Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Corbett national park & Tiger reserve
(Nov 17th –24th, 2001)

The Corbett national park is the first national park of India and also the first to be declared a tiger reserve. The jungles of Corbett are a treasure house of beautiful Himalayan bird and animal life. Several birds migrate from Siberia and beyond to the foothills of Himalayas and the others migrate from the warmer regions of the lower Indian peninsula. These colourful avians are a delightful sight, more so because they are the more beautiful cousins of those found in Maharashtra. For example: the Himalayan pied kingfisher, the big brother of the pied kingfisher found here is larger, bearing a crest on its head. This fellow is more majestic in its flight and appearance. It is sheer pleasure to watch this bird hovering over the water while fishing. Similarly the white-cheeked bulbul found in Corbett is adorned with a crest and a yellow vent as opposed to the red vented one found back home.

The terrain in Corbett varies from dense forests to grasslands to riverbeds. This amazing diversity allows us to view all the animals of the food chain from tigers, elephants, chital, sambar residing in the forests to grassland birds (warblers, babblers) and also water birds of storks, ducks, egrets and the like; fish eagles, vultures to finally the turtles, ghariyal, and mahasheer fishes.

We reached Ramnagar at about 7:00 a.m. Our tour guide Mr. Manoj Sharma was there to receive us. Bijarani is about 2 hours from Ramnagar. After reaching Bijarani, we dumped our luggage in a room and rushed for the morning jeep ride. Three jeeps accommodating five of us each took us into the jungle. Our schedule through out the trip was arranged in such a manner that we could get the morning and the evening rides at every place. Our group consisted of three families i) Mr. and Mrs. Sahastrabudhe and their neighbour Rahul, ii) Hemang, his wife Beena their son Shashwat and Beena’s brother Nikunj, iii) me and my parents; and Hira, Niranjan, Kanchan, Alka (our organizer) and her nephew Satyajeet. A varied group from 8 yr old to 55 yrs old – quite a range.

On the first morning at Bijarani we got to see a wall creeper sitting against the sandy wall by the riverbank. Himalayan pied kingfishers made a beautiful picture hovering over the stream fishing for breakfast. Black necked storks were also hopefully waiting for a good catch. As we reached the grassy part of the terrain, a female scalybellied woodpecker caught our attention. Its yellow crest was quite conspicuous. It was closely followed by a male with a red crest tap tapping on the hollow branch of a tree. Up on a watchtower, we had a bird’s eye view of the Corbett landscape.

In the afternoon, after lunch some of us got an elephant ride. Others went on an elephant ride at Dhikala. The forest department offers these one-hour rides at 100 Rs. The advantage of being on the elephant’s back is that you get to go in to the dense forest where the jeep cannot reach. Another benefit is that the animals are quite comfortable in the presence of the elephant. So a sambar, which would run as a jeep comes closer, keeps grazing peacefully or at the most raises its neck and keeps staring at you innocently, allowing you to get good snaps of the animal.

After the evening ride we got together and discussed over tea and biscuits what each group had seen. Mr. Sharma read out from the list of birds that Alka had already provided us with and checked those sighted. The count on the first day itself was 68. He assured us that it would reach 150 by the time we left Corbett. Before dinner that night we had quiz time. Testing our knowledge of flora and fauna was Mr. Sharma and we competed against each other, many a times getting the right answers by luck than by intention.J Before turning to the dinner table we also watched two documentaries one on Corbett itself and the other on Bharatpur.

On the next day morning we were again engrossed in watching the activities of the kingfishers. How we wished we had not spent so much time admiring them! Had we been quicker to move from the place we would have got to see the TIGER. The people in the jeep ahead of us saw it crossing the dry riverbed but by the time we reached there, there was no sign of it.

Back from the jeep ride we had a lovely breakfast of potato and flower parathas and pickle. Yummy!! We had quite an appetite in the healthy winter climate and each one gobbled up the hot parathas as soon as they came on the plate. The poor cooks had trouble keeping pace with our speed of emptying the plates.

On the way from Bijarani to Dhikala, the tree lined road was shady and the journey pleasant. The Sal and the Khair trees were punctuated by tall termite hills. These five feet or so termite hills sound hollow when knocked. They are almost four times deeper under the ground than over it. A cross section of it would reveal galleries of termites that live in colonies similar to bees. Alka drew our attention to a brown bundle hanging from a tree. It looked liked a Baya’s nest but without the tunnel entrance. It was a paper wasp’s nest. This wasp builds it by making paper pulp using leaves and its own body secretions. It is the first creature to have made paper…. the Chinese must have taken their lessons from the wasp. We continued to travel under the canopy of the wayside trees, occasionally shivering in the wind, and at other times enjoying the warmth of the sun. Suddenly our driver slowed down the vehicle since he had noticed some movement. On our right lay a reptile. Its colour was greyish brown matching the surrounding sand. It looked like an enlarged version of a house lizard. It was a monitor lizard (Ghorpad - in Marathi). This is the lizard that enjoyed a special place in the pages of the Maratha history. It had helped many a warrior to scale the ramparts of forts during their battles against the Moghuls. After being the source of attention for a while it scampered into its home in the sand.

