Saturday, May 19, 2018

Day out with bats!

I had never been on an exclusive bat watching trail ever before. I was really looking forward to it, but you know you have messed up a little when you're so excited that you hear birds chirping in the morning and you still haven't had the least bit of shut eye. Nevertheless, I packed up my fully charged camera and set off to Rajesh Puttaswamaiah's home in Magadi road. He has been watching bats for couple of years, and he is the person if you want to know about bat life in and around Bangalore.

His home is a lovely abode with everything one can possibly think of in order to attract urban wildlife. A small pond with guppies and mollies surrounded by grasses, butterfly host plants, shelter pots for toads, nest holes built into outdoor walls for birds and bats and much more. I absolutely admired the dedication and effort it would have taken him. "The plan has been on for a little over ten years." He said. "But it materialized only few months ago."

No sooner we had our breakfast prepared by the loveliest Hema Rajesh, than we started off towards Savandurga. With Arya and his witty jokes, the onward journey was full of bustling energy between the three of us.

"So first, we stop at this Flying Fox roost!" He pointed out to a cluster of trees. From a distance, the trees looked as though some over enthusiastic kid had put one too many Christmas decorations all over. "Wow!" I was all starry eyed, ready to view this large congregation and soak up all the behavioural moments I could behold.

There were probably a little over a hundred individuals, and most were typically hanging upside down with their wings wrapped around like a cape. A few were flying around in circles. "Isn't this supposed to be the season for young ones?" I questioned Rajesh. "I think so." He held his heavy lens up at the bats and observed. After a few minutes into watching the bats, I observed something I hadn't paid attention to till then. It was the size of the testicles of the males. They were round, and almost the size of a small marble each. "I didn't know this!" I said to Rajesh. "Oh you didn't? You should see other species like Fulvus Fruit bat. They are almost the same size as the head." I couldn't successfully imagine a bat body with such proportions, but I assured myself I'll see it someday.

Then, Rajesh pointed out to a mother bat who had been hiding her young one in the safety of her wings. I was so overjoyed. I was looking forward to watching a mother and pup. "There, there is another mother below it! And another here at 10 o clock!" We counted over 10 mothers with pups. They looked just like adorable little dogs that any of us would cuddle reflexively without even thinking. As the sun rose higher above into the horizon, they kept beating their wings.

We moved on further towards Savandurga forest, and Rajesh said that we'll make a quick stop at this rocky hillock where a lot of quarrying has threatened the habitat of few bat species. Two years ago one could spot 3 species here: Rhinolophus beddomi (Woolly Horseshoe Bat), Megaderma spasma (Lesser False Vampire Bat) and Rhinopoma hardwickii (Lesser Mouse Tailed Bat). But now their caves have been destroyed due to the quarrying. "Pappa do you think we can really go up there? Is there really a way?" Arya wondered. "Son, we own a Xenon. We don't take the road, we make it." Skilfully answered Rajesh. Also, his skill wasn't limited to the quick reply. He drove immaculately up the steep slopes.

We tried to find the Lesser Woolly Horseshoe bat and the Lesser Mouse Tailed Bat, but there were none in the cave.

We needed to get to a vantage point where he could photograph the quarry in such a way that he could compare the photos he had previously clicked. "Surprising how much destruction can happen in just six months, there was a huge rock formation on this side which doesn’t exist anymore" He said, and there was a melancholy in his voice. It seemed as though he missed a dear friend or family member whom he couldn't find today.

Nonetheless, we looked forward to the rest of the day and got going, and this is when we found a canid pug mark. It didn't seem like that of a domestic dog. Perhaps a Jackal or Fox.

On the descent, we saw a lot of migratory danaid butterflies moving directionally. Dark Blue Tiger, Double Branded Crow were both spotted. Also saw a group of puddling Line Blues.

Just before we reached the more touristy part of Savandurga, we stopped at a water body. We were to go by foot to the subterranean cave from here. "This is quite a stinky cave. You will smell it from a distance." He said. My antennae stood up. As we reached the rocky area, we saw a Black Eagle soaring by the edge of the cliff ahead of us! This was an exciting new lifer for me.

"We are within 20 metres of the cave. Locate it if you can!" Rajesh challenged Arya and I. I looked around, but there was nothing that looked like a cave’s entrance. Arya took some enthusiastic wild guesses but he turned out wrong. Then, Rajesh led us to this crevice which would most definitely go unnoticed if covered with a little more leaf litter. "Oh my goodness how did you find this place?" I asked in disbelief. "I asked around in the villages. They pointed this way and after spending few hours searching I found it."

"How deep is the cave?" I asked. "As deep as those trees you see there." Wow. I looked below, into the entrance. Seemed like a portal to another realm. Rajesh lead the way, Arya and I followed closely behind him. I took a few seconds to adjust to the dim lighting, the smell of the guano and the fact that my limbs are sinking into the same as I crawl my way in. Voila!

