Trip Report: Ranthambore National Park, Jan ’15

Trip:      Ranthambore National Park

Camp:   Ranthambhore Regency

Dates:   23-26 Jan ‘15

Who:     GiK, Drs R and M and kids V and P

We should have flown to Jaipur and driven from there to Sawai Madhopur (150 kms). Instead we flew to Delhi, reached there an hour later than scheduled, at about 9:30 PM, dealt with the pathetic airport taxi system to get to Hazrat Nizamuddin station, and took the 11:40 PM Haridwar-Mumbai Bandra Terminus SF Express that ended up leaving Delhi at 1:45 AM. We reached Sawai Madhopur at sometime past 6 AM, a full ninety minutes past schedule and rushed to catch the morning safari. And all this with two kids and a cold wave in attendance. Flying to Jaipur would have been the sensible thing to do, even if it meant some loss of daytime.

The zones

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We spent four days in Ranthambore, doing seven safaris in all. Ranthambore has ten numbered tourist zones, with ten gypsies allowed into each zone at a time. On weekends, the FD allows a few more under pressure from VIPs. In fact the FD themselves possess safari-ready gypsies for ferrying their guests around. These gypsies have the triple advantages of no zone restrictions, no time restrictions and a ready information feed via radio.

Zones 1 to 5 are the sought-after ones, with zone 3 being the clear favourite at this time. It is evidently not easy to get the popular zones booked. Regency get an assortment of zones booked daily and ration them among their guests to ensure everyone gets a fair share of the more productive zones. And so we did three safaris in zone 3, two in zone 4 and one each in zones 2 and 6.

Entry to zones 2 and 3 is via the Jogi Mahal gate. The picturesque zone 3 route winds past the Padam talao (on the banks of which the famed Jogi Mahal is sited) and onto the vast Raj Bagh lake. The abandoned hunting lodge on the latter has produced some fine images of tigers on its balcony framed by its structure and shot from across the lake. Finding tigers in this structure is evidently a summer phenomenon.

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Zone 2 is magnificent too, with the road winding by the towering Ranthambore fort and then past another long range of cliffs. However twice a month on chaturdashi days of the Hindu calendar, pilgrims troop through this zone barefoot to worship at a Ganesh temple somewhere. The resultant ruckus effectively puts paid to any decent sighting possibilities. That’s what happened to us on day 1 in the afternoon.

GiK and I thought zone 4 was the best of them all in terms of its beauty. At this time of year, it has several stunningly beautiful spots, especially large patches of bright, finely textured grass. A tiger on this grass in mellow morning light will make for a dream photograph. Zone 4 also has a large lake teeming with aquatic birds, muggers and sambar – Malik talao.

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This zone  is accessed via a gate placed to the left of the approach road some distance before the Jogi Mahal gate is reached.

The anicut in zone 4 in the morning mist:

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In contrast with these three zones, zone 6 is a drab and dreary affair, with no impressive landscapes or features – just dusty tracks winding through unprepossessing, stunted jungle. To make matters worse, this zone is accessed after negotiating the sewer-lined, congested bazars of old Sawai Madhopur. If this route is bad in winter, I shudder to think what it’ll be in the heat of summer. But to be fair, we did sight a tiger in zone 6, and a magnificent male in his prime at that.

Tiger centricity

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At the outset, our very competent naturalist Satish Upadyay suggested that we get the tiger sighting out of the way before turning our attention to birding. GiK, my kid P and I were in one Gypsy and we started with zone 3. We reached Rajbagh and struck luck. Three 10-month cubs gamboling in the grass, the litter of the tigress T-19 or Krishna. This tigress is Machli’s offspring and the reigning queen tigress of Ranthambore. We didn’t see the mother though, just the cubs. They were some 40-50 feet from the jeep, by the water and we watched them for twenty minutes or so before they headed back into taller khus grass where a sambar kill was hidden.

