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25 May 2007 @ 07:01 pm
Broad-tailed Grassbird  
Early last week, I spent a couple of days in the Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary in a quest to find and photograph an enigmatic bird species - the Broad-tailed Grassbird. It is a sparrow-sized Passerine which lives in mountain grasslands and is rarely seen or heard since it is very secretive and moves around in the grass like a rodent. At least, that's what many believe, but it is more or less a mystery.

Just before the monsoons hit the western ghats, these birds breed and that's the best time to actually see them. The males come out and sit on open perches and sing away, claiming territory and showing domination. Dr. Subramanya, who had seen these birds last year in the Brahmagiri mountains wanted someone to go with him to take photographs of this elusive species and somehow, I got the opportunity to travel with him. Shyamal, another expert in ornithology and entomology, was joining us as well. So, on Monday morning we set out to Brahmagiri on a little expedition to find a little a bird.

We reached Irupu falls, situated at the base of the hills just before noon and soon we began the trek towards the rest house which was about five kilometers from the falls. The steep climb made it extremely difficult for me since I was carrying a heavy bag full of camera gear and another one with the sleeping bag and clothes. However, walking in a beautiful forest is never too difficult since there is so much to see and listen to all around. And that trek was even better because of the wealth of knowledge that Subbu and Shyamal had from birds, to insects to orchids.

As usual, food in the forests always tastes better - mostly because you've put in so much physical effort by the time it is served to you. Post lunch, we set out to the grasslands just beyond the shola to look for our grassbirds. A kilometer from the guesthouse, we heard the first one and soon saw on sitting out on an open perch and singing away. I immediately got to work and started to stalk these birds in an effort to get close enough to them to get a decent photograph. The birds were extremely wary of our presence and any attempt to get close to them would result in them diving into the grass and just disappearing from the scene. The first few attempts resulted in decent documentation shots of the birds. With light fading, we decided to walk back to the rest house.

The next morning was windy and foggy - just like it always seems to be when I am trying to do some photography in the wild of late. And during the brief intervals of brilliant sunshine, the birds sometimes used to come out and sit in the open. Hours of running around, hiding behind the bushes and crawling behind the birds yielded a few more photographs, but nothing great really. And then, we were all set to go back to camp for breakfast when a bird popped out of the bush and started singing. I knew that this was the best chance I would have with the fog now gone and the last chance with the soft morning light and I went for it. The hundred odd yards uphill towards the bird was mostly covered by running behind a large bush which blocked the bird's view and then the last twenty-thirty yards was covered mostly by almost crawling in the grassland. Thankfully, the bird was still sitting on its perch perch and singing. Now, it was time to get out of the bush and point my camera at it - always the most difficult part of photographing birds. I knew I had to do it quickly and as soon as I had three shots, the bird took off. The photographs turned out to be good enough though. It is always fantastic feeling to get a shot the you wanted after putting in hours of effort.

The Grasslands of Western Ghats. Typical habitat of the grassbird.

A shola forest on the edge of the grassland.

The light played games with us, working with the wind and the fog.

And this is how it is inside a typical shola forest. Just spectacular.

The sun rises over the Brahmagiris

The first photographs were like this, a bit too far but still good enough to identify the bird

That's how they perch when calling out and claiming territory.

A typical display flight of this bird

Ah! Finally I can get close enough to one of them. Notice the broad tail!

... and another one which allows me to get close enough

Shyamal trying to take a photograph of the beautiful forest

Dr. Subbu trying to record the bird call

Amoghavarshaamoghavarsha on May 25th, 2007 10:44 am (UTC)
Congrats on the shots. And a beautiful walk-through that was.
Shivakumar: At Workshivakumar_l on May 25th, 2007 11:55 am (UTC)
beautiful set of images and a walkthough -- the broad tailed grass bird images are awesome -- some of the best shots of the species that i have come acorss. you might want to put it into OBP also. the place too looks so surreal.
(Anonymous) on May 25th, 2007 12:05 pm (UTC)
hi yathin,
i've been a lurker on your LJ for sometime now. i enjoy reading your accounts and looking at your pictures.
this is just to say how much i appreciate your efforts!

Jayseakaredpirk on May 25th, 2007 12:21 pm (UTC)
im impressed!! great shots..you deserved it after all that waiting!
Anush Shettyanushsh on May 25th, 2007 01:21 pm (UTC)
Wow.. beautiful shots. And a wonderful post too.
ex_neke on May 25th, 2007 06:28 pm (UTC)
These pictures are breathtaking. Thanks for sharing. :)
Premnath Kudvapremkudva on May 26th, 2007 12:09 am (UTC)
That flight photo was awesome. Shyamal is trying to take a photo with a point'n'click?
Yathinyathin on May 26th, 2007 11:43 am (UTC)
Yep he's shooting with a p&s.
ashbirderashbirder on May 26th, 2007 12:13 am (UTC)
cool :D
Ruth: Looking Leftlaruth on May 26th, 2007 07:28 am (UTC)
Beautiful shots! I love how green everything is.
Preethifiveonehalf on May 27th, 2007 05:37 am (UTC)
Beautiful shots!
(Anonymous) on May 27th, 2007 11:53 pm (UTC)
Great pictures
Awesome image showing the Broadtailed grassbird and also its home. Great work man.

(Anonymous) on May 28th, 2007 11:57 am (UTC)
Nice work!
Interesting read. Very nice pictures too. I spent my childhood in the Nilgiris and your pics did get me nostalgic.
(Anonymous) on June 25th, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
Amazing snaps friend!!!!!!!!