Jackdaw

Looks like a good place to loose ourselves.

Waterhen

The best things in life aren't things.

Jungles of Tadoba

Fear exists in the one place you can never escape... Your mind.

Chariot - Hampi

Let go of the past and the past will let go of you.

Tigress

Style is a simple way of saying complicated things.

Little Ringed Plover

Clear conscience never fears midnight knocking.

Malabar Pied Hornbill

The reason birds can fly is because they take themselves lightly.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Land of Mowgli

MOWGLI, is a very familiar name to most of us. Many of us have grown up seeing him being raised by a pack of wolves and playing around with Baloo and many more will continue to see the same, over the years to come. Yes, "The Jungle Book" is the reference here.

Not many know that Pench National Park, that gets its name from the Pench river runs through the park and is the original inspiration of Rudyard Kiplings, epic story. The references of the seonee hills also spelled as Seoni, Waingunga river gorge and the village Kanhiwada, where Sherekhan met his end are all locations around Pench.

Positioned in the corner of the Satpura range, Pench National Park homes variety of animals and birds and the national animal of India, the Royal Bengal Tiger. Since 2008, the tiger is listed as an Endangered species on the IUCN Red List and is threatened by poaching, loss and fragmentation of habitat.

It’s March, late spring and till the onset of monsoons temperatures rise and brutal heat envelops the region in central India. The grasslands dry and the water bodies shrink. In this weather the wildlife head out and visit the watering bodies. Some of these are natural and some have been made by the forest department called water holes. Thus wildlife lovers easily get views of these majestic creatures, who otherwise are hidden from prying eyes.

Though the main gate for the gypsy (4WD) safari is Turia, in Madhya Pradesh, we planned to do our first safari from Khursapur gate, which is in the adjacent state of Maharashtra, just about 7-8 kms away.
The terrain was very unique, could see large boulders and the tracks would go at slight gradients and then downhill. The dry and deciduous forest trees had already started to shed their leaves. The forest bed looked serene. The teak trees formed a major part of the forest, apart from Mahua trees that had large and formed beautiful canopies. We did see Langurs and parakeets feeding on them.

Like any other tiger safari the driver and the guide's major focus is to sight the tiger first so no stopping for common birds and mammals, like the spotted deer and sambar. While, we kept driving on the tracks, Gautam mentioned that Pench had shot to celebrity status after the BBC wildlife team filmed the brilliant documentary “Tiger- Spy in the Jungle” which i wasn't aware!

After driving around for few minutes we reached a water-hole which was nestled in-midst of dense forest and small hills. Vehicles who entered first from the gate had already reached parked along the periphery. We also managed to get our slot and the wait began. Durga the tigress was expected along with her two cubs. They were being sighted since few days.
Soon the silence broke, the guide had spotted some movement and we got ready. Slowly, the tigress emerged through the trees.

It was Baras a sub-adult tigress, who again is the offspring of Durga. Though she had grown older (approx 3 years) was still around her mother. The guide whispered that she did have a territorial fight with her mother 3-4 times. Inspite, of this was still around and hopefully would soon venture away to find our own territory someday.

The names of the tigers are usually giving based on some unique marking that is found on them. In this case, the tigress had a mark just above her left eye, which quite resembled the numeric digit 12. In the local language 12 is pronounced as Baras.



She just sat in the waterhole drinking water and cooling herself. Moments later she got up, made a few calls to her mother it seems and moved away.

We kept waiting for sometime and decided to drive through the other regions of the forests, While, we reached another waterhole, a large crowd was waiting along side a small gorge. All we could see was a Tiger walking away from us through the grasslands. Before the sun sets, we have to and started to head out of the park.

The next morning we headed towards the Turia gate. There are three routes and are allotted at the last minute by the forest department. Once you are in and have reached the elephant point, where one can have the packed breakfast, choose any of the routes to return.

Mahadev ghat is nestled beyond the elephant point. As the morning light came over the open landscape sighted the vulture trying to balance itself.


We did hear some saying they had sighted a leopard with two cubs, though we just kept driving around, looking for some tracks and calls.

Luckily could see some raptors of the region. The noisy rufous treepie and drongo can be heard almost everywhere. Red junglefowls were seen in good numbers.


Our afternoon safari was again through Khursapur gate, while we were driving our guide (Ramakrishna) sighted a set of ears in the middle of the densely and dried undergrowth. It took us a while to sight it, only when it started to move.

It was a cub and it was alone, the guide said drive slow and keep safe distance, as during such times the tigress can get very aggressive.

To our surprise the cub, who was just about 3-4 months old, kept walking through the forest. The guide knew it was heading to the same water hole, where we sighted Baras yesterday. So we again parked our vehicle and waited.


The cub was so small and was very careful. He would look around many times and finally must have gathered the courage to enter the waterhole.

