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.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Birding in Bhitarkanika National Park

MANGROVES are often neglected, though they are highly productive and important prolific ecosystems on the boundary between land and sea. Only a few realise that Mangroves are a home to a array of species of fish, migratory birds and crocodiles.

Mangroves are the first line of defense for coastal communities. They not only stabilize shorelines by slowing down the process of erosion but also provide and act as natural barriers avoiding flooding during storms and hurricanes.

One such mangrove is located along the river delta (estuarial region) of Brahmani and Baitarani in the the north-eastern place of Kendrapara district of Odisha (Orissa), popularly called Bhitarkanika National Park. The core area here was declared as a national park somewhere in the month of September in the year 1998.

The region is known to many bird watchers as the best place in India to see the Mangrove Pitta. April is the mating season and that is when the birds scout out to find their mates. 

The morning began when Bijay Kumar Das our guide, met us and took us on three different trails. Each trail had at least one pair and were busy foraging together. The area is very dense and had stems of trees spread all over. Many places had different types of roots. The knee roots was the most common having numerous lenticels. The month was very humid and  walking between the gaps was indeed a very different experience. Many times the feet would sink into the moist, clay coloured wetland bed.
Mangrove pitta (Pitta megarhyncha) -Image by Aseem Kothiala
The earth's largest living crocodile is the salt water crocodile, also known as the estuarine crocodile. They are seen here and some have even sighted and recorded the ones measuring 23 feet in length. Usually seen basking in the open. New borns were more bolder than the adults, who are excellent swimmers would just sink into the backwater.
Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) Image by Aseem Kothiala
The second half of our day was spent travelling on a boat that kept moving through the twist and turns of the flowing water. During low tide the water resides and the waders were seen coming very close to the edge of the water to feed. 
White-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Slaty-breasted rail (Gallirallus striatus) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Pacific golden plover (Pluvialis fulva) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Different types of Kingfishers are seen here, especially the endangered Brown-winged Kingfisher. The kingfishers are very active during the low tide, feeding on fish and crabs. There were instances when we even saw the mangrove pitta. Being very shy it would get back into the mangroves.
Brown-winged kingfisher (Pelargopsis amauroptera) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Black-capped kingfisher (Halcyon pileata) Image by Aseem Kothiala
The boat does keep rocking when it stops and vibrates when its in slow motion, so one needs to anticipate and click in order to compose them well. 
Collared kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris humii) Image by Aseem Kothiala
The commoners can be seen on almost every twig, just waiting to dive in and get their catch.
Oriental darter or Indian darter (Anhinga melanogaster) Image by Aseem Kothiala
The region of the various kingfishers seemed very demarcated, as there was a large number of Pied Kingfishers seen only at the end of mangrove forest.
Pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis) Image by Aseem Kothiala
This is where we turned back to return to the camp. The next day we spent some time in the campus of Bhitarkanika Nature Camps, Dangmal. We were lucky to sight the Eyebrowed Thrush hopping and feeding on the ground. They are rare migrants to the region, usually breeding in Siberia.

Eyebrowed thrush (Turdus obscurus) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Eyebrowed thrush (Turdus obscurus) Image by Aseem Kothiala
The common birds of the region like the Spotted owlet, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Rufous woodpecker are seen in the early hours of the day. They can be seen virtually posing on all types of perches.
Spotted owlet (Athene brama) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Grey-headed woodpecker (Picus canus) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Rufous woodpecker, (Micropternus brachyurus) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Greenish warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Little egret (Egretta garzetta) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Common greenshank (Tringa nebularia) Image by Aseem Kothiala
One must plan and spend at least three to four days here. This will ensure one gets to see and take photographs of birds that other wise are difficult to find. We also heard its a place where one can see the Fishing cat, by traveling about 5 hours by boat on a different route. Thanks to Shyam Ghate for this information, whom we met there during our stay.

Thanking Subhadeep Ghosh, Samir Ovalekar who planned this beautiful trip in the month of April 2018

Happy Birding!

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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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