September 19, 2015: Periyakallipatti, India — Harsha and I stayed last night in Val Parai at a “base camp” of the Nature Conservation Foundation, a non-governmental conservation group in India. We spent this morning birding with some NCF researchers, and it was interesting to hear about their projects.
Around Val Parai, most of the original highland wet forest has been cleared for tea plantations, but enough fragments are left to sustain elephants, ghar (a cow-like animal), leopards, bears, and lots of birds. A few years ago, a researcher working at the NCF’s Val Parai base camp was studying the scat of civets (a nocturnal, cat-like animal) and realized that it was full of seeds that would germinate. Planting some of these seeds led to a nursery program for native plants, and the NCF began to reforest patches of degraded land. Harsha pointed out one of these fragments this morning—just a few years ago it was bare ground, but already a nice forest is growing back.
Around mid-morning Harsha and I bid adieu to Val Parai and descended the east flank of the Western Ghats mountains. As we switchbacked down, the habitat quickly changed: These mountains create a rain shadow that leaves a desert to the east. The birds changed, too, and it was a productive afternoon. I saw my first wild Indian Peafowl—otherwise known as the peacock—which, because I’ve seen peacocks so many times in zoos and backyards, seemed strange to encounter in the wild.
The food in southern India, by the way, is absolutely delicious. I was served basically the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner today in different places: A banana leaf (for a plate) was piled with rice, chapati bread, and endless side dishes. When you walk into a local restaurant in southern India, they typically serve you a “full meal,” which means the waiter keeps refilling your plate with whatever you want until you tell him to stop. By the end of lunch I had 11 side dishes next to my banana leaf, each in its own little bowl, from curry to lentils to yogurt to spicy pickled limes—and the whole meal was less than a dollar! Not a spoon or fork in sight—you eat everything (even soupy curry) with your right hand. And it’s almost all vegetarian; in some Indian states it’s still illegal to slaughter a cow. All very tasty.
New birds today: 28
Year list: 4397