Wanted to write the trip report of Karnala, but was late again……however, here comes a rather long mail this time…….
Once a friend of mine informed me that there are no birds in “Karnala Bird Sanctuary”…… I was taken aback by his Findings (???) ….but then could I blame him for that?.....well !! This is the perception of most of the people not in the business of birdwatching as for them there are birds in Karnala only when they see them in cages kept near the rest houses……and sure enough the cages were removed / broken with only two cages having Australian budgerigars & orange spotted cockatiels respectively that kept the visitors especially children’s amused and to believe that there are many birds in Karnala.
Karnala Bird Sanctuary however, does have plenty of wild birds owing to its rich deciduous habitat….and the Sunday outing of 6th Feb’04 organized by Bnhs gave good opportunity to explore.
Karnala is on the busy Bombay-Goa NH-17, just c12 Kms from Panvel. A beautiful Deciduous / mixed deciduous forest that spans roughly 12.11 Sq.Kms. While the forest is a paradise for birdwatchers, the fort trail is enjoyed by the Hikers that leads to the now depilated fort on the top having a prominent pinnacle, famous as the “Thump’s up” pinnacle (460 mts). However the picnickers that get attracted to this serene environment, by there “Hoopla” make a sorry picture.
There are 3 good trails for birding in Karnala (Offcourse this is my personal view, otherwise any path in the forest offers good birding)
1) Fort Trail : That leads you to the fort thro’ much climbing and muscle pumping for about 1 ½ - 2 Hrs with some treacherous climbing at the end (not recommended for the poor hearts). But is worth taking as you go thro’ different woodland types with Moist deciduous interspersed with semi-evergreen vegetation at the higher elevation and the view from the top is wonderful particularly after the monsoon with some birds like the Shahin Falcon, Common Kestrel & Crested Serpant Eagles waiting for you there.
2) Boremal Trail : This trail is on the other side of the road on the west and is also a very enjoyable trail, however I have not explored this trail much & hence do not have much to write on this.
3) Mortaka Trail : This undulating trail more or less travels parallel to the highway from inside the forest and at the base of the hill. Continuing further along this trail for about c2 ½ Kms , one reaches the NH-17 highway.
Owing to my illness I had requested Mr.Parthiv Sanghvi to come along with me just in case few members wanted to go along the fort trail that required some exertion and he was kind enough to accompany. Dr. Almieda was the resource person for the plants (A virtual encyclopaedia on the Plant kingdom) who made the trip very exciting & complete.
We took the Mortaka Trail that travels thro’ some excellent birding route and also which is less travelled by the “Rowdy Mobs” wanting to go to the fort (as there is a bifurcation from this trail that is a shortcut to go to the fort)…..
But for me the best birding patch in Karnala, as I experienced over the several visits is, from the Gate ( Road ) uptill the Rest house, a distance of merely a 100 Mts, but one should go in the early morning, before the “Time-pass public” start pouring in.And sure enough, as we reached there at 8.15 am (Still a bit late) our first bird of the day was, surprisingly a Malabar whistling Thrush that was revealed due to its metallic long drawn calls ( The whistle call that made it famous as the “idle schoolboy”, I believe is given rather when the bird is in a relax mood ??)……I have often observed several times, a strange behaviour of this bird of being very inquisitive, and would approach you very near or come out in open as if to investigate who is the intruder ….This was immediately followed by very good sightings of 4 species of sunbirds out of the possible 5 that could be found here namely the Purple Rumped , Purple, Crimson or Yellow backed and the Crimson backed or Small Sunbird ( I think Karnala would be the nearest place from Mumbai to have a sure sighting of the Small sunbird) …The bird that was left out from this clan being the Loten’s sunbird.
Well !!! we had come at the right time, as the Famous “Trio” of trees that adds the red colour to our forest and announces the approaching summer, had started blooming i.e. Red Silk Cotton, Flame of the Forest (Palash) and Indian Coral tree. One could also add, “Bonnfire” tree to these (Sorry…I only know the common names)………
With the bloom also came other species that get attracted to these, such as the Drongos, Golden & Black hooded Orioles, Golden Fronted Chloropsis, Chestnut shouldered petronias, leaf warblers, Mynas Etc…..infact we were lucky once again to observe 4 species of drongos as well out of the possible 6, namely…Ashy drongo that was looking very “Rowdy”, Greater racket tailed (only calls), common Black & the White bellied.
There are various species of trees around the 2 beautiful rest houses--Mayur & Bhardwaj. Some of them (As we learned from Dr.Almeida) are rare and on these are the equally varied and uncommon birds that can be seen….infact I would go to the extent of saying that atleast once, do not take any trail, just sit amongst these trees and you will find almost 75% of the bird species, that otherwise could be seen normally on a trail …….well !!! we spotted birds close to this number e.g. Large cuckoo shrike (Calls), Brown headed / Large Green Barbet, Racket tailed drongo, Lesser Golden Backed woodpecker, Golfronted leafbird / Chloropsis, Sunbirds, Pale billed Flower peckers, Golden Orioles, Tailor bird (Calls), Quaker babbler, Slaty headed Scimitar babbler (Calls), Greenish leaf warblers, Booted leaf warblers, Scarlet Minivet (Female – good sighting by all) & Orange headed ground thrush rummaging on the ground.
Further down the trail, we got to see a very rare plant. As Dr.Almeida informed that this climber “ Nitum ola” is the living fossil & only species in its family to be found in India and is the only flowering Gymnosperm.We were lucky to see it in flowering……..
The heat had started building up now and with the undulating terrain every body seemed to be tired…when somebody caught site of something looking like a pair of birds on a bare branch of a tree, which on close observation was identified as Green Pigeon and I was just explaining to the group that the state bird of Maharashtra is the Yellow footed Green pigeon…when suddenly it turned a bit and its brown / maroon mantle came into view….Oh !! Oh!! So they were not the Yellow legged after all, but the “Pompadour Green pigeons”. These Green birds have such a wonderful camouflage of colour that it takes some time for any birder to realise that there are so many of them on the same tree ( They are usually found in groups)..but this gave an opportunity for some revision on the state- bird, animal, tree, flower & fruit…later on we spotted them 3 more times, Plus a Black napped blue monarch & the Rose ringed parakeets.
A short break at a beautiful spot overlooking a small valley gave us some time to revise and appreciate the forest wealth…. On the return trail a Crested Serpant Eagle rose with the thermals and its typical scolding calls were heard at the background even as Dr. Almeida Sir revealed the charms of the plant kingdom with his usual ease & expertise………..
We also had a brief visit to a nearby, well maintained nursery called “Go Green” on our way back.Though there are plenty of birds out there ….
I think it is going to be tough for me to convince my friend about it unless I take him there personally for birding………………………….Till then….
Addi The Birde