Tag Archives: bird

An oasis in Mumbai’s concrete jungle – the Sanjay Gandhi Nat’l Park

Growing up in the western suburbs of Bombay (now Mumbai), the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) was the venue of my annual school picnic for many an academic year. But despite the annual visit to the park and its proximity to my parents’ home, as a school kid, I had no inkling (or for that matter, any education) about the ecological value of this national treasure.

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Map of the SGNP

SGNP is one of the few national parks in the world located within city limits. I’ve been told it is 35 times the area of NYC‘s Central Park but I think, the comparison is quite unfair – the SGNP is a naturally occurring forest, the latter a man-made park.

In a space-starved city like Mumbai, the SGNP is a refuge for the city’s inhabitants. You have to be at the entrance gate at 6am to see the incredible number of people who use the park for their morning run/walk or simply just to socialize.

Having lived away from India for a stretch of nearly 7 years now, every trip back to Mumbai has included a visit to the forests of SGNP. Home to nearly 600 species of fauna and over 1,300 species of flora, SGNP is best visited in the monsoons when the foliage is lush, the streams are gushing and the verdant hillsides are streaked with small waterfalls.

In recent years, however, I’ve not been able to make it to Mumbai or SGNP in the monsoons. But I have a few memories of the park from that time of the year – dark, brooding clouds casting shadows on the hillsides in the afternoon sun; mushroom-covered logs of wood strewn all over the damp, forest floor; me quite comically slipping off wet rock faces! Miraculously, I escaped unhurt….

The most remarkable aspect of the SGNP is that it has the highest leopard / carnivore density anywhere in the world (38 individuals in an area of 104 sq.kms.), in a city that has one of the highest population densities in the world. This unique cohabitation of humans and a big cat species, has garnered a fair bit of international attention, including that of the hallowed National Geographic, which thankfully has helped the leopard’s cause (I suspect)!

I’d be ecstatic if I spotted a leopard (from a reasonable distance of course!) but the creatures being nocturnal in their habits, are very difficult to spot during day time. I’ve had to make do with leopard droppings and their pee markings, along some of the trails I’ve visited in the park.

Most of my recent visits to the SGNP have been in the last quarter of the year, when the forest is dry and appears sparse as compared to its monsoon avatar. However, it’s much easier to navigate the various trails at this time of the year.

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A section of the Bamboo Hut Trail, which stretches about 12kms (start to finish)

The SGNP website (https://sgnp.maharashtra.gov.in) has lots of great information about the park and its flora and fauna. Sign on to the SGNP FB page (https://www.facebook.com/SanjayGandhiNationalPark/) for updates on upcoming treks and workshops. You may also contact the Nature Information Centre of the SGNP for a special tour request (https://sgnp.maharashtra.gov.in/1127/About-NIC).

Also within the SGNP limits are the Kanheri Caves, a spartan (yet stunning!) cluster of Buddhist rock-cut caves, some which date back to the mid-3rd century BCE. There are a 100+ of these caves and the number differs based on which source you reference. However, all sources agree on the fact that the name ‘Kanheri’ comes from the Sanskrit word Krishnagiri, meaning ‘black mountain’, alluding to the basalt mountain from which the caves are carved. Once a major Buddhist centre, the complex is a protected archeological site today. Best visited with a knowledgeable guide.

The forests of SGNP also support two (of seven) lakes that provide potable water to Mumbai – Tulsi Lake (completed in 1897) and Vihar Lake (completed in 1860). The forests serve as a catchment area for these two lakes and play a crucial role in ensuring water supply to the city.

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View of Tulsi Lake (in the foreground) and Vihar Lake (partially visible in the background)

Both lakes can be clearly seen from Jambulmal, the highest point not just in SGNP but also in the entire city, located 468 meters (1535 ft) above sea level. Given the key role the lakes play in the city’s water supply, direct access to them is restricted and requires special permission.

The SGNP is revered as the ‘green lung’ of Mumbai. However, it is no match for the ever-increasing pollution and the rapid development in this bustling metropolis. Hopefully, Mumbai’s citizenry will continue to value this last vestige of forest, and preserve the city’s fragile and only connection to nature.

