Tag: Vazachal

Forests of mist and rain

Forests of mist and rain

Photos: P. Jeganathan

Forests of mist and rain, of hornbills, of big cane, of shield tails, ferns and fungus…..

One fine morning, we began our journey into a rainforest at the break of dawn. Soon we picked up an enthusiastic and boisterous bunch of naturalists (who were travelling in the Western Ghats) and we were on the road again as we passed a barking deer busy with first meal of the day. The bus drove winding and curving through the forest, plantations, and reservoirs and reached Vazhachal Reserve Forest check-post at Malakiparai. All eyes were getting wider and brighter as we passed a Kadar settlement and entered the forest. Very soon we saw forest’s own nursery of Vateria indica saplings on both sides of the road. It is a miracle how some seeds survived and were now germinating quite oblivious of their future on these road-sides.

Forest nursery (Vateria indica saplings) on a road side
Forest nursery (Vateria indica saplings) on a road side

Now we heard Malabar Grey Hornbill, and we saw two of them hopping branches. Soon our ears heard more calls then our brains could filter, and we were lost in fast action of spotting birds, missing out on some, and yet catching up with others later. Alarm calls of Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, flight of an Asian Fairy Bluebird, song of a Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Grey-headed Bulbul….they were all there and we were at the centre of all the activity but only as dumbstruck audience. After some time the flock moved away but magic of the forest was only beginning to unfold.

As we rested our eyes from the canopy, we found ourselves amazed by the display of colors on both sides of the road. Different species of impatiens carpeted the forest earth on road-sides; several colors, shapes, and sizes.

Pretty Impatiens
Pretty Impatiens

Also present were ferns of a diversity of forms. We walked slowly trying to absorb the feel of rainforest, listening to soft ‘ho-ho’ of Lion-tailed Macaques, watching a  butterfly flutter and as she rested on a plant for a while,

Tamil Catseye
Tamil Catseye

observing different species of Zingiberaceae that were flowering and produced spectacular shapes.

Ground orchid
Ground orchid

There was life breathing in every space, a snail finding its way through an inflorescence, a mantis perched praying on a flower close by,

Praying mantis on Zingiberaceae
Praying mantis on Zingiberaceae

and a Malabar Tree Nymph gently floating higher up (which Deepu, one of the naturalists was photographing as we approached).

Deepu brought some sad news. He said he found a dead Striped Coral Snake. Hurriedly we followed him to where he had found the rare species endemic to Western Ghats (later the snake was identified by Hari as Striped Kukri, another rare endemic species but a non-venomous one mimicking warning colorations of a venomous Coral snake). But the snake was not there. With some search Deepu and David (another naturalist) found the snake. The snake had moved, was not dead but badly injured. Leaving him on the slopes beside road, behind a fern, we hoped the snake survives. As we continued, more sad news followed.

Striped kukri:a mimic of coral snake
Striped kukri:a mimic of coral snake

There was roadkill of a Green Vine Snake and what looked like an earthworm, blue in color. We all sighed at the loss of two beautiful lives; one that must have moved gracefully from branches to bushes, well camouflaged in his surroundings; another who spent most of his time under soil. A tragedy conceived by human error!

Earthworm roadkill
Earthworm roadkill

Soon after we met two friendly looking old men who were carrying cane saplings. When asked they told us that they had collected these saplings from the forest and will be planting these close to their settlement. This will be a source of income for them once the mature cane gets harvested.

One of the old men carrying cane saplings
One of the old men carrying cane saplings

We got back into the bus and drove further as Nilgiri Langurs called from somewhere inside the forest. We stopped again to get a better look of the Lower Sholayar Dam where we heard a child-like complaining call of a Grey-headed Fish Eagle. Soon someone spotted something which took us an effort to see – a dragonfly in excellent camouflage in its environment, a Granite Ghost!

Granite Ghost in camouflage
Granite Ghost in camouflage

Even the female Rock Agama would have been a miss on that dark rock surface if not given away by her movement to catch an ant. Bright colors inviting attention, dull colors and camouflages that are more often  missed, its all here in the forests of mist and rain.

As we moved further towards Athirapally Waterfalls, the forest turned from wet evergreen to moist deciduous type. An approaching truck warned us of elephants ahead. As we got closer to the place all eyes searched for elephants as all noses smelt them. There were signs, lots of signs but elephants had moved away from the road and into the bamboo clumps. As we passed another forest check-post at Athirapally, we heard the roar of waterfalls. We were soon there. The falls were gushing with water after monsoons. We watched the falls as we ate a satisfying meal – fish curry with Kerala rice.

Athirapally waterfalls
Athirapally waterfalls

We were now on our way back and sleepy just as a Lunar Moth perched among leaves and resting for the day.

Lunar moth
Lunar moth

Our sleep was broken for good when one of the naturalists screamed, ‘Otters! Otters!’ We all jumped on our feet and saw two otters swimming in the reservoir. We saw them disappearing and reappearing over water surface as it rained. We followed them along the bank watching them as they moved until they were lost to our eyes.

Otter in water
Otters in water

Our hearts exultant, our legs reluctant to move, we managed to get back into our seats. The bus drove through mist as cheerful chatter filled the air inside the bus.

It was not long before we saw a Stripe-necked Mongoose busily excavating its meal in a swamp only to stop once in a while and examine us until he decided to disappear inside tea bushes.

Stripe-necked Mongoose
Stripe-necked Mongoose

The bus moved again winding and curving ….

through the forests of mist and rain, of Mesuas, and climbing cane…..