One thing I like the most about Winter apart from beautiful sunsets and wearing hoodies is the cold winter mornings. Most wouldn’t prefer to leave the warm, cozy blanket and get out of their houses on winter mornings, it’s the same story on my side. I make plans at night and in the morning at 4.30 am, I honestly feel like cancelling them all and just sleep under the warm blanket. But no, I beat this laziness for something better that’s ahead! I get ready real quick, have a warm cup of coffee and leave the house for an outing at around 5 am, somewhere in the woods or mountains or grasslands or maybe a combination of all! The early hours are really very chilled and it’s completely dark around. But after sometime, there’s some light in the sky and the birds around start chirping. You see the beautiful mountains ahead, a single road leading you towards them, fields, grasslands all around. The sky keeps on getting brighter. The environment is still cold, but now it seems to be pleasant. You get out of your vehicle and walk towards a small quarry by the road. The place is surrounded by distant mountains from all sides. To the right of the quarry are small birds like weavers, buntings, flowerpeckers playing around. You walk towards the right to click some photos when a Pied-crested Cuckoo appears out of nowhere.
(1) Baya Weaver female basking in the morning light, (2) A Green Bee-eater against the mountains to the left of the quarry, (3) Three Green Bee-eaters who were fluttering around, (4) A lone Wooly necked Stork resting on a tree against the distant mountains in front of the quarry in the cold morning temperature, (5) A scape of the same Wooly necked Stork
All the birds are fluttering around, singing and dancing in the cool environment when suddenly, the sun just peeks from behind the mountains at the back. You turn around to see rays of orange falling on your eyes, the environment suddenly becomes warm, though it’s cool at the same time. The leaves of trees glittering like gold, the orange-yellow-blue sky attracting you like never before, you take a deep breath to feel the freshness in the air. A Silver Cocks-comb flower in front of you, by the quarry shining in the golden light as if it’s wearing a golden coat around its petals, the rays of the sun passing through the small gaps! Such a pleasing view. There are some moments that you cannot describe in words however hard you try, those moments that you truly cannot forget in your lifetime, this was one of those. I tried to get a good frame of that moment in my camera, but the best one is framed in my mind. Lots of memories attached to this picture, the golden, shining Silver Cocks-comb flower I was talking about.
The Silver Cocks-comb flower (Celosia argentea) to the left of the quarry against the first rays of the Sun for the day
This is the beauty of the Western Ghats of India. I’m gonna take you on a journey, a usual Sunday morning outing at a place in the Western Ghats at the outskirts of Pune city, in this blog. You just have to do one thing, just imagine everything, every single word. Try to create an image in your mind.
Spending around half an hour along the quarry in the warm light and the company of small birds joyously singing around welcoming the new day, it’s time to move further and explore. The sun rising steadily. A single road leading us to the mountains, the place surrounded by fields and grasslands and the Western Ghats from all sides. We are headed straight along the path, scanning the habitat, inspecting signs of bird activity. We see a variety of birds like the Yellow footed Green Pigeon, Black Winged Kite on our way to the Ghat section. The terrain changes as soon as we start scaling the Ghat. It’s a single path, a wall of huge mountains to the right and a steep valley to the left. We arrive at a patch where the valley view to the left is partially covered by trees, allowing only a few gaps for the sunlight to penetrate. The area is cold and in the dark under the shadow of the mountain wall and the trees. We can see a bright lighted patch at a distance where the road curves. But surprisingly, there is a lot of bird activity in this shadow region than the bright patch in the front. Birds like the Blue Rock Thrush, Robbins, Bushchats taking positions on the rocks of the Mountain Wall, on small shrubs and crevices, where the penetrating light rays fall. That’s when I saw this White Breasted Kingfisher on a dry tree, positioned just in that one ray of sunshine, giving me this dramatic photo. What a wonderful sight it was.
(1) The White breasted Kingfisher positioned in that one ray of sunshine, (2-3) Yellow Footed Green Pigeons perched on a tree on at the edge of the mountain against the valley
Moving on further, you reach at the topmost point of the mountains from where the view is incredible. You yourself are on the edge of a high mountain and all that you see around for miles is just tall mountains. The scenery changes every season. Being a deciduous forest region, the mountains are all dry and pale yellow during the Summers. But the scape changes drastically in the monsoons, when you cannot get enough of these tall lush green mountains on all the sides with a dramatic cloud game. It is so beautiful. This place in the monsoons feels absolutely fresh and lovely. Post the monsoon season, in around December, the tall grass covered mountains slowly start turning dry. They’re still green, but not as bright as they were. But they’re covered in lovely flowers all over them, an after effect of the monsoons. By the time April comes, the scape is yellow again, thus completing the yearly cycle.
View from the topmost point, in Summer vs Rainy seasons (Photos by my friend Viren Narvekar)
After getting a sufficient dose of the wonderful scenery from the view point, you start descending towards the land on the other side of the pass. Various birds of prey like the Crested Serpent Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Short Toed Snake Eagle and the guest of the monsoons, the majestic Black Eagle accompany you through-out the 10-15 minutes downhill journey.
(1) Crested Hawk Eagle of Pabe, (2) The guest of the monsoons, The Black Eagle accompanying us on the downhill journey, (3) The Downhill road- the mountains on the right side of the photo are just next to the ‘Pabe view point’
While exploring the land on the other side which again is surrounded by fields and grasslands on all sides, you come across a bird perched on a thorny Acacia plant in a field right next to the road. You identify it as a White-eyed Buzzard, but its not very close to the road to get a good photo. Which means, you either have to ignore it and move on, or get down and approach. Now approaching the bird here is not easy as the field is flat with no trees or shrubs for you to hide while approaching the bird. Which also means that you will be completely exposed and the bird would see you coming. But suddenly, your friend notices a deep trench in the land through which you could slowly, quietly get close to the bird without it noticing. And you do exactly the same, get close enough to the bird through the trench till you could see it clearly. Now after clicking some photos from this spot, the only options you have are to approach the bird in the open because you’re at the end of the trench. But now you’ll have to approach it from an even closer distance than earlier. Or you could return back. What would you do?
Well, we took our chance and decided to steadily approach the bird in the open. We took a lot of time, moving steadily like an earthworm. The bird gained enough confidence in us and stayed. At a point, we decided to stop and give the bird its space. We clicked some photos from that spot and returned to our vehicle. This was a very cool approach to a bird of prey.
Photos of the White-eyed buzzard clicked from the open land after the trench
It was a fun outing. We traced our path back towards home. But one last stop in between to visit the Master of Camouflage.
We halted at a random quarry, not the first one, this one was different. We picked up the binoculars and started scanning the stone walls of the quarry. And there he was, covered in dry grass, resting in the shade along the wall peacefully. The Rock Eagle Owl or the Indian Eagle Owl. Lapwings and egrets were sitting on rocky islands in the lake of the quarry, totally unaware of his presence. Even Pigeons and Mynas were sitting on the quarry walls completely clueless. Such is the magical camouflage of this surprisingly huge bird(19-22 inches). Spotting this bird isn’t easy, but when you do, the happiness and excitement is ineffable.
The outing had paid off!
The Eagle Owl covered in dry grass, resting in the shade along the walls of the quarry. It’s there in all these pictures, the question is, can you see it?
This place in the Western Ghats is beautiful. It is so close to the city, yet feels like a different world altogether. The Wildlife here is very rich and you never know what you’ll see. This was just one short morning outing out of the many. Cannot wait to go back to this place post COVID-19, I’ve already missed the Summer here this season. Hope I don’t miss the monsoons.