Trip report: Sunderbans National Park, May 2015

Trip Report:        Sunderbans National Park

Dates:                   1-May to 3-May, 2015

Camp:                   Sunderban Jungle Camp on Bali Island

Who:                     VV and KB

Avicennea

Given the time that has passed, I’ll dispense with text and try to capture as much of the experience as possible via the images I can find. It is quite possible that between my patchy notes and patchier memory some errors have crept in.

I should mention that we were guided by a young and very competent naturalist called Animesh Manna who knows his stuff. Mangrove tree identification is a tricky animal for the unseasoned, and Animesh was exceptionally patient in helping us get the hang of it. He is a gifted spotter too and knows his birds.

Pictures are below the descriptions.

Flora

Avicennia marina. “Peara Bayen”. So named because the trunk is reminiscent of the guava tree’s blotchy, peeling trunk. This tree was extremely common.

Avicinnea marina

Rhizophora apiculata. “Garjan”. With its distinctive stilt roots.

Garjan

Garjan pods

Garjan pods 2

Bruguiera gymnorrhiza. “Kankra”. With its buttress roots.

Kankra buttress roots

Excoecaria agallocha. “Genwa”.  Red-leaved at this time of the year. The roots are snake-like with bulbs at the base. The sap is reputed to cause blindness, and the leaves when dried and powdered serve as an effective fish poison.

Keonwa red leaves snake roots bulbs in base

Snakelike roots

Ceriops decandra. “Jhamti/Jale Garan”. Rounded leaves reaching up; broom-like roots. Ceriops tagal – “Math/Jat Garan” has buttressed roots I believe (although my notes describe them as dome shaped for some reason).

Goran upward round leaves broom roots

Suaeda maritima. “Giriya Sak”. A shrub.

Giria shrub

Spiky roots of Kaura/Keora. Sonneratia spp.

Kewr spiky roots

Sonneratia apetala flowers.

Kewra flowers

Kewra yellow flowers

Pneumatophores reach out for air to compensate for the anoxic mud beneath

Garjan pneumatopores possibly

Aerial roots of Avicennia alba. There are three species commonly seen. Avicennia alba, A. marina and A. officinalis. Of these, only A. alba has aerial roots.

Bayan Avicennia aerial roots 2

“Dhundul”, Xylocarpus granatum

Dhundul, Xylocarpus zanata

Fruit of Dhundul

Dhundul, Xylocarpus zanata

Tiger palm. Phoenix palludosa. “Hental/Bogra”. Fairly plentiful.

Tiger palm phoenix palludosa 4

Nypa fruticans. The Nypa palm. “Golpata”. Having seen pictures of large barges laboring under tons of fronds, it came as a surprise that this palm was sparingly seen. Turns out the large clusters are evidently all on the Bangladesh side.

Nypa palm

Fruit of Heritiera fomes. The “Sundari”. The tree for which the place is named. Another big surprise. Much of this occurs on the Bangladesh side. The few isolated specimens seen along the banks were slender and sickly looking.

Sundari flowers

Aegiceras corniculatum. “Khalsi/Kholsi”. Typically seen leaning over the water’s edge. Bulk of the nectar that goes into making the famed honey that the Sunderbans produces is drawn from the flower of this tree.

Kholsi lean over water

Kholsi flowers most honey prod

Porteresia coarctata. “Dhani ghas”, Mangrove grass or Paddy grass.

Paddy grass or Mangrove grass

Imperata cylindrical. Spear grass. I hope the identification was accurate.

Spear grass

Fauna

There was reasonable variety of avifauna. Collared kingfishers were commonly met with and their calls heard even more frequently. We saw the brown-winged kingfisher a few times. We heard the calls of the Mangrove pitta at the Sajnekhali watchtower many times, but didn’t catch sight of the bird. We thought we heard the Mangrove whistler once, but certainly did not see one. We also saw orange-breasted green pigeons at the same watchtower. The Pacific golden plover, Whimbrel and the Changeable hawk eagle (dark morph) were three other candidates on our list that we did get to see.

We were aware that chances of seeing either a tiger or a fishing cat were slim. Or the King cobra for that matter. We did want to see salties and saw just one individual. It would have been nice to see one of the dolphin species, but they are not easy to come by.

Large egret patrolling the shallows

Large egret

Lesser adjutant stork.

Lesser Adjutant

Whimbrel takes flight.

