Monday, June 13, 2016


My obsession with birds are reaching a new level that I've taken to carrying a bird book or field guide wherever I go. In fact, my collection has swelled recently (more about it later, but you can read about the early days here) that I can keep a book in each of my cars and backpacks and still have a few lying around!

Sometime in the late 90s the wilderness bug bit me and the effect has not left me since. I was a 'tigertracker' initially but in 2001 I started a Yahoo group; the Woodcrawler's Den, which was taken over by a hack, and I never managed to recover it. My first linking with serious birders was through this group, and one of them has become a good friend and comrade in arms on our trips into Malamapuzha's forest fringes. The irrepressible Namassivayan Lakshmanan!

Malampuzha Dam, in Palakkad District of Kerala was commissioned in 1955 and is the largest irrigation reservoir in the state. The dam, almost 2 kilometers long has a catchment area of close to 150 square kilometers. Situated on the Palghat Gap, the reservoir is hemmed in by the low hills forming the northern edge of the Palghat Gap. It is fringed by the moist tropical forests of the deciduous and semi-evergreen types and has a rich biodiversity. 

When I say I have been wandering around Malampuzha almost every week, it is in these fringes and NOT in the famous Malampuzha Gardens. As a matter of fact In the last twenty years I have been inside the gardens about 5 times, but I have stopped counting the visits to the forests!

Sometime in early 2008 I laid hands on my first DSLR, the Olympus E3. It was a shift from the prosumer Fuji Finepix to the next level, as the wilderness bug had bitten me well and truly hard. The yearning to run off to the wild become a full blown disorder! As is natural with all wannabe nature photographers, in their early days, the tendency to shoot anything that moved afflicted me too.

With a digital camera, the worry about cost of film, developing negatives and printing some unprintable photos was gone. Earlier, the worry about film was a restriction on shooting but with the dawn of the digital age, that was gone. With a DSLR that could shoot at a respectable 8FPS, worries evaporated. Kabini and Bandipur were too far away for a day trip and also a little heavy on the pockets. That is when I discovered the forests around Malampuzha.

Most of the initial forays were in the Kava area. In summer, as the reservoir dried we'd drive inside it, otherwise we drove around the road along the edge of the reservoir. It was most often raptors and water birds that I 'noticed'. Perhaps their larger size and visibility in the open spaces ensured that I noticed them.

Then as we drove around we started noticing that there were smaller ground birds that had hitherto not been noticed because we were novices and small birds were less interesting perhaps.

Once out of the reservoir our eyes were now scouring the trees, bushes and electric lines. That was an even bigger treasure trove of birds.

That was then my birding eyes really opened. It suddenly dawned on me that I had been missing so much. My jungle trips were much too tilted in favour of the mammals, that birds were considered incidental. Everything changed from then on. Malampuzha transformed me. I realized, unlike mammals, I did not have to look for birds. One or two were always around. It was hard to avoid them,in fact. It was just that we took them so much for granted.

My birding eyes then realized that there were little patches of forests on the side of the road around the reservoir. It was time to explore a little further, but that is for the next post!