Chikmagalur is also known as the ‘land of coffee’. Summers can be unforgivingly hot, monsoons unrelenting, and winters, bone-chilling. When we planned our trip during the beginning of November, it was without any expectations whatsoever. The place was new; the experience, even more so. There were going to be no organised safaris and sighting and spotting wildlife was up to us, for which we needed all the luck in the world. To add to it, we had unexpected company in the form of a cyclone – and she was a fussy companion! As we stuck our heads out of the car and gazed at the ominous clouds that seemed to stretch forever, rain trickled down our face. We silently gave up all hopes of any photography and decided to just enjoy the beauty of the rains.
Green fields rushed past us as we turned towards Chikmagalur and from there, towards Aldur. Breathless, with jaws open at the sheer beauty unfolding before us, we gaped at the forest soaked to the last leaf, adorned with shimmering water droplets. Nothing but the sound of water on the trees and an overflowing stream gushing somewhere kept us company. The sighting of a Chestnut -headed Bee-eater – a lifer – all soaked in the rain, raised our excitement. But, all other birds seemed to have hidden themselves in the comfort of their cosy hideaways and we spotted nothing else. Afternoon turned into evening and then into night; the rain, though, relentlessly continued.
The next morning, however, was a whole new experience – we witnessed a grand show by many birds, despite very little sunshine. The rains had reduced to a drizzle and had ensured that insects were aplenty at low levels. The party had begun and birds started having fun again. We drove a short distance to where the coffee estates and the forests seemed to merge. The chirping sounds were so loud that we could barely hear each other. Suddenly, it started raining Orange Minivets, which left us running along the path unable to decide where to look and what to photograph.
Orange Minivet – male
Orange Minivet – female
Flame-throated Bulbuls with sparkling-white eyes were flocking in bunches, feasting on red berries. Once their bellies were full, they started to preen.
The Velvet-fronted Nuthatch wouldn’t sit still for even a few seconds! The tall trees with few branches made for an apt running-ground for them, with minimal obstructions.
Racquet-tailed Drongos are so agile in flight that we managed to just get a glimpse of tail feathers disappearing through the thicket each time. Only after one tasty morsel, when he decided to perch for a few precious seconds, did we manage to photograph him.
The Racquet-tailed Drongo with its glossy black-blue feathers and a streaming tail, mimicking calls.
Birds like the Vernal Hanging Parrot, Black-lored Tit, Pompadour Green Pigeon, and the Verditer Flycatcher, to name a few, kept us enthralled all morning, as we tried to keep pace with their gregarious activities. The Blue-capped Rock Thrush, however, was entertained by me, as I slid around on the slippery mud to photograph him.
Blue-capped Rock Thrush
By afternoon, the rain was back to give us more company. The mist and the rain sent us back to our home-stay for some hot lunch – there is definitely something magical about the combination of hot food and rain. There is something even more magical about a grey afternoon, wrapped up in a comfortable blanket on a full stomach, and listening to the sound of the pouring rain outside. The evening was washed out since it was dark by the time the downpour stopped, so we indulged in admiring Giant Wood Spiders, adorned with what seemed like a thousand mirrors.
Giant Wood Spider
The rain had also created small water-pools, which had us try some creative attempts at photography, with a multitude of frogs. Unfortunately, we had no clue about their I.Ds, but, they did create incredible photography opportunities.
For those who do not mind stepping away from the birds, macro subjects like reptiles and amphibians are there in plenty.
The next morning was cloudy but sufficiently lit. We heard a call, looked around us and there he was, high on a tree, yet at our eye level – the advantage of photographing on slopes thankfully ensures that – a Peafowl with his gorgeous tail streaming down from the canopy like a satin tapestry laid amongst the freshly washed leaves. The cameras clicked non-stop till his mate answered his call and he flew away to be with her. More Orange Minivets, Racquet-tailed Drongos, flycatchers, and a brilliant sighting of a Crested Goshawk later, it was time to head back home.
The journey back was equally exciting, with the many water bodies that were bursting with life – these may be bone-dry in summer, but after a little rain, all activity focuses around these watering-holes. Sit still for a while and you will be in the comfort zone of these birds, as they blissfully ignore you while feeding. Plovers, egrets, Black-winged Stilts, Kingfishers, coots and terns were all highly active for the last feed of the day, before dusk enveloped them.
Little Ringed Plover, bathed in golden evening light
If you are lucky, the banks of these water-bodies may also be a roosting spot for birds like Spot-billed Ducks. It wasn’t long before darkness descended on the blue waters, blanketing it in a cool breeze, and tired heads curled up in the cosy warmth of their feathers.