Thursday, September 2, 2010

Malabar monsoon magic !

No sooner than the monsoon had set in, the team was gearing up for the long awaited dream expedition of this season – the hottest biodiversity region of the state … Amboli. The excitement was prevailing all throughout…

With the camera in hand, I have always captured nature in frames as I saw it… Amboli proved to be adding a touch of maturity to my passion and this one was going to be my first such photo expedition, which was specifically planned with a definite agenda – the venomous Malabar pit viper – the star attraction of Amboli.

Aptly called Maharashtra’s Cherapunji – this place, situated deep within the dense foliage of the Sahyadris range in the southern most portion of Maharashtra exhibits the highest rainfall to the tune of 7446 mm. An amazingly calm and serene atmosphere of this place has still not seen the ugly face of commercialization. With the exotic lesser fauna, eye catching waterfalls, greenery spread upto the horizon, play of wind with clouds and densely packed fog in the woods with a surrounding silent and calm atmosphere and mouth watering Konkani food – one is bound to feel out of the world during his stay in Amboli.

The first glimpse of the forest mesmerizes with a typical picture of a mystic rainforest with tall trees and their whispering canopies, creepers and climbers, with intertwining branches of trees with mosses hanging down and most of times made even more mysterious by the dense fog packed above the forest floor. Every corner of the forest is alive, below every little leaf, behind every dried bark and under every soaked rock, there is a life vibrating. The mystery unfolds at night. Croaking of frogs from all sides, fire flies dance in front of you… you are in absolute darkness with that torch in your hand and constant shrill call of some unknown insect from deep within the forest bed and suddenly you realize – there are hundreds and thousands of leeches under your feet.

Amboli was developed as a hill station by a British political agent, Col. Westrop, who chose this location in the Vengurla – Belgaum state highway no. 112 situated in the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra. Extremely rich herpetofauna, wild flowers and birds make this place a dream destination for any naturalist. I was speechless as I witnessed the parental care in the insect world for the very first time. Below every little rain soaked rock piece was a life vibrating – I was enjoying every moment of it.

Racko was one of the major agenda - Malabar gliding frog (Rhacophorus malabaricus). It was not easy for novices like us to look for this small creature in such a dense and huge forest. So obviously the rescue was to contact Mr Hemant Ogale, the famous naturalist and undoubtedly the one point resource person in Amboli for all visitors… a pleasant welcome to his farm and a glimpse of the nesting Racko kept me dreaming for the rest of the night. The Racko were nesting in the tree just in front of his house… it wasn’t possible to get a better image of it at 8 pm but I was content with whatever I could see through my eyes.

The forest is thickly populated with variety of snakes. Although we had not been lucky enough to see too many of them but we were kept busy by atleast a few of them and I must thank Adesh wholeheartedly for the sightings. The green Vine snake is a slender, green and handsome guy – about 2 cm thick, and may have a length of about 1.5 to 2 meters. Its tail is long and very delicate, mostly used to hold on the branches while reaching for prey. A fantastic aerodynamically-shaped head is quite eye catching. The green vine snake follows its prey from higher branches of the trees and tries to smell it carefully. It bites into the head if it finds a suitable prey and lifts it approximately 20-40 cm from the ground thus leaving it helpless and unable to use its strength. The toxic saliva then penetrates the wounds and immobilizes the prey.

Two days had passed and we were yet to sight the star performer – the venomous Malabar pit viper. Malabar pit vipers are nocturnal creatures and mostly lie inactive during the day either basking on some rock piece or in some small tree branch near some water collections. It was raining and I was worrying about the amount of rain water that might have gone in my camera during the over enthusiastic approach towards the vine snake out of excitement… and suddenly …. Adesh called – “hey … Malabar Pit Viper”! Oh it was so heavily camouflaged, wouldn’t have been possible to trace without an expert eye like his.

Mainly found in the South Western India, Malabar Pitviper is a venomous snake – normal timid and slow but capable of striking with unexpected fastness. However, unless disturbed, they are so cute creatures. We went to an amazingly close distance and it didn’t bother a bit. Later, as the group gathered to get a closer view of it, perhaps disturbed by the unwanted crowd it slowly moved its way towards the denser foliage. I was happy I could capture a few close shot of it, would have been happier with a different background though…. as I feared - my camera conked off due to the water that had gone in.

I was left with no option but to see the creature as much as I could till it vanished in the woods… they say there is always a next time…. and that all the more confirmed my second visit to Amboli for sure.

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