Saturday, April 30, 2016

Of Birds, Birders & the Palghat Gap - Part 1

It's been a while since I tread the blogging trial, and with good reason. I've been afflicted!
I think I have a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that centers around creatures with feathers. OCD is defined as a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviours (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.

For a while now, my thoughts have been centered around birds. Earlier, woodcrawling always included everything in the woods but now I brake suddenly on my drives when a feathered creature whizzes past. So much so, that the risk of getting rear-ended by someone driving behind me is going to become a reality sooner than later. I'm only hoping that the unfortunate soul, who might slam the butt of my car, will think that I'm just a crazy guy with a crazy obsession!

Ever since I spoke on bird-watching to our local ophthalmic association's members and family, I have suddenly found people recognising me in restaurants and other places as 'that bird chap'. They don't even remember my name! For God's sake! I have a name, a nick name and I also like to watch tigers, leopards, elephants and other myriad creatures of the jungle!

Of course, it is undeniable that, what once was an occasional pass time has now become an obsession. I'm overcome by jealousy when my brothers in arms are able to run off after the feathered kind any time they choose, while I'm stuck in my consulting room wrangling with patients. 
Adv. Namassivayan Lakshmanan (Pic courtesy: Namassi in the pic)

Venugopalan Raghunathan

The two gentlemen above feel that best way to watch birds is to let them come to you. Choose a strategic spot, park yourself in a portable chair and tune up the binoculars. They will come fluttering around as long as you don't make sudden moves!
Sometimes, the legs have to be given a bit of exercise while in pursuit!
Venugopalan Raghunathan & Gopal Prasad 
Occasionally you have to pick your way over rocks or wade through a stream to catch up with the certain species, but it is truly well worth the effort. Sometimes, the summer sun beats down mercilessly; especially when you are searching for water birds in the middle of a reservoir that has little water after a long hot summer. A little bit of sun burn or heat exhaustion is nothing compared to seeing and recording the presence of a bird that makes its rare or seasonal appearance at the spot you have been haunting!
Gopal Prasad

Krishna Moorthy, the teacher with a willing pupil

I had been wandering around the fringes of the Malampuzha reservoir for the last few years documenting the birdlife around and within it. Then, after linking up with the gentlemen above, I realize, I have only taken baby steps into the fascinating world of birds. Compared with the others of my birding group, I'm a novice. While they identify birds by calls and look only for confirmation; I have to look, listen and often refer the manual to be sure. Sure, I'm learning, but it is slow progress!  
If you try Googling for birding sites in Kerala, the first one that always pops up is Thattekad & Salim Ali bird sanctuary. Arippa, Kadalundy & the Kole lands of Thrissur will also figure somewhere in the list. Palakkad or Palghat as it was called, rarely figures in any birder's radar except for Silent Valley NP and Parambikulam tiger reserve.

 The Palghat gap is a 30 kilometer break in the Western Ghats, flanked on the north by the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and on the south by the Anaimalai hills. The northern part of the gap is a natural boundary between Kerala and Tamilnadu. At the edge of these slopes is the Malmapuzha reservoir, surrounded by forests that teem with wildlife that includes large and small mammals, and a vast variety of birds. 

While I was happy to be looking for the birds on the forests bordering the reservoir and lying on either side of the roads, there was one gentleman; who, more than any other, opened up the possibility of exploring beyond the borders, Mr. Green Dinesh.

Green Dinesh (Pic courtesy: Namassivayan Lakshmanan)

Green Dinesh with Gopal Prasad

 Once we discovered that there were small unexplored pockets just beyond the ends & edges of the road our birding legs took us further afield, opening up a hitherto undiscovered treasure house of birds in our own backyard, the Palghat Gap

The rest of this series will attempt to give you a glimpse into this journey of discovery for a small team of ardent birders. Perhaps a day will come when this small area will see its name on the birding maps of the world, and wouldn't it be nice to be credited with the discovery!