Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Spooky Nightwalk in the Jungle - Dandeli Adventure

We had been out birding all day and were finishing up dinner when Adesh asked "Who wants to go out for a night walk". Within minutes, everybody disappeared into their tents, and came back with their torch lights and binoculars. It was 10:30 PM when 13 crazy birders set out to explore the jungle in hopes of seeing nocturnal beings. Apart from owls and nightjars, the Dandeli forests were reported to have flying squirrels, jungle cats and even the elusive Black Panther which was last sighted in 2005. With the kind of optimism you can only have at the beginning of a trip, we set out into the darkness of the night powered by small pen torches and cigarette torches (I swear I am not kidding, Nikhil had a torch that looked like a cigarette). Adesh and Mandar (A&M) however, had these industry strength torches that could light up all the way to Mars (they are rechargeable).
It was 2 days after Diwali, so it was a dark moonless night. The few stars that were scattered in the night sky did nothing to increase the light. We walked on the tar road away from the camp site. At first, it looked like one enormous black canvas out there, but once our eyes adjusted to the low light, we began to distinguish different features. (A&M) would occasionally flash their powerful torches to scan for owls and nightjars. This continued for the first 15 minutes. Seeing nothing, Adesh asked us to follow him into a jungle trail. "OMG, Is he crazy?" I said to myself, but obediently followed him. It got darker as we went away from the road. About 100 yards later, we stopped near a water tank.
"Switch off your lights and be very silent" ordered Adesh. The jungle comes alive in the night. Countless species of birds, mammals and insects are at work and you slowly begin to be aware of different sounds. The deafening trill of crickets, the croaks of frogs and the monotonous simmer of insects make for a very eerie orchestra. The hallucinatory sounds were all pervasive and with no images to associate with the sounds, it was spooky as hell. Adesh decided to check for frogmouths in the area. He used his cellphone and played the call of a Ceylon Frogmouth.

(from wikipedia)
The frogmouths are a group of tropical nocturnal birds related to the nightjars. This species is found only in the Western Ghats in southwest India and Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Frogmouth is about 23 cm long. It is large-headed, and has a large flattened hooked bill and huge frog-like gape. It is best located at night by its song, which is a loud descending cackly and frog-like series of Klock-klock-klock-klock-klock calls. This is the call of the male and it is often answered by the female whose call is low long harsh Krrshhhh.
To see some stunning pictures of the frogmouth, check out my friend Thomas's blog here.

The call of the female is very shrill, almost like the cry of some wild animal hunted by a predator. It kind of sends a shiver down your spine when you hear it for the first time. Adesh played the call and we waited hopefully. There was no reply. We waited for a looong minute and then played it again. Seconds ticked by and our ears picked up every little sound. Insects were buzzing incessantly. A couple of frogs surfaced to the top of the water tank to check out the suspense drama. Still nothing! We decided to play the call for one last time. Check out the sounds of the jungle in this video.

Krrshhhh Klock-klock-klock-klock-klock

For the first few seconds we heard nothing and then there it was - a very clear call from a male frogmouth. Thirteen heads instantly turned towards the direction of the call, peering through the darkness, searching for signs of movement among the trees. We saw nothing. A few seconds later, we heard another frogmouth from the opposite direction.
"WOW", said folks said in hushed tones. A&M switched on the torches and started scanning the trees. We all whipped out our binoculars and tried to follow the powerful beam of lights, but saw nothing. Nocturnal birds are masters at camouflage. The frogmouth with its brown plumage can be mistaken for a tree branch! After some time, we gave up and decided to get back to the road. We were hearing more calls, so we walked on, occasionally switching on our torches and scanning the tree canopies. At some point Adesh thought that we heard at least 10 frogmouths. As if to join the musical melange, an Oriental Scops Owl started hooting. We all got excited about the owl. Adesh imitated the owl and it responded back! We started walking towards the direction of the owl-call. When we were close enough, they flashed their powerful torches hoping to see a pair of sparkling eyes. Nothing again! It was almost midnight and we were exhausted when Sharada said "I would love to sleep on the road and gaze at the stars". Can you imagine how it would be to lie down on a road in the forest surrounded by all these hallucinatory sounds? Well....it was awesome!
A tree cricket was calling out loudly and Adesh led us towards it. He asked us to cup our ears forward and notice how the sound amplifies. As we reached closer, I thought my ear drums would burst any second when Adesh shone his torch to a little hole. Alarmed at being discovered, the cricket shut up immediately. It was enough excitement for one night, so we went back to the camp. It didn't matter than we didn't see any birds, the journey itself was thrilling!
The following night, we set off again, a little earlier at 9:30 PM. The night was not as dark as the previous one, but still scary. The moment we stepped out, we struck gold! While scanning the trees outside the camp, A&M found a flying squirrel. It was a giant grey squirrel with an enormous bushy tail. These are known to fly/glide from one tree to another in the night foraging for food. We went to the water tank and tried our luck again, but heard nothing, so we went back to the road. There we heard the unmistakable call of the frogmouth. We switched on our torches and scanned every tree in the area, but they were still elusive. At one point, the calls were really close, so we got off the road under a tree canopy. Adesh imitated the call and the bird answered back immediately. Torches and binoculars were out searching for it yet again. Nothing! Sigh!
We were about to give up and lie down on the road again, but Adesh would not give up "Salle ko dhoondh Nikalunga" he said with determination, so we trudged along. A little ahead, calls were coming from the left hand side of the road. We stood there and waited until we heard the call again. The second we heard the call, A & M shone their torches on one tree branch at the exact same time and VOILA! There they were!! One male and one female frogmouth sitting pretty on a tree branch in full view, right on top of our heads. Binoculars went up, cameras started clicking and it was celebration time! The male bird flew off, but the female struck around for at least a minute enthralling us. What a night!! Even if we had not seen the birds, it was still a great adventure, but seeing them was like icing on the cake. Check of this really bad video of the sighting. The quality of the video will make 'The Blair Witch Project' seem like a masterpiece:)