We arrived at Dhikala by lunchtime. The other jeeps had already reached the place. The resort stands on an elevation which overlooks the Ramganga river. From the courtyard we could sight wild elephants, black-necked storks and wild boars on the bank of the river. After lunch, we went for the evening jeep ride. The alarm calls of the barking deer could be heard indicating that a tiger was on prowl. So we tried to estimate the direction from which the calls were coming and proceeded in that direction. Following the calls we continued to travel but after a while the calls stopped. We reached a watchtower and went up to see the panoramic view over the river. We waited a while but the tiger was no where to be seen. Satisfying ourselves with a few lapwings we left. As we approached a grassy section a swish-wish sound could be heard, the sound of plants and grass crushing under something heavy. We waited but could not see much so we proceeded. While returning on the same path we were surprised to see all the tall grass blades flattened- obvious signs of elephants being around. Behind the overgrowth we could see the elephant’s head. To let it come out in the open we backed our jeep and waited. The elephant took its time to show up, sizing the situation, approaching the road and retreating 2-3 times before it finally decided to cross the road. Even as it came in the open it did keep an eye on our movements. A male tusker gradually emerged from the tree cover at the left and entered the jungle on the right. Quite satisfied with the sighting we returned to the resort.

Even at twilight time silver backed jackals roamed about in the premises of the resort, as if they had come to stay. We would say hello to them every time we went to and fro to the dinning place J. During that night, there was a commotion as wild elephants had entered the premises and tried to break open some of the doors. The staff had a hard time shooing them away. Although most of us were asleep while this happened, some of us did hear the noise. But they were too lazy to get up in the cold to be a witness to the drama. The next morning the elephant’s foot prints near the doors told the entire story.

That morning in Dhikala, we had an experienced guide with us who demonstrated his amazing skills of locating birds from a distance and precisely identifying them: all this without the help of binoculars. As we moved through the grassy landscape near the riverside, we located an eagle on the topmost branch of a naked tree. It was sitting with its back to us against the sunlit background. So we could not make out all its features, especially the colour and pattern of its throat and breast. Hence we were not sure of identifying it. Our guide quickly came to rescue. He skilfully gave the call of a bird to attract the attention of the eagle. After a few such calls, the great bird obliged and changed position to face us. Now we could satisfactorily see its face and front to identify it as a subadult changeable hawk eagle. The juvenile, subadult, and the adult of the same specie look so distinctly different from each other that you marvel at the change in colouration and added features the bird acquires with age.

Raptors generally perch on the top branches of leafless trees- a strategic position to keep a look out for prey. On such occasions they sit in a meditative position long enough for you to observe them at leisure. On other occasions they soar high up in the sky. That’s when identification becomes a bit difficult if you don’t have a good pair of binoculars. Overhead flights can tell you whether the raptor is an eagle, hawk or a vulture from the curvature of its wings and tail. But identifying the specific specie requires great expertise.

After breakfast, we went to the water tank built on a bridge-like cemented extension over the river. From here we could get a closer view of the river under us and the birds on the bank. Some of the tame elephants were lazily grazing on the bank. A wild boar that looked like a rock betrayed its presence when it moved. Some turtles made a train on a log basking in the sun. We initially refused to believe that they were turtles. They lay stationary on the log, one behind the other about five to six of them looking like small well-formed stones. Black necked storks patiently balanced on one leg, looking for fish. The water was crystal clear. We could see mahasheer fishes (both black and golden variety) swimming in the water. A mallard duck was creating ripples in the water as it swam about. The whole scene was most picturesque indeed.

From the tank we went straight to the canteen to partake of delicious lunch. While we did so a hoopoe enjoyed our undivided attention. Next a beautiful male chital with velvety horns vied for our attention. We actually left the lunch table to take snapshots of this lovely deer. Mr. Manoj Sharma told us that the deer shed their horns occasionally. The deer then eats the shed horns; after all they are a good source of protein. It is a law of the nature that nothing is useless and nothing should go waste!

