I must confess: while the rainforests of the Western Ghats, with its wonderful denizens including frogs, snakes, insects and spiders, have always held a special place in my heart, one reason trumps them all – Jog Falls. India’s second-highest plunge waterfall had been an unfulfilled dream for long, a case of too-near-yet-too-far. So, when I had the opportunity to head to Jungle Lodges and Resorts’ Sharavathi Adventure Camp, my first stop cannot be too difficult to guess.
With the ‘pilgrimage’ out of the way, and a great dinner later, it was time to seek out the creatures of the night. A part of one of the world’s hottest biodiversity hotspots, the Western Ghats, the once-pristine rainforests in the region have now been increasingly taken over by human habitation. The calls of the night, however, seemed to suggest that many of the rainforest denizens had survived, and maybe even adapted to their changing environment. Nightfall in rainforests is an amazing experience, especially in the monsoons. Frogs and crickets perform a live orchestra. The pitter-patter of raindrops adds to the melody. Sometimes, an owl or a frogmouth might decide to chip in. Many of these creatures are adapted to life at night, occupying a niche that helps them beat competition for food and keeps them safe from predators.
Lured out of my cottage with my camera in hand, I didn’t have to go too far – the action began right outside my cottage!
As I was scanning some walls, a small head in one of the crevices caught my eye. A Beddome’s Keelback peeked out of its hideout! This small, non-venomous snake is relatively widespread across the Western Ghats. Its brown coloration usually camouflages it in leaf litter, where it is normally seen slithering. The shrubs and trees around me had many bush frogs calling from them. Two of the calls I could identify (but could not spot the callers) were the Yellow Bush Frog (Raorchestes luteolus) and the Knob-handed Bush Frog (Raorchestes tuberohumerus). They were greatly out-numbered though, by the extremely loud Amboli Bush Frog; In fact, if you stand too close to one, the sound made by this thumbnail-sized frog can cause your ears to ring!
There were a lot of calls from outside the camp as well, and I decided to investigate. I walked along the road between the camp and the reservoir, taking short detours into the surrounding areas wherever they were accessible. Something slithering on the road caught my attention. As I got closer to it, I realised that it was not a snake. It was a foot-long amphibian – a Bombay Caecelian! My excitement was punctuated as I saw that it was struggling to move and had traces of blood in its mouth. Maybe a vehicle had run it over or someone had stepped on it in the dark. I moved it off the road, hoping that it would live.
From wet patches of grass by the road, there were beautiful Rao’s Intermediate Golden-backed Frogs calling away. I also heard frogs calling from a small depression off the road. There was some water accumulated there from the day-long rain. At first, it was impossible to find the frogs, though the calls seemed to originate nearby. Carefully lifting up the leaves of the vegetation on the ground, I finally saw the owner of the call – a tiny Granular Cricket Frog. And soon enough, I discovered a pair of Granular Cricket Frogs in amplexus, nearby. Standing amidst hundreds of frogs calling out was quite an experience that night.
I had further surprises in store. Further down the road, I saw what seemed at first glance to be a leaf stuck in a web. And an insect caught, possibly with a lot of debris. The macro lens revealed what the ‘debris’ was – hundreds of tiny spiderlings! And the leaf seemed to be the wonderful nest that the mother Comb-footed Spider had built, to protect her offspring.
The dying light of my torch (I had already changed two sets of batteries) made me beat a retreat to my room. A brightly coloured Coffee Locust showed up before I drew the curtain on a wonderful night of exploration.
The next time you are at Sharavathi Adventure Camp (or for that matter, anywhere in the lap of nature), do make it a point to walk around with a torch at night. Investigate the calls. Observe creatures’ behaviour. It is bound to leave you with a sense of exhilaration and wonder!