When the Bigma is not around the Sigma 105 saves the day. Olympus E5 + Sigma 105mm

Bee photographed with the Olympus E5 + Sigma 105mm. The Sigma 105mm is more suited for the photographing insects than the 50mm macro.

Tiny flowers. This is where the Oly 50mm wins hands down in sharpness. Olympus E5 + Olympus 50mm

Thursday 9 June 2011

Maymont Park, VA

A walk in the Park – Maymont Park

More photos in this link

Maymont Park in Richmond, VA is a perfect spot for a weekend picnic for a family. It has everything that a family would need to relax and be with their family / friends. Unlike a theme park, the Maymont Park has lot of open spaces, lawns, artificial ponds which can give a good relaxation after a hectic week. One can do running / jogging, laze around, play in the lawn. Watch the kids and others play or just walk around observing the different activities going around.

That park, just like almost all the parks in US, is very well maintained. The big park has lots of trees in it which is complimented by the small ponds and falls that has been created to improve the look of the falls. It has open spaces or lawns where one can relax or play around.

It has walkways for the active bodies and also a few birds and animals that are kept in cages for visitors to see. Not much like a zoo, but a few of them. As a rule / ethical code of conduct I did not photograph these birds or animals in cages, but even otherwise there are good numbers of birds visiting the place. So one will not be too disappointed if they are interested in bird watching.

I did not spend too much time, but just about 3 hours during which I was just walking around the park and taking in whatever I could. It definitely is a very lively and beautiful place with lots of activities going on during the weekends. I would recommend this place to anyone who is looking for a very relaxed picnic for a weekend with family and friends.

Tuesday 31 May 2011

Poomparai Balamurugan Temple

Poomparai Balamurugan Temple

Sometime back I had been to Kodaikanal with my family for a week. Though I have been to Kodaikanal quite a few times, my parents have not visited the place for the past 14 years. So we decided to make full use this vacation and visit some new places apart from common place like the coaker’s walk, lake etc.

We planned to go to Mannavanur Lake and thought of stopping by the Balamurugan temple at poomparai. Though I have been to Mannavanur when I visited Kodaikanal 2 years back, I did not visit this temple. So this time we decided to pay a visit to the temple.

To our surprise we were told that the temple is about 3000 years old and the deity Balamurugan was sculpted by Bogar who also sculpted the Palaniandavar in Palani. Also just like Palaniandavar this has also be made using Navabashanam or 9 rare herbs which can cure any illness know to mankind.

Poomparai is a very small town but it has its role to play. Most of the big and small cities in Tamil Nadu and South India gets their vegetable supply from this village. The temple is located at the centre of the village, or should I say the village has developed around the temple. It is a very small unassuming temple. Nothing big or popular like the other temples in TamilNadu.

It is believed that the deity is very powerful and can cure any illness that one has and also showers his blessing generously when worshipped sincerely. The temple is now in the control of Palani Devasthanam and most of the rituals are being performed similar to the Palani temple.

This is not a big temple by any means, but a beautiful one located at a beautiful location. It is worth paying a visit if you happen to go there. 

Monday 21 March 2011

Bird Watching in Chennai

Bird Watching in Chennai

What is the first place that comes to your mind when we say Bird Watching in and around Chennai (those that fly mind you)? Vedanthangal or Pulicat Lake, right? A few others will talk about Guindy National Park, Adyar Estuary and Theosophical Society of Madras. Very few also know about the marsh lands in Pallikaranai etc. These are no doubt very good places for watching birds. Most of those do have a good number of visitors from far off places during the migratory season. Even Google brings up these places.

But, is that all we have? Certainly not. Those who are interested to know about the native birds apart from the migratory birds will definitely want to know more. So, that is what Saravanan, (Peter) Prabhu, Prabhu and yours truly were thinking about. We thought of exploring places where we can spot some local birds. That is how we ended up driving along the reserve forest area between Tiruporur and Tirukazhukundram. Though this stretch of land for different purpose, this is the first time I suggested visiting this place for bird watching.
We started today morning at 4:30am and reached the place by around 6:00am after briefly stopping for a couple of times. We treaded slowly in Saravanan’s new Xylo along the route finding path to walk through the forest and click some photographs. One particular place was quite interesting. It was a tried up path of a stream which lead us well into the forest. Though we did not go too far into that route, it was definitely a very good vantage point for spotting birds. Now here is the list of birds that I was able to spot. Please keep in mind that all of us are amateurs in bird watching and except me, the others are coming out for the first time with Bird Watching as the agenda (the ones that fly, of course…)

Indian Robin – Male and Female
Red Vented Bulbul
Red Whiskered Bulbul
Red Vented Bulbul
White Browed Bulbul
Indian Pond Heron
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Indian Roller
Rose Ringed Parakeet
Green Bee Eater
Black Shouldered Kite
Purple Rumped Sunbird
Purple Sunbird
Spotted Dove
Paddy field Pipit
Coppersmith Barbet
Jungle Babbler
Black Drongo
Common Tailor Bird
Greater Coucal (As usual, I was unable to photograph this one)
Grey Francolin (Very alert ones. Did not get a clear picture of this bird)
White Throated Kingfisher (It was interesting to see these chasing the crows from their territory)
There were also some Painted Storks, Open Bill Storks and Pelicans circling around in the sky.

