Archive for November, 2009

Serpent Eagles of Chokra Mudi

// November 29th, 2009 // 3 Comments » // Culture and Ecology

Chokra Mudi as seen from Rajakumari

Chokra Mudi as seen from Rajakumari

I got a unique chance to climb up Chokra Mudi near the Lockhart gap in Munnar last Wednesday (25 Nov. 2009). Chokra Mudi or Choka Mudi as local tribal people call it is the second highest peak, south of the Palghat pass after Anamudi (Dodabeta is the second highest peak in the whole South India after Anamudi, but it is in the Nilgiris north of the pass).

It is a pivotal natural structure having great geological and cultural significance in the history of ancient tribes like Mannans and Muduvans in the Anamalais and Cardamom Hills. Its south slopes in Muttukad hosts megalithic dolmens and rock-cut caves. Its western lower reaches still retain place names like Mannan Kandam now known as Adimaly. It is visible from Adimali, Vellathooval, Ponmudi, Rajakad, Rajakumari and Bison Valley. This magnificent rock peak towers well above 2400 Mts. above sea level.

The Mighty Hights: Chokra Mudi Peak

The Mighty Hights: Chokra Mudi Peak

My friends Kannan, Rajesh, Vinod and Unni from Rajakumari were not much interested in birding but were really enthused in rock-climbing and hiking. The craggy and steep terrain was a real challenge for them who were mostly raised in the high ranges. I followed far behind them and could manage to see a few birds as well.P1070200

Plenty of House Swifts and Dusky Crag Martins were seen in agile fast motion overhead. A few Alpine Swifts were also seen. In a grass patch a pair of Pipits were found, but did not get any shots and there fore could not identify them. A few Stone Chats were also seen around. Grey wagtails are abundant in the lower areas of the mighty peak constantly drenched by tiny springs and cataracts. In the foundation we can see unique flora mixed up with the grassland and rocky terrain.

P1070222After an hour of climbing we reached the half way mark and began to rest. Unfortunately this unique natural and geographical heritage of the Western Ghats is illegally colonized by a dominant religious group and some religious marks and icons adorn the rocks and the peak! We can see the whole northern Idukki district from here. From Bodimettu to Adimali is visible. This immense rock projection offers a panoramic view of Bison Valley, Rajakkad, Pallivasal, Rajakumari, Santhanpara and Muttukad areas down below. As we were enjoying this breathtaking sight I heard a distant “Klee – klee – klee…” from far above! It was repeated in short intervals.

Crested Serpent Eagle Spreading Wings over Chokra Mudi

Crested Serpent Eagle Spreading Wings over Chokra Mudi

Yes, it was a Crested Serpent Eagle above Choka Mudi! It was soaring well above the pinnacle. To add to our amazement we saw another one near the first bird. They were hovering above in tandem! The circling motion of the Eagle couple was a moving sight at that location, that even attracted my friends who were not so keen on birds. As we watched curiously the huge birds of prey slowly moved towards the shola grasslands adjoining the Muttukad plantations.

After one more hour of hard and painstaking ascend we finally reached the summit. It was fortunately cleared of mist. Normally we see the pinnacle always covered with heavy fog and clouds. This time we saw clouds sailing well below us! It was a magical experience, though tiring. And without wasting time we began our down hill task which was more risky and dangerous. We managed to get down to the National Highway 49 near the gap-road as the dusk was engulfing the whole landscape. the sight of the Serpent Eagles in elevated flight and their repeated calls and responses are still simply unforgettable.

Down-hill Task

Down-hill Task

Cultural and Ecological Legacy of Periyar Valley

// November 22nd, 2009 // 1 Comment » // Cultural Politics, Culture and Ecology, Eco Watch

Brown-breasted Flycather in Thatekad

Brown-breasted Flycather in Thatekad

Today (Saturday, 21 Nov. 2009) I visited Thatekad and adjoining forest patches with Jaime Chithra. We were a bit late to reach the Cuckoo Paradise at eight in the morning. Though we could not see any Cuckoos first we heard the welcome call of Indian Cuckoo.

