Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary (Bharatpur) and Ranathambore National Park
(18th – 23rd Feb 2004)

We arrived at Bharatpur station about an hour late. The sun was already painting the sky red by the time we reached our hotel. A small wash, breakfast and we set out to visit the Bird Sanctuary. There were 11 of us Alka our leader and organiser, Geeta, Mr. & Mrs Katdare, Kanchan and her nephew Amogh, Niranajn and his wife Ashwini, Rahul, Shekhar Rajeshirke (hence forth referred to as Raja) and myself. Some of us had been with Alka before and had some experience of birding, for others it was new. Old or new everyone was quite enthusiastic and eager.
At Bharatpur we were blessed with an experienced guide. He possessed an amazing ability to spot birds at a considerable distance in camouflage. Thanks to this enthusiastic chap we practically saw everything that was there to see in the park. Harisingh with his telescope on his tripod and the rest of us with our cameras and binoculars walked for almost 10-15 kms on the first day.
His precise identification especially of eagles and other birds of prey deserves appreciation. As soon as he would make a sighting, he would setup his telescope and we would queue to have a look. The superb magnitude of the instrument gave us the satisfaction of viewing even the tiniest and farthest birds. Spotted owlets taking a snooze were camera friendly. Purple & grey herons, Painted Storks, Egrets, Ibises, Pintails, Gadwalls, Brhaminy ducks, Bar-headed Geese, Comb ducks made up most of the morning sighting.

After lunch that day we proceeded in the direction of Python point to try our luck with the huge reptile. Although our legs protested and body demanded an afternoon siesta we trudged on. After a point the guide Harisingh left the well-worn path and entered thick dry shrubs until he came to a clearing. He put his finger to his lips indicating silence and asked one person to come at a time. We were too impatient to wait till the other person was done. Soon all of us found ourselves encircling a small bush underneath which were four–five tunnel burrows. Sliding on the soft sandy surface were four Rock pythons. Finding themselves suddenly surrounded by so many people they silently crawled down their tunnels. One of the python had had a recent meal. Its bulging stomach accentuated its slow slithering movement. This particular one that I saw had pricked itself with a porcupine quill near its eye. I thought it looked pretty sinister with a quill protruding from its eye as it slid towards the tunnel situated five feet from where I stood. Poor thing it must be in such pain!! I guess it justifies the injury considering that these pythons had captured the tunnels industriously dug up by porcupines. Within 5 minutes all the pythons were back in the safe abode of the burrows. In the excitement photos had not been given due attention; we wanted a repeat act. So we retreated a few meters and waited, taking care that the ground did not unduly vibrate under our feet, giving away our presence. But opportunity strikes only once; we lingered round for another ten minutes and left.

From there on we went in search of stone curlews, following Harisingh through dry, arid jungle; the sun beating down upon us…… The path was strewn with bones, skulls and other remains of the animals’ fallen prey to the carnivores. We came across these remains practically at every step so that the whole area took the appearance of a natural graveyard… quite eerie!! The Stone curlew continued to elude us……

Nevertheless we continued walking ……. Harisingh with his unabated zeal true to a birder’s nature took every opportunity to show us ruffs, pipits, warblers, wagtails which present a challenge to the unaided eye. At the end of the day tired but fulfilled we returned to a wonderful hot water bath and welcoming dinner.

The boat ride the next morning was quite a disappointment for me. The intention of the ride was that we would get a closer view that would lend itself to photography.
My disappointment was perhaps because I judged it from my previous experience at the Park. Earlier I had been to the Bharatpur in November. It was breeding season then, and hundreds of heronries and nestlings could be seen everywhere. Every tree supported numerous nests of ibises, storks, egrets, and the waters were home to an equal number of ducks, jacanas and other water birds. The Park bore a busy atmosphere. The birds caring and feeding their young were least bothered about the onlookers. It was delight to the birdwatcher’s eye. Besides at that time we had moved around in a Tonga and then after sunrise taken a boat ride.
This time around we started the boat ride the first thing in the morning. As the boat inched nearer pintails, gadwalls, shovellers took off from the waterfront and landed at a safe distance further. They made a nice picture as they sprinted on the water surface before taking off.
We saw a marvellous sunrise in the background of dry shrubs. The water acquired a golden sparkle as the great orb rose in the sky.

