Friday, February 20, 2015

Mayani Bird Sanctuary - A Dry Spell

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Another One Bites the Dust
Mayani Bird Sanctuary

If you live in Maharashtra state, one of the frequently talked about go-to destination is Maharashtra’s Valley of Flowers. Maharashtra’s Valley of Flowers is located in Kaas Plateau of Satara district, approximately 280 kms (5 hours by road) from Mumbai. In the months of August-September hundreds of wild flowers and shrubs bloom for a total period of only four to five weeks. Kaas Valley of Flowers had become a hot-spot for nature lovers and botanists.

In September 2013, towards the end of the monsoon season, I visited Satara and finally got to see and experience the Kaas Valley of Flowers. Without doubt, it was a very beautiful and scenic place even if a bit over-hyped in my humble opinion. I also visited the beautiful Thoseghar waterfalls which was about 26 kms from Satara.

 Kaas Valley of Flowers 

 Thoseghar Waterfalls 
After visiting Kaas and Thoseghar, my plans were to visit the Mayani Bird Sanctuary, which is located approximately 80 kms away from Satara. Even though I searched extensively on the net for the latest status about Mayani Bird Sanctuary, there wasn’t too much information available about the Sanctuary. Therefore I made up my mind to find out in person about the sanctuary’s status.

Mayani, Here I come!

The day of the visit started on an auspicious note, with the sighting of stars. Not the celestial ones, but ‘film-stars’ from the Tamil film industry. The film unit was shooting for their movie at a location in Satara and some of the actors were put up in the same hotel as mine. As I wanted to reach the sanctuary early in the morning, I did not seek an audience or a photo-opportunity with the stars and set out for the sanctuary.

The drive to Mayani bird sanctuary started just after 6.30 am. If the roads were good I estimated that we would reach the Sanctuary in less than 2 hours.

Since the monsoons had just ended, the landscape was green all along the way. We drove past fog-covered farmlands, sunflower fields and hills that appeared to be covered with green carpets. The good roads and beautifully green scenery made the drive a very pleasant experience. We reached the sanctuary gates in approximately 1.45 hours.

 Fog-covered Fields 

 Scenic and Green 

 Sunflower fields 

 Road to Mayani 

 The Destination 
As I faced the sanctuary gates my heart sank. The entrance to the sanctuary was in such a bad shape, I felt that I might be in for a major disappointment. One of the gates was unhinged and the pathway appeared to be all dug up. I feared that the sanctuary may have been shut down. However, on inquiring I was informed that the sanctuary was open. I heaved a big sigh of relief!

 Not so welcoming - Sanctuary Gates 

 Open Sesame Sanctuary Gates 
On entering the sanctuary, I could see a lot of greenery which indicated that the sanctuary may have received rains during the monsoon. However, apparently the rains were not sufficient enough. Because, the core sanctuary area was dry with not even a puddle of water to be seen. The staff at the sanctuary confirmed my fears. The rains had been inadequate for the past few years. And with no other source of water, the sanctuary had dried up.

 Pleasantly Green 

 Unpleasantly Dry - Sanctuary area 

 Not a drop in sight 
As I continued my walk into the Sanctuary, my bird sightings started with a purple sunbird sitting on the branches of a tree. After the sunbird came a Long-tailed shrike and then a Red-vented bulbul. Since I was new to birding, each and every sighting was welcome even if it was of a bird commonly sighted.

Understandably I was the only visitor in the Sanctuary!

I walked further and came across an Indian Robin, then a Common Iora followed by some Great tits. These birds were some distance away and I had to be content with distant record shots. This was followed by a bird that I have not been able to identify as yet. The bird was far away and therefore my Nikon 70-300mm could not capture the finer details of the bird. On such occasions one wishes for a longer tele-zoom lens. Invariably, such frustrating experiences push an amateur photographer to invest in longer tele-zoom lenses.

 Far, far away -  Clockwise from Top-left: Great Tit, Indian Robin, Common Iora 

 The fence-sitter - Indian Robin 

 Beyond my grasp - Unidentified Bird 
A short distance ahead, I saw a Brahminy Starling, an Indian Robin (female) and an Ashy-crowned sparrow-lark a.k.a. Ashy-crowned finch-lark a.k.a. Black-bellied finch-lark. This was my first-ever sighting of the finch-lark and it was a huge task to get even a record shot of the bird. The bird was slightly bigger than a sparrow and it’s colour matched the colour of the ground making it difficult for the camera to detect and capture it. All the birds were busy foraging for food, seeds, insects etc. and did not pay much attention to my presence, which suited me just fine.

 Clockwise from Top-left: Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark, Brahminy Starling, Unidentified bird and Indian Robin (female)
Then came an Ashy Prinia perched on top of a plant. The bird did not appear to be in a hurry to fly away. Even though the light wasn’t ideal, I gratefully grabbed the opportunity to take some pictures from a reasonable distance. The prinia obliged with some good poses for a few minutes before it flew away.