"Before you tell me what these bats are, let me try and guess." I clicked a few pictures of the bats and said "Leaf nosed bat?" "Correct, they are Schneider’s Leaf Nosed Bat (Hipposideros speoris)." He said, and even in the dim light of the cave, I could see his expression that clearly told me that I have been welcomed into the pack. New pup in town! I got the mentorly vibe of being taken under the wing, officially!

I spent a lot more time inside than I imagined. I developed a strange liking to the odour of the guano. "Maybe in the days and years to come, just a whiff of this dirty smell will make my heart skip a beat with excitement." I thought to myself.

Of all the beautiful bats in the cave, I particularly fell in love with one individual who was in a breeding pelage. He was a bright rufous colour, and that against the contrasting colour of his tiny, beady, black eyes was a sight to see.

Arya, Rajesh and I clicked a few selfies to celebrate the moment, and then a slightly surprised Rajesh asked me if I was done or if I wanted to spend some more time underneath. The honest answer would have been that I was not interested in going out into the sunlight ever again. But emotions aside, I said "Okay, five minutes." The temperature inside the cave was very humid and the sweat was dripping like tap water.

We then moved to the Savandurga Forest department's visitor area. Here, there is an old temple structure which has been abandoned. Upon entering it, we were greeted by the pleasant sight of four Lesser False Vampires (Megaderma spasma) huddled together. 

Although I was considerably low on energy, my spirit was still high. Rajesh taught me the different angles in which a bat should be photographed. One of the four bats stretched out his wings and made for a beautiful image.

We then headed back, had lunch on our way and retreated to Rajesh's home. We rid ourselves of the guano clothes and finally allowed ourselves to feel tired. Arya's dog “Tiger” had been barking incessantly for a while, and Arya stepped out to check what might be troubling Tiger. He was shocked to see a large sized Spectacled Cobra eating a Common Indian Toad. He called out for us, and I tried to be as quick possible but could only manage the last leg of the process.

Although this was a bit scary for young Arya, it was a great ending to my day. I had never seen a Cobra on a kill.

This was how my first bat adventure came to an end, but this is only the beginning. Cheers to many more such spectacular adventures! Happy batting!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Images of Peacock Royal under an optical microscope

Recently got the opportunity to see the butterfly wings of a Peacock Royal (Tajuria cippus) under a microscope thanks to my father in law Mr. KR Jayadeva. Happy viewing!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Wildlife themed tshirts for sale

Hey everyone, I'm very excited to present to you my tshirt artwork. I'm open to all sorts of ideas and themes, you can also choose from the designs I've already created. Drop a mail at for details.

I use tshirts from Decathlon, so be assured that they're of good quality and standard fit. Have an idea or a photograph that you would like me to reproduce as a painting? You know where to contact me. Here are a few sample images!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Dachigam National Park, the heart of Kashmir!

It was a long train journey from Bangalore to Delhi. Shreenidhi and I walked through the littered and overcrowded streets towards the white i20 car that we recognized was Karun's. Barely a couple of minutes in the city, and I had started hating it already. Soon after arriving, we enjoyed the authentic flavours of punjabi food made by Karun's mother. After a day of experiencing Delhi and it's street food, we set off to Srinagar.

As the flight started descending, we began to see little peaks and rocks between the clouds. My first glimpse of the himalayas! I was overjoyed. As we disembarked, the cool winds and warm sunshine felt as good as an endearing welcome hug.

Srinagar was a very charming city. The sloping roofs, the 80s style buildings, the Dal Lake, the gardens, the beautiful people! This city was filled with character, oozing ethnicity.

Half the day had already passed by the time we settled into our inn on the outskirts of Srinagar. It had a view of a nearby hillock, where Hangul Deer are seen in peak winter. The lazy part of me constantly wished that the balcony would make way for a lifer mammal, and I'd not have to trek at all! As I looked at the little hill, I noticed a crow-like bird sitting on the overhanging branch of the tree in front of me. Eurasian Jackdraw! This was the first bird lifer for me on this trip. It seemed to me like a handsomer version of a jungle crow, just like how the people here are handsomer than the ones I've seen elsewhere!

We decided to take a small explorative walk around the area of our inn. A short walk uphill led us to a stream, and the sound of bubbling water was very refreshing. I noticed a little white butterfly perched on a bush nearby, and approached it with my camera. Undisturbed by me, the Himalayan Bath White posed for pictures as I moved closer and closer. Then, the stinging in my arms began. Little did I know that the bush I was against was a toxic plant called "Bichhu booti" or Stinging Nettle. The itching grew severe, and I had developed rashes. But my enthusiasm was not dulled by this, because I had just seen a new butterfly!