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View of the concrete jungle beyond park limits

 

If you live in Mumbai or are visiting the city, consider adding the SGNP to your list of ‘places to see’. I wish you lots of luck with spotting the elusive Mumbai leopard! 

I leave you with a few pictures of the fauna I’ve seen along the Shilonda Trail of the SGNP……

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A Green Bee-eater enjoys the sun

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A male Purple-rumped Sunbird, a species endemic to the Indian subcontinent

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A Long-tailed (Rufous-backed) Shrike

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A female Chestnut-shouldered Petronia, also known as the Yellow-throated Sparrow

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The Southern Plains Gray Langur, known locally as the Hanuman Langur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A handsome male Chital, also known as the Spotted or Axis Deer. The metre-long antlers are shed (and re-emerge) annually.

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A Brahminy Skink (also known as the Keeled Grass Skink) hidden in the foliage…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The nest of the Crematogaster Ant (made with dry leaves, saliva and mud) resembles a pagoda and is hence called a ‘pagoda ant nest’

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The maze-like exterior of the Harvester Ant nest prevents the entry of water into the dwelling

Baronet

The Baronet Butterfly

Blue Pansy

The Blue Pansy Butterfly

Oriental Common Sargeant

The Oriental Common Sergeant Butterfly

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For the Dutch love of birds!

6 incredible months have flown by since our move from Singapore to the Netherlands. Over the past few months, we’ve enjoyed watching winter turn into a very colourful spring, and spring turn into the much-cherished summer. And by way of our birdwatching trips, the Hubs and I have managed to explore a little bit of our new home country.

To commemorate this milestone, I’m very pleased to share my article which appears in the Autumn 2017 issue of ACCESS, a magazine aimed at the international community in the Netherlands.

This article revolves around the Dutch passion for birds and birdwatching, with fantastic insights from Remco Hofland, President of the Dutch Birding Association, as well as from Arjan Dwarshuis, the 2016 Global Big Year record holder. Last year, this bird-obssessed Dutchman traveled to 40 different countries and observed a staggering 6,852 bird species in a span of 366 days.

Hope you enjoy reading the article! Please click on the image below to view the PDF.

ACCESS_Autumn_2017_Birdwatching

(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

 

And wherever you are in the world, happy birdwatching! 🐦🐦🐦

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Tulip extravaganza at Keukenhof, South Holland

It is impossible to live in Amsterdam in spring and not hear the name ‘Keukenhof’ tossed around a fair bit. This being my first spring in Amsterdam, I was not going to let my allergies stop me from visiting this floral wonderland.

The literal translation of Keukenhof is ‘kitchen garden’. It is said that in the early part of the 15th century, the Countess Jacqueline of Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland, gathered fresh produce for her kitchen from the woods surrounding her castle. Soon enough, the area began to be referred as ‘Keukenhof’.

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The main entrance to Keukenhof

Over the centuries, the area went through a series of transformations and today, Keukenhof serves as a platform for Dutch floriculture suppliers to showcase their best, spring-flowering bulbs. In the current edition of Keukenhof (held from 23rd Mar till 21st May 2017), an estimated 7 million flower bulbs were planted in the 32-hectare park, by nearly 100 suppliers.

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One of the many stunning tulip patches

Visiting Keukenhof is a highly sensory experience. Interestingly shaped flower patches, the vibrantly coloured tulips, cultivars with flowers in every conceivable shape, a medley of floral scents – all  dazzle the senses. The many passerine birds that dart furiously across the shrubs and trees, provide a cheerful background symphony.

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Vibrant colours everywhere! 

Beyond the periphery of Keukenhof, are privately owned tulip fields. These fields are harvested by end-April, so be sure to go early if you’d like to pose amidst long rows of brightly coloured tulips. I went mid-May and sadly, missed seeing the tulip fields in bloom.

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Harvested tulip fields as seen from the viewing platform of the Keukenhof windmill

I have however, seen the tulip fields from a distance, during a train ride from Amsterdam to Delft. A real feast for the eyes, despite the distance and the speed of the train.