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As often happens, this spectacular start was followed by muted follow-through, with plenty of alarm calls but no sightings fructifying until the evening of the next day. That was the afternoon safari of day 2, in zone 6. A passing Gypsy reported seeing a tiger cross a nallah and disappear into the jungle. Scouting around we finally came to a cluster of jeeps with the tiger barely visible some two hundred meters away. This was T-34 or Kumbha, a tiger with a colourful reputation for intimidating behavior. He was lying on his back with his paws in the air.

Ranthambore allows safaris in Gypsies and Canters. The latter contain five seats to a row and it mustn’t be great fun to be stuck in the middle. Anyway there were plenty of noisy tourists in attendance and the din disturbed the animal enough to make him roll over one side to the other occasionally and lift his head up to see what the racket was all about. This went on for about fifteen minutes after which he was disgusted enough to rise and stalk away. The horde then started up to chase him, but by the time the jam could be sorted out and the vehicles turned around, a good ten minutes was lost. Meanwhile the cat disappeared without a trace.

Satish had predicted a success rate of 30%. We did a little better than that, with three sightings in seven safaris. On day 3 in the evening safari, we had spent the evening chasing alarm calls in vain all over zone 4. Often being in the unenviable situation of having calls emanating from two different directions.

An interesting feature of tiger tracking in Ranthambore is that when alarm calls are heard, whether chital or langur, Satish listened to see if multiple individuals were calling. Calls by single individuals evidently lack credibility and were actually ignored a couple of times, even when persisting for a while. Satish also mentioned that while chital or sambar calls may sometimes mislead, the nilgai’s alarm call, if heard, is a certain indicator of the tiger’s presence.

Exit time was at 5:30 and we’d spent much of the evening rushing from one set of calls to another. While we were stopped in one of the meeting points for a quick bio break, a gypsy rolled in and the woman in it asked why all of us were hanging around there while there was a sighting in progress elsewhere. Satish and the driver jumped like they were bee-stung and we began a crazy, careening hurtle at mad speed towards the spot indicated. This was quite a distance away and we had just about half an hour to go before exit time, with the exit gate a long way off.

Reaching the place we found that it was hardly a kilometer’s distance from where we’d waited a while earlier listening to chital calls. Some jeeps had gone ahead from that point but had returned without having spotted the tiger. Given the late hour, all the vehicles there were FD Gypsies, with our Gypsy and a canter that arrived later being the only commercial tourist vehicles. The tiger was sprawled on the grass across a ravine amidst some very pretty scenery. This was T-6 or Romeo a fine six year old male. We had around five minutes to take a good look and finish clicking pictures before it was time to hurtle back towards the exit gate. The driver incidentally clocked 85 kmph on that crazy drive and we spent much of it in the air, holding on tight to keep us from bouncing right off the jeep. Admittedly illegal but incredible fun though.

Leopards are at least as numerous as tigers in Ranthambore but as is typical of tiger-infested areas, rarely show themselves.

Both chital and sambar were numerous and the long-drawn rutting calls of chital stags reverberated through the forests at this time of year, sometimes startling innocent tourists who mistook them for the agonized screams of some animal being done to death.

Upwardly mobile chital stag:

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Sambar stags sparring:

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Nilgai are also fairly numerous in places, and GiK and I got some pictures.

Nilgai doe and buck in the mist:

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Nilgai buck:

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We also saw the Chinkara or Indian Gazelle for the first time, a very satisfying experience. Mugger are commonly seen on all the lakes.

There were several palm squirrels in the forest. After a desultory glance at one of them, I concluded that they were of the three-striped variety. Dr. R later told me that we were probably looking at Five-striped palm squirrels. I resolved to look more carefully and get a picture if possible on the next outing, but this slipped my mind and I didn’t see any more squirrels.

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Birding

Most remarkable are the Indian treepies. They are exceedingly common all through the forest, and are inured to tourists feeding them, although that is supposedly banned now. We did see some tourists feeding the birds at the rest points though. The birds however have lost their fear of people and freely perch on heads and hands. They are fearless enough to hop into the gypsies and onto the floor right around our feet, hunting for crumbs. Stop at any spot and in all likelihood, a couple materialized, heads cocked greedily, inspecting us closely for signs of anything edible.