Harisingh had promised to show us nightjars. But we could not locate any the previous day. After the boat ride we went to have a look at this nightjar that he had located with the help of two other forest rangers. Nightjars characteristically squat on the ground well concealed among dry leaves and scrub making them difficult to locate. The bird also takes an immobile stance allowing for observation at leisure. Although Niranjan and Raja moved quite close to take pictures it did not even bat an eyelid!! Its immobility was actually the reason that some had difficulty locating it among the mass of dry leaves within a distance of five feet J!!

Having thanked Harisingh we bid him farewell to take our next train to SavaiMadhopur.

Ranathambore National Park presents a range of vegetation from dry arid regions with limited water resources to thick foliage in ravines and gorges. It lies in the centre surrounded by Satpura and Aravali mountain ranges.

It is common knowledge that peacocks are found in great numbers in Rajasthan and U.P. In Ranathambore even on dry sultry afternoons when even deer were rarely sighted, flocks of peafowl could be seen at regular intervals. They would include peahens, immature peacocks and full-grown adults. This particular afternoon we had been travelling through a particularly dry & barren area. After a while the road entered comparatively thick vegetation. On a clearing were a group of peafowl. In line with our increasing demands, we expressed the wish to see a dancing peacock with its trail fanned out. And the peacock was decent enough to oblige. Of course it was busy wooing a bevy of admiring hens with its back to us. That was not what we had asked for. On repeated pleas from our side it did pay some attention to us and we got an amazing spectacle of its grand fanned tail. Simply awesome! The peacock was still young and the tail had not developed to its full length, still the sight was extremely fulfilling! Satisfied we continued further.

I had not expected a tiger sighting at Ranathambore. But the National Park is supposed to have a fairly good density of tigers; hence our luck.

The route assigned to our canter was R1. There are about 7 routes in the tourist zone at Ranathambore. The reverse (R) and forward (F) routes are the same but in the opposite direction. On day one we took route 1 in the reverse direction. Dharmendra who is a committed researcher on spiders and Alka’s friend is presently working on tigers at Ranathambore. He met us before the ride and was of the opinion that R1 had low probability of tiger sighting. R6 & R7 were comparatively better.

At Rambaugh our canter halted. Straight ahead down the slope was the lake. We sighted a few sambar deer, spotted deer and peacocks. Suddenly the sound of Langur alarm calls could be heard. This indicated that the tiger was prowling near by. The movements of the tiger are quite well traced in the jungle. As soon as the tiger is noticed all the animals & birds are notified. Langurs and deer are in the forefront in this aspect.
This was the drama that unfolded before us that afternoon. As soon as we heard the Langurs call, everyone had their binoc’s to their eyes focused on the lakeside. All the Sambar deer stood with their tails erect. After a while the male stag started stamping its right hoof. It was an indication of the tiger’s proximity.
Those ignorant to these signals would have seen langurs playfully jumping from one branch to another, sambar peacefully grazing and peafowl feeding nearby. A purple heron, painted stork and ducks swimming on the waterfront completed the picture.