Our 4 day bird watching trip to Dandeli with Nature India Tours was great. We had a combination of slow times where we saw very few birds and fun times where we had non-stop action. The slow times were never long enough to bore us and the fun times were always long enough to keep us excited. The mixed hunting party near the timber depot offered non-stop action while the open pit mine which was truly an amphitheater where birds modeled one by one showing off their beautiful feathers. It was great fun one evening when we saw 2 dozen Malabar pied horn bills dining on berries and shrieking in delight . My favorite sightings were the blue bearded bee eater and white bellied woodpecker. This post is already getting long, so I will just write about one instance that stuck in my mind.
We were near a water body looking at birds through a spotting scope when somebody saw a raptor in the sky. Mandar looked at it through his binoculars and immediately started screaming "Roufous Bellied Eagle.....Roufous Bellied Eagle...come everybody". He ran like mad and started clicking pictures and once done, observed the bird through the binoculars till it disappeared from sight. He came back with a wide-grin and could not stop smiling for the next half hour. That evening, he went to a store, bought sweets and distributed them to everybody.
If you have even half of his enthusiasm for your job, you should consider yourself truly blessed.

Diwali at the camp

Purple Sun Bird, Green Bee Eater


Small Minivet, White Bellied Woodpecker,

Photographing birds was really hard on this trip because they were never at eye level, so I followed Uma and Mohan and took pictures of these dragonflies. Aren't they beautiful?


  1. what an experience, Vamsee! must have been great to spend diwali surrounded by noises of a different kind :)
    the pics are superb, esp. the large one of the dragonfly - excellent!

  2. Your writing makes the reader eager to know what is about to happen next. Seems like an exciting trip, makes me wish I was there. :)

    Was hoping for more pictures. But I know how hard it is to shoot in those tall-treed forests.

  3. You guys are such an enthu group! I definitey have to meet this Adesh person some day. Loved the narration, Vam! I felt like I was on the night tour with you! The dragon fly pics, especially the large pic is simply amazing.

  4. lovely writing vamsee..as arun says, I almost felt like i was with you..and i really regret not coming with uma

  5. Wow what an experience! Can only imagine the nightwalk... must have been amazing. Will have to do Dandeli sooon :-)

  6. Hey Vamsee what a beautiful report...I was transported back to Dandeli almost instantly. The pictures are very lovely...by the way I thought you and Saru made a great couple :)

  7. Great narration, Vamsee... And the first two dragonfly pics look superb !

  8. As always great narration. I was with you in ur walk....the draginfly pic is superb. Am going to show it to class tomorrow. :-)

    One day I too shall write my own destiny and bird....

    Till then, will enjoy, thru ur travels....

  9. Enjoyable read,Vamsee.Night trails are fun, aren't they.Wish I could write so vividly about mine.'Saale ko dhoond nikaloonga!' Hehe-could immediatly conjure an image of Adesh saying that.


  10. Your narration was awesome. I am not a night person but this one time wanted to be there. The photos are excellent and the videos provide another dimension to your story.

  11. The entire magic of the night safari could be felt reading the blog ans the videos added to the tale. Fantastic place, great trip and wonderful narration. Keep it up Vamsee and Kudos too Adesh & Mandar for making it happen

  12. Glad I reached here late and go to see the video. I am very poor at Birds and have no bird-watching experience ever (forget western ghats) but somehwo the sound sounds so much familiar, that klick-klock-klick-klock thing.

    Very very interesting.