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Peafowl are numerous as you might expect, and the persistent, two-note calls of Grey francolins rent the air frequently.

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Babblers, especially jungle babblers are numerous too and make it noisily evident. Large grey babblers are easily met with and I initially mistook them for jungle babblers until Dr. R pointed this out. Rose-ringed parakeets are another noisy, frequently encountered bird. We met spotted owlets around half a dozen times, so they are not uncommon here.

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Long-tailed shrike:

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Hoopoe on a Dhok tree:

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In the waters of the lakes were Ruddy shelducks, Wooly-necked storks, Grey herons, Common snipes, egrets, cormorants, darters, White ibis, Openbill storks, River terns, dozens of Common moorhen, plenty of Black-winged stilts, more White-breasted waterhen than I’ve cumulatively seen so far and intrepid Red-wattled lapwings that stalked right up to the jeeps hunting for insects dislodged by the tyres.

Wooly-necked stork:

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Black-winged stilt:

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Black-capped night heron:

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We noted that barbets were strangely absent, although Dr. R’s naturalist pointed out that Coppersmith barbets did occur and were heard in the summer. Junglefowl are conspicuously absent.

Indian Scops owl:

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On the drive from Sawai Madhopur to Jaipur (we took the more sensible route on the way back), we saw Bank mynas for the first time whilst stopping for chai.

Crested serpent eagle:

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Flora

The landscape of Ranthambore is dominated by the tiny-leaved Dhok tree (Anogeissus pendula). This species comprises a good seventy or eighty percent of the forest’s tree-count and is therefore ubiquitous. Next in terms of frequency are Babul or the Gum Arabic tree (Acacia nilotica) and the Flame of the forest (Butea monosperma).

Acacia nilotica:

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Stunted Khair trees (Acacia catechu) are also frequently encountered.

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On rocky slopes, the striking-looking Karaya Gum tree (Sterculia Urens) is commonly seen.

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Several fine specimens of banyan (Ficus bengalensis) are found throughout the park including the iconic one draping the entrance a little before the Jogi Mahal gate. An exceptionally large specimen occurs near the Jogi Mahal, but is out of bounds for tourists.

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Indian date palms (Phoenix sylvestris) are frequently met with. Tendu (Diospyros melanoxylon) is also encountered occasionally. Adusa (Adhatoda vasica) occurs in clumps in many places. The leaves, flowers and bark of this shrub find medicinal uses chiefly in the treatment of asthma.

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Large clumps of the cactus-like Euphorbia plant are also seen.

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A very common shrub in the Dhok forests is Grewia flavescens. At least that’s what I think it is. Our naturalist Satish identified the plant as Chameni in Hindi. I struggled to locate the binomial name and after considerable search, am leaning towards Grewia flavescens. This Grewia species is reputed to be a frequent associate of the Dhok and is supposedly commonly found in Ranthambore. The plant we saw is certainly found all over the place.

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The lakesides are lined with the aromatic Khus grass (Vetivaria zizznioides). Large patches of striking red Water velvet (Azolla pinnata) were found on the surfaces of some lakes. This is a species of tiny-leaved aquatic fern.

Birds:

  1. Asian pied starling
  2. Ashy-crowned sparrowlark
  3. Bank myna
  4. Long-tailed shrike
  5. Black-capped night heron
  6. Black drongo
  7. Black-shouldered kite
  8. Black-tailed godwit
  9. Black-winged stilt
  10. Blue rock dove
  11. Bluethroat
  12. Brown rock chat
  13. Cinereous tit
  14. Common iora
  15. Common kingfisher
  16. Common moorhen
  17. Common snipe
  18. Crested serpent eagle
  19. Darter
  20. Eurasian thick-knee
  21. Greater cormorant
  22. Greater coucal
  23. Grey francolin
  24. Grey heron
  25. Grey wagtail
  26. Hoopoe
  27. Indian Scops owl
  28. Indian vulture
  29. Long-tailed shrike
  30. Indian treepie
  31. Jungle babbler
  32. Large egret
  33. Large grey babbler
  34. Lesser flameback
  35. Little brown dove
  36. Little green heron
  37. Magpie robin
  38. Oriental honey buzzard
  39. Osprey
  40. Painted stork
  41. Peafowl
  42. Painted spurfowl
  43. Pied kingfisher
  44. Plain prinia
  45. Red-breasted flycatcher
  46. Red-wattled lapwing
  47. River tern
  48. Rose-ringed parakeet
  49. Ruddy shelduck
  50. Spotted dove
  51. Stonechat
  52. White-belloed drongo
  53. White-breasted waterhen
  54. White-browed fantail
  55. White-browed wagtail
  56. White ibis
  57. White-throated kingfisher
  58. White wagtail
  59. Wooly-necked stork
  60. Yellow-footed green pigeon

Mammals:

  1. Chinkara
  2. Chital
  3. Common langur
  4. Nilgai
  5. Ruddy mongoose
  6. Sambar
  7. Tiger

Reptiles:

  1. Marsh crocodile
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Kaziranga/Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, Dec 2014

Trip:       Kaziranga National Park/Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary

Camp:   Wildgrass (Kaziranga)/FRH (Gibbon)

Dates:   29 Dec ’14 – 1 Jan ‘15

This is going to be a long post.

My son and I had visited Kaziranga in April 2013, along with my sister’s family. He was five then and we’d had some great sightings. This second visit was planned six months in advance, for just the two of us. As the date approached however the trip looked to be jinxed. First was SpiceJet’s wholesale disruptions (our Bangalore-Guwahati onward was with them). Alternate fares quickly climbed in excess of Rs. 43K. Thankfully services were restored a couple of days before our departure date (which was on Christmas day). And then there were the Bodo militant attacks killing 75 people that put Assam on the boil a couple of days before we left. We planned to visit friends in the Missamari cantt for a few days, in addition to doing Kaziranga. The route from the Guwahati airport to Missamari passed through one of the sites of the attack (Dhekiajuli) and a curfew was supposedly in effect. Further, it was 4:15 PM by the time we exited the airport and the early winter sunset was underway. Which meant four hours of driving mostly in the dark. In any case the drive passed off without incident.

Missamari

Missamari was cold and offered some little birding around the cantt. Brown shrikes and Red-vented bulbuls were aplenty, as were three species of myna – Common, Jungle and Asian pied, and spotted doves. Black-throated munias were also numerous and a pair of these had nested under the roof overhang of the house.  I spotted a babbler-sized brown bird once that I couldn’t identify.

On the day before we left for Bangalore, a twittering something went sailing over the lawn, with a jerky uneven flight. Turned out to be a Brown shrike that had grabbed a munia chick from its nest. The chick screamed and struggled for all its tiny worth, and the shrike had trouble holding its course. It blundered over a hedge, landed on a pile of thorns some twenty five meters away, panicked at my approach and abandoned the chick wedged inside the thorny pile. The chick had sustained a bleeding injury around the mantle, but seemed alive enough. We extricated it and placed it on the lawn, from where it disappeared a short while later – spirited away either by its parents, or by the shrike.

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The Itinerary

I had explored the possibility of managing three or four PAs with Ficus’s Ravi Kailash months in advance. Pakke, Orang and Nameri are all tantalizingly close to Missamari. As is Eaglenest. However considering that all these places entailed some degree of walking, and considering that my son is not a particularly accomplished walker, I had to limit the schedule to two nights in Kaziranga and a single night at Gibbon. Given this schedule, Ravi, considerate as ever, suggested that I dispense with Ficus’s assistance and book directly through Manju Barua of Wildgrass. This latter gentleman was enormously helpful and courteous, and patiently responded to my numerous emails promptly and in great detail. To begin with, he pointed out that I was visiting Kaziranga at the worst possible time as the week of 25th Dec turns the park into a “circus”. And then Wildgrass was booked out and he put me on a waitlist, which eventually cleared.

