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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Elephants Galore! Mudumalai National Park and Mysore Dasara Parade

Sylvie shares... In the jungle, I DID see wild elephants! I even rode them in the jungle National Park for about a half hour. there was a special stairs that you climb up on them, and then step off the edge up on to the elephant. You sit in like a pad, sort of like a square donut for the elephants backbone, and on top of that is a floor with short walls out of metal bars. Sort of like a railing. You sit there and hang your feet off the edge. The driver sits on the elephants neck, and puts his feet on the elephant's ear and pushes one the left or right ear to steer the elephant.

After the jungle place, we went to Mysore. That's a big town with a huuuge palace for the mararjah. He doesn't live there anymore. We went there to see the big parade for the Dasara Festival. We had to go real early to get a seat on some stone stairs by the side of the road. Daddy bought grass mats to sit on, and also snacks to eat and cool drinks. It was pretty hot waiting in the sun. We had to sit for five hours, and after one or two hours is was SO crowded. People were walking on our grass mats to get by, and people across the street were sitting, standing, laying down... Lots of people were up in a tree, on a roof, and lots of people were standing in the back of trucks.

At the parade, the first thing we saw was a mommy dog with big nipples running back and forth on the street. Everyone cheered when it went by, because we were all waiting for sooooo long for the parade to start. When the real parade came, the first thing was 2 big flags with a bunch of men to lift it up.

After that came the big decorated elephants. They even had cloth over there back, and they had painted decorations on their faces, legs, butts, tails, and everywhere! There was a colorful seat on their back, and also big red umbrellas on tall sticks. The person sitting on the back had to hold the umbrella so it wouldn't fall, and the other guy was sitting on the elephant's neck steering it...

There were also drummers, dancers and acrobats, and big "float things" on trucks that went by. Not the sitting part, but the parade part, lasted for about 2 hours. It was pretty cool. It was worth it to sit all that hot time waiting for it to start. There was also a guy dressed up like a demon monster, and he was drinking gasoline and spitting out fire!

The last big thing were the best elephants, and the biggest one had a golden thing on it's back. It's called a "howdah", and that's the throne thing that the kind used to sit in when he wanted to go out riding his elephants. Now he's not really the maharaja anymore, so they put a statue of Chaumundi in the howdah instead. She's a goddess that's important for this holiday festival. Daddy's gonna tell more about that stuff later... So that's what we saw with elephants in the parade and jungle.
.............-by Sylvie

Now it's Eliza's turn --
We just were on a 10 day vacation! -- First we went on a sleeper car,and in the middle of the night we got off the train at a place called Salem Junction. It was very stinky because people pee'd on the track! We called it Stinky Junction. We were so tired, and we had to sit in metal chairs until the next train came at 2:00am. Finally we got on the train, slept in bunk beds, and got to a place near Oooty.

Oooty is a cold place up in the mountains where they grow tea and coffee. To get there we rode on a slow steam train up the mountains. The train was about 150 years old, and the engine looked a lot like the one parked in El Portal! Finally we got to Oooty, and stayed at a guest house with a fireplace. We played "bird nest" in the nice beds (while dad was trying to nap!). We visited a small amusement called Jolly World that Lupin LOVED.... At Jolly World the best things were the bouncy Titanic ship slide, and also the big "boat swing" that went SO high up! Sylvie made a fish face on it, and held on sooo tight!

Next day we took a bus, but it was too crowded. Right when it came, everyone was throwing their suitcases into open windows to save a seat. So my Dad and Mom threw ME into a window too! My sisters also got pushed in through a window, and sat in a row behind me. This whole time Dad was trying to push his way on... he couldn't fit through the window! Then everyone was crowding on, and a guy almost sat on ME. My dad argued with him, then I switched to sit on my Mom's lap. During the ride a lady pretty much was sitting on me and my Mom's lap. She was stinky, but it was OK....

That bus got us to a jungle national park called Mudumalai, where we stayed for 3 days. In the night, out the window, we saw herds of spotted deer. They stayed each night by the lights of the hotel, so they would be safer from Tigers and Leopards! By our hotel there were SO many monkeys. It was so cute because the little babies would cling to their Mom's chest while she ran and climbed. Once, a guy came up by our hotel room, and started feeding corn to the monkeys. That made all of them stay around our room, and sometimes a monkey would try to come INSIDE our hotel room! My mom had to hit one once with a book to chase it back outside! One sat on our windowsill, and kept reaching in to try to get food, so Sylvie and I would run into the bathroom. We were scared they would bite us, and we'd then have to get 5 rabies shots.