 All the right poses - Ashy Prinia 

 Ashy Prinia 

 Ashy Prinia 
Next up was a bird perched on some dry branches. Try as I might, I simply could not get a decent shot of the bird. The bird was so well camouflaged against the brown soil, the camera simply refused to focus. Manual focus was the need of the hour, but alas my manual focusing skills were not upto par. I could not capture the details of the bird and therefore could not identify the bird. 

Lesson learnt: Learn to use Manual Mode on the camera.

 Camouflaged and Unidentified 
During frustrating times such as this, one misses the presence and expertise of an experienced guide who can conjure up birds out of nowhere and then help you with the identification as well.

Next I saw a Pipit sitting on the ground and further up was a group of plum-headed parakeets sitting on the dry branches of a tree. The parakeets were colourful with plum-coloured heads (grey in case of females), red beaks (yellow in case of females) and yellowish-green bodies. Parakeets are some of the more active and noisier inhabitants of forests and sanctuaries. These parakeets made their presence known with loud squawks.

 Loud and Colourful characters - Plum-headed Parakeets 
As I scanned the dry sanctuary, I tried to visualize how it must have appeared during happier days, with abundant water and birds in their plenty. The watch-towers were mute witnesses to the sad decline in the fortunes of the sanctuary.

 Mute witnesses to the dry spell - Watch-tower 

 Silent witnesses to the dry spell - Watch-tower 
Moving on, it was the turn of the pigeons. First came a Common Rock Pigeon followed by a pair of Laughing doves. The laughing doves were foraging for food on the ground and were wary of my presence. As I tried to slowly inch towards them they decided that they’d had enough of me and flew away. A few steps further, on one side of the bank I saw a couple of Long-tailed Shrikes and on the other side was a lone common Myna. The birds flew away as soon as I set my sight on them. My attempts at being unintrusive and unobtrusive did not appear to impress the birds much!

  Clockwise from Top-left: Unidentfied bird, Laughing Dove, Rock Pigeon & Common Myna 

 Laughing Dove 

 Long-tailed Shrike 

 Long-tailed Shrike 
Then my most photographed bird of the day made it’s appearance!

The bird was a Red-vented Bulbul, a commonly sighted bird. This particular bird was so busy preening and primping itself, that it did not mind my intrusion at all. The bird was very particular about it’s cleanliness and appearance as it cleaned it’s feathers patiently and meticulously. I clicked atleast a hundred pictures of the bird, sometimes with it’s wings spread and at other times with it’s tail feathers spread out. It was my intention to improve my photography skills and try to get sharp pictures of the bird, especially it’s eyes. It was a difficult task as the bird did not stay still even for a second. After 10-15 minutes I had my fill and moved on.

 Not camera shy at all - Red-vented Bulbul 

 Red-vented Bulbul 
As I climbed down the bank, I came across some weaver bird nests’. These nests are a wonder of nature and stand testament to the exquisite nest-building skills of the Weaver-birds. And sure enough, there was a Baya weaver (male) applying some final touches to it’s nest. I spent some time admiring these wonderful creations.

 Wonders of Nature - Weaver bird nests 

 The Master Weaver - Baya weaver (Male) 
It was getting hotter and I decided to make my way back to the sanctuary gates. On the way, I spotted a Rose-ringed parakeet sitting on a tree all by itself. I guessed it must be lonely because it was pretty quiet and against it’s nature, did not squawk at all.

 Mr. Lonely and Silent - Rose-ringed Parakeet 
I came across some more Baya weaver nests before I heard a loud buzzing sound. As I looked around for the source of the buzzing sound, I saw a Green Bee-eater with a dragon-fly caught in it’s beak. The buzzing sound came from the dragon-fly as it tried to escape. However the Green Bee-eater did not let go of it’s prey and within no time killed the dragon-fly and swallowed it. Breakfast had been served and consumed in an instant!

  Clockwise from Top-left: Unidentified bird, Baya Weaver, Green Bee-eater, Great Tit 

 Breakfast served and swallowed - Green Bee-eater 
As I exited the gates, I looked back at the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary definitely need a facelift. Hopefully in the years to follow, the area would be blessed with good rains and the sanctuary would recover.

 Waiting for the rains 
It was time to get back to Satara and then further onto Mumbai. It was with mixed feelings that I bid adieu to Mayani Bird Sanctuary.

 Country roads, Take me home 

 Star presence - Film-unit at location shoot 


 An Excavator in the Sanctuary 
In our country, forest lands are shrinking at an alarming rate. Forests are being converted into farms and industrial land to meet the ever-growing demands of the rapidly growing population. In such a grave scenario, Sanctuaries and National parks are our last line of defence against complete deforestation.

But the sanctuaries and national parks are at the mercy of Nature’s vagaries (read rains) for their survival. When the rains fail, these sanctuaries die a slow death. However, the dry sanctuaries and their resources need to be protected.

The sight of an earth excavator in the sanctuary was an unpleasant sight indeed. Hopefully the sanctuary would not be stripped of it’s valuable resources, thereby causing irreversible damage to the sanctuary

It is our collective responsibility, to make every effort possible to maintain and revive these sanctuaries. It should be our collective endeavour to conserve the environment. We owe it to the future generations.

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