Please click on the photos to enlarge them for detailed viewing!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Becoming a Birder!!!

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. Many cameras aimed through the leaves attempting to capture the elusive being on film, and Eliza asked Paul if she might try to get a photograph. He chuckled as he told her that there was 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’s photographic difficulties, I had to agree. Somehow Eliza did manage to convince Dad that she should at least try for the “impossible photo,” so he gave her the camera.

Holding so still and patiently waiting for the bird to hop onto the perfect branch, she snapped and snapped and snapped… and finally 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 great sighting and a first ever “bird 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 future 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.

-posted by KAREN!

Friday, November 23, 2007

SRAVANABELGOLA - The tallest Jain monolith!

As a part of Paul's Fulbright program, we were invited to an excellent conference in Udipi/Manipal that gathered 50 or 60 current and former Fulbrighters. Instead of flying (1 hour), we chose to take the looong scenic route by bus...

Our first stop was the quiet pilgrimage site of Sravanabelgola with it's many temples, mutts (monasteries), and 2 hilltop shrines. The highlight is the 60 foot high statue of Gomateshwara, standing on the granite hilltop and gazing off to the north. It is an awesome and stunning monument, brought alive by the steady stream of chanting singing pilgrims swirling through the complex. Prayers are said, offerings made, water and ghee and oils and rice are sprinkled and pours on Gomateshwara's massive granite feet. I am still incredulous as to how they raised this gigantic statue, carved from a single rock! It is claimed that this is the tallest free-standing monolithic statue in all of India...

The town itself is very peaceful and focused on prayer and pilgrimage... after our loud busy days in Bangalore traffic, and a 3 hour bus ride, this place felt very relaxing. We enjoyed our sunset on the top of the big hill (Indragiri), and then rose the next morning at 5am to catch the sunrise on the smaller hill (Chandragiri). Our sunrise didn't really happen, as we encountered heavy mist and swirling clouds, all of which added to the beautiful atmosphere of the sacred place.

The countryside is pretty idyllic, with rice paddies, coconut palms, canals and lakes, abundant birdlife, waterbuffaloes, and strange granite boulders cropping up here and there... It would be a fabulous area to zip around on a motorcycle someday!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hopping around Hampi

Just got back from a wonderful trip to Hampi. This is the small dusty riverside town set amidst the sprawling ruins of the old kingdom of Vijayanagar. There are literally thousands of ruins, arches, temples, towers, and stone pillars scattered over many square miles of rolling hills and golden granite boulders. It is so reminiscent of the Joshua Tree landscape... except with palm trees, banana plantations, and monkeys everywhere. An amazing place to wander, as there are surprises at every turn. We LOVED climbing hills for sunrise and sunset views... Another highlight was toodling around on scooters to visit the more distant ruins. Our friend Marya has arrived now, and will stay with us for a month or two. It was great having her along, as we were able to properly cram 3 people on each scooter. Buzzing joyfully down country roads, the girls giggled and laughed and begged me to buy a motorcycle when we return to California!

More details to come, but here are some more quick photo posts.....

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Eating in India!!!

Some of our favorite things to eat in India are poori, idlis, vada, dosas, plain dosas, masala dosas, rice, curry, and the "meals" thing that gives you lots of little bowls of sauces with your rice and chapatti.
I'd have to say I love to eat pretty much everything in India. I really like dipping things in sambar, which is a red spicy sauce that is deeeelicious! Sometimes the sambar, or other foods, are too spicy for me to eat, so we have to remember to ask them to not give us the red chili paste. Mom and Dad sometimes ask for extra chili paste!
That big long dosa is called "paper dosa," and it's about 3 feet long! It was Sylvie and Lupin's favorite thing for a long time, but now Sylvie likes idlis better, and Lupin usually gets plain dosas. Dad usually had to finish their paper dosa. Sometimes he gets his own, and he can finish it all. Idlis are those small round white things, and are made of steamed rice. Lots of people eat them for breakfast. Then there's that big round fried thing that I'm holding. That's an extra big poori that's pretty greasy. You dip it in sauces.
-- posted by Eliza

Ahhhh yes... the "meals thing." Almost anywhere you go in South India, especially mid-day, you can pop into a restaurant for "meals." That usually means an all-you-can-eat mountain of rice on a banana leaf, encircled by many tiny bowls or piles of luscious curries, chutneys, yogurts, and sweets... Sometimes it comes on a huge silver platter, with the tiny bowls wrapped around the rim... You wash up, dig in with your right hand, and mix in whatever taste combinations appeal to you. Just when you are making some progress, the waiter will cruise by with a triple-bucket on a handle, and ladle you more of everything. There are also places that offer "mini-meals" for those who have a bit less stomach capacity. Today Eliza got "mini meals" from Sri Shanti Sagar (a favorite local place), and was excited to show off her wrinkled fingers after the meal. "Hey Dad, look at this! My fingers are like when we sit in a hot tub for too long!"
Extended immersion in warm liquids will do that....

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Bangalore Birding Bonanza!

Amazing Bird Photos (by my Bangalore naturalist friends)

If you want an idea about birding in a city of 8 million, these links are for you! I am not a photographer, but I like to travel in flocks of them… Check out the BIRD LIST LINK in the left column for more Birdy Info!!!

For example, check out these incredible Green Bee-eaters, (Merops orientalis) from yesterday at Sankey Tank (our local "lake"). --> by K.Uma

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