The animals we saw there were: one leopard, one mongoose, many herds of wild forest elephants, lots of herds of spotted deer, a few herds of wild bison, SOOO many monkeys, real wild peacocks pea-hens and pea-chicks, some wild boar, and so many colorful birds like blue-tailed parrots, green parakeets, blue rollers, blue kingfishers, and others. Mom made a list of about the 50 different kinds of birds we saw.

Most days we took at least one Jeep ride through the jungle. We didn't have any seatbelts, and we got to stand up and look out of the roof bars! That way we could spot wild animals better. Once we also took a half-hour elephant ride, and mostly saw birds.

There was also an elephant camp, where they feed the riding elephants and take care of sick ones. They also had an orphaned baby elephant that would always stick it's trunk through the window. Once it almost shook my hand with it's trunk! It was SO cute! It's trunk was a little wet and ticklish.

Then we drove to Mysore to see the famous royal palace parade. There were elephants dressed up in costumes, one special elephant with a golden howdah (throne) on it, and a guy that spit out fire. there were lots of acrobats, musicians, drummers, and dancers. It was the best parade I ever saw, but the one sad thing was they showed how silk was made on one float. They get the silkworms, then put the coccoons in boiling water. It kills the little silkies, and then they unravel the silk cocoon thread. Isnt' that sad?

Now we took a bus back to Bangalore. Today we went to a park with some new friends from New Hampshire. There was a huge flying boat ride, a peacock train, and a merry go round too. They just left for an overnight train ride back to Hyderabad (where they live), but it was fun having them here. They had a boy who is Lupin's age, so they ran around a lot screaming together! Eliza

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Unit Tests at KVMEG

The last 2 weeks have been busy and exhausting for Paul... That's why we've had a huge gap in blogging entries! Many many exams to grade, and this has taken up most of his time. Just for fun, Sylvie also got a major viral fever, and shared it with tired Daddy who stays up too late each night grading papers... So we've had illness to deal with too. More later on EXAMS in India....

The Princess's Riding School

2 weeks ago we started taking private horse-riding lessons at the Princess Acadamy Riding School. It was really fun, because I got to "trot" on the first day! We bought our own riding helmets, and now, every Saturday after school, we change into jeans, get into a rickshaw, and drive to the "Palace Grounds." It's on the palace grounds, because all of the horses are owned by the Princess of Mysore who actually lives in Bangalore, not Mysore. We haven't met her, but I hope I do someday. Each Saturday we also get to see two other girls, Darcy and Sylvie, who are also taking lessons. It pretty cool that Darcy is my age, and Sylvie is about Sylvie's age.... Also, how many Sylvies have we ever met? None... but here's one in Bangalore! They are from Holland, the UK and Canada... sort of. They move around alot.

All of my horse instructors are very nice. The main guy is named Munawar, and another nice teacher is Bobbin who is from Darjeeling. When I ride the instructors show me how to push "up-down-up-down," which is called posting... I think.... I also have to work on keeping my back straight, holding the reins a different way than in America. We are riding on English saddles, which feels a little more "out and loose" so you have to balance better. Western saddles "hold you on" more, and are a little easier. Also the saddles here do not have a horn, so you just need to hold the reins and balance.

My instructor holds my horse on a lead rope, and I trot around him in circles. Sometimes I go faster or slower, and even "canter" for a little bit. When that happens, I feel really excited! But I also feel a bit tired, when I'm posting for so long. Soon I'm hoping to do what Darcy does, which is to trot without a lead rope, anywhere she wants in the corral. She's been riding for much longer than me.

Some of the horses are a special kind called a Marwari Horse. They have ears that curl in at the tips. We feel pretty lucky to ride them, because they only live in certain parts of India, and are a pretty rare type. If you are interested, here are a few links about Marwari Horses (#1, #2, #3) from Adonia and Uncle Kook.

I get to ride for about 30 minutes each time, and I REALLY love it!!! This is one of the things that I'll probably miss the most when I go home to El Portal.

-by Eliza

Our Bangalore BIRD LIST - updated Nov.30th

Amazing Bird Photos (by my talented Bangalore naturalist friends)

If you want a hint of an idea about what city birding is like here, these links are for you! I am not a photographer, but I like to travel in flocks of them…

Red-whiskered Bulbul in the Rain (video)

Cormorant at Sankey Tank (video)

Large Pied Wagtail Singing in the City

Sunbird Takeoff!

Red-vented Bulbul

Asian Paradise Flycatcher

Cool Moth

Nilgiri Wood Pigeon

Brahminy Kites

Mottled Wood Owl

A friend’s account of our birding family

Amazing animal photos – check out the birds

Butterfly from near Bangalore

Tortoiseshell Beetle Sylvie spotted

Kids on Birding Trip (video)

Ashy Drongo

Odonata Beauty

After the Birds...Dosas!