  13. Now that is some Diwali !!!! I am entirely Green with envy !!!!!!!

    I cant listen to the sounds... but the way you have described just gives me gooseflesh... !!

    and the pics... are soooper.. I dont have enough adjectives !!! wow !!!

  14. And what a rich haul of pictures!

  15. hey vamsee, very well written, felt I was there in the jungle & the picks of the dragon flies are also very gud!!!

  16. Hey,

    Wonderful writing, very interesting narration of night walk!! Nice picture, Dragonflies and Malabar-grey Hornbill. Good to use references from sites like Wikipedia...


  17. Your pictures are always beautifully captured. The views of the places and the way you managed to captured these birds really make me feel invited...

    - Pixellicious Photos

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  19. Charu/Arun,
    Thanks. You both jumped the gun and came to my blog before I finished adding the videos.

    Thanks. Now you know why I find traveling in India so exciting. There are so many cool experiences waiting to happen.

    This was an amazing walk.I wish you had come.

  20. Garima,
    Thanks. Dandeli was great for birding, but not so much for bird photography. If you go there, make sure you take a really good mosquito repellent...and don't stay at Kulgi. There are better places (i hope)

    Thanks...i tried to write about our experience as I remembered it. Thanks for your comment on Saru and me. We are a happy couple for the most part.

    Welcome to my blog and keep visiting.

  21. Jayanti,
    Thanks. You should join us in one of our birding trips....and I should get u to start a blog soon.

    This was my second night trail and the best so far. It was pitch dark and the sounds were very spooky. Adesh said a lot more things like" Saale ko bahar aane do, main pathar maroonga:) We were all ready to give up, but Adesh was very determined to spot the birds.

    Thanks. I was only thinking of recording the sounds, so was stupid enough to leave my big lens behind...if not I would have gotten a nicer video of the bird.

  22. Navneet/Nandan,
    It is a party in the jungle at night, with all those sounds. Very spooky, yet very cool.

    Mrudula / Shweta,

    It is always great fun to be on Nature India's tours. You both are very dedicated and passionate about your job and take every effort to keep us engaged.Thanks and hope to do more trips.

  23. Vam this was an absolutely awesome experience just to read the blog...I cant even imagine how cool it must have been to actually experience it...Two of my fav things combined...going on moonlit nightwalks, and listening to the sounds of birds....both at the same time just sounds thrilling...I love that you posted videos this time...as we get to actually hear the beautiful sounds of the night! Your writing makes us feel like we were a part of the group...beautiful! And I've said this before but I can't even imagine that u guys found so many cool like minded birders and travel enthusiasts back home...I want to do one of these trips with u guys some day! Oh and Saru the pics are fab...so much clarity and precision..I know bhow hard it must have been to shoot birds...but awesome job both of u!

  24. Had a similar experience on a night walk in the Mamandur forest in AP...though it was night jars we saw, not frogmouth!

  25. Ahh! The memories! The memories! The night walks were truly amazing! Superb write-up Vamsee! My stuff will take some time to upload...

  26. Just saw the videos! Haha, Blair Witch Project? Liked the post and the 'sound-track'. :)

  27. Wow!! the pictures are too beautiful!! especially the dragonflies. Too awesome. The video had nice sounds recorded on it. The second video wasnt much useful. Couldnt make much out of it :) I had never heard of those birds which you have mentioned. It must be great to watch them in action :)

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  29. Ah !! Lovely narration once again Vamsee.... you are good (errr...I mean great :-) at reproducing the whole experience in words.... But i thought you ended abruptly :-( I was expecting more of our daytime birding experiences...just one para on that :(

    BTW: Did I say "Saale ko (actually "Brother-in Law")bahar nikalunga ...or... Did I actually shout "Himmat hai to Bahar Nikal" ?

    --- Adesh

  30. Was just reading ur blog again ...but why is it that everytime my comment seems to be the longest of all???...I got to stop with this rambling probling I got going on...short and concise is the way to be!

  31. I love those sounds - like a lullaby! Great story and wonderful pics - those insect photos are just out of this world!

  32. What a fantastic trip to Dandeli Vamsee! The night walks sound like so much fun. I love hearing all the creatures that come out in the night. The bird and dragonfly photos are a bonus too. My favorite is the Green Bee Eater.

  33. Hi Vamsee,
    The video made the readers experience complete, complementing the narration. Night walks in the jungle are very tempting.


    Bindhu & Unny

  34. LOVED the videos...they let me join you on your night walk in the jungle. Lovely post...as always :)

  35. Hi Vamsee,
    The blogs are great!Certainly an adventurous way of celebrating diwali. Keep blogging!!:)


  36. Vamsee,
    You described your adventures well...hehe! Lovely pictures.

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  38. Excellent Post! Rejoice life during holidays through Dandeli Resorts; located in Uttara Kannada, Karnataka state.