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View of the tulip fields in Lisse, from the train

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Another view of  tulip fields from the train

On the subject of tulips, few people know that these flowers, so synonymous with the Netherlands, are not actually native to the country. They were introduced here by botanist Carolus Clusius in 1493, when he served as Director of Leiden University’s Hortus Botanicus, now the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands. To cut a long story short, it was those very tulips that birthed the Dutch tulip industry.

The name ‘tulip’ is widely believed to be derived from the Persian word dulband, meaning turban; possibly in reference to the shape of the flower resembling the male headwear that was popular in the Middle East, India, and parts of Africa, in those times.

Back to present day! Both Keukenhof and the tulip fields are located in the town of Lisse, an easy day trip from Amsterdam. The connectivity via public transport is excellent. For exact directions, click here.

During the 8 weeks that Keukenhof is open, there are several events and activities – a delightful Flower Parade, flower shows, flower arranging demonstrations, guided tours and the likes. You can read more about that here.

I leave you with a few more pictures from my visit to Keukenhof….

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Windmill at the edge of the gardens

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Chessboard display at Keukenhof

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Above the treetops at MacRitchie Reservoir Park, Singapore

Up until a few months ago, I was living in sunny Singapore. Since then, I have moved continents, to the land of canals and krokets, Amsterdam, and find myself trying to make sense of a very fickle spring.

When I think about my time in the Little Red Dot, I’m happy I was able to capture different facets of the city, via my articles for PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore. So here is, the last of these nuggets from the city I called home for nearly 6 years.

My article in the May-June’17 issue of PASSAGE encapsulates my many wonderful memories of the MacRitchie Reservoir Park in Singapore. Please click on the image below to view the PDF of this article.

2017_May-June_MacRitchie

(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

I’d like to reiterate that when visiting any nature reserve/park, please be extremely respectful of the environment. Loud chatting or music will disturb wildlife and ruin any chance of spotting them. Going off-trail to get a picture damages the ecosystem that nurtures these species. As the old saying goes…

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.

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You can read more about the wildlife/natural history of Singapore in the following posts:

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Pasir Ris Park

Birds of Singapore

The Wallace Trail

Singapore Botanic Gardens

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By the sea at Scheveningen, South Holland

I first heard of Scheveningen thanks to Van Gogh’s 1882 painting ‘View of the Sea at Scheveningen’ (also known as ‘Beach at Scheveningen in Stormy Weather’). This was one of the two masterpieces stolen from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam in a brazen heist in 2002. The other stolen painting being ‘Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen’, originally painted by Van Gogh in 1884 and then modified in 1885, possibly immediately after his father’s death in March 1885.

Thankfully, both paintings were recovered in 2016 after a lengthy investigation by the Naples police and were put back on display at the Van Gogh Museum on 22nd March 2017. On that day, amidst a sea of tourists and Van Gogh admirers, I caught a glimpse of the two paintings. Photography is not allowed inside the Van Gogh museum, so sadly, I have no pictures of the two paintings.

But I digress. Since the move to Amsterdam, the Hubs was missing the beach and blue waters, which we had gotten so used to in Asia. So we decided to head to the beach we had read so much about – Scheveningen. It was a cold and cloudy day and I was hoping people would stay indoors, but they obviously thought differently. Apparently Scheveningen is a popular destination, even in winter.

A train and tram ride later (about 1.5 hours in total), we were at Scheveningen beach. Wanting to pay our respects to the North Sea, we dipped our feet in the water, knowing fully well that the water would be freezing! Suffice to say, we were cold for a really long time after!

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Feet in the freezing water – definitely a first! 

We wanted to get to a quieter part of the beach, so we walked past the pier to the northern end and stopped at the furthermost restaurant on that stretch, Het Puntje, meaning ‘the tip’ in obvious reference to its location.

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View of the pier at Scheveningen, from the northern end of the beach

Rarely do I recommend restaurants (I find most of them pretentious and impersonal) but stepping into the Het Puntje felt like visiting an old friend. A cozy fireplace, rustic wood and rattan furniture, quirky accents – it had all the elements of a charming country home. The friendly owner (and his dog!) kept checking on us throughout our meal and we chatted with him about our lives, the restaurant, the WWII bunkers nearby and so many other things. The food was absolutely fantastic too! Well worth the long walk on a cold beach. By the time, we done with our meal, the sun was out.

