Everytime my parents plan a trip to a temple town near Bangalore, such as Sringeri, Dharmasthala or Horanadu, I insist on driving them there. The only reason being, it gives me an opportunity to head out on my own little pilgrimage to one of the many jungles nearby. So when a plan to Sringeri was made this April, I decided to spend a day at Seethanadi.
The Seethanadi Nature Camp, in Hebri, is about an hour from Sringeri, after the Agumbe Ghats, in the Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary. Udupi lies on the other side of the same highway, about 40 km away. The cozy camp is nestled nicely in a deciduous and semi-evergreen patch of forest at the very beginning of the Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary, along the Seethanadi river, hence the name. Accomodation is in comfortable tents, along a path that leads to a plant nursery on one side, and a river on the other. And like most JLR properties, this one boasts of abundant wildlife right within. I was told that it would be teeming with birdlife, even in summer. Trogons and hornbills. That there would be flying lizards in summer. And otters too. So having set my expectations accordingly, off I went.
Almost customarily, as it is with many of the JLR properties I’ve stayed in, I was woken up by the Malabar Whistling Thrush before my alarm went off. It was a pleasant and clear summer morning and I headed out to look for birds. I heard a whistling thrush, bulbuls, and a trogon call in the distance, but I couldn’t see any of them. I spent the rest of the morning at the river bed, hoping to see otters, as a pair of wagtails kept me company.
After breakfast, I chose to head out on one of the trails – tall trees, creepers and a winding path through the trees. While the canopy was still lush green, the rest of the forest wore a dry look. For someone who expected to see a lot of birds, and ‘otters too’, this was a tad below expectations thus far.
So I tried to slow down, be more careful and look for birds as quietly as I could; only to realise that there was no way to walk silently in this forest. I recorded the sound of my footsteps just to prove this point!
I was so engrossed in scanning the forest canopy for birds that I hadn’t noticed what lay at my feet. The entire forest floor was covered with leaf litter very many inches deep. There were leaves of different sizes, and many shades of yellow and brown as far as I could see.
As I fixed my gaze to the ground to observe the leaf litter closely, a whole new world emerged. First, I saw a little frog peeking from under a leaf.
A little later, I saw spider (Heteropoda sp.).
More patient observation revealed that my keenness to look at life around me was being reciprocated by the life around me.
And then, there were the ones who didn’t want to be found. Like this Oakblue butterfly, who tried hard to blend in.
I also realised, that not everything that looks like leaf litter is necessarily leaf litter. Like this grasshopper, for instance.
So if there are so many insects and spiders around, surely, I thought, they should attract predators who feed on them. And a little later, I saw a calotes feeding on a grasshopper.
And every now and then, Bronze Grass Skinks would scurry through the leaves. I did get to see one of them who stopped to pose elegantly.
And I was wondering, that if there are such a large number of skinks and calotes around, shouldn’t there be something that predates on them too? Sure enough, a little later, I saw a snake moving quickly over the leaves, and then disappearing under them.
And then it struck me, if there are a number of snakes, shouldn’t there be other larger snakes which feed on them, such as the King Cobra, around? Must have been lurking somewhere, I thought. Though I heard a Crested Serpent-eagle a couple of times, a cat snake is the highest I got to see on this food chain.
I’d read about the importance of leaf litter, on how it provides nutrients back to the soil, and keeps the cycle going by helping seeds germinate better. But what I saw today was eye-opening. This was a thriving ecosystem in itself.
Later in the noon, I headed on a path that took me towards the river bed. The dry leaf litter gave way to the river almost immediately. At the peak of summer, the river had very little water. It appeared mostly still, like a pond, except for a few narrow streams that emanated at the edges.
After what I saw in the morning, I had become accustomed to looking at the forest floor. The life here, owing to the moisture in the air because of the river, was a little different from what I saw earlier. There were a number of frogs and crickets close to the water.
I also saw a number of spiders on the river bed, including the fishing spider. Fishing spiders stay near the water and feed on fish and other smaller aquatic life. They stay afloat on water using the water’s surface tension, much like water skaters. I spent the entire afternoon photographing a number of fishing spiders – something I’d seen for the very first time.
It was dark by the time I got back to the camp. Before heading for dinner, I took a quick walk around and saw a number of spiders of different species. The icing on the cake, that evening, however, was a tarantula!
As I was about to wind up for the day, I reflected on how the day went. While I did not get to see what I hoped to, I saw a lot more. I saw two types of spiders I hadn’t seen before, and a number of different types of frogs, insects and lizards. But most importantly, I felt that in this trip, I saw the forest floor for the first time. I saw it for the living, breathing ecosystem that it actually is.
And that is probably what John Muir meant, when he said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks”.