And so my son and I ended up reaching Kaziranga by lunchtime on the 29th, did the evening safari there, stayed overnight at Wildgrass, and left for Gibbon the next evening after completing both safaris on day 2. Overnighting at Gibbon, we finished with the apes before breakfast the next morning, rushing back in time to catch the evening safari at Kaziranga. The next morning, 1-Jan, was our last safari after which we departed for Missamari. So five safaris in all at Kaziranga, of which two each were in the Western and Central zones and the last one in Eastern.

Wildgrass

Although not as luxurious as the Iora resort, Wildgrass is probably the best place to stay at in Kaziranga. Manju Barua’s attitude being in no small measure a reason for this, the ambience accounting for the rest. He took care of everything for me very efficiently – accommodation, safaris, naturalist, my Missamari and Gibbon transfers and the Gibbon FRH booking. We enjoyed the place the last time too and this time was no different. If I must find something to crib about, it’ll only be the acoustics of the hardwood floors. These amplified sounds from the room above spectacularly and even if the occupant was tiptoeing in his socks, produced a din below resembling someone playing nine pins with propane cylinders. If you are a light sleeper, you want to ask for a room on the top floor. This little inconvenience aside, we had a spectacular time.

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I didn’t get to do too much birding in the resort. I sighted Indian robin, a Magpie robin (I think), Black-hooded oriole, Baya weaver bird, Spotted dove, all the three mynas again and Red-vented bulbul.  And heard the Blue whistling thrush. The resort grounds are the best place to spot the Hoary-bellied Himalayan squirrel and we sighted these as expected. And on the way in, we stopped to watch a Malayan giant squirrel that our driver Biju managed to spot in a forest patch around thirty klicks from Kaziranga. We also saw elephants, but these might have been domestic ones as they were not very far from human habitation.

Malayan giant squirrel:

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Kaziranga

Safari 1, PM, Western Zone. The evening safaris were abbreviated ones, given the early sunset. We typically set off a little before 2 PM, with 15-20 minutes spent on the drive to the gate and another 15-20 minutes squandered in getting the entry tickets. Sometime before 3 PM is when we entered the park gates, giving us a maximum of two hours before the sun disappeared completely.

I had mentioned to Manju Barua that naturalist Tarun Gogoi had done a tremendous job with the spotting during our 2013 trip. He offered to book Tarun for us this time too. However the naturalist was held up with another group for the first safari, and so Biju Hazarika, the driver who’d picked us up from Missamari tripled up as safari driver, spotter and naturalist all rolled into one. And did a very creditable job of it.

A short while into the first safari, we ran into a fair-sized King cobra right by the track. We slammed to a stop after passing some twenty five feet past the reptile. Before I could get my lens to bear on it the snake raised its hood briefly before making itself scarce.

We made a brief stopover at the Donga beel viewing point. Rhino, buffalo, hog deer and swamp deer grazed on the far bank. We saw flocks of Yellow-footed green pigeons around this spot both the times we visited.

Elephant and rhino skulls at Donga beel:

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We also ran into a pair of elephants in the elephant grass by the roadside later in the drive.

We opened the birding account with Asian openbill stork, Crested serpent eagle, Wooly-necked stork, Bar-headed goose, mallard, Red-breasted parakeet, Common stone chat, Black-necked stork and Lesser adjutant stork. We were to meet all these repeatedly on subsequent drives.

Common stonechat:

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Rhino at dusk in the western zone:

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Safari 2, AM, Central Zone. Hog deer, Swamp deer, rhino and buffalo were commonly seen on all safaris. As were enormous flocks of foraging Bar-headed geese, Greylag geese, mallards, Spot-billed ducks, pintails, Black-necked and Wooly-necked storks, egrets and Lesser adjutant storks in all beels. I’ll therefore avoid repetitive mention. To the birds list we added Barn swallow, Grey-headed canary flycatcher, Bronze-winged jacana, Purple heron, pintail, cormorants, White wagtail, Common snipe, Citrine wagtail, Asian pied starling, Ruddy shelduck and Pied kingfisher. And heard Puff-throated babbler, Lesser flameback and a Changeable hawk eagle.