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Sunny view of Scheveningen pier from Het Puntje

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Two of the many WWII bunkers built by the Germans as part of the Atlantic Wall

Wanting to grab some sunshine while we had the chance, we climbed the steps next to Het Puntje, leading into the Meijendel.

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Entry to the Meijendel Nature Reserve from Scheveningen beach

Meijendel is the largest interconnected dune area in South Holland and stretches between Scheveningen, Den Haag (The Hague) and Wassenaar. And while on the subject on South Holland, please allow me to clarify that ‘Holland’ and ‘Netherlands’ are not synonymous. Holland is the collective term for only two of the 12 provinces in the Netherlands, the two provinces being North and South Holland. The reason behind why the two terms are used interchangeably goes back in time to the Dutch Golden Age. But once again, I digress.

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Dunes of the Meijendel Nature Reserve from a distance

We entered the Meijendel and took a leisurely stroll along its periphery. Heard several bird songs but no luck with reindeer though.

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The one black sheep in a large herd grazing in the Meijendel

Post lunch was not the best time to go hiking, so we made a mental note to return to the dunes, and walked back to the pier. Meijendel ranks as one of the top-10 bird rich areas in the Netherlands, so a second visit is a definitely on the cards for me.

Schevenigen is an easy day-trip from Amsterdam. Take the train to Den Haag and from right outside the Den Haag train station, board Tram 9 (direction Scheveningen Northern beach). Disembark at the Kurhaus, an ornate historical building originally built in 1884-85, that now functions as a hotel. The pier is only a couple of minutes away.

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The Kurhaus from the beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Under the pier at Scheveningen

As we walked along Scheveningen beach, it was a joy to watch the tall grass sway in the wind, the oystercatchers pecking in the sand, the antics of the pet dogs and their owners. And not to forget the mysterious-looking WWII bunkers in the dunes, which I’m told are now closed to the public.

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A doggy enjoying some sun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Oystercatcher digs in the sand for its meal

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An European Herring Gull basks in the sun at Scheveningen promenade

All in all, a lovely afternoon at Scheveningen beach! Highly recommend a visit, if you happen to be in the vicinity.

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Birdwatching in Amsterdam

Following my birdwatching experiences in Singapore, India, Seychelles and Sulawesi (Indonesia); I’m delighted to add Amsterdam to the list. In the 6 weeks that we’ve lived in the Dam, I’ve been able to observe and photograph a good number of birds. Staying in the vicinity of Vondelpark has its advantages.

I know very little about European birds, so this is a great opportunity for me to educate myself on the subject. And make some great additions to my ‘Life List’ too. Here goes….

In our garden / neighbourhood

Common Chaffinch

A female Common Chaffinch enjoys the onset of Spring

Eurasian Blackbird

This is the legendary Eurasian Blackbird, popularised in the nursery rhyme ‘Sing a song of six pence’

Common Wood Pigeon

The Common Wood Pigeon is a large bird in the pigeon/dove family

Tufted Duck

A male Tufted Duck photographed in a neighbourhood canal

Eurasian Coot

The white frontal shield of the Eurasian Coot gave rise to the phrase ‘as bald as a coot’

In Vondelpark

(photographed over multiple visits to the park, including a Amsterdam Bird Walk led by Arjan Dwarshuis, the record holder for the Global Big Year 2016)

European Robin

The adorable European Robin is called ‘roodborstje’ in Dutch, in reference to its red chest

Long-tailed Tit

The tail of the Long-tailed Tit (at 7-9cm) is much longer than its tiny body (5-6cm)

Eurasian Blue Tit

The Eurasian Blue Tit is a delightful little bird with a blue crown

Great Tit

At 13-14cm, the Great Tit is a larger in size that other species in the tit family

Eurasian Nuthatch

This is the Eurasian Nuthatch. The name ‘nuthatch’ comes from its tendency to hack at nuts it has stored  away in crevices

