While Jim Corbett National Park and hills of Kumaoun are filled with wildlife enthusiasts and tourists narrating their escapades and encounters with tigers and tuskers, I am happy with my lot of birds’ .For an amateur birder like me, the hills and foothills of Kumaoun are full of surprises. While the elusive leopard or tiger may always be difficult to sight to which I have no remorse in saying that have again managed to elude me, the feathered species never disappoint. There are raptors, migratory birds, water birds, waders, forest birds and every time, the forests and the river greets me with a new story.
As again I was at my in-laws place and apart from amazing hospitality and food offered by my In-laws, the trip to Jim Corbett and Birding trip has always remained an added incentive to visit this beautiful landscape of India. And as always there has been Rajesh Panwar of Camp Milleu to always ready and full of enthusiasm to take me out for birding tour.
The part about being with Rajesh is that there is tremendous amount of flexibility on tour and he also being a Bird enthusiast makes it even better proposition.
We decided to go to Jim Corbett and as it was already 20th of June, the Dhikala entry of the park was already closed and we decided to enter the park from Bijroni Side. It was swift and smooth Jeep was lined up, we approached the park gate got the registration done and on boarded appointed Guide and off we went. Just inside the park and we could hear calls of Indian Pitta and just a little bit of probing on ground along the dry leaves, there it was… a bird as beautiful as its name in Hindi. It is called Navrang and Hindi and no wonder why this bird is called so. The entire park was filled with nesting and mating calls or acts of birds. A pair of spotted doves was relentlessly chasing each other on ground, river lapwings sitting on stony river bed on eggs, Oriental Magpie Robins carrying nesting materials to nesting sites and crossing the trail more often than not. Peacock calls were echoing the entire Ramganga river basin. And just as we were about to cross a rivulet we came across a huge Brown Fish owl sitting pretty on a big perch over the rivulet. I have encountered this owl twice and both the time I have come across this owl in same habitat as described by Salim Ali Sir in his books. Sometimes it baffles me that how on earth a person can study each and every bird in India in such a great detail that still when we come across these birds the habitat, behavior of these birds comes out verbatim as per his books. And as we were focusing hard on the Owl, a sudden staccato rattle beneath the bridge on which we standing introduced us to the first reptile of the Corbett for me, out came an “Indian Black Turtle” and as it realized it is on our radar, the head went inside. It was still dark and Sun was still not at its full glory and overcast conditions were not helping either. High ISO and low shutter speed were showing its affects of quality of photographs.
|Brown Fish Owl|
|Indian Black Turtle|
As we moved ahead a barking deer came out from under growth of bushes and just after observing our jeep got confused which way to go. It first wanted to go back and turned full and again started to move ahead and eventually kept on moving straight on the trail and in the process gave us some good shots. After some time it went towards river bed and then went inside meadows. One thing that has always amused me about Jim Corbett that it such a complete wildlife destination it has all kinds of landscapes like area of hills, riverine belts, marshy depressions, grass lands and large lake. So it makes a perfect home for every fauna which is a part of this landscape. Every species is complete in Corbett.
As our driver and guide were both aware of the fact that we were not very keen on spotting the tiger and were more interested in Birds, they took us to a trail with a lot of greenery. The trail was full of Sal, Haldu, Pipal, Rohini and Mango trees and I was getting answers to my question that why these forests are home to over 500 bird species.
Rains had just started 2 days back were not enough to suppress the sounds of dry leaves. We were getting alerts when a family of wild boars was coming to cross the trail to movement of red Jungle fowl inside the bushes. Even a smaller puff throated babbler could not suppress the sound of dry leaves. Nesting activity of Oriental magpie robin and Asian Paradise fly catcher were on full throttle. Long white tailed males were flying across the trails in to the trees far off, but the sight was such that I still get sleepless moments when I recall those birds. After exploring well wooded region and spotting the 3 woodpecker species (Grey Headed, Black rumped flame back and greater Flame back) we went towards river bed and open areas.
|Puff Throated Babbler|
|Female Red Jungle Fowl|
|Red Jungle Fowl- Male|
|Grey Headed Woodpecker|
As we went in to open areas our eyes kept on searching for raptors sitting high up in trees, and there on an barren perch was Mountain Hawk Eagle. A species restricted only to these forests and Southern Western Ghats. Just ahead and we could see groups of Yellow footed pigeons sitting on fig tree and having breakfast. As the sun rose the temperatures started to rise and we could see young Sambhar deers laying themselves in pool of water to get rid of fire flies.