Bar-headed geese are truly remarkable birds. Look them up online to learn why.

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Greylag geese:

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A barking deer turned up on the track. To the untrained eye or at least to my untrained eye, muntjac can be mistaken for the more commonly seen Hog deer, especially if the sighting is fleeting.

Hog deer stag & doe:

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The road winds past the Kawoimari lake and the Diphlu river and is quite picturesque. On the lake, we saw an Indian roof turtle. A Grey-headed fish eagle sat silently surveying the river.

Indian roof turtle:

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The road pauses at a viewpoint area where visitors can alight and use the malodorous bamboo toilets. A row of tufted ducks paddled in the water, along with the other usual suspects. A rhino grazed on the far bank, as did a small herd of buffaloes. We saw White (Rosy) pelicans in addition to the more commonly seen Spotbilled ones. As we moved on from the viewpoint area raising fine powdered dust that fouled everything, a Bengal monitor lizard was found basking beside the track, unmindful of the clouds of dust billowing onto it. A lone osprey quartered the skies. Indian treepies called.

Bengal monitor lizard:

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Safari 3, PM, Western Zone. This was the safari we rushed back to catch, from Gibbon. The drive started propitiously with a Pallas fish eagle sighting. I was on the lookout for this species. The bird was evidently nesting there as we found it around the same place multiple times subsequently. A small troop of Rhesus macaques foraged nearby.

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Tarun identified a small tree we saw repeatedly as jujube, Ziziphus jujuba – the berries of which are evidently pickled and served in the Wildgrass dining room.

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He identified another commonly seen tree with large, ribbed leaves as Dillenia indica, the Elephant apple tree. The palm for the most common tree in Kaziranga however undoubtedly goes to the Red silk cotton, Bombax ceiba. It is abundant in the countryside as well.

Elephant apple tree, Dillenia indica:

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At one spot, hog deer began calling in alarm in the grass. The calls were strident and we waited awhile. The sun was starting to set and great flocks of Green imperial pigeons flew past on their way to roost.  A pair of Greater Indian hornbills swooshed past and the tiger was momentarily forgotten. Alexandrine parakeets squawked and flitted. Eventually giving up, we turned back. The light was fading fast and a little before the park exit, we came upon another set of alarm calls. The hog deer were calling and a herd of buffaloes hurriedly turned around to face the direction the tiger was evidently in. We could pinpoint the area the deer and buffalo were focused on, but the setting darkness and thick grass hid the cat only too well. Tarun caught a fleeting glimpse, but I could see nothing despite standing atop the Gypsy’s bars at a ten foot vantage point.  The buffalo herd trooped out and the calls subsequently ceased.

Pintails at dusk:

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Safari 4, PM, Central Zone.  Mihi is a beel in the central zone with the Kothora watchtower overlooking its vastness. This place is sometimes referred to as tiger point owing to the frequency of sightings. Visitors can alight at the watchtower to watch the wildlife on the beel.

We spent the entire evening tethered to this spot by persistent alarm calls. The deer and a rhino were intently focused on a patch of tall grass to our right. Plenty of other jeeps came and went, but we stayed put. Tarun was determined to catch a tiger sighting after one too many near misses. Unfortunately for us hordes of noisy tourists made appearances. Tarun was worried they’d scare the feline away and that’s precisely what happened. The tiger made off in the opposite direction away from the beel, crossed the road some two hundred meters away, and disappeared into the grass.

Tarun was bitter about all the noise the tourists were making – he’d spent a good part of an hour with his eyes glued to his binocs atop the watch tower, watching for stripes. All for nothing.

Biju Hazarika watches hog deer calling in alarm on Mihi beel:

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We went further up the track hoping the feline would return, but had to give up eventually. While waiting we found a couple of rhinos waiting to cross the track and positioned ourselves to catch the crossings, but noisy passing tourists scared those away as well. I now know what Manju Barua meant by the “circus”.