But given the significance of the alarm calls and signals, we knew that the entire jungle was keenly alert to the movements of the tiger while going about their mundane activities. The intention of the tiger is also estimated. They realise that it is not necessary to interrupt their humdrum routine when the tiger’s intention is not to kill. And yet one has got to be aware of the tiger’s presence.
Our driver twice opined that the tiger must be hidden in the tall grass near the water. Still we failed to spot the tiger though false deductions in the form of tufts of grass and bark of trees continued.
Two three vehicles were parked around us trying to spot the striped animal. After a while when there was still no sign of the tiger the vehicles moved. They went in the direction of Padam Lake where a sighting had been reported. We urged our driver to do so. But Padam Lake did not fall on our assigned route.
The park allows only 3-4 vehicles to ply on any given route to restrict the amount of disturbance caused to wildlife. The penalty of failure to comply meant that the driver would not be allowed to drive for the next four months.
Here it should be mentioned that the drivers are as desperate as the tourists (if not more) to sight tigers. This is in anticipation of a fat tip especially from foreigners. The larger the canter and more the number of foreign tourists, heavier is the pocket of the driver by the end of the day in the instance of a tiger sighting.
Knowing this very well our driver calmly removed the number plate denoting the route and proceeded in the direction of Padam Lake.

Padam Lake is the major fresh water resource for the park and is frequented by thirsty avifauna. As we reached the lake many vehicles had already lined up and the occupants were busy studying the opposite bank. On that end of the lake a dry tree trunk lay on the ground. A few peacocks were feeding on worms, insects and other titbits. Through her binoculars Geeta spotted something and insisted that it was a peacock’s trail lying upside down … a puzzling finding. No one was interested in peacocks… all attention was concentrated on the tiger. God alone knows where it was hiding…. And suddenly we could see the striped creature behind the dry tree trunk!! …… with a graceful bound it was now on the top of the trunk intending to settle down. A gasp of delight & excitement… from those who saw it all… Not everyone did catch a glimpse since all the group members did not possess binoc’s. Till the binoc’s could reach their hands our driver noticing a patrol vehicle approaching had started moving away from the site.

The next day we did get an opportunity to view this particular tiger at leisure. The drivers often exchange information of sightings when two vehicles come across each other. That day as soon as our driver was informed about the tiger he stepped on the accelerator only to stop when we reached Padam Lake. Fortunately this time we were on the right route and could spend more time at the place. Many vehicles had lined up and our driver stationed the canter in a position affording a good view. The tiger was in full view lying by the waterside taking an afternoon nap. Again Sambar deer were grazing nearby fully aware of its presence. Every time the tiger turned from side to side we got a glimpse of its white belly. Its tail was busy shooing away flies and insects. Once in a while it would lift its head to gaze around but did not bother to get up and move. For about 45 minutes it enjoyed our full attention. Everyone had a satisfying view. The photography enthusiasts got their snaps and movie cameras rolling.

On the last morning we did not quite expect to have any new spectacular sightings. We had seen practically everything ……… so we thought. This is the reason why perhaps many were not ready with their cameras and Niranjan had not paid for his camcorder.
Fortunately for us as we decided later, we had to wait half and hour for our canter. We were to share our canter with other tourists unlike the luxury of a 11-seater canter we enjoyed for the previous rides. It was irritating to be late to enter the Park since most bird and animal activity is in early mornings.
It happened before we started on our assigned route. After we entered the park a little distance further down from the official gate some vehicles were waiting and the tourists were looking in one direction. We followed their example. Indeed after staring at the tree cover we could see the majestic animal walking towards us. Perfectly camouflaged, it revealed itself to the eye as it neared the road. Through the dry foliage it emerged on to the road and crossed over on to the other side passing within 10 feet of the rear of our canter. Not once did it hesitate on seeing the vehicles full of excited Homosapiens (scientific name of humans …for your GK). All of us were overjoyed at this early morning welcome. It was a wish come true. The incident is etched on every onlookers mind and it stays there more so because the low morning light did not lend itself to photography.
After the tiger entered the jungle on the right, the canters started moving to track it to the next location. From our destination we could see the canters moving along the road in thick vegetation. Some of us counted three more tigers as the vehicles moved J. Such was the effect of the close encounter with the tiger that for a while we could register nothing but the image of tigers in every moving thingJJ!!

