On the banks of Kali

The giant mountains, the dim auroral glow, the glinting mist and the cacophony of birds makes the forested banks of the 185-km long river Kali in the Western Ghats, a nature lover’s paradise.

I have spent a large part of my natural history forages in the exclusion zone of Kaiga Nuclear Power Plant, which is home to an astounding 300 species of butterflies, 200 species of birds and a variety of mammals like leopards (even the melanistic black panthers) and yes, the occasional tiger as well. I visited this region with three other enthusiasts, two of whom (Rajeev and Mohan) were members of Kaiga Nature Club established as part of the Environment Stewardship Programme (ESP) of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, often conducting studies on natural history.

We walked along a large stream to, trying to spot Hornbills and thus began our search for fig trees, which awarded us with tiger tracks along the way. Wild fig fruits are this bird’s favourite food, consisting of 60 percent of its intake despite being an omnivore, Apprehensively, we continued our search, particularly of the Malabar Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus) categorised as Near Threatened by IUCN’s Red List Data. Soon, we noticed the prominent horn-like yellow beaks of a hornbill busy plucking figs. As the name suggests, hornbills are known for their massive de-curved bills, which helps them to grab food easily. This habitat sports moist deciduous forests of the Western Ghats and is surrounded by large and small trees and waterbodies, making it a perfect habitat for the Hornbills. While the bird exists in a variety of habitats like open forests, evergreen forests, mango groves, it is abundant in the dense forests. The Western Ghats is a hub for the Malabar Pied Hornbill in India (also found in West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh).

We spotted a Hornbill nest, a natural hollow in the trunk of a huge tree, which hornbills convert into nests during the breeding season (March to April). The mud around the hole was completely dry and scattered, which indicated that it was old. Usually, the female locks herself inside the hole by cementing the entrance with a blend of material like mud, fruit pulp, droppings. She leaves a small slit open through which the male feeds her and the young, and eventually breaks the containment after the chicks have grown slightly, and reconstructs the gate once she’s out. Thereafter, both parents feed their young through that tiny hole.

We came out of the exclusion zone with indelible memories of the picturesque place, the flowing stream, heavenly mist, pugmarks, the hornbill and its nest.

Read also: Revisiting the moments in the wild 

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About the Author /

I am based at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) which is about 25 km northeast of Kanyakumari. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) in which KKNPP is a part has an exclusive initiative called “Environment Stewardship Programme (ESP)” to preserve nature within and around its sites. Through ESP, NPCIL supports nature conservation agencies like BNHS and helps in conservation. As a member of ESP, I have been involved in wildlife studies since 2006.)

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