Friday, March 16, 2012

Birding at Lakhari Valley Sanctuary- Part 2

Read Chapter 1

The second day was meant for doing bird watching in and around Lobarsingi beat of Lakhari. We reached the Angarbasa area near State Highway around 6 in the morning. The days trek was going to be a shorter one compared to the previous day’s trek to the Lakhari valley. Siva had planned to take us to a ravine about 3 kms into the Sanctuary where Roliba, a jungle stream flows. He was sure that despite summers, there would be some places where puddles of water would be there. That sort of place we were in search for as chances of finding some Flycatchers and Thrushes were more near the waterholes. With lot of excitement, we climbed up a small hillock. On the way Surjya narrated an incident about a Python gulping down half the body of a Goat that he had taken for grazing. It did vomit out the dead body after Surjya’s blow from a wooden log fell on its head. These are not very uncommon news in Summers in Lakhari, he said. The previous night, some of the staff had told me over dinner about frequent sightings of a big Python in Baliganda area.

Chandragiri Forest office

Our Birding route on day 2 in Lobarsingi beat

From the top of hillock that we had climbed, the sight of the Lakhari Valley against the backdrop of rising Sun was a splendid sight and forced us to sit for some time and savour down the memories. Vast stretches of forests of Lakhari has so much to offer, the rivulets, the trees, wildlife and the forests. But one basic question in the mind was making me crazy. “Jungle ama maa…..ta ra surakhya ama daitwo” meaning “Forest is my mother and its protection from all the evils is my duty” is what I had heard from one adivasi in one of the other sanctuaries that I had visited earlier. If that is the case then why our adivasis, the protector of forests are not opposing so many Timber Mafias who are on destruction mission? Rather than stopping them, why the collaboration? Why they need to move from one patch of forests to another for podhu chasa (a form of Shifting Cultivation)and collection of Mahua and be responsible for mass scale destruction of forests through forest fires in summer months? On one hand I think that it’s their genuine right to stay in forests that belongs to them and on the other hand these sort of issues that keep on destroying forests keep cropping up. And who the hail I am to even ask these questions when I myself including millions of others who are involved in crime of buying Furniture made out of Illegal Teak Wood, who have been wasting natural resources like water and oil as if it’s their birth right, who live in houses powered by burning of coal that must have been collected by mining in a god forsaken forest which I cannot even locate on map. These questions on my moral responsibility of saving nature will keep coming up now and then and every time I will have an escape route in form of some logic or the other. Sometimes I am forced to think that everyone, city dwellers as well as those adivasis living in forests are all responsible in someway for the sad plight of forests today.

In search of birds

We began our descent towards the valley and came across the patch of forest which was quite denser. On the way down we came across Rufous Woodpecker( Brown Woodpecker) which is a scarce breeding resident of Eastern Ghat, a Yellow Fronted Pied Woodpecker, Male White Rumped Shama and a couple of Jerdon Chloropsis. Roliba nullah had dried up and at some places water was present in small puddles. We asked our Siva and Surjya to have long rest as some time was needed to be spent over there. My eye fell on a nearby tree and perched atop was a Crested Goshawk. That was also my first recording of this particular specie and my happiness was evident from my face. A beautiful bird which posed perfectly for us to shoot. Sitting beside a bush in next hour or so we could record a Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher, a Verditer Flycatcher couple, a group of Red Whiskered Bulbuls, a group of Black Crested Bulbuls and some Oriental White Eyes. What a sight it was to see the mixed hunting party raiding virtually all the branches and leaves around. The whole stretch of 150 meters along the nullah that we could walk through (other parts it was inaccessible because of thick undergrowth) was echoing with calls and leading the hunting party was the group of Bulbuls. As we waited patiently for the birds, Siva was busy preparing some lime water for us which was quite touching. Getting tempted, I went to them for a chat and for a round of fresh lime water. A Malabar Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica) was busy building its nest on a nearby tree. Just was wondering that we all talk of Tiger Conservation and sanctuaries, but who will talk of these unnoticed and less important (that’s what many think)inhabitants of forests? Giant Squirrels have been getting hunted since ages and with more habitat loss, their chances of survival on longer run is a big question mark.With all focus on Tiger Sanctuaries and with some loosely made assumptions such as “ a forest’s health is measured by its Tiger population” , some of our Wildlife Experts may be missing out on the importance of these lesser known sanctuaries of India that has a major role to play in conservation of animals that are lesser fascinating. By the way I have never heard of something like “Giant Squirrel Safari” and neither will, even though Giant Squirrels population category is on a decreasing tend as per IUCN.