This place is a must see again, just for bird watching. Anyone out there know of any other place around Chennai for Bird Watching?

This is an update and will be updated as and when I explore more. Following are the places where bird watching can be done around Chennai.

Siruthavur Lake

White Browed Bulbul

Friday 18 February 2011

Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary

Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary

I visited the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary a few weeks back to check out the migratory birds there. Though I am not sure if the birds I spotted have migrated from other countries or other parts of India, the numbers were quite good. Of course, some say that the number of visitors has gone down these days compared to some years back. But being a first timer, I found the numbers a bit over whelming.
I started from Koyambedu by 5:15 am. Since I do not have a vehicle, I had to take the bus. There is no direct bus to Vendanthangal. So I took a bus to Tambaram and reached about an hour’s time. But the bus from Tambaram to Vedanthangal was a nightmare. First it was too slow for the almost empty GST road. Then it halted in Chengalpet for about 30 minutes for getting more passengers. By the time I reached the Vedanthangal town it was about 8:00am. To add to my frustration the bus halted again there for the drivers to have breakfast. The sanctuary is about 2km from there. I approached a local guy and got dropped in the sanctuary in his motor cycle. By the time I reached the sanctuary it was about 8:30am! What a waste of time in travelling. My advice to anyone who is visiting this place is to visit in their own vehicle and not depend on the public transport!
Once I reached there I spent about 3 hours watching the birds busy in collecting twigs and other stuff for nesting. There was a constant chatter from the birds and surprisingly there were quite a lot of people visiting the place. I was not able to photograph all that I spotted. One major put off was that I did not carry my tripod. Lazy me! I could have got some better photographs had I taken a tripod. Anyway here is a list birds that I spotted.
Spot Billed Pelican
Asian Spoonbill
Painted Stork
Open Bill Stork
Black Headed Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Purple Swamphen
Indian Pond Heron
Night Heron
Little Cormorant
White Throated Kingfisher
Greater Coucal
Purple Sunbird
Rose Ringed Parakeet
Roufus Treepie

I was a bit surprised that I did not spot any Grey Heron or the Purple Heron. Did I miss these or do these not come to Vedanthangal usually? Did anyone spot these birds there?

Thursday 20 January 2011



About 1 hour drive from Tirunelveli, a famous South Indian town, is a village by the name Rengasamudram. This was the birth place of my dad and our Kula Deivam (Family Deity) temple is the Srinivasa Perumal Temple in this beautiful village.

Off late we have made it a point to visit this place every year and we started the year 2011 by visiting this temple on the first week of Jan. I have heard from my dad and uncle (dad’s elder brother) that the village used to surrounded by paddy fields everywhere and all you can see is only green carpet spread on all four directions. A branch from the Tambaraparani River flows through the village and makes it flourish with everything. The village used to be neat and clean and each and every person knows everyone in the village as there were not anything more than a 100 to 150 families.

But all these are of the golden past. Some 40 years ago. Now almost of this beauty have become history and the only saving grace is the temple and the ashram. The temple is being maintained by the priest and his family who resides next to the temple with some aide from people like us who have migrated to different parts of the world. One should keep in mind that the only source of religious activities and income for the priest is from donations by people!

The Ashram is being administered by the trustees, but there are not much of religious activities like before, as there is no religious guru at the moment. Having said that, the moment one enters this place you cannot help appreciating the beauty and serenity of this place. Trust me when I say that the sun rays will not enter this place much even during peak summer. Such is the beauty of this place. Especially if you are a nature lover, you will never feel like leaving this place.

There were also quite a lot of birds in Rengasamudram include some beautiful migratory birds. Here is a list of birds that I was able to spot during my very short visit here. I am sure there would have been more, but I did not have enough time to spot them. Even among the ones that I spotted I was not able to photograph everything. Now here is the list.

Indian Robin
Oriental Magpie Robin
Brahminy Starling
Common Myna
Cattle Egret
Little Egret
White-Breasted Waterhen
Asian Paradise Flycatcher
Indian Peafowl, Male & Female
Spotted Dove
Pied Bushchat, Male & Female
Purple Sunbird
Common Tailor Bird
Green Bee Eater
Jungle Babbler
White-throated Kingfisher
Asian Koel, Male & Female
Greater Coucal
Brahminy Kite
Rose Ringed Parakeet, Male & Female
Coppersmith Barbet
House Crows
House Sparrows

Keep in mind that I spotted all this when we were attending the function at the temple and then relaxing at the ashram and not intended to a bird watching! This is about the same number that I spotted in Lalbagh, Bangalore last year when I went all alone dedicatedly for bird watching. Of course being the first time then, I did not spot much.

I should also mention that peacocks and peahens were as common as crows and hens, adding absolute beauty to the place. That should tell what a heaven this place is. I am sure if one goes there dedicatedly for bird watching they can come up with quite a long list.

The problem with this place is that it does not have any facility. Even if one has to buy medicines, they have to come to Ambasamudram which is about 5kms from here. There are only about 30 houses and only 10 or so usable ones. So if you are planning a trip to this place, the nearest accommodation will be available only in Ambasamudram. If you are looking for decent hotels, you will have to stay in Tirunelveli which is about an hour drive from here.

Overall an awesome place for a one day visit if you are intending a peaceful day off and to be inter tangled with nature!