Archive for the ‘Maharashtra’ Tag

Northern India part one: Tadoba National Park. 18th-21st November 2019   1 comment

Although Margaret likes to travel she usually doesn’t want to join me on long and intensive birding trips where most of the time will be spent in dense forest. However we have enjoyed trips to Europe, the USA, South Africa and the Middle East where birding is mixed with sightseeing and other activities.

One area she was keen to visit was India. I have been on four dedicated birding tours of India plus have visited Bhutan and Sri Lanka so I’ve most of the birds, but there were still a few things I wanted to see. We needed some form of organised trip as I had absolutely no desire to drive myself, but both a standard tourist trip with no wildlife or a intensive birding trip with no sightseeing were out of the question. It was suggestedwe contact Jo Thomas of Wild About Travel who was able to organise an itinerary around what we wanted to see, with drivers, hotels, transfers etc all for a quite reasonable price. In particular she arranged us to visit Tadoba National Park in the state of Maharashtra which a park that I knew nothing about, yet proved to be highly successful and a beautiful place to visit.

This post is mainly about our visit to Tadoba National Park.


When I visited India for the first time in 1986 Delhi airport was a shabby affair, hot, crowded and inefficient – it lived up to the western stereotype of India. Now look at it, modern, air conditioned and efficient. We had decided not to burn the candles at both end on this trip so after the overnight flight we transferred to a nearby hotel where we rested for much of the day before being picked up and taken to the domestic terminal for an evening flight to Nagpur. Here we were driven to another hotel and the following morning were collected for the three-hour drive to Tadoba National Park.


Tadoba Nation park consists of 578 sq km of mainly teak forest, grassland and marshes in central Maharashtra. There are about four lodges around the periphery and we stayed at Jaharana Jungle Lodge. In the afternoon we made the first of four safaris in open backed jeeps. It was magical driving though the tall teak forest with peacocks and other birds scampering across the tracks.


Although there were plenty of birds to see in Tadoba, for safety reasons we were not allowed to leave the jeeps except at one or two designated areas. In reality mammals were the main focus here. The first mammal species to be seen was this Grey Mongoose.


Tadoba has recently acquired a large buffer zone around the park, significantly increasing its area. This consists of mainly open grassland and was very good for seeing ungulates, in particular the impressive Gaur.


Zooming in you can see just how large and imposing a bull Gaur is, the head and body (excluding tail) measure around 3m and it can be over 2m tall at the shoulders. It is the largest wild bovid extant today. I have longed to see this species since childhood and in 2018 I finally succeeded. After quite some effort we saw a few cows and calves in dense forest in southern India. I was amazed how common and easy they were to see in Tadoba and how conspicuous the bulls were.


Another common inhabitant of the more open areas were Nilgai, mainly herds of hinds and calves.


Indeed some would run down the track ahead of the jeep before heading of into cover.


The male Nilgai is often known as the ‘Blue Bull’ but of course its an antelope not a bovid. After the two species of Eland in Africa its probably the largest of the antelopes.


Sambar were commoner in the wooded areas and hinds were regularly seen from the tracks, this species is similar in size or a bit larger than a Red Deer.


This impressive stag has just enjoyed a wallow in the mud.


Chital, sometimes called Spotted Deer, were common in shaded glades where the forest met open areas of pasture. I suppose their spots camouflage them well in this sort of habitat.


It was lovely to see this Chital fawn suckling but it would have been a better photo if mum had turned her head towards us!


Unlike our similarly spotted Fallow Deer, Chital don’t have palmate antlers.


Langur Monkeys (more precisely Northern Plains Grey Langurs) were common.


They seem to have a feeding association with the Chital (although there is another explanation for their co-habitation) which I will explain later.


As evening fell we made our way back and came across this huge bull Gaur by the road. Bear in mind I’m standing up on the back of the jeep. If I was at ground level it would be towering over me!


There were plenty of birds to see both around the lodge and on the game drives. Here is the ubiquitous Spotted Dove.