It was fully dark by now and that’s how we ended the last day of 2014. Would have been even better to end it with a tiger sighting that actually fructified but then we do not always get what we ask for.

The last sunset of 2014:

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Safari 5, AM, Eastern Zone. I was anticipating a tourist-free forest, this being the 1st of Jan. I had miscalculated however as hordes of people evidently consider it great fun to continue the festivities of the previous night in the forest on day one.

The Eastern zone is renowned for its birdlife more than large mammals. A Stork-billed kingfisher sat sentinel as we entered the park gate. Further up the track, a branch was heavy with Himalayan griffon vultures. We also sighted Black-hooded orioles, a Spotted eagle, Indian vultures, a Changeable hawk eagle, a Common kestrel, Indian treepies, Orange minivets, Red-breasted parakeets and Common teals.  The track winds past the massive Sohola beel. A pair of Oriental pied hornbills flew from one tree to another, very close by and I hurriedly attempted a flight shot, having been caught unawares while handing junior the binocs to view a Pallas fish eagle sitting at a distance. The shot came out with one wing clipped.

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A squirrel raced up a bole and leaped across to another. Tarun identified it as a Himalayan striped squirrel.

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We saw a solitary brown fish owl that sat looking at us for a long while before flapping away on massive wings. A small herd of elephants posed for pictures further up the track. We then reached the terminus of the track at the Bramhaputra river.

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On the way back I saw two lapwings I’ve never seen before – the Grey-headed and the Northern (Crested) lapwing. We saw the former multiple times.

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Hollongapar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary

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Gibbon is around 135 kilometers from Kaziranga and we left after the evening safari, to reach there by 9:30 PM or so. The FRH at Gibbon has two rooms. The ever-smiling cook produced barely tolerable meals on a woodfire stove in an alluringly warm but sooty kitchen behind. A railway gate occurs not very far away and passing trains sound their horns frantically to warn off crossing elephants. To the sleepers in the rooms, it sounds like the engines are passing on the other side of the wall.

We awoke early to the calls of Puff-throated babbler, Black-hooded oriole, and Blue whistling thrush. Gibbon comprises some 21 square kilometers of evergreen forest with paths running through it. A forest guard armed with a rusty, double-barreled gun of ancient vintage accompanied us. He said the weapon was intended to scare elephants away as he broke open the breech to load a pair of red cartridges. We left junior sleeping snugly back in the room, with Biju kindly consenting to wait on His Little Majesty.

Blue whistling thrush at dawn:

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Gibbon is home to seven species of primates – the Western hoolock gibbon, Stump-tailed macaque, Northern pig-tailed macaque, Bengal slow loris, Capped langur, Assamese macaque and Rhesus macaque. We sighted three of these in the couple of hours we spent walking through the forest. The morning was crisp, cold and utterly lovely. The first mammal sighting was of a very lively Malayan giant squirrel. A small troop of Capped langurs presently appeared, crashing about the canopy, leaping tree to tree.

Capped langur:

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We then sighted an Orange-bellied Himalayan squirrel. The sound of breaking branches warned us of the presence of elephants further up the path and we back-tracked, finding an alternate route to skirt around the animals. We had spent a good hour and a half now traipsing through Gibbon with no sign of the eponymous ape. I was thinking that we might have to return without having managed a single sighting.

A troop of Pig-tailed macaques turned up next, shortly followed by junior in the car driven out by Biju, all rested and refreshed.

Pig-tailed macaque:

Kaziranga Dec 14 827

A second guard finally spotted a Gibbon family on the canopy, and we spent some fifteen minutes watching a male, female and a sub-adult swinging and feeding high up in the canopy. Gibbon-watching is good treatment for people afflicted with cervical spondylitis.