He seemed very thirsty and even posed well. He had a strong marking on his forehead that resembled a christmas tree and that had earned him the name "Christmas"

Minutes after the cub left, Baras came in again.
But today she was not in mood to get photographed. She kept her back towards us and once was done quenching her thirst, simply got up and walked away. Yet another day with good sighting came to an end.

Route one was allotted to us today which again after going through many twist and turns reaches elephant point. En-route we did see a dead fawn, it seems a leopard was trying to take it and dropped it and left off on hearing the oncoming vehicle. After waiting for sometime and seeing no activity moved further. Today, we did hear that many sighted a male tiger called Tarzan on route two.

We did drive along the route on our way back, normally Mottled wood owl and Collared Scops Owl are also seen on this route, but in vain. So it was day two in Pench, Madhya Pradesh and we had not sighted any tiger here.

Today was just the day when it came to no sightings, as in the afternoon in the same Khursapur region, where we had back to back sightings, nothing could be sighted. In fact no one sighted any tiger on that day in the region.

During the safari, we did see the Langurs, sitting under the tree with their feet and hands on the tree barks. They do this to cool themselves.
Today was the last day in the Land of Mowgli. Phoolchand our driver was very keen and based on recent sightings wanted to track the queen of the Jungle. They called her ‘Collarwali’. With 7 litters and 26 cubs by the age of around 10 years surely seemed the most potent tigress.

Its indeed exciting to witness how during the safari, the guide and the gypsy driver listen to alarm calls in order to decide which direction to head in for maximum chances of sighting the tiger. From bird sounds, deer calls to monkey calls, one needs to pay attention to practically everything that goes on in the forest.

They would see the pug marks and in which directions they were, how old probably they could be. We did reach a place, when phoolchand was too excited as he had seen pugs marks and other marking, that made it obvious that she was around with her cubs, driving back and forth, turning around at the slightest hint.

Sambar deer are known to have an excellent sense of hearing and their calls are supposed to be the most authentic alarm call, indicating the predator is around in the vicinity. Sambar deer shed their antlers each year.
Surely, the tiger sightings most of the time was by sheer luck or sometimes by good tracking. Suddenly, all went silent and there was no trace of her. We did sight the a small flock of Jackal's, who are known for their clean-up act. They finish the leftovers of the carcasses.

Just then, we came across another gypsy vehicle, who said another tigress "Langdi" was sitting near a natural water hole for sometime now. We were least expecting to see her, as she had given birth to about four cubs recently.

When we reached there, the most magnificent creature in the world, was sitting under a tree. Just a little later could see her crouch and move ahead slowly, assuming she must have sighted the prey. Being the best hunters in the forest, we all very excited and were not sure, what was coming next.

However, she said behind a rock and did not move, the place was getting too crowded and we thought of taking another trail back to the gate. On the final return we sighted a flock of wild dogs. They seemed to be in a hurry and quickly vanished into the forest.

The forest of Pench were indeed one of the finest wilderness areas in India. One can visit the park in summer to get good sightings.

My fellow birder and Tiger lover Gopinath Kollur, along with his friends Gautam Rathor and Shrikant Vipat had planned this trip and were kind enough to accept me as a late entrant to visit this park from the afternoon of 22nd March 2018 till the noon of 25th March 2018.



 Greetings and thank you for reading...
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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Birding in Desert National Park (DNP)

THE Thar desert, though being one of the smaller deserts in the world, encompasses the Desert National Park, which is the second largest national park in INDIA.

Desert National Park, commonly referred as DNP, to most nature lovers, is unique and perhaps the only habitat of its type in the Indian subcontinent. The region falls in the extreme hot and arid area of very low rainfall zone of the country.

Passage migrants (birds) start arriving here from the early days in september. Some stay back and some move on to return via the same route by february. Amazingly, they do this year after year.


DNP, presently is the most important site for the survival of the globally threatened (critically endangered) Great Indian Bustard (GIB). DNP is located about 45 kms from the Golden City Jaisalmer, in the North-west state of Rajasthan, India.

The Great Indian Bustard, popularly known as 'Godawan', is Rajasthan's state bird. The state government had started "Project Godawan" to save it from getting extinct at Sudasari region in Desert National Park.

With just a few left in the wild, we (myself, Yash and Seema) set out our journey to see them in the wee hours of 24th Dec 2017. Being approximately 1100 kms from the city of Mumbai, planned our journey through Mount Abu. 


DNP in general is barren, sandy areas dominated this western part of Jaisalmer district, while gravelly and rocky areas were seen scattered throughout the other areas, with a few isolated ridges.

Our safaris were divided into two, the first that would start by 6am and end by 11am and the second by 3pm through till 6pm. Being winters, the sun sets earlier. The morning and nights are cool, while the afternoons are hot!

Musa Khan, had been in touch with me for almost an year and used to keep us posted on the various sightings in the region regularly. He knew the region and trails quite well.