Peacocks are thought of as ornamental birds, commensal with mankind but in the forests of India they are truly wild. The mating season was over though and the males had dropped their spectacular tail feathers.


Red-wattled Lapwings were common throughout the trip.


This one was nesting on a raised embankment so when we stopped briefly for a photo it was at eye level.


India , like much of the Oriental region, has some great woodpeckers including this Black-rumped Flameback.


There were a number of wintering pipits but this one seems to be the resident Paddyfield Pipit, rather than its slightly larger and migratory cousin Richard’s Pipit.


The area was also home to a male Pied Stonechat …


… and the eponymous White-eyed Buzzard.


There were a few wetland areas but getting close enough for decent photos wasn’t easy as we were confined to the jeep but I quite like this shot of an Oriental Darter drying its wings. Darters and their cousins the cormorants don’t produce oil from their preen gland to waterproof their feathers. This means they lack buoyancy underwater and so can swim faster, deeper and for longer when hunting fish but the downside is that they must hang their wings out to dry when they surface.


Another bird that showed well along the same lake was Red-naped Ibis, a bird that I missed on visits to India up until 2018 when I finally caught up with them in Rajasthan.


Not such a great photo, as it was hiding in thick vegetation, but this was the only Lesser Adjutant (stork) of the trip.


Green Bee-eaters, here of the race orientalis, which is rightly given specific race by some authorities, was common in the park with hundreds seen.


Of course the animal most tourists want to see is the Tiger. The establishing of Tiger reserves all over India has probably saved the species from extinction, but it is still heavily targeted by poachers for the Oriental traditional medicine trade. Almost all tourists head off in the early morning, there are lovely views like this as the sun filters through the dust stirred up by the jeeps. Communication between vehicle by phone or radio is banned, presumably to avoid every one racing around after Tiger sightings, but these still happen. After a number of false alarms our lucky break came (twice) on the second afternoon.


The presence of a Tiger is often revealed by the bark of a Chital …


… or the chatter of Langurs, some of which which remain alert in the trees and so can see danger coming. The Chital, on the other hand, probably have a better sense of smell, this symbiosis seems to benefit all but the Tiger!


We had two sightings of Tiger that afternoon, this was the second and probably least successful of the two, hence the decision to keep the best for last. It was a well known male; magnificent, but for most of the time it was hidden deep in cover.


There were two other jeeps ahead of us and they reversed to give the Tiger some space when it decided to wander down the road. The light was already going and this wasn’t such a good encounter as the earlier one.


Earlier that afternoon we had taken a one-way side road that led up to a viewpoint over a lake when another jeep passed and said there was a Tiger not too far away. To my surprise the driver didn’t either continue and go the long way round or ignore the one-way regulation and turn about, instead he reversed for over a mile as fast as he could. By the time we reached the main road there were about four jeeps all in a convoy and all going backwards! We joined an assemblage of at least six other jeeps and stared into the dense roadside vegetation.


Although initially hidden it wasn’t long until this female walked out right into the open …


… ignoring the admiring hoards she sauntered past the jeeps a matter of feet away.


It goes without saying that if she had wanted to she could have leaped into any of the jeeps in one bound and attacked anyone of us. Given the fact that a birder I once knew was killed by a Tiger back in the 80s, this was not something to be dismissed lightly.


I don’t mean this to sound patronising so don’t take it that way, but in National Parks in Africa almost all the visitors are western tourists. You hardly ever see a local unless they are employed there. So I was delighted to see that out of the 40 or so tourists (in 15 vehicles by the time we left!) who were watching the Tiger we were the only Europeans. Only when people value the wildlife in their own country will true progress be made in conservation.


I think this lad had the wrong hat on!


The Tiger (or should I say Tigress) sat down just feet from the jeeps. One guy decided to straddle two vehicles and I ended up trying photograph her through his legs.