Great Spotted Woodpecker

The male of the Great Spotted Woodpecker exhibits red markings on the head/neck

Carrion Crow

A Carrion Crow walks around looking for food

Eurasian Magpie

The Eurasian Magpie, a species in the crow family, is a highly intelligent bird

Egyptian Goose

A family of Egyptian Geese. This  species is native to Central & South Africa but there is a self sustaining population in the Netherlands

Common Moorhen

The Common Moorhen is part of the rail family

Grey Heron

A Grey Heron watches the water for its prey

Male Mallard

The blue speculum feathers of a male Mallard visible as it preens itself

Female Mallard

A female Mallard enjoys the water

Indian Rose-ringed Parakeet

A sleeping Indian Rose-ringed Parakeet. This tropical bird has made Vondelpark its home

In Zaanse Schans

(a charming Dutch town on the outskirts of Amsterdam)

Northern Lapwing

The Northern Lapwing is listed by IUCN as ‘Near Threatened’, due to habitat loss and the fact that it’s eggs were once considered a delicacy

Black-tailed Godwit

Also listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by IUCN, the Black-tailed Godwit was once highly prized as food

Eurasian Oystercatcher

The national bird of the Faroe Islands, the Eurasian Oystercatcher is also listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by IUCN

Caspian Gull

A Caspian Gull rests in the grassland

Greylag Goose

The Greylag Goose was revered in ancient European cultures

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There are many more species that I’ve spotted or heard. Hopefully, I’ll be able to photograph them in the days to come. So do check back for more pictures of birds, seen in and around Amsterdam.

Tot ziens! 😀

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Our first month in Amsterdam

Can’t believe an entire month has gone by since the Hubs and I arrived in Amsterdam! Of course, it has all been about moving into our apartment, setting up things, formalities and other mundane details that needed to be taken care of, before we can actually start enjoying the city. But despite the fact that it has turned out to be such a busy month, we did have some interesting times.

For starters, we’ve had to learn the life-saving skill of dodging cyclists. Doesn’t help that I keep forgetting about the cycling lane! Cyclists have the right of way here and they RULE the road (sometimes even the pavement!). Several misadventures on this front but I’m not complaining. I love how great cycling is for the environment!

Here are some of our memorable ‘firsts’ in Amsterdam……

The first Dutch snack we tried

I like to call them ‘little balls of heaven’ but they are known here as bitterballen (plural). Always served with a side of mustard.

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These usually get gobbled up before I can even think of taking a picture! 🙂

This savoury bar snack has a crispy fried outer coating that perfectly complements the mushy beef filling inside. I’m told that back in the day Dutch housewives created this snack as a way to use up leftover meat. Pure genius!

The filling inside is a mixture of puréed beef, butter, flour, beef stock, herbs and seasonings, but it’s the subtle hint of nutmeg that really takes this snack over the top. And be extra careful when you bite into a bitterbal coz the filling tends to be piping hot. Lesson learnt the hard way 😦

Even for someone like me who doesn’t enjoy meat, this crispy delight is hard to resist. As the Dutch say, ‘lekker’ (yummy)!

First time eating out of a hole in the wall

Well, not really a ‘hole’, more like a vending box.

We had heard so much about the legendary ‘Wall of Fried Food’ before we even got to Amsterdam, so we were looking forward to finding one. This is basically a vending machine but for hot snacks like krokets (croquettes), frinkandel (a deep fried sausage), kaassoufflé (a deep fried hot pocket with a cheese filling)….. you get the drift. Burgers too.

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Spoilt for choice!

FEBO and Smullers are the two brands that offer this service. So if you’re feeling peckish anywhere in the city, just find the outlet nearest to you, drop your coins in the slot and grab your hot snack! I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

First bird I photographed in Amsterdam

Having lived in Asia for most of my life (India & Singapore), I know nothing about European birds. So every new bird species I see and photograph here is exciting. I’ve photographed several birds over the past few weeks (helps to be living in the vicinity of Vondelpark) but the first bird I photographed here, the Eurasian Magpie, will always be special. For my post on birdwatching in Amsterdam, click here.

