Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Woodcrawler Jr & the Bronzeback of Valiyaeri

The euphoria of the Duster has died down and family trips during Christmas vacation have come and gone. School has reopened now and the Little Woodcrawler is busy.

It had been a busy December that I did not find time to update the Journal with all the running around. Palakkad is known for Malampuzha, Parambikulam, Nellyampathy and Silent Valley but if you look hard enough you can find interesting little places closer to home. Places that are not frequented by pesky tourists and hidden from prying eyes.

Off the NH-47 in Kanjikode, nestled at the foothills of the Western Ghats is Valiyaeri. You won't find it on Google! I heard about from an old driver of mine. He related tales of elephants dropping in on the farmsteads on the fringes of the forests near there and my curiosity was piqued. I had gone there many years ago but had to park my car and walk a considerable distance to reach the southern side. The only thing I encountered that day was a cobra that went into the paddy field I was crossing, like a Bullet train!

Now many years later, my son had graduated to being Woodcrawler Jr, I had to show him this little secret. Elephants were still raiding crops but lately the electrified fences along the forest's edge had  effectively ensured that their visits were infrequent. In any case, a Sunday was time for exploring so we decided to go.

This time I took another road, going further from the point where I had accessed the Southern edge. It would eventually reach the railway track but that was not my aim. About half a kilometer before the railway lines a mud track veers left into the edge of the forest. I had no fear of getting stuck on this trip because we had a bigger vehicle but I wanted to be sure I'd be able to back out. An old man told us that we could go all the way to the lake's edge and we did.

There were the regular cormorants roosting and a Brahmini kite swooping overhead.

It was mid-morning and we didn't expect much. As we walked around the Eastern bund a bored Pied kingfisher and a pair of red wattled lapwings surveyed our progress.

It was too warm to be swooping around and we didn't seem to be a threat to them so they stayed put. My son's attention was on the little cars he'd carried along while I was busy surveying underfoot.

I wasn't sure if it was a good day for a trip to Valiyaeri till I saw a slight movement, against the wind, in a crevice on the rock. It was a slender snake with beady eyes and it was trying to sway like the grass behind, but not quite getting the hang of it. The grass would wave one way and the snake would sway in the opposite direction. I was worried about the kite overhead. The snake would make a nice meal!

I hissed to my son to attract his attention. Bronzebacks are fast and it wouldn't need more than a fraction of a second for it to disappear from sight. I needn't have been so worried because the snake was as curious I was. It retracted into the rock with it's chin resting on the edge.

It seemed to me that the snake had decided that it's first priority was to warm up. It had probably been lying up the night between the cracks in the rock and as the day warmed up, must have decided to come out to sunbathe. Unfortunately  it's plans were being interrupted. My son had picked up another camera and was on the topside of the rock.

The next 45 minutes was a hide-n-seek game between my son, the snake and me. It would pop it's head up and my son would crane his neck to see if he could get a good shot.

The snake had withdrawn into the crevice and was trying to find another way out.

My son was sitting patiently for the snake to make it's move. The bronzeback was not intimidating enough for him. He had handled one in Bandipur a couple of years ago and knew it was harmless. He was more keen on getting a hold on it than get a picture! Disappointment was writ large on his face as the snake kept refusing to climb out.

The snake won round one but we weren't about to give up. We withdrew behind the rock. The snake had to make it's move eventually. Move, it did, but from another side.

There were shards of glass lying around from someone's party and the snake was using the pieces as cover!

It would raise itself up slowly to survey the surroundings.

Though we crept behind the snake but it was not about to be fooled. It would look around to see what we were up to behind it.

He was a clever little fellow. Every time we circled around, it would twist and crane its neck to see where we were and what we were upto.

Eventually, probably realizing that we were as tenacious as it was, the snake disappeared one final time before emerging from another side and swiftly vanishing into the dry grass beyond.

It was an exciting 45 minutes with a beautiful reptile. We would have to make trip to Valiyaeri again and Woodcrawler Jr is ready for it. Watch this space......