I make no apology for posting so may photos of the same animal. I had a poor view of a Tiger from our bus in Corbett NP in 1986 and one quickly crossed the road just in front of our Jeep in Kaziranga in Assam in 2001 but both were brief encounters. This Tiger just hung around giving fantastic views, one of my best wildlife encounters ever.


In due course she crossed the road behind us and lay down on this rock and was still there when we eventually left. As I said and illustrated earlier in this post, a couple of hours later that afternoon we had another encounter – this time with a male.


So with two Tigers under the belt we drove back to the lodge at dusk. But the day still had a surprise in store. A Sloth Bear walked out onto the track in front of us!


… and moments later was joined by a second. I had seen Tiger before but this species was new to me. ten years previously I hadn’t seen a single species of bear in the wild, then I saw Polar Bear in Spitsbergen in 2011, Black Bear in USA in 2014, Brown Bear in Kamchatka in 2016. Just three more to go! The only trouble was it was getting very late for photos and these were taken at quite low shutter speeds.


Back at the lodge we were intercepted on our way from the chalet to the dining room and directed towards the swimming pool. We were treated to a poolside dinner. Romantic, but when the waiter stood in front of the bright light you couldn’t see what you were eating.


Our final morning at Tadoba brought us some new birds but no new mammals. Having said that I’ve now seen most of the ‘good’ mammals in lowland India. All those marvels that I read about in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book as a child and have yearned to see ever since have been put to bed. We were picked up late morning and driven back to Nagpur, this time to the railway station. We got there quite early and had to hang around for a couple of hours, but we did add one more species to the mammal list whilst waiting – Brown Rat!


It had been arranged for us to take the overnight train to Agra, we shared a first class compartment with two locals. It was quite comfy but the movement of the train as it went over points and juddered to a stop at stations throughout the night meant we got little sleep. We were on the train for about 12 hours and arrived at Agra around 0500 where we were met by by our driver for the next section of the trip.


I don’t want to end this blog post with a photo of a railway compartment so here’s the star of the show (yet) again.


The next post will illustrate our time on the Chambal River and a visit to one of the most famous buildings in the world, the incomparable Taj Mahal.


Western India part 7: Nagpur to Melghat Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra – 27th – 30th January 2016   Leave a comment

This the final part of my account of the tour to Western India covers the last few days of the tour, which found us not in the west, but in the centre of this huge country.

There was no real birding on the 27th as the entire day was taken up with flights from Bhuj to Mumbai and from Mumbai to Nagpur. We arrived at our Nagpur hotel after dark. The following day we headed west towards the Melghat Tiger Reserve in northern Maharashtra.

IMG_3775 goat jam

The roads were quite good in this part of India but even on a dual carriageway you could get held up by a goat-jam.

IMG_3766 bullock cart

Comfort break for bullocks? When I last visited western and northern India 30 years ago much of the transport was by traditional bullock cart ….

IMG_3772 village scenes

…. but now most people are using motorbikes and lorries to transport themselves and their goods.

IMG_3782 Red-crested Pochard & Coot

We stopped at a lake some 25 miles west of Nagpur, there was an interesting mix of water birds from the familiar Red-crested Pochards and Eurasian Coot ….

IMG_3784 Cotton Pygmy Goose

…. to the more localised Cotton Pygmy Goose.

IMG_3767 LRP & statues

I wasn’t sure if I should focus on these little Hindu statues on the lake shore or the Little Ringed Plover behind them – the LRP won.

IMG_3780 Booted Warbler

In the surrounding bushes we saw a Booted Warbler, a close relative (and formerly lumped with) the Syke’s Warblers we saw in Rajasthan. Both species occur as vagrants to the UK and indeed I’ve seen both in Dorset.

IMG_3876 Tiger Reserve

Eventually we arrived at the Melghat Tiger Reserve where we were to stay for two nights.

IMG_3871 Melghat

The reserve consists of 1500 square Km of mainly Sal forest. Of course it was highly unlikely that we would see any Tigers, although our guide ensured us there was a good population. A couple of locals on a bike stopped us and said they had just seen a Leopard, but the only cat I recorded was a brief view of a Golden Cat  as we drove back one evening.