Further down the route a sloth bear crossed our path. It is rare to see one during the day, so Alka told us. Beautiful Chinkara hopped and skipped along our path and broke into a graceful run on seeing a Jackal. The chinkara is really a pretty animal belonging to the gazelle family. We were also lucky to see the unusual incident of a male Sambar mount another male in the absence of a female!! Alka informed that such behaviour is seen at times when they are on heat.

Thus concluded our stay at Ranathambore fulfilling and thrilling with its abundance of wildlife!!


1. Grey Francolin
2. Indian Peafowl
3. Bar-headed Goose
4. Common Sheild Duck (Brahminy duck)
5. Comb Duck
6. Gadwall
7. Eurasian Wigeon
8. Spot-billed duck
9. Common Teal
10. Nothern Pintail
11. Northern Shoveller
12. Red-crested Pochard
13. Common Pochard
14. Freruginous Pochard
15. Mahratta Woodpecker
16. Black rumped flameback Woodpecker
17. Brown headed Barbet (heard)
18. Coppersmith Barbet
19. Malabar Pied Hornbill
20. Common Hoopoe
21. Indian Roller
22. White breasted Kingfisher
23. Small blue Kingfisher
24. Pied Kingfisher
25. Greater Coucal
26. Roseringed Parakeet
27. Plumheaded parakeet
28. House Swift
29. Dusky Eagle Owl
30. Collared Scops Owl
31. Spotted Owlet
32. Laughing Dove
33. Spotted Dove
34. Red Collared Dove
35. Yellow footed green Pigeon
36. Sarus Crane
37. Purple Swamphen (moorhen)
38. Common Moorhen
39. Whitebreasted waterhen
40. Common Coot
41. Common Redshank
42. Common Greenshank
43. Wood Sandpiper
44. Green Snadpiper
45. Marsh Sandpiper
46. Ruff
47. Black Shouldered Stilt
48. Bronze-winged Jacana
49. Red-wattled Lapwing
50. Yellow-wattled Lapwing
51. Lesser fish Eagle
52. Eurasian marsh Harrier
53. Lesser spotted Eagle
54. Greater spotted Eagle
55. Steppe Eagle
56. Imperial Eagle
57. Bonelli’s eagle
58. Crested Serpent Eagle
59. Little Grebe
60. Darter
61. Little Cormorant
62. Great Cormorant
63. Intermediate Egret
64. Cattle Egret
65. Indian Pond heron
66. Grey Heron
67. Purple Heron
68. Little Heron
69. Glossy Ibis
70. Black-headed Ibis
71. Eurasian Spoonbill
72. Painted Stork
73. Asian open bill
74. Woolly necked Stork
75. Black necked Stork
76. Long tailed Shrike
77. Brown Shrike
78. Large wood Shrike
79. Rufous Treepie
80. Eurasian golden Oriole
81. Black Drongo
82. Brown breasted Flycatcher
83. Red breasted Flycatcher
84. Blue throat
85. Oriental Magpie Robin
86. Indian Robin
87. Black Redstart
88. Chestnut shouldered Petronia
89. Pied Bushchat
90. Common Starling
91. Brahminy Starling (Myna)
92. Jungle Myna
93. Ashy Prinia
94. Plain Prinia
95. Lesser Whitethroat
96. Jungle Babbler
97. Short-toed Lark
98. Ashy crowned sparrow Lark
99. Purple Sunbird
100. Purplerumped Sunbird
101. White Wagtail
102. Olive backed Pipit
103. Paddy field Pipit
104. Richards Pipit
105. Long tailed Nightjar
106. Barn Swallow
107. Wire-tailed Swallow
108. Common Quail
109. Red spurfowl
110. Green bee-eater
111. Black-tailed Godwit
112. Long-billed Vulture
113. Egyptian Vulture
114. Red headed Vulture (King vulture)

1. Sambar deer
2. Spotted Deer
3. Blue bull (Nilgai)
4. Chinkara
5. Tiger
6. Jackal
7. Sloth bear
8. Ruddy mongoose
9. Black tip mongoose
10. Python
11. Crocodile
12. Tortoise



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