Before leaving Dhikala for Kaladungi we visited a small museum near the exit of the place. This museum displayed stuffed tigers- some who died a natural death and others who were man-eaters killed in the region. The tigers varied in age- some were full grown males others were younger. Even though the animals were stuffed, it did not hide their majestic and awe-inspiring appearance which commands respect. Although stuffed and behind plastic cases, they did not look lifeless !! Some of the tigers had died as a result of haemorrhages. One case carried a tablet saying that the tiger died in a fight with a tusker that went on all through the night. This surprised us and our guide told us that generally elephants and tigers do not meddle with each other, they respect each others space. But at times an injured tiger may engage in such a fight and when such a fight begins neither of the party is ready to let go out of sheer lack of rationality.

Mr. Sharma told us that tigers become man-eaters mostly because of the destruction of their habitat or when they are injured. Injury may result from bullet wounds from their encounters with poachers. These wounds leave them incapacitated to hunt. As a result they may go hungry for days on end before turning man-eaters out of desperation. Another habit of the tiger that results in injury is its preference for porcupines. Porcupines are a favourite food of leopards and tigers. As against tigers, leopards are more adapted at hunting them. Moreover tigers have soft paws that make them prone to injury. Mr. Sharma narrated an incident about a tiger that injured itself with a porcupine quill. The quill had gone right through its paw from one end and come out from the other end forming a U-shaped curve- giving the tiger unimaginable pain. The tiger struggled in vain to get the quill out. Such injuries obviously leave them incapacitated for hunting. This is when they take to killing humans, cattle and any prey that they can easily get.

Another interesting part of this visit was that we saw embryos of tigers preserved in small glass cylinders. It is possible that they were found in female tigers that died a natural death or were killed. Talking of embryos and pregnancy, Mr. Sharma told us that the gestation period in elephants is 18 months. Gosh!!! 18 months, can you imagine more than a year- carrying the baby inside you? Ouch, that’s uncomfortable. J

The camp at Kaladungi called “ Jungle lore” after the book written by Corbett was beautifully structured. Kaladungi, the residence of Jim Corbett lies outside the area of the Park. It was pretty dark by the time we reached Kaladungi at about 7:00 p.m. It had started getting chilly. This time our accommodation was in tents. There were about 10 canvas tents pitched in the place. The place itself was a lichee orchard. To each tree hung a lantern giving the place a warm and welcoming look. The dining place had electricity supply but the tents were not provided with artificial light on purpose. The tents were maintained quite well, each furnished with two beds a side table with candles on a candle stand to provide the required illumination. In the orchard the sitting arrangement was done up in a creative fashion. Large flat boulders and wood stumps served as seats around a flat rock. The food and dessert were excellent and we had quite a tasty dinner.

At this camp our usual quiz and discussion took place at a campfire lit in a pit specially made for the purpose. We sat around the crackling fire enjoying the warmth and discussing the day’s happenings and then had a hearty laugh as we watched one of the groups struggle to enumerate 10 predator birds during the quiz. J

The next morning at Kaladungi we went for a refreshing walk along the canal built by the riverside. It was a pleasant walk in the early morning crisp chilly air and the sound of the water rushing through the canal gates was music to the ears. This canal, so we were told was constructed by Sir Jim Corbett and it stands so since then, supplying water to the nearby villages for irrigation. But the sad part of the whole thing is that in the process the whole river is emptied, leaving a dry riverbed. As Mr. Manoj Sharma rightly put it, it kills the river and along with it the aqua fauna. Shoals of fishes get emptied into the fields along with the river water and thus reach their grave. L

A plumbeous water redstart was chirping away to glory on the nearby barbed fence. We followed it with our eyes; a slaty blue body with a chestnut tail the size + a sparrow, hopping from one bush to the other. A little further down the canal we were welcomed by a pair of white capped water redstarts. This bird is a real beauty, a resident of Himalayas; it has a rufous – chestnut body, slaty blue head adorned with a whitecap. We saw many more of them as we left the canal and proceeded down to the rocky river bed of smooth white stones. Here we saw numerous wagtails and redstarts. We were there for quite a while watching the red starts to our satisfaction. Away to our left a mixed hunting party was having their breakfast. It consisted of woodpeckers, flycatchers, shrikes and bulbuls. As woodpeckers peck at the bark, they disturb small worms and insects that are eagerly picked up by the bulbuls. Thus they operate in a group helping each other. While we were thus observing, a flash of red caught our attention. A crimson sunbird sent a wave of excitement through the group. What a beauty!! Its lustrous crimson mantle shone in the early morning sun. We got a good look at it through the binoculars as it darted from one treetop to another.

When everyone was contented we took the way back, this time walking on the motorable road. As we trudged back we admired many beautiful butterflies yellow ones, some lustrous blue and another one a sky blue coloured flittering past us. We stopped to admire few tunnel spiders. These spiders do not weave their webs between the branches of trees but prefer to do so on the ground. The spider gets its name from a white cotton like web shaped like a tunnel. The spider sits in it baiting (waiting for a prey): as soon as any insect sits on the edge of the tunnel the predator sucks it in. After a good walk we were ready for lunch.