IMG_3793Tiger scat

But our guide showed us some Tiger scat on the road, full of the hair of its recent victims.

IMG_3818 Forest Owlet

The bird we had come all this way to see was the critically endangered Forest Owlet. The estimated world population is in the range of 25 -250 individuals and is known from only 12 highly fragmented sites in northern Maharashtra and south-east Madhya Pradesh. Other sites may exist, a new location has recently been discovered close to Mumbai, possibly negating the need for future bird tours to fly to Nagpur.

IMG_3822 Forest Owlet

The size of a Little Owl, but with unusually large head and feet, this species is largely diurnal. Diligent searching of known locations eventually gave us stunning views. We able to watch the species calling and preening (see below) right in front of us.

IMG_3814 Forest Owlet

The history of the discovery and rediscovery of the Forest Owlet is one of the most bizarre in the history of ornithology. It was first collected in 1872 in eastern Madhya Pradesh by F. R. Blewitt (who is commemorating in the birds scientific name Heteroglaux blewitti) and described by Allan Hume. A further six specimens were collected in central India in the 19th century, mainly by James Davidson, but one of these was subsequently lost. Another specimen was collected by the infamous Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen in Gujarat in 1914. Subsequent searches in the 20th C in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh showed that the sites where the birds had been collected were largely deforested and no birds could be found. Attention switched to Meinertzhagen’s site in Gujarat, but that also drew a blank and the bird was assumed to be extinct. However by the 1990s suspicion was gathering about the veracity of Meinertzhagen’s claims and American ornithologist Pamela Rasmussen had the Gujarat specimen X-rayed. This showed that the specimen hadn’t been prepared in Meinertzhagen’s usual careful style, but in the amateur fashion of Davidson; it was the missing specimen – stolen by Meinertzhagen from the British Museum and relabeled as one of his own! In 1997 Pamela Rasmussen, David Abbott and Ben King mounted an expedition to where all the 19th C specimens had been collected, including the remaining forests of Maharashtra, and the bird was rediscovered !

IMG_3853 Barred Owlet

Later that day we had excellent views of the much commoner and more widespread Barred Owlet.

IMG_3848 river bed

At a nearby river I picked up another life bird and one that I didn’t really expect, Malabar Whistling Thrush. It was quite distant, well behind the horizontal log ….

IMG_3842 Malabar Whistling Thrush

…. which is my excuse for why the photo is so poor!

IMG_3855 prob Jerdon's Baza

Talking of distant photos; a medium-sized raptor overhead puzzled us but I was able to get a shot and although it was just a dot in the viewfinder, blowing it up indicated it was a female Jerdon’s Baza. Well out of range (at least according to the first edition of the Ripley guide) but the wing and tail pattern all seem to match.

IMG_3787 field lunch

After a successful morning’s birding we paused for a packed lunch. Sometimes we were given a curry, which was really good and sometimes sandwiches, which weren’t. Even so after curry twice a day for 18 days I was really looking forwards to steak and chips, bacon sandwiches, roast beef etc.

IMG_3790 siesta

It was clear that the trip was drawing to a close ….

IMG_3792 Rainer's siesta

…. and that 18 days of early starts and long drives was taking its toll.

IMG_3860 White-naped WP f

… but some stayed awake long enough to locate this female White-naped Woodpecker on a nearby tree.

IMG_3877 Gt Cormorant and Lesser Whistling Duck

So our excellent trip to Western India drew to a close, my 65th with the company Birdquest. On the return to Nagpur we stopped at the lake again, adding Lesser Whistling Duck (seen here with a Great Cormorant) to our list. At Nagpur some stayed on for further adventures in India whilst most continued on to Mumbai and home.

IMG_3780 locals

It had been a good trip, with great birds and mammals, good scenery and architecture and good company, both from the other participants of the trip and the many kind and pleasant local people that we met along the way.