|Sambhar Deer- Beat the Heat|
Just a few meters ahead as we crossed the river bed and entered in to a meadows landscape we came across something very interesting. From far off we observed a Jackal in the long strands of dried grass bed. Spotting it was not easy as its skin colour gets mixed with grass so effectively that its very hard to spot it initially. As we approached closer we heard panic calls of Red Wattled lapwing (Titahiri), this being breeding season for Lapwings and since they nest on ground it appeared to a nest raiding attempt by the Jackal, but the Jackal we observed was in front of us, we looked closer and out came the partner in the crime, a second jackal. After this both moved towards meadows and one started to do urine and then rolling over it and then again rolling over at a fresh piece of land, it was clearly area marking activity by the couple and they were doing this rigorously.
|The Game of Jackal|
The worst part about being in Jim Corbett is the fact that you never know when the time gets and over and makes you feel more eager to spend more time inside it. But the best part is; it is so wonderful to be inside and see the nature’s drama getting unfolded in front of you.
We went out of the park as Rajesh had suggested that a reserve forest area by the name of Sitavani juxtaposed to Corbett is also worth exploring. While approaching Sitavani I asked Rajesh about this forest he told me that Tusker and tigers both frequent these forests and there have been many incidents of tigers attacks on human in these forests and farm land inside the forest. It is just a stone’s throw away from Bijrani Exit gate. Just by the time our talks could complete we were in Sitavani forest area. I always had a longing desire that while doing a forest trail a monitor lizard should cross my trail and forget about the photographs even the sighting of this reptile will make my excursion a great success. And as we were driving through the pakka road of Sitavani Forests a Big Yellow Monitor lizard started crossing the road. We stopped the car and got out of it chased the Lizard. The Lizard still cold (suggested by its sluggish movements) took shelter in to dense bushes. I all was so elated that I forgot to change my Camera settings and after a few initial clicks came in to senses and reviewed the snaps, the snaps were not doing justice to beauty of this magnificent reptile. Every time while watching monitor lizard on Television/ Photographs I always thought are beautiful creatures. They can get surprising large and have interesting camouflage patterns across their backs, big clawed feet and a long tail - ok not everyone’s idea of beautiful, but I like the look of them. I regained my composure and after realizing that the lizard is not going to move due to low body temperature along with the fact that it was finding itself secured in bushes, I started to change camera settings and started to take clicks of this yellow beauty. I have a never ending fascination for this majestic reptile, whenever in wild, if I ever have felt exhausted I always tell my partner Satya that if a monitor lizard comes in front or even a slightest of sight of this majestic reptile will send new wave of energy in my body. And herein Sitavani forests I was taking close ups of this beauty. I took ample close ups; photos of forehead, nostrils, eyes, scale patterns. The lizard was still relaxed and thankfully undisturbed as till now there no signs of hissing sound or any attempt to escape.
|Yellow Monitor Lizard|
After some 15 minutes of our tryst with this glorious reptile we went ahead and reached a well wooded forest, a rocky riverbed was the spot that rajesh told is home to various Birds. It was a shady patch of forest with a small stream of water making its way in between. We just waited for a few minutes and the place started coming to life Chestnut Bellied Nuthatch, Chestnut headed Bee Eater Oriental White Eyes, Grey Tree pie, Blue bearded Bee Eater sitting near a Bee hive and many birds could be seen in canopy. All of a sudden distress calls of Bonnet Macaques started echoing from very nearby and even some sound of restricted movement in near Bushes captured our attention and Rajesh thought it would be wise for us to retreat and come out of Bushes.
|Chestnut Headed Bee Eater|
It was already 11 AM and we thought to start going back as we had to take lunch and go Drive all the way to Saat Taal area near Nainitaal which as per Rajesh was going to be an unforgettable trip, and I was eager to reach there. While driving down the hill of Sitavani Forests an Oriental Honey Buzzard was sitting pretty on a nearby perch, and out of nowhere a Grey Hornbill came out. I was smiling as I took it as a good omen for the trip we were about to begin.
|Oriental Honey Buzzard|
It is one of the rarest place where you’ll tire of asking but offering will remain one step ahead. Once you visit Jim Corbett; you simply can’t resist yourself of describing the matchless beauty, the wilderness, the unparalleled thrill, and many such words which is not sufficient to capture the whole aura of its divinity…. Go Explore…