Monday, August 17, 2015

Summer in Kabini - Part 3: Dholes in the drizzle

25th April, 2015

Link to Part 2 of the series is here

Kabini is famous for its leopards and tigers. They are the apex predators in Nagarahole but there is one more predator, much smaller but no less fearsome; at least for the prey species. The dhole, or Indian wild dog. What it lacks in size, it makes up in cunning and ferociousness.

After the excitement of the morning we were looking forward to something more interesting in the evening. We had planned to take a boat safari instead of going in the bus again but a thunderstorm forced a change of mind.

A few years ago, on sunny summer evening, we were caught unaware by a freak thunderstorm in the Kabini reservoir. The storm lasted a good 45 minutes and we had to beach that boat for  safety. After it blew over we made our way back in pitch darkness. It was the light of a few torches and the experience of the boatman that got us back to the resort safely.

Flashback 2011. Trying to outrun the storm

Flashback 2011. The storm hitting us from behind

The flashback is still not very memorable but that made us jump into our bus for the evening safari. After all the worst thing that could happen was that we'd get stuck in the mud and the bus had headlights!

The thunderstorm that started after lunch had settled into a steady downpour as we got off for the safari. The bus had shades on the sides but the rexine on the canopy was torn in many places and it was dripping onto the seats. There would be small breaks in the rain and when we passed under some big trees but it was drizzling all through. It was highly unlikely that we'd be seeing anything worthwhile, or so we though.

Black naped hare & stripe necked mongoose

One of the magnificent tuskers Nagarahole is famous for
We were in a different zone and the smaller jeeps had sped off quickly. We were in a bus that trundled along trying to avoid all the slush and waterlogged potholes. More than the reduced chances for  wildlife sighting we were worried about getting stuck in the mud!

Then, a flash of brown up ahead on the track in front of us! Dholes! Not one, but a family of two adults and seven pups. They were in a hurry. The parents loped off ahead quickly, with the pups following in a line behind them.

A little further up the track we found the parents standing on a fallen tree looking at something in the distance. They were in the hunting mode and we could sense the thrill of a live hunt. Dholes are pack hunters and I was wondering what two adults would bring down.

Without warning, they leapt off the tree and went racing after something which we could not see. We couldn't keep up with a bus and abandoned any thought of giving chase and parked at a junction waiting for the adults to return.

They would return because the pups were still behind us. They were not running like their parents but were following more slowly.

They all gathered around another fallen tree and were calling in their peculiar whistling way to their parents. A few minutes later we heard the parents return their call and soon enough they were came back to where the pups were waiting for them. No successful kill today.

The rain was picking up and standing at a place was making the torn canopy sag with the accumulated water and it was cascading into the bus. At least if we moved the water would flow off backward, so we left the pack to reunite and drove off.

The wet elephants look like they were made of black clay!

The rain had made the grass grow fresh and the were twisting the green shoots and feasting on it.

A little further on, pair of sambar bolted across the grass giving alarm calls. A predator was on the move but none that appeared in front of our waiting eyes.

We were on the way to a forest rest house and elephant camp inside the forest and then we encountered the second dhole pack of the morning, five adults and four pups.

The wild dogs are pack hunters. They run down their prey and attack from all around. Once selected and cornered the victim doesn't stand a chance. What is more gruesome is that they don't wait for the victim to die. They start feeding even before death overcomes their unfortunate prey.

Perhaps they don't want to take chances. A tiger or leopard in the vicinity might get interested, though it is highly unlikely the bigger predators will try to steal from these fierce creatures! I have seen a leopard run for its life, chased by two dholes, in Bandipur. That was another stormy day in the summer of 2010. If it were a full strength pack even a tiger will not stand a chance. A leopard can scramble up a tree, (see the link in pink), but a tiger will be hard pressed to escape!

The drizzle was steady, without let up and the light was fading. It was better to start our return rather than risk getting stuck so late in the evening. As we were driving back we passed a herd of sambar. They seemed unperturbed, perhaps the weather offered them protection against the predators.