Before going straight to the camp we visited Jim Corbett’s house. It has now been converted into a museum. The rooms displayed his photographs during his hunting expeditions along with his associates and the killed maneaters. His furniture and accessories were also displayed. On the walls hung tablets written by Corbett himself. They tell about his experiences of wildlife and the lessons he learnt from them. The one/two lines on each tablet reflect a lot of thought and philosophy.

That evening we spent in the pleasant surroundings of the Corbett falls. Although the falls were quite close to our camp, we took a longer route going through the jungle and climbing down a slope to reach there. We spent some time by the falls; took some snaps and returned by the motorable road. We left for Ramnagar that evening to take the train back to Delhi.

While we waited for the train at Ramnagar station Mr. Sharma showed us his photos and slides. Since he visits the park frequently as a part of his work, he has good opportunity to shoot wildlife. Some of the snaps depicted rare instances, which he was lucky to catch. One of the snaps showed a male elephant secreting “mast”. The male secretes the “mast” when he is ready to mate. This is done to attract the female who can smell the “mast from a distance and then approaches the male. Another photo was interesting. As the photographers neared the elephant herd, one of the baby elephant panicked. So its aunts (female elephants) J surrounded it one standing behind it and two on either side of it raising their trunks over its head in a protective gesture. Lucky indeed to get such a snap!

As the train came we bid farewell to Mr. Sharma who arranged the trip well and helped make it a memorable experience.

Those that made life in Corbett fascinating…
Indian Shag
Grey Heron
Pond Heron/paddy bird
Smaller Egret
Little Egret
White necked Stork
Black Stork
Blacked necked Stork
Blackwinged Kite
Changeable Hawk Eagle
Steppe Eagle
Pallas’s Fishing Eagle
Black/King vulture
Indian Longbilled Vulture
Indian Whitebacked Vulture
Hen Harrier
Crested Serpent Eagle
Red Breasted / Collared Falconet
Peregrine Falcon
Kaleej Pheasant
Red Junglefowl
Common Peafowl
Redwattled Lapwing
Spurwinged Lapwing
Green Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Blackwinged stilt
Indian River tern
Yellowlegged Green Pigeon
Blue Rock Pigeon
Emerald Dove
Alexandrine Parakeet
Roseringed parakeet
Blosomheaded Parakeet
Crow Pheasant/Coucal
Brown Fish Owl
Jungle Owlet
Crested Tree Swift
Himalayan Pied Kingfisher
Lesser Pied Kingfisher
Common Kingfisher
Storkbilled Kingfisher
Whitebrested Kingfisher
Great Pied Hornbill
Lineated Barbet
Bluethroated Barbet
Crimsonbrested Barbet/Coppersmith
Rufous Woodpecker
Little Scalybellied Green Woodpecker
Blacknaped Green Woodpecker
Lesser Goldenbacked Woodpecker
Fulvousbrested Pied Woodpecker
Collared Sand Martin
Plain Sand Martin
Crag Martin
Striated/ Redrumped Swallow
Grey Shrike
Rufousbacked Shrike
Golden Oriole
Blackheaded Oriole
Whitebellied Drongo
Bronzed Drongo
Common Myna
Bank Myna
Indian Treepie
House Crow
Jungle Crow
Pied Flycatcher Shrike
Common Wood Shrike
Scarlet Minivet
Longtailed Minivet
Small Minivet
Common Iora
Goldenfronted Chloropsis
Blackcrested Yellow Bulbul
Redwhiskered Bulbul
Whitecheeked Bulbul
Redvented Bulbul
Blackchinned Babbler
Yelloweyed Babbler
Common Babbler
Large Grey Babbler
Jungle Babbler
Brown Flycatcher
Whitebrowed Fantail Flycatcher
Whitethroated Fantail Flycatcher
Chestnutheaded Ground Warbler
Franklin’s Wren Warbler
Ashy wren Warbler
Brown Leaf Warbler/Chiffchaff
Greyheaded Flycatcher Warbler
Magpie Robin/Dhyal
Black Redstart
Plumbeous Redstart
Brown Rock Chat
Stone Chat
Pied Bush Chat
Dark Grey Bush Chat
Whitecapped Redstart
Indian Robin
Blue Rock Thrush
Blue Whistling Thrush
Grey Tit
Chestnutbellied Nuthatch
Velvetfronted Nuthatch
Wall Creeper
Grey Wagtail
Pied/White Wagtail
Large Pied Wagtail
Purple Sunbird
Yellowbacked Sunbird
House Sparrow
Spotted Munia
Crested Bunting
Chestnuteared Bunting



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