Saturday, October 31, 2009

ophidian: Experience from the expedition in Western Ghats – Anaimalai hills: The base camp tale

ophidian: Experience from the expedition in Western Ghats – Anaimalai hills: The base camp tale

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Experience from the expedition in Western Ghats – Anaimalai hills: The base camp tale

Barbet and hill myna calls are my wakeup alarms for the past three years; bonnets and langurs are tea time entertainers; wild boars, hare and grey jungle fowls are my backyard buddies. Big guys are strictly nighttime visitors, elephants, bear and Gaur comes only when all the lights are off. Our base camp in topslip and my safari in it will be an unforgettable event in my life………

Our base camp in Topslip an old PAP building, the jack fruit tree welcomes elephants, monkeys and giant squirrel.

Built for the employees of Parambikulam Aliyar Dam project (PAP) was later abandoned. I never dreamed of a place like this before it’s awesome. The trees in the backyard are play ground for infants of bonnets and langurs. Occasional visitors are a pair of Malabar giant squirrel. It would be ironic if I don’t speak about herps. The first tree in the picture is a territory of a male Draco (flying lizard). I am sure my backyard is a territory of king cobra, may be my base camp as well because once he accidentally peeped in my room which freaked out the monkeys in the backdoor.

A view of the backyard during winter months, it looks like a monoculture of paper mulberry trees (Broussonetia papyrifera).

Every creature in the forests keeps a distance from King cobra, like this terrified bonnet macaque.

Fruiting season

The smell of the ripe jack fruits during the months of May and June attracts monkeys, squirrels, and Elephants. Deep breath and foot steps are near my window, yes the gentle giants. Rajamani (one of my assistant) was terrified to see an elephant standing right outside our window during the night. Later they were regular visitors to the base camp during the fruiting season, infact once an elephant knocked my door!!! We accidentally kept some ripe jack fruit in the base camp which triggered her.

My Pal’s: Over years they are used to our presence, after all it’s their home: From top clockwise 1. Malabar Giant squirrel feeding on a small jack fruit. 2. Blended in the green is the green vine snake 3. A female langur takes some rest and keeps an eye on her son playing with his mate (not in the frame) 4. Bonnet baby, he probably saw me brushing my teeth some day!!

A matriarch female who always comes first during the fruiting season

Cloudy season

Waves of clouds covers whole of Topslip during the winter “December to February”. Day is short during this time, also probably because I wake up late. It’s the breeding season for many of the mammals including the Wild boars which come and join the herd only during this season. My neighbor’s kids come and draw smiley faces on the vapor covered door glasses and quickly disappear in the mist

Cloud filled Topslip, a view from Vengoli peak, the peak you see in the picture is Pandaravarai, topslip is in their foot.

Offspring season

Late in the end of winter start of summer the leaves start falling, even the slither of a skink can be heard under the leaves. One fine morning I woke up a bit early peeped out of the window; I could hardly see anything the windows are covered with vapour. I wiped it slowly and saw a little spotted deer jumping in the lawns running back and forth repeatedly until the rest of the herd joined him. There is a competition for grass among ungulates during this season hardly any lush grass left. Our base camp surrounded by trees holds a lot of grass on the ground at this time of the year.

I made some tea went to the front door steps where I usually have tea. Marching towards our base camp was a heard of little stripers, which always reminds me of a mouse deer (Tragulus meminna). They are more than hundred in number every year all the stripers and their parents join as one team. Squeaking and grunting; jumping on each other running a few meters away from the team and getting back is their game. Their litter size is big 15-20 or even more but only one or two makes it to adult stage.

It’s the same season when a large bee eater takes a refuge in the backyard. A black naped hare come for the grass but they are smart, they always stay under bushes to avoid predators. Honey buzzards circle the skies and lands up on the tree in the next compound.

Seasonal visitors: Clockwise from top 1. Honey buzzard 2. Blue-bearded bee-eater 3. Black-naped hare 4. Playful little wild pigs

Dating season for frogs! Hunting season for snakes! Killing season for vehicles!!!

Almost six months it rains in Topslip, most of the frogs in here are early breeders. June to July start of the monsoon they call every where. A Tik-tik-tik…tiki-tik from top of a tree; a tik-tik-crock from a low bush; Croak-croak-croak from a puddle and a honking loud call from the puddle Microhyla ornate they all desperately look for a mate. Obviously these loud mouthed fellows attract more snakes.

Watch out there’s a jeep….before they could even jump or run the jeep runs over them. The horrible fact most of my rare finds are road kills. This season I found most of the road kills in Topslip road.

Swarming insects and attracted bats

Its also the season when varieties of insects come in the base camp. Insectivorous bats keep visiting the base camp once in a while. Rhinolophis sp & Megaderma sp are common visitors to the camp and once infact a Megaderma sp came in and clinged on my shirt.

Night navigators: Mostly insectivorous bats like this Megaderma sp accidentally visits the base camp

Why our base camp!

Less than a hundred people reside Topslip, who mostly don’t bother these animals. Our base camp away from tourism zone and it is situated in the edge of continuous forest patch. In the tourist zone these animals are fed like pets and drunken people in times throw stones at them

After all where else can they go to avoid some mean minded tourists who harass them!!

Spoilt brats: Don't he look innocent? this spoilt brat is one of best thief I have ever seen.

Topslip’s charm

It’s not just a place with big grass lawn, fancy rest houses and treetop houses. It’s a place full of wildlife the more one observes and admires the silence the more the chances of seeing one.