These are some of the folks I have been so fortunate to meet and learn from. They have taught me about birds and other creatures, but also have shown me how passionate people here can be about the other beings they share this chunk of land with. Wow…I am so lucky! They are really fun too by the way.

Bird Sightings…In Order of Appearance

Most of these birds, unless otherwise noted, have been seen right here in and near Bangalore!! The number and variety of bird species surprised me at first, just because of the size and busyness of this metropolis. But Bangalore has many parks and reservoirs as well as some really beautiful and sizeable city parks. Fortunate, blessed…I am feeling so lucky that I have the time and the places to get to know some of the most intriguing and beautiful beings on Earth! Am having weekly romances with the winter residents who are flying in at intervals, city hoppin’ at just my speed. Also thrilling is the fact that I have met some really cool friends to share my passion for these lovely critters with, and to help me to know their good names. So, I have listed the birds in order of the first time I spotted them, trying not to get too wordy, but if anyone has anything more detailed to say or ask about this list, please do!

In and around Bangalore -- September 2007

Indian Grey Hornbill -wex

White-throated Kingfisher (usually pr), C

House Swift

Spotted Owlet -jrc

Spotted Dove -C

Rock Pigeon-C

Brahminy Kite

Black Kite -U

Great Cormorant

Little Egret - C

Black-crowned Night Heron

House Crow –C

Large-Crow -C

Oriental Magpie robin -C

Common Myna -U

White-browed Wagrail -C

Yellow Wagtail

House Sparrow

White-cheeked Barbet

Purple-rumped Sunbird -wex

White-breasted Waterhen

Red-whiskered Bulbul

Greater Coucal

Purple Swamphen -C

Common Moorhen

Little Cormorant

Purple Heron

Common Tailorbird -jrc

Indian Pond Heron-C

Grey Heron

Great Tit -fl

Little Grebe -jrc

Pied Kingfisher -wex

Spotbill Ducks

Common Sandpipers

Common Coots

Ashy Prinia -jrc

Common Kingfisher -jrc

Purple Sunbird -wex

Red-wattled Lapwing

Ashy Drongo -jrc

Loten’s Sunbird –m, f, nest, wex

Brown Shrike -wex

Black-headed Ibis -wex

Eurasian Marsh Harrier -wex

Whiskered Tern -wex

Pale-billed Flowerpecker –jrc

Red-Vented Bulbul-jrc

Coppersmith Barbet-jrrc

Jungle Myna-C

Pariah Kite

Garganey- fl

Grey Wagtail

Pied Bushchat


Bannerghatta National ParkSouth Bangalore – early October

Rusty rumped chicken-heh

Ashy Drongos

Red-rumped Swallow

Common Iora

Asian Paradise Flycatcher-f, wex fer sure!!

Green Bee-eater-wex

Scaly-breasted Munia-m, f, jrc

Zitting Cisticola-jrc

Indian Silverbill-jrc

Red-collared Dove


Mudumalai National Park….. mid October

Bay-backed Shrike

Brahminy Starling-C

Jungle Babbler

Black Drongos-C

Plum-headed Parakeet-wex

Long-tailed Shrike-C

Black-rumped Flameback-wex (it’s a woodpecker!)

Blue-faced Malkoha-way wex

Jerdon’s Bushlark

Yellow-eyed Babbler

Yellow-footed Green Pigeon-wex

Small Minivet-m, f, WEX (Color of alpenglow!)

Malabar Parakeet-wex

Bar-winged Cuckooshrike-m, jrc

Common Flameback-m, wex

White-throated Fantail-jrc

Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike-jrc

Plain Flowerpecker

White-bellied Woodpecker-m, f, WEX

Scarlet Minivet-m, f, WEXX (This color is unreal)

Black Ibis-m, f, jrc

Great Bittern-jrc

Nilgiri Laughingthrush-jrc

Yellow-billed Babbler

Pacific Swallow

Wire-tailed Swallow

White-bellied Shortwing

Nilgiri Flycatcher-wex

Eurasian Blackbird

Nilgiri Wood Pigeon-jrc

Grey Francolin-jrc

Jungle Bush Quail (no political affiliation)

Indian Peafowl-(amazing to see these in the wild!)


Indian Roller-wex (this one’s got the Blues down! I mean color!)

Grey Nightjar


Black-hooded Oriole-jrc

Bronzed Drongo

Indian Robin-m, f

Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch-jrc

Oriental White-eye

Back Around Bangalore

Black-headed cuckooshrike-wex

Barn Owl-wex

Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark – jrc

Coppersmith Barbet – jrc

Rufous Treepie – wex (Paul spotted this one!)