Eurasian Magpie

The highly intelligent Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica)

The Dutch take birdwatching very seriously and the record holder for the 2016 Global Big Year, Arjan Dwarshuis, lives in Amsterdam. Arjan traveled to 40 different countries and observed a staggering 6,852 bird species over a span of 366 days.

First day trip out of Amsterdam

This past weekend, our itchy feet led us to make an impromptu day trip out of Amsterdam. A short train ride and we were transported back in time to the Dutch town of Zaanse Schans, which showcases Dutch life in the mid-19th century. We went for the windmills but were pleasantly surprised to observe a variety of birds in the grasslands.

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Windmills everywhere you look!

Coming soon an entire blog post dedicated to this charming town.

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There have been so many other wonderful experiences – the onset of Spring, exploring my neighbourhood, going for walks at Vondelpark, receiving my museumkaart, my first visit to the Rijksmuseum with my museumkaart, seeing the 2 stolen Van Gogh paintings back on display at the Van Gogh Museum……I’ve lost count.

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A serene morning at Vondelpark

As our seemingly unending list of ‘Things to Do’ gets a bit shorter by the day, we can’t wait to explore Amsterdam, Netherlands and the rest of Europe. Stay tuned!

For now, tot straks! (See you later!)

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Hiking in the Seychelles – The Trois Frères Trail

Always looking to experience a different part of Mahe island in the Seychelles, I accompanied a few of my local friends for a hike along the Trois Frères Trail.

If I thought the Anse Major Trail was tricky, then the Trois Frères Trail turned out to be even rockier and fairly steep. Not complaining though as the sweeping views of Victoria and the islands beyond, made the hike completely worth it! 🙂

The name Trois Frères (French for three brothers), comes from the trio of imposing granitic peaks overlooking Victoria. Covered with luxuriant vegetation, including introduced spice trees like cinnamon as well as native palms and screw pines (pandanus), these weathered cliffs are also home to the only carnivorous plant in the Seychelles, the pitcher plant Nepenthes pervillei.

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Pitchers of the carnivorous Nepenthes pervillei seen along the trail

As I tagged along with some friends for this hike, the exact directions are a bit fuzzy. But I found this brochure online that tells you how to get there. The starting point of the trail is a cul de sac which also serves as the car park.

The trail itself is less than a kilometer long but feels like more because of the steep gradient. After climbing for about 30-40mins, we came to a view point which offers a spectacular view of Victoria, St. Anne Marine Park, Cerf and the other eastward islands.

We had however, not checked the weather that morning. And before we knew it, the heavens opened up, ruining any chance of a sunny, dazzling view or a good panorama shot! And it also became impossible to spot or photograph any birds 😦 A lone white tailed tropicbird braved the rain and seemed to enjoy riding the wind current.

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View of St. Anne Marine Park and the nearby islands from the viewpoint

There is a path that goes all the way to the cross at the top (height of approx. 700m). But we didn’t dare venture ahead in the rain.

According to Seychellois historian Julien Durup, the original wooden cross at the top of this peak was erected on 4th November 1956 to commemorate the visit of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburg, on 19th October that year. As the wooden cross eroded away due to the elements, it was replaced much later by a concrete one.

I leave you to enjoy these rain filled pictures from the Trois Frères trail viewpoint. Hopefully, there will be better weather next time!

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The calm before the storm…

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View of the airport in the distance

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Victoria and beyond….

 

For information about hiking the Anse Major Trail, click here.

Read about my birdwatching experience in the Seychelles.

Click here to learn about the legendary Coco de Mer palm.

For a flavour of Seychellois cuisine, read my post about Bazar Labarin.

More here about the islands of Praslin, Curieuse & Cousin.

 

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Birdwatching in the Seychelles

With all of Seychelles dazzling white sand beaches, sun-kissed cerulean waters and lush granitic landscapes, it’s easy to overlook all the elegant creatures that call this picturesque island nation ‘home’.

Not for me though! Birdwatching has become an integral part of all my recent travels and Seychelles was going to be no different.

The granitic and coralline islands of Seychelles are home to 12 endemic bird species. In the brief time I spent on Mahe, Praslin and a few of the nearby islands, I was fortunate to observe 6 of the endemics and photograph 5 of them.