 We continued walking by the stream until sunset. Just before we headed back, we spotted this tiny fellow, who was also a lifer. Orange Bordered Brown Argus:

Then, we set out to meet Mr. Nazir Malik, the forest officer who was to lead us through our treks in the park. He's a short, fair kashmiri man in his forties. He was very enthusiastic and passionate with his introduction of Dachigam National Park. "So Dachigam is a very unique type of forest, and its called Himalayan Moist Temperate forest." He said. "Its your first time in the Himalayas? You will definitely have a wonderful time here. Admirals, Frittilaries, Tortoiseshells... we have them all!" Just hearing the names of these butterflies gave me goosebumps. I wondered how many of them I'd see.

We were dropped off by the vehicle at a place which was about three or four kilometres from the national park gate, and we were to trek and come back onto the same main road. As we disembarked, Mr. Malik said "Welcome to bear country." We hoped for the best and started walking as he led the way.

It started getting dark, and surprisingly we were still walking inwards and not back to the vehicle. We chose to say nothing and followed him silently. In a while, it seemed very scary that we couldnt see a few metres ahead of us. When we asked Mr. Malik about what we do if a bear shows up too close, he responded calmly "Just don't do anything. Trust the bear and it won't harm you. When you love, you're loved back. Faith!" I gulped in anxiety. "Just stay where you are and let me handle it." He said. All he had was a small stick in his hand. He didnt let us use our torches because he thought that would disturb the tranquility of the forest. We nervously made our way through the bushes and rocks, finally out onto the moonlit tarmac road. It was a relief.

We returned to our inns and set out on another trail the next morning at six. As we trekked, the beautiful himalayan meadows and valleys enchanted me. 

A beautiful rainbow arched along the slopes in front of us, and it was one of the most spectacular sights Ive seen.

We stopped at a bush with little purple fruits, and Mr. Malik pointed out to them as he said "These have been eaten by the bears. You can try them too. They're bittersweet." 

There was a hollow amidst the bushes, and upon looking at the tracks in the mud, we knew it was created by a bear. After devouring a handful of the delicious fruit, we walked forward. We spotted a pair of Large Silverstripe butterflies courting.

Then we spotted a few mpre butterflies. Indian Cabbage White:

Walnut Blue:

West Himalayan Brown Argus:

Western Striated Satyr:

After returning, we spent the rest of the day enjoying Kashmiri food.

The next day, we visited Shankaracharya Reserve Forest, a climb which lasted the whole day. Atop the mountain, we saw Black-Eared Kites at eye level, and also spotted a Eurasian Hobby. The view spread out the whole of Srinagar in front of us like a carpet of green and red. We also stumbled upon fresh bear pug marks!

Day three, we decided to visit Gulmarg, which was an hours drive from our inn.
Here, the many butterflies that we saw pumped me with some sort of super human energy and I ran up and down the meadows many times! We saw some really beautiful species of nymphalidae. 

Kumaon Common Wall:

Kashmir Yellow Wall:

Himalayan Dark Clouded Yellow:

Beautiful Meadowbrown:

Kashmir Tortoiseshell:

Indian Red Admiral:

Nepalese Large Cabbage White:

Kumaon Narrow Banded Satyr:

We stopped at a slope where we heard lot of bird calls. Karun, Shreenidhi and I saw Black Lored Tits, Nuthatches and a Woodpecker. While we kept watching through our binoculars, a small animal was watching us from the bush next to us. I noticed it, and whispered to Karun. "What is this here? Stop looking through the binoculars!" He looked down at the little mammal, withheld his excitement, and whispered with his breath held - "Weasel ka bachha!" It continued to stare at us for a few more seconds, and then ran away into the thickets. We were in absolute awe of this cute little animal. It was too small for a weasel, too big for a shrew. A reddish brown coat, a pointy snout, triangular ears that were sticking out, beady inquisitive black eyes and a white underbelly.

Later upon returning and checking the books, we found that it was a Himalayan Stoat, also known as the Short Tailed Weasel. An absolute thrill this was!

We visited Gulmarg again the next day hoping for another glimpse of this animal. Unfortunately the weather turned cloudy and we had no luck. We spent sometime watching a troop of Rhesus Macaques, who looked quite different from those in the plains. They had a much thicker coat which made them look bigger than the ones we see elsewhere in India.

The next morning we went for another walk into Dachigam. It was our last day, and we were hoping to see a bear.
Just a few minutes before our drop off point, while we were still in the vehicle, we saw a deer cross the road in front of us onto the left. We stopped and looked through the binoculars. It was a Hangul, staring nervously at us.

Though we didnt see the Asiatic Black Bear, we were very happy with the experience we had at Dachigam. Kashmir truly was synonymous with heaven!