A perched Black Crested Bulbul

My first sighting of Crested Goshawk

Verditer Flycatcher near Roliba Rivulet

While conversation was going on, a man in his late 50s came along with some goats and was crossing the rivulet. I called him and asked if he has even seen a leopard or Tiger in the area. As per him they were there but these days they are not to be seen. When he was in his mid-thirties, one of his friends from the nearby village didn’t only see it but was involved in killing of one of them. In a month or so four to five cattle of the person being discussed were killed by a Tiger. In full rage, the villager went to Mohana, a nearby town and got some poison which he injected into the rotting carcass of one of the buffaloes. As expected, Tiger came in the night to the Kill. In couple of hours huge roaring echoed the valley to the fear of all villagers. Next morning, the Big Cat was lying dead near a bush about half a kilometre from the Kill. Never again he ever saw a Tiger in his life. The nails, teeth, skin and whiskers were sold to a local grocery shop owner for a month’s quota of rice & oil for kitchen and some bangles for wife.
We waited for another hour near the rivulet and then decided to return to the highway. The exit was at Tanglipadar which was about 3 kms away. This gave us another opportunity to walk for some more time in the forests of Lakhari and see if one last surprise was there in store. Lakhari had given us so much in just two days. So many new sightings and so much learning. But if some detailed study is carried out over a longer duration, I am sure these fine patches of forests in Eastern Ghats would reveal wonders. Same is the case with most of the Forests of Odisha. I have been trying hard to get some details on the observations made by Wildlife Experts/ Ornithologists on the bird life of Odisha, but yet to come across such documents which are restricted to few or lying in some old Government archives. A lot of work in this area has been done by experts like Dr U N Deo but it would have been a pleasure to go through them if a copy or two would have been readily available.
The last new catch for us during the trip came near Tanglipadar village. A Pale Chinned Flycatcher(Cyornis Poligenys) is what we recorded (still not sure though). And before we did hit the road, the Black Headed Oriole did cross us to express that their quite abundant in the region.

Perhaps a Pale-Chinned Flycatcher

By afternoon we were back in the Chandragiri office for Lunch. After a wonderful two days, we did want to celebrate in a small way. So we took both Siva and Surya for a lunch of superb chicken curry at a roadside dhaba. They have been so nice for last couple of days walking along with us, showing the best possible places for bird watching and caring in the best possible way possible. Lakhari Sanctuary is a place about which so less has been written. After coming to Chandragiri and moving in and around the Sanctuary, I got an opportunity to learn so much about the local issues, the hardships of both forest department as well as villagers, the wildlife, the avifauna life and about the past status of the Lakhari Sanctuary.
Lakhari Valley Sanctuary is one of the last bastions of wild animals in Southern Odisha which needs to saved at any cost and we must realise it soon. A long term realistic plan has to be drawn and when I say realistic, it means short term smaller goals have to be defined and monitored first. No point in saying on paper that in next 2 years we will completely facelift Lakhari.That will never happen and will add to the frustration. The sanctuary has its own complexities and issues which have to be respected. Right now, immediately for next couple of months we need to have more dialogue going on between the strategic villages inside and the forest department. I am not talking of JFM (which has turned out to be a failure in many of the protected areas and exist for name sake). We need to have an effort of making villagers realise that Forests and it’s Wildlife has to be protected for their secured future. It is fine if we fail in this effort but it’s well appreciated as long as we have an honest approach towards it. If carrots fail, sticks at some point have to be used. Forests of India are not birth right of any particular community or a group of villagers even if they have been staying over there since ages. If they have got so much from these forests over past decades, they also have responsibility of protecting them for future centuries.There is sustainance need of the villagers for picking up firewood or collecting Mahua and Kendu leaves. But in the name of self sustainance, how cutting of century old trees & hunting of wild animals is justified. Adding to the fuel are some of the NGOs who absolutely don’t have any stake in these forests and in the name of social upliftment and justice are spreading wrong ideas and instigating villagers ( Note: This has not been recorded when I was there in my trip and is to be confirmed. But this is the case in some other Protected Areas and hence I have assumed it to be the same for Lakhari. I may be wrong here.). Once we have this issue of villages inside Lakhari solved over next couple of years, then another goal might be drawn on the table. Burning priority is how to have control over the villages that are present in the sanctuary.
Lakhari Valley’s future is critical for Elephants of South Odisha. Man animal conflict is there in this region and Elephants once back (if at all it happens in future) will lead to a greater problem with increased human presence inside the sanctuary. Can we work towards a direction where in some of the villages are relocated outside the sanctuary? Can the valley which was known for its meadows regain its vibrant animals? These are some of the questions we need to answer right away if this pristine beauty of South Odisha needs to be saved. I would personally be happy if some more naturalists and birders can go to the place and record more flora and fauna details. I am sure Lakhari has a lot to reveal and a lot is hidden in its green valleys and undulated hills. I never thought before landing at Chandragiri, that I would be coming across Large Green Billed Malkoha, Bar Winged Flycatcher Shrike, Crested Goshawk and another 60 odd hill birds in just matter of 2 days. And not to forget the debatable pugmark of a Tiger on day one too. What more one can ask for from Lakhari ?
I sign off from Lakhari Valley Sanctuary with a huge relief that I came and covered it to my satisfaction and also got awed by its beauty and aura.


The Author would like to thank following people for all the support and motivation during his trip to Odisha:

Mr Siva and Surjya Mahakud ( Anti Poaching Staff, Chandragiri); Mr J S Mohanty ( DFO, Parlakhemundi); Mr Manoj Nair ( DFO, Sambalpur Wildlife Division); Mr K L Purohit ( Dy Director, Nandankanan, Bhubaneswar)and
Mr P K Mallick ( Director, State Medicinal Plant Board; Bhubaneswar)

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