Here’s a look at the 5 endemic bird species I’ve photographed so far….

The Seychelles Black Parrot (Coracopsis nigra barklyi) is the national bird of the Seychelles. Less than 900 individuals remain in and around Vallee de Mai on Praslin island

The rare and elusive Seychelles Black Parrot is the national bird of the Seychelles. Photographed in the primeval palm forest of Vallee de Mai on Praslin island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Seychelles Bulbul (Hypsipetes crassirostris) was photographed in the primeval palm forest of Vallee de Mai on Praslin island.

This Seychelles Bulbul was also photographed in UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vallee de Mai on Praslin island

The regal Seychelles Blue Pigeon spotted along Anse Major Trail in northwest Mahe

The regal Seychelles Blue Pigeon spotted resting in the thicket at Anse Major Trail in northwest Mahe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seychelles Sunbird - Anse Major Trail, Mahe Seychelles

The sprightly male Seychelles Sunbird with its iridescent throat

The endangered Seychelles Magpie-Robin (Copsychus sechellarum) photographed on Cousin Island during our 2009 trip. Less than 300 individuals remain in the wild.

The endangered Seychelles Magpie-Robin photographed on Cousin Island during our 2009 trip. Less than 250 individuals remain in the wild.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Mahe, along the Anse Major trail, I observed one more endemic bird species – the Seychelles Kestrel, but was unable to photograph it. This bird has the unique distinction of being the only bird of prey in the Seychelles.

Photographing some other endemic species like the Aldabra Drongo and the Aldabra Fody, will call for a trip to the remote Aldabra Atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most pristine ecological environments in the world. I won’t even bother telling you about the logistics to get there but hopefully, I’ll make it in this lifetime! 🙂

I also hope to photograph the critically endangered Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher, only found on the island of La Digue. Less than 300 individuals are said to exist in the wild.

There are several other bird species in the Seychelles that are either ‘native’ to this geography (i.e. they established a population in the Seychelles without any human intervention) or were ‘introduced’ a long time ago, either accidentally or intentionally, by visitors.

The Malagasy Turtle Dove (Nesoenas picturatus) is native to several islands in the Indian Ocean

The Malagasy Turtle Dove is native to several islands in the Indian Ocean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The male Madagascar Fody develops a bright red plumage during the breeding season

The male Madagascar Fody develops a bright red plumage during the breeding season

Many of the Seychelles islands are teeming with species of migratory seabirds which come there to breed – shearwaters, tropicbirds, frigatebirds etc. (More about that in my 2009 trip to Cousin Island.)

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A White-tailed Tropicbird flying in the distance, off the Anse Major Trail in Mahe

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One of the many seabirds spotted en route from Mahe to Praslin by ferry

My favourite seabirds are the very ethereal looking Fairy Terns, usually spotted flying around in pairs or threes, as if putting on a show just for you. You may recall seeing a pair of flying Fairy Terns on your Air Seychelles aircraft 🙂

The ethereal Fairy Terns (Gygis alba) on Beau Vallon beach, Mahe

Fairy Terns  on Beau Vallon beach, Mahe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up-close with a Fairy Tern at Beau Vallon beach, Mahe

Up-close with a Fairy Tern at Beau Vallon beach, Mahe

The Fairy Terns on the livery of Air Seychelles aircrafts

The Fairy Terns graphic on the livery of an Air Seychelles aircraft

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(This is the third in a series of birdwatching posts after Singapore and Sulawesi.)

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Hiking in the Seychelles – The Anse Major Trail

7 years ago, when we first visited the Seychelles, we were mesmerised by its sheer natural beauty – granitic islands juxtaposed against the clear cerulean waters of the Indian Ocean, powdery white sand beaches, unique plant and animal species. Not to forget the legends of swashbuckling pirates and hidden treasures, friendly locals and the most delectable Creole food 🙂

To experience a different side of Seychelles, we hired a guide and trekked along the Mare aux Cochons trail, in the deep interior of the 3000+ hectare Morne Seychellois National Park.

