Monday, February 27, 2006

Olive Ridley Turtles & Irrawady Dolphins

I am just back from a short but hectic trip to Rushikulya rookery and Chilika lake in Orissa. Vasant J. Sheth Memorial Foundation, the NGO wihich I work for, has sponsored a Sea Turtle Interpretation Centre at Rushikulya beach, near village Purnabandha in Ganjam district of Orissa. Rushikulya is one of the largest sea turtle rookery in the country apart from Gahirmatha and Devi river mouth in Orissa. Our Foundation supports the efforts of the local conservation group Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee which has been doing excellent work in protecting the sea turtle nests, eggs and hatchlings since many years. Mr. Rabindranath Sahu and other volunteers of this group are instrumental in the protection work.

'WOW' is only expression I had on my face after being witness to the mass nesting (arribada in local language) of Olive Ridley Turtles . All the sunburns I got due to excessive road travelling on a two-wheeler in 42 deg. C was all worth it. From Feb 16th to Feb 24th, more than 1,40,000 Olive Ridleys have layed eggs on the Rushikulya beach. As I stood on the beach at night, turtles came out from the sea, crawling apparently with great efforts, reaching beyond the hightide mark and digging the pits with their flippers to lay a clutch of around 120 eggs. All this in a span of 60-min. The experience of watching these giant 60-kg creatures sitting right next to them was simply awesome. The mornings I spent on motorised dinghi (a small boat) watching the turtles swimming in the sea, occasionally coming up on the surface to breathe and then diving back in to the emerald green waters. The entire episode was right out of a National Geographic film!

I also spent a couple of days in Chilika lake, the largest brackish water lagoon along in the country and a Ramsar Site. Though didn't get enough time for birding, could manage just about two boat rounds in the lake. The round at Satapada was a memorable one since I saw around 7-8 Irrawady Dolphins playfully swimming in the lake, occasionally jumping and blowing air with 'puffff' sound.

The mass hatching will take place sometime in the first week of April 2006. Those who can plan a trip here may do so during this period.

Best wishes,
Kedar Gore
Goregaon (E),

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Virapuram - an amazing village of Painted Storks!

We were on a trip to Lepakshi yesterday (25 February 2006), a little known temple in Andhra Pradesh just along the border of Karnataka. We approached the place from Bangalore-Bellary highway, turned westwards on Hindupur Road after Bagepally, which took us to Lepakshi village and the temple. Total distance from Bangalore is 120 km. It is a beautiful temple complex (Vijayanagara period i.e. 14 to 16 century AD) with sculptures and fresco painting, and also the largest monolithic Nandi bull. Incidently, the Shiva (Virabhadreshawar) temple is dedicated to Jatayu, the legendary bird (perhaps a Vulture) from Ramayan.

As we were turning on Hindupur road after Bagepally, a sculpture at the junction attracted our attention. It is a beautiful sculpture of a Painted Storks pair on a nest with egg / chick. While photogrphing the sculpture, we discovered that it was showing a direction to the village called Virapuram (13km from the junction) which is supposed to have a large colony of Painted Storks. That shifted our attention from our main destination of Lepakshi and we decided to visit this Painted Storks village first. After proceeding for about 3 km, we found another beautiful sculpture of Painted Storks, at the junction directing us to Virapuram. Virapuram village is located at the base of a rocky/bouldary hill range. There are a few waterbodies nearby and we could see large number of Painted Storks flying in the sky. It was not difficult to locate the village and the colonies of Painted Storks. The villagers were very happy to tell us about the Painted Storks and lead us to the groves of T

The entire village landscape is dominated by Painted Storks. They are nesting on almost all trees - big and small. Mainly on Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) and Ashwattha (Ficua religiosa) trees. We counted 46 nests on one big Ashwattha tree and 27 nests on one small Tamarind tree. On an average there should be about 40 nests per a big tree, and there are over 30 such trees in the village. Our very rough estimate (on lower side) tells us that there are over 1200 active nests in the village at present. The eggs seem to have been laid in most of the nests and the birds are incubating them. A few birds are still making the nests. The chicks should be out around end March / April. The birds are well habituated of human presence and they seem to be not bothered of anyone. They seem to be confident about their safety in this village.

This was an amazing experience for us. We had never heard about this village of Painted Storks before. This is very similar to Kokarebellur of Pelicans. We wish to know more about this colony and its history/records etc. from the naturalists in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and also from the AP - forest dept.

We do not know who had erected those Painted Storks sculptures. We really appreciate and commend that effort. The sculptures are bigger than life size and they are very beautiful, proportionate, realistic and located at vantage positions. Whosover is the artist, deserves credit for her artistic abilities and also for the love of nature.

Best wishes
Prof. Ulhas Rane