Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bird driving in Gir forest!

All the hype about lions and leopards has totally sidelined my feathered friends, who came and sat long and hard on my conscience and threatened to make a mess if I did not do something about it. So in order to keep the peace and not go to pieces over the impending deposits of guano on my soul I got out the trusty Mac and am typing away.

As a matter of fact, the birds in Gir are amazing. There are supposedly 140 species of birds if I remember the brochure right and though I did not see any such number I got a glimpse of a lot of new species for me.

As I said in Indiamike the first minute in Gir I saw a black ibis. How cool is that! The forests are full of birdsong, the spring in the air and the crimson flowers of the ‘pichkari kai’ tree. Sorry I don’t know the real name but this is the name of the tree in Kannada, my native language. It gets its name from the fact that the buds contain water which can be squirted at people close by. The range of the squirt is only about a foot or so at best and so makes for a tough get away and so a lot of close range water fighting was done by me and casual acquaintances outside my grandparents home in Mysore in oughty-ought.

Birds with random names such as Iora, Greenish Warbler and Tickell’s blue flycatcher bumped feathers and hung out with others with equanimity just as if
they had normal names.

The first day I was really lucky to get the Tickells fly-catcher, beautiful fellow, sat on a branch really nearby, but as the name suggests he is rather ticklish and fidgets about. A nightmare for a photographer. Nevertheless got a good shot of him and the brahminy starling nee myna. A common wood shrike was playing hide and seek in the tall grass and looking for something to eat no doubt. He paid us no mind as we drove by looking for lions.

The next day we happened upon a huge male lion on the road and spent all of an hour with him. Birds somehow were missed, sadly. When we left him to go on our journey, or rather, when he left us having posed enough, we drove past the lake. That was where we saw a fair number of birds. My favourite the purple sunbird came and sat close by to sing us a song as we watched him glistening in the morning sun. He is just so handsome and I am convinced that someone has told him. He is the prima donna of the forest. The Iora were out in strength and they are a beautiful green. It mixes well with the leaf cover and gives them an edge in camouflage.

Oriental magpie robins kept us company all the journey through the forest and so did peafowl. Some of these were caring for chicks and we saw a lot of young peafowl around. The cocks were all recovering from moulting through the winter and just getting their plumage back. On the way past the lake we saw a darter and a cormorant just waiting to get warm enough to brave the cold water for breakfast. These were joined by a solitary grey heron, rather near a large crocodile, but maybe they have an MOU signed. A crested serpent eagle flew by and settled at the top of a large tree, no doubt soaking up the sun was his plan too. Gir mornings are chilly in late Feb.
That evening I decided to spend some time birding and we stopped for a lot of birds. We got to see a plum headed parakeet and female, more sunbirds, Indian robins, magpie robins, fantailed fly catcher, red breasted fly catcher, white browed wagtail, munias, bee-eaters, rosy ringed parakeets, just birds all around.

Partridges crossing the pathway and whirring off in classic low level flying that the expert top-gun pilots try to emulate in vain. It was just beautiful. I was on the look out for hornbill and the paradise flycatcher but no chance. Then the coolest thing happened, a leopard crossed the track ahead of us. We raced there and found him bounding to the cover of the bushes about 50 yards away. Beautiful animal and some amazing speed he can put on. He covered that distance in 2 secs flat. All birds were out of the mind for the next half an hour as we searched for lions and found them.

2 half grown cubs and mommy. Smashing! Funny, there are never birds around lions it seems. Is that another MOU or just sour grapes cuz the lions are the cynosure of all eyes?? I wonder.


  1. Hi Arun,
    Nice post--well written. Keep them coming. To answer your comment on my blog--I restarted the blog after 3 years and had not started it when I commented on yours! Do keep your comments coming too!

  2. Hi Arun,

    On birding, I'd like to share with you this useful resource that I've often visited to match images with unknown bird names:

    Before going on a birding trip, I also pick up the area checklist from or another resource so I can build my sighting list accordingly. Here's one on Gir's birds:

    As I said on indiamike, your report has inspired me to plan for Gir in May. Will tell you how it goes.

    best, Jyoti Bhargava

  3. Hi Arun,

    My earlier comment seems to have disappeared so here's another one. Thanks for your help with fixing up my Gir trip. I did manage that trip in May. Done a couple of posts including a primer for new visitors. Take a look:

    regards, Jyoti