Recently, we found ourselves in the Seychelles again (long story!). This time around, we stayed in the Beau Vallon area and the calm stretch of ocean there kept us entertained for many days. And the sunsets were just as spectacular as the last time we had visited!

When we’d had our fill of sun, sand and surf; we decided to spend a day hiking the Anse Major trail along the northwest coast of Mahe. This trail too falls within the limits of the Morne Seychellois National Park.

From our hotel in Beau Vallon, it was an easy walk to the bus stop opposite the Beau Vallon police station, on the road leading to Bel Ombre. After buying chili cakes (spiced lentil fritters) from the local store, we took a bus to the Danzil bus terminal.

Walking up the main road to the left of the bus terminus, we got to the residential part of Danzil (lookout for the Batman Studio on your left 😉 ) and continued on till we spotted the Anse Major trail sign.

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The Batman Studio is one of the landmarks along this trail

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The first sign along the trail

The trail is rated as ‘easy’ but the path is rugged in parts and in certain sections, needs to be navigated with care. The views make up for the trickiness of the trail though. On one side were the weather-scarred, granitic rocks covered with lush vegetation and on the other side , an expansive view of the Indian Ocean with Silhouette island visible in the near distance.

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Thick foliage everywhere you look! 

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Silhouette island visible in the distance

Trail marker - Anse Major Trail, Mahe Seychelles

These trail markers were very helpful

On several occasions, we stopped to photograph the birds we encountered along the way – the Seychelles Sunbird, the Seychelles Blue Pigeon and the Seychelles Bulbul. I’m pretty sure I spotted a Seychelles Kestrel as well but sadly, didn’t get a chance to photograph it.

Seychelles Blue Pigeon - Anse Major Trail, Mahe Seychelles

The regal Seychelles Blue Pigeon (Alectroenas pulcherrimus)

The ever so active Seychelles Sunbird (Cinnyris dussumieri)

The sprightly Seychelles Sunbird (Cinnyris dussumieri)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Seychelles skink (Trachylepis seychellensis)

A Seychelles skink (Trachylepis seychellensis) basking  in the sun

As we neared the end of the trail, we came to a wooden shelter. And were rewarded with an unforgettable view – a perfect little crescent of a beach with turquoise waters lapping up gently against the shore. This beach is said to be ‘the finest’ in Mahe, though I don’t know how you can identify any one beach as being ‘the finest’ when every beach here looks right out of a postcard.

Anse Major beach, Mahe Seychelles

The first glimpse of Anse Major beach

Oohing and aahing, we hurried along. We had to scramble down a pile of large rocks before we could plant our feet in the cool sand of Anse Major.

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Almost there! 🙂

The friendly beach policeman welcomed us to his domain and was happy to show us around and chat.

Thanks to several pit-stops along the way to observe our surroundings and take photographs, it took us much longer than the prescribed 1 – 1.5 hours. We were really glad we had packed food and water as there are no facilities on this secluded beach.

We had however, forgotten to carry our snorkelling gear along (it was supposed to be a hike, remember?!) So we had to be content with spending the morning in the shallower waters. But we did spot many fish right by the shore! 🙂

Dreading the walk back to Danzil in the hot sun, we took the easy way out. There’s a taxi boat that ferries people from Anse Major to Beau Vallon at regular intervals (200 Seychellois Rupees per person) and we were delighted to return in the comfort of a speed boat.

I wasn’t able to find much about the history of Anse Major but according to Seychellois historian Julien Durup, the road from Danzil to Anse Major was built by a French Capuchin brother in the early 1900s. This Capuchin brother is also credited with developing the land along this trail into a thriving agricultural establishment, cultivating vanilla and other crops. Walking along the Anse Major trail today, one would never be able to guess that this area was once a hive of human activity.

I leave you with this brochure of the Anse Major trail I found online.

Happy hiking! Au revoir!

 

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For more about hiking the Trois Frères Trail, click here.

Read about my birdwatching experience in the Seychelles.

Click here to learn about the legendary Coco de Mer palm.

For a flavour of Seychellois cuisine, read my post about Bazar Labarin.

More here about the islands of Praslin, Curieuse & Cousin.

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