A couple of Red-wattled Lapwings were warming up in the open grassland in bright sunshine. The Cuckoo that we finally saw there turned out to be a Drongo Cuckoo! Plenty of Spotted Doves and Pompadour Green Pigeons were on the canopies of the teak tress. Racket tailed, Bronzed, Ashy and Black Drongos were also vocal and very much visible in the morning glory.

As we crossed the river Periyar the Ashy Wood Swallows were sitting tight together on the electric wires above water. As soon as we entered the Salim Ali Sanctuary with guide Rejiv the Jazzy ensemble of Malabar Grey Hornbills began. We saw the Brown Hawk Owls perched on the pinnacle of a bamboo grove. Brown-breasted and Asian Brown flycatchers came to us to say hi! Black-naped and Black-hooded Orioles were enjoying themselves on top of bare branches in the sun. Little Cormorants and White-throated Kingfishers were plenty in the lagoons nearby. A solitary Small Blue Kingfisher was perched on a pole provided by the authorities anew.

Inside the forest we saw the awesome Black Baza spreading its wings and crest and coming down to perch on a tall tree. We were shown the roosting Frogmouth, the favourite of Thatekad. A Crested Serpent Eagle was hovering above with frequent calls. We saw a lot of Brahmany Starlings and Black Crested Bulbuls. Yellow-browed Bulbuls were also not uncommon. A few Paradise Flycatchers also came out. Gold-fronted Leafbirds were delightful to watch. Scarlet Minivets showed off in full colours to entertain. As we were leaving the place we also heard the call of a Dollar Bird distinctly.

Black Baza in Thatekad

Black Baza in Thatekad

From Thatekad we went further west all along the Periyar to reach Budhathan Kettu barrage were a Long-tailed Shrike was sitting on a pole awaiting us. Popular superstition says that the huge stone dam was built by the ‘Bhuthathans’ or Demons, but historians say that it was built by the Bhudhist missionaries to feed paddy fields in the adjacent villages in the pre-Brahmanic era.

Then we moved further down stream along the southern bank of Periyar to reach Thrikariyur an ancient Buddhist shrine which is now a Hindu temple. The huge temple pond and the Pearl-spots or Karimeens in it are a reminiscence of the old eco-cultural heritage of conservation, a lasting legacy of Buddhism in Kerala and South India in general. A few Indian Cormorants and a Darter were seen by the pond.

From here we moved slightly south west to reach Kallil, the ancient Jain rock-cut temple near Methala in Odakali. We were received by a chatty group of jungle babblers on this rocky hillock. It is a laterite hillock with a granite top. The image of the Thirthankara is still visible above the rock entrance. Archeologists say that there were reliefs and granite idols of Mahavira, Parshwanatha and Padmavathi Devi inside the rock chamber. Now the Padmavathi Devi idol is worshiped as Bhagavati.

Thirthankara relief, Kallil

Thirthankara relief, Kallil

As we encircled the gigantic rocks on top of the shrine we saw the carved image of an elephent on a rock which clearly is a Jain Mudra or symbol of peaceful co-existence with nature without conflict and non-violence. On a nearby ancient fig tree we saw five yellow footed green pigeons savoring the sun and the mellowing fig-fruits. The brooding presence of a Brahmany Kite was really alarming as a dramatic re-enactment of the whole history of violence. Fortunately the green doves were perfectly camouflaged.

Then we moved further west to reach Iringol Kavu near Perumbavur. It was already past noon and was getting hotter and hotter. We could not see much birds here except a hasting Oriental Honey Buzzard. Plenty of flower peckers and sun-birds are thriving inside this ancient Sramana sacred grove which was once part of the Periyar valley civilization created and nurtured by the Jain-Buddhist heritage of Kerala. As the clouds of North Eastern Monsoon began to gather in the horizon we were speeding up the retreat back to Kottayam.

Srilankan Frogmouth (female) in Thatekad

Srilankan Frogmouth (female) in Thatekad