Laughing Dove

Plain Prinia

White-browed Bulbul

Oriental Honey Buzzard – jrc

Mottled Wood Owl – pr, WAY wex

Asian Brown Flycatcher

Black-shouldered Kite

Green Sandpiper

Caspian Tern (Malpe Beach; Arabian Sea)

Golden-fronted Leafbird (Manipal –coastal forest)

Malabar Whistling Thrush – Manipal – wex song!!

Spot-billed Pelican – fl

Intermediate Egret

Baya Weaver

Greenish Warbler

Nandi Hills (55 km north of Bangalore about 4000’ above mean sea level…Bangalore is 3000’) Nov. 25, 2007

Indian Blue Robin

Asian Paradise Flycatcher (I know that I‘ve listed this one, but it was a big day for sightings of m, f, and Eliza was turned on to birding because of this bird! – wex all around!)

Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher – jrc

Booted Eagle – jrc

Egyptian Vulture

Common Kestrel – f, jrc

Dusky Crag Martin

Alpine Swift

Barn Swallow

Green Leaf Warbler

Spotted Babbler (Puff-Throated Babbler) – jrc

Rufous-bellied Babbler – pr, jrc

Red-throated Flycatcher – jrc

Blue-capped Rock Thrush

Pied Thrush – wex

Grey Junglefowl

Blyth’s Reed Warbler

*Karen’s subjective key to abbrev’s: common-C, ubiquitous- U, wildly exciting and relatively rare for me to see- wex, male-m, female-f, juvenile-j, pair-pr, flock-fl, just really cool – jrc

Sunday the 25th of November is a day I will remember so fondly. Not simply because I got to continue to live out my birding fantasy and get to a new place to see many new birds and rekindle the romance with some of the ones that I have become familiar with. Not just because our whole family willingly awoke at 4:45 to catch the ride up to Nandi Hills – a birding hot spot about an hours drive north of Bangalore. Together with some of the finest birding company and just really cool people; Deepak, Deepa, Prashanth, Uma, we Amstii witnessed a gorgeous sunrise and stunning sunset as bookends to a full and gratifying day. And we did get the privilege of chasing several Asian Paradise Flycatchers of both genders and had pretty good views of them. But those gems of experience paled in comparison to the thrill of seeing our daughter Eliza, become a passionate birder that day.

I knew she was hopelessly hooked when faced with a surprise holiday yesterday, and of all the offerings of this area, she begged me to take her birding. Not shopping. Not out for a burger. Not even to her beloved horse riding school. She said, “Momma, can we go birding today? Pleeease!” Now, I’d love to take some credit for igniting that spark in her, but really, I had nothing to do with it. None of us did. The real magic wand, the siren call, was from the incredible tail of the Asian Paradise Flycatcher himself! I saw the sparkle in her eye when we first began to chase him, hoping for a good look at those silky white feathers. Our friends hefted their giant lenses and took aim at his tail streamers waving in the autumn breeze as our bird effortlessly led us further and further into the forest. Beautiful bird for certain, but my eyes were glued to Eliza as she beamed with each clear sighting! Finally at the end of the day, a perfect male Asian Paradise Flycatcher perched near enough that we all got to see. Cameras aiming through the leaves attempting to capture the elusive being on film, Eliza asked Paul if she might try to get a photograph. He chuckled as he told her that there was absolutely no way she would ever get the shot. Looking at the position of the bird in the tree and the dim light and everyone else being denied the shots, I had to agree. Somehow she did manage to convince us that she could at least try. She did. Holding so still and patiently waiting for the bird to hop onto the perfect branch, she fired, and came away with a really great shot! Well, I think so. Take a look at that bird! Who wouldn’t get hooked on birding with a sighting and a first photo like that! The sight of the glowing pride and joy on her little freckled face was the highlight of the day for me, her mom. My new birding companion is born! She is now saving her rupees for a camera and some good binoculars…beware of the lemonade sales!

Really it was a superb day for all of us! The morning was actually quite cold! Can you believe that my hands were numb as they tried to focus the binos and hold still enough to identify the tiny warblers! Prashanth was finding so many new birds to look at that we didn’t have time to complain or think about our temperature much! What a mad birder he is! How lucky we felt to be able to have his expertise to know every tiny avian speck and song by name as he tip-toed around the chilly forest all morning with us eagerly following watching for any movement in the trees all around. Uma and her beckoning smile aimed her eager camera often creating great opportunities for photo records while breaking only for onion puffs and raisin buns from our local bakery “Bun World” and a chance to play with the kids now and then. Deepak shared his adventures in just about everything there is from para-gliding to rock climbing and travel while birding and making sure none of us were too close to the cliff! Deepa, with her positive approach and amazing home made chocolate (the way to my heart…or what!!?), spotted birds and shared her playful spirit with all, making the kids feel so at home! These are the kind of days I will always treasure, along with the people that make them so.