His first priority obviously was sighting the GIB. No sooner as we stared our safari, we were greeted by a desert cat at the start of the sanctuary.

The moment the cat saw us, rushed into the enclosure. Surely, it felt safer there and soon disappeared.
Desert cat - Image by Yash Kothiala
We continued to drive around the enclosure, that had been made to protect the core area from the local villager's cattle grazing into the grasslands. It is said, the GIB lays only one egg every season and is prone to getting damaged by the cattle that encroach into their territory. This treat is over the above the natural predators of the region the fox, the mongoose and obviously the birds of prey to name a few!

The grass was dry and reasonable high, hence after some distance, we had to stop our vehicle and scan the area. While, we were scanning saw three GIB's fly into another enclosure far away. 

We continued our search and sighted another lot of three GIB's. They were moving away from us, obviously they seemed cautious.
Great Indian Bustard - Image by Yash Kothiala
Great Indian Bustard - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Having, sighted the GIB, started to drive into other areas. To us all routes seemed the same, there were tracks of other vehicles too. We did see some isolated dwellings of villagers, who manage to survive in these harsh terrains.

Later, we sighted a committee of vultures.
Indian Vulture - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Griffon Vulture - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Though there was no carcass around, the vultures were just roosting and basking.

Evening we visited the desert region, which had these huge undulated layers of sand, which felt like silk.

Cinereous Vulture - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Desert Fox - Image by Aseem Kothiala
The desert fox was commonly sighted, in all we could see 4-5 different individuals. Chinkara, the most elegant ungulate is found in large numbers. Slight sound and one can see them run, hop and jump.

The Eastern Imperial Eagle was roosting on the shrub tree and soon took to flight. 

Eastern Imperial Eagle - Image by Aseem Kothiala
As the sunset sighted a couple of Egyptian vultures came and roosted. 

The Grey francolin, Variable, Desert and Isabelline Wheatear were very commonly seen.
Grey francolin - Image by Aseem Kothiala
We sighted the Short-toed snake Eagle too, it was soaring high.
Short-toed snake eagle - Image by Aseem Kothiala
We did see many specimen of the Laggar Falcon's, Common Kestrel's, Long-legged Buzzard's and Cream-coloured Courser's.
Cream-colored Courser - Image by Aseem Kothiala
The next day we drove towards another important bird area, Ramgarh. En route we sighted the trumpeter finches, who were busy foraging and drinking water.

Trumpeter finch - Image by Yash Kothiala
Trumpeter finch - Image by Aseem Kothiala
A loner Red-Tailed Wheatear was seen too. In the far away fields, saw two small flocks (4-5) of common cranes.

We later stopped the famous Netsi Talab, where we saw common waders of the region, apart from Water Pipit. 
Water pipit - Image by Aseem Kothiala
As we were returning, saw the merlin roosting on a stone along the water body.
Merlin - Image by Yash Kothiala
Musa Khan, then parked the vehicle a little away and asked us to wait near the talav (water body). Only, minutes later, we realised why, a large flock of chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse started to fly in. They would settle for a few seconds, drink water and fly off!
Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse - Image by Aseem Kothiala

Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Seemed like poetry in motion, it was a sight, we will remember for the rest of our lives.

The second session was along another region (Nabh Dungar) around Sudasari, Desert National Park, where we could see the Desert lark, Striolated bunting's, Asian desert warbler apart from some ruins (cemeteries of the silk route) from the 13th century.
Desert lark - Image by Aseem Kothiala
By the end of day two, we had seen all the key species we had targeted!

Hence, on the last day after taking the morning safari spent the late afternoon on sand dunes, tucked away from the maddening Sam dunes.


Bimaculated Lark's would fly in large flocks mostly more active during the mornings. 
Bimaculated lark - Image by Aseem Kothiala
The Black-crowned sparrow lark and crested lark were seen foraging on the ground. The most common were the Greater short-toed lark's. All these usually fly low and did take short flights.

DETOURS:

Mount Abu, Rajasthan for the famous Green Avadavat. (25th Dec 2017)
Green Avadavat  - Image by Aseem Kothiala
and Jamnagar in Gujarat while returning from DNP towards Mumbai, as we heard about sightings of the Little crake, a migrant from Europe.
Little Crake    Porzana parva - Image by Yash Kothiala

In all we had seven lifers from DNP (26th Dec 2017~28th Dec 2017) apart from the Little crake. (30th Dec 2017)

Thanking Musa Khan for being our nature guide and host for DNP. Pradeep Kumar in Mount Abu. Special thanks to Mayuresh Khatavkar who insisted we visit Jamnagar. Kunal Joshi who ensured we reached the site and Ashwin Trivedi ji who sighted the Little Crake and was kind enough to even share the details with us.



Happy Birding and wishing all the readers a Happy New Year 2018!

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