Whimbrel 3

Common kingfisher

Common kingfisher

Red fiddler crabs

Fiddler crab3

Fiddler crab 4

Water monitors. We were eager to sight these creatures after reading about 9-foot long individuals gracing the place.

Monitor 2

Monitor 5

Salty! Poor shot of an Estuarine croc lying inert in the shade. These reptiles have the horrendous reputation of savaging people shrimping or crabbing in the shallows.

Estuarine croc

Mudskipper.

Mudskipper

Others

This is the standard configuration of tourist boats in the Sunderbans. A viewing deck on top; Beds, toilet and a galley below. The structure perched at the stern is an additional loo, for the crew presumably.

Boat

The Sajnekhali watchtower, where so many spectacular sightings happen. We heard a tiger call while there, but saw nothing.

Sajnekhali watchtower

The canopy walk around the Dobanki watchtower, surrounded by a sea of Avicennia marina in the main.

Dobaki watchtower

A little shrine to Bon Bibi, the goddess of Sunderbans legend. Honey and crab collectors fervently believe in her promise to protect anyone who steps into her realm unarmed and pure-of-heart. A necessary reassurance in a land where you take your life in your hands each time you step into the forest.

Bon bibi

The riversides along forest stretches that lie across habited areas are strung with rather flimsy-looking nylon nets, ostensibly to prevent tigers from swimming across. Apart from the tiger and the saltie, Black-tipped sharks are a danger to people in shallow waters – they evidently sneak up and bite a chunk of flesh off the calves, leaving the person bleeding dangerously before medical help can be reached.

Net

Tiger crossover, sometime that morning. We found the spoor on both banks and waited awhile in vain.

Pugmark

Ship laden with flyash crossing the vast Panchmukhani confluence, headed for Khulna in Bangladesh

Ships at Panchmukhani headed Khulna Bdesh flyash

So that’s what a Patton tank looks like. Someone has a sense of humor.

Patton tank

Birds

  1. Adjutant stork
  2. Ashy woodswallow
  3. Black bittern
  4. Black-headed cuckooshrike
  5. Black-hooded oriole
  6. Black-naped monarch
  7. Brahminy kite
  8. Bronzed drongo
  9. Brown shrike
  10. Brown-winged kingfisher
  11. Changeable hawk eagle (dark morph)
  12. Chestnut-tailed starling
  13. Collared kingfisher
  14. Common iora
  15. Common kingfisher
  16. Common myna
  17. Common sandpiper
  18. Eurasian collared dove
  19. Fulvous-breasted woodpecker
  20. Greater coucal
  21. Large cuckoo-shrike
  22. Large egret
  23. Lesser flameback (calls)
  24. Lesser whistling duck
  25. Lesser yellow-nape
  26. Little cormorant
  27. Little egret
  28. Loten’s sunbird
  29. Magpie robin
  30. Mangrove pitta (calls)
  31. Orange-breasted green pigeon
  32. Oriental honey buzzard
  33. Oriental white-eye
  34. Pacific golden plover
  35. Pied kingfisher
  36. Pied myna
  37. Pin-striped tit babbler (calls)
  38. Pond heron
  39. Purple-rumped sunbird
  40. Red junglefowl
  41. Red-whiskered bulbul
  42. Rose-ringed parakeet
  43. Scarlet-backed flowerpecker
  44. Short-toed snake eagle
  45. Small minivet
  46. Spotted dove
  47. Spotted owlet (calls)
  48. Stork-billed kingfisher
  49. Streak-throated woodpecker
  50. Tailorbird
  51. Whimbrel
  52. White-breasted waterhen
  53. White-throated kingfisher

Mammals

  1. Chital
  2. Rhesus macaque
  3. Wild boar

Reptiles

  1. Checkered keelback
  2. Estuarine crocodile
  3. Water monitor
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3 thoughts on “Trip report: Sunderbans National Park, May 2015

  1. koeldas says:

    I loved this post a lot. Multiple pics just make it nicer. I’ve been to the Sundarbans only twice and it has this haunting beauty that I cannot express. Once you start entering the region, it’s like you are in a different world.

  2. koeldas says:

    The first trip was in kiddy days so I just remember visiting with family. The second trip was probably in 2009 and I remember one pug mark, chital, maybe a crocodile at a distance. I didn’t pay much attention to the birds at that point of time but definitely saw a few. Next time whenever it is hope to identify few

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