Gibbons, male and female:

Kaziranga Dec 14 1031

Kaziranga Dec 14 1051

The Gibbon sanctuary is a spectacular birding site. It reminded me of Thattekad in many ways. Tarun was in his elements and we sighted orange-headed thrush, White-throated bulbul, Bronzed, Greater racket-tailed and Spangled drongos, Grey-bellied tesia, Grey-headed canary flycatcher, Black-crested bulbul and Maroon oriole. And heard the Asian barred owlet. The highlight however was watching a pair of Red-headed trogans for a good many minutes as they flitted around the canopy. Tarun was elated with this sighting. Back at the FRH and after breakfast, we listened to Lineated barbets calling loudly before packing up to rush back to Kaziranga in time for a hurried lunch and the evening safari.

Here are some pictures from my 2013 trip.

22 Kaziranga Day 2 Eastern 271

18 Kaziranga Day 2 Eastern 458

28 Kaziranga Day 1 Wildgrass 104

48 Kaziranga Day 2 Eastern 912

56 Kaziranga Day 2 Eastern 570

54 Kaziranga Day 1 Western 158

55 Kaziranga Day 1 Western 217

The list

Birds:

  1. Alexandrine parakeet
  2. Asian barred owlet (calls)
  3. Asian openbill stork
  4. Asian pied starling
  5. Bar-headed goose
  6. Barn swallow
  7. Baya weaver bird
  8. Bay-backed shrike
  9. Black-crested bulbul
  10. Black-hooded oriole
  11. Black-necked stork
  12. Black-throated munia
  13. Blue whistling thrush
  14. Bronzed drongo
  15. Bronze-winged jacana
  16. Brown fish owl
  17. Brown shrike
  18. Cattle egret
  19. Changeable hawk eagle
  20. Citrine wagtail
  21. Common kestrel
  22. Common myna
  23. Common snipe
  24. Common stonechat
  25. Common teal
  26. Cormorant (Greater?)
  27. Crested serpent eagle
  28. Darter
  29. Greater Indian hornbill
  30. Greater racket-tailed drongo
  31. Green imperial pigeon
  32. Common greenshank
  33. Grey-bellied tesia
  34. Grey-headed canary flycatcher
  35. Grey-headed fish eagle
  36. Grey-headed lapwing
  37. Grey heron
  38. Greylag goose
  39. Himalayan griffon vulture
  40. Indian robin
  41. Indian roller
  42. Indian treepie
  43. Jungle myna
  44. Large egret?
  45. Lesser adjutant stork
  46. Lesser flameback
  47. Lineated barbet (calls)
  48. Indian vulture
  49. Magpie robin
  50. Mallard
  51. Maroon oriole
  52. Northern/crested lapwing
  53. Orange-headed thrush
  54. Orange minivet
  55. Oriental pied hornbill
  56. Osprey
  57. Pallas fish eagle
  58. Pied kingfisher
  59. Pintail
  60. Pond heron
  61. Puff-throated babbler (calls)
  62. Purple heron
  63. Red-breasted parakeet
  64. Red-headed trogan
  65. Red junglefowl
  66. Red-vented bulbul
  67. Rose-ringed parakeet
  68. Ruddy shelduck
  69. Spangled drongo
  70. Spot-billed duck
  71. Spot-billed pelican
  72. Spotted dove
  73. Spotted eagle
  74. Stork-billed kingfisher
  75. Tufted duck
  76. White-browed wagtail
  77. White ibis
  78. White/Rosy pelican
  79. White-throated bulbul (calls)
  80. White-throated kingfisher
  81. White wagtail
  82. Wooly-necked stork
  83. Yellow-footed green pigeon

Mammals:

  1. Barking deer
  2. Capped langur
  3. Elephant
  4. Eastern swamp deer
  5. Great Indian one-horned rhino
  6. Striped Himalayan squirrel
  7. Hoary-bellied Himalayan squirrel
  8. Hog deer
  9. Hoolock gibbon
  10. Malayan giant squirrel
  11. Orange-bellied Himalayan squirrel
  12. Pig-tailed macaque
  13. Rhesus macaque
  14. Wild buffalo

Reptiles:

  1. Bengal monitor lizard
  2. Indian roof turtle
  3. King cobra