Nagarahole's had put on display its two famous predators in one day, despite the inclement weather. Not only that, both encounters were within touching distance of the beautiful creatures. 

For once, an aborted boat trip was proving to be a blessing!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Summer in Kabini - Part 2: In the Leopard's Lair

25th April, 2015

Link to Part 1 of this series is here

Summer vacation was the excuse for us to be in Kabini this year. Unfortunately for us, the summer showers were showing no respite. We were once again allotted seats in a mini bus, which in hindsight was a good thing. There were a lot of photographers with heavy gear and that would pose a problem if you wanted to move about and get a vantage shot. The mini bus was not full and I could move around wherever I wanted.

We were one vehicles getting out for the morning because the family that was to share the bus were completely ignorant about the importance of being the first out of the lodge. Anyway a steady drizzle wasn't an encouraging sign and we drove in at the rear of the early birds. It was early bird time too. Our first encounter for the morning was a stripe necked mongoose who was licking his lips after his breakfast.

Stripe necked mongoose

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The crested serpent eagle, one of the many we would encounter, gave a contemptuous look and turned away, as was passed by.

A jungle crow was busy coaxing the gaur to allow it to give them a pest control session!

"See, you have a lot of ticks on you"

"Shall I give you a cleaning job? Absolutely free!"

"Your mother told me to have a look at you too."
It was a quiet morning and looked like nothing would be stirring in the wet weather. As we drove slowly forward we saw a couple of jeeps parked and the driver of one trying to point at something in the trees. We were jolted out of our lethargy. It could only mean one thing; a leopard! And yonder, on a tree, was a spotted cat blissfully sleeping off the exertions of the previous night!

It suddenly lifted itself up as if to climb off and turned to look in the other direction. We thought it would climb off the tree and disappear after whatever disturbed its slumber.

It seemed that whatever caused it to wake up wasn't very interesting because it promptly dropped back in its old position and proceeded to catch up with its sleep!

One satisfied leopard, of the many that Nagarahole is so famous for.

We drove on thinking that it was a bonus for weather like that. A leopard in the rain was truly unexpected! More so, when a friend had just spent the previous three days bumping around without any luck, that he skipped the final day's morning safari and went off to Bandipur!

Despite the occasional bouts of rain we met more of the denizens of the forest attending their morning duties.

Another crested serpent eagle

Orange headed ground thrush

Malabar giant squirrel

Brown fish owl

It was a quarter to 9 and the last 15 minutes of our safari. Our driver said he'd just go back and check on our sleeping leopard. As we turned past a small tree our driver braked suddenly. There, not 20 meters from bus, at a salt lick was a magnificent male leopard.

He was lapping up the muddy water without a care in the world. It was his kingdom; we were the intruders.

Occasionally, he would lift up his head and give a sidelong glance to see what we were upto....

....... and revert back to his business of slaking his thirst.

Then something put him on alert. He sat upright and looked behind him......

.....then back at us, to see if we were also disturbed by what he heard.

He decided that he had had enough and turned to move off......

 ......then, perhaps realizing that he had admirers, looked up again!

We weren't moving. We were so transfixed by the beautiful creature in front of us, we were not thinking of moving and did not want the leopard to go away either!

He looked long and hard and after a moment's hesitation, wheeled to his left and walked off, avoiding any close encounter with us. He was a leopard and instinct made him distrust humans.

As he crossed the track in front of us he gave one final look as if to say, "Keep off my turf!"

 Without another glance he walked unhurriedly into the safety of his forest.

My knees were shaking and my heart was racing. This was as close as I would get to a leopard in the wild. 

I had my new lens the Zuiko 90-250 mm  f2.8 that Olympus had given to me as a replacement for the damaged 300mm f2.8! It seemed that my new girlfriend was proving lucky, even if the weather was all gloomy.

Wait for the next post on the dholes......