Archive for the ‘Wild Boar’ Tag

Northern India part 6: Tal Chhapar and the Mumbar Gardens near Jodhpur: 27th-28th November 2019   4 comments

This is the 6th post on our wonderful trip to northern India in November 2019. The custom tour was arranged by Jo Thomas of Wild About Travel who arranged an itinerary, accommodation, transport and guides to our specification that combined wildlife viewing and cultural highlights.

After spending a day touring historic sites in Jaipur it was the turn to do some birding in the reserve of Tal Chhapar (yes that is the correct spelling!) a reserve near the village of Chhapar which is just under half way between Jaipur and the Pakistan border.

 

We were relatively close to Tal Chhapar on my Birdquest Western India trip in 2016 when we visited Bikaner, (as so often happens it was added to the itinerary the following year). There were two lifers for me here, one mammalian and one avian, the beautiful Blackbuck and the little-known Indian Spotted Creeper.

 

It was a 215 km drive from Jaipur and took over four hours. The village of Chhapar was quite unremarkable with a single busy main street and a few back streets like this.

 

We stayed at Raptors Inn, a private guest house run by local bird guide Atul Gurjar and his wife Sunita. They made us very welcome and provided great food. Margaret was very taken by this home stay and had a chance to ask Atul and Sunita about many aspects of Indian life including their cuisine. See more here

 

They tried their best to keep their boisterous children away from us but we found them most entertaining.

 

That afternoon we headed to a ‘gaushala’ a walled off area where the sacred cattle can safely graze. On route we passed this camel and buggy. There is clearly no law about using your phone whilst driving a camel in India! Here we were to search for the ‘semi-mythical’ Indian Spotted Creeper. Now I can’t say that I’ve been waiting to see this species all my life, I didn’t even know about of it until after it was split from its African cousin in the late 90s, but I have been wanting to see the area’s other attraction, the beautiful Blackbuck since I was a small child.

 

Finding the Indian Spotted Creeper took some time but there was no problem with seeing Blackbuck, up to 50 were on view. The females ,which are smaller, brown and white and have no horns were present but elusive, but the males were in rut and were bold and approachable.

 

Males would approach each other and then ‘parallel walk’, sizing each other up …

 

… sometimes disputes were resolved by this but often it ended up with an all out battle.

 

In due course Atul found a Spotted Creeper but it was in a line of trees by the gaushala wall. After a brief view and one very mediocre photo, it flew to some trees outside the gaushala where it could be seen but not photographed (there was a considerable drop on the other side of the wall so climbing over was impractical).

 

This was my first bird lifer on the tour and I was pretty pleased at this moment. This species and its African cousin are members of the Sittidae, the Nuthatch Family rather than Certhidae which contains all the (Holarctic/Oriental) treecreepers. Both photos by Prasad Natarajan see here

 

I think I said in an earlier post, when discussing the catastrophic decline in Indian vultures, that the only vulture we saw on the trip was Egyptian. That’s not quite true as we saw a single wintering Eurasian Griffon Vulture. How ever that doesn’t detract from my earlier statement that because of poisoning, the formerly widespread and abundant Slender-billed, White-rumped and Indian Vultures are now critically endangered.

 

Other raptors included this Black-winged Kite …

 

… and a beautiful Long-legged Buzzard.

 

Other birds photographed that afternoon included the punk-crested Brahminy Starling (above) and …

 

…  flocks of Indian Silverbills, small estridid finches, native to India but introduced to many other places.

 

There were a few ‘lesser whitethroats’ wintering. The taxonomy of this group has been controversial with between one and five species accepted at various times and by various authorities. IOC and HBW both now recognise three species, Hume’s Whitethroat which breeds in the mountains of Central Asia and winters in southern Baluchistan and SW India, Lesser Whitethroat which breeds from western Europe to east-central Siberia and winters in Africa and northern India and Desert Whitethroat which breeds in parts of China and Turkestan and winters in the Arabian peninsular and north-west India. This bird is a classic minula, ie a Desert Lesser Whitethroat, small, sandy with reduced grey in the crown.

 

There were quite a few Lanius shrikes in the area, including this male Bay-backed, which looks like a Penduline Tit on steroids …

 

… and the more familiar Great Grey Shrike, although here of the race archeri. The ‘great grey shrike’ group has undergone a lot a changes during the last few decades. Originally one species, then three (Southern, Great Grey and Steppe), its now still three but a different three: Northern Grey occurs in North America and eastern Siberia, Iberian Grey occurs where it’s name suggests and all the rest are re-lumped in Great Grey again. The problem seems to be that genetics and morphology don’t match, maybe eventually more sensitive and innovative genetic methods will be able to divide this group further and so better match DNA to plumage.

 

Also present were a number of Common Woodshrikes. These are not related to true shrikes of the genus Lanius (see the two photos above) but instead are members of the Vangidae, an unusual Family which includes the vangas of Madagascar, the African helmetshrikes and shrike-flycatchers and Asian philentomas.

 

After we had our meal that evening we heard very loud music coming down the street. Atul and Sunita said it was a pre-wedding celebration, so we decided to take a look.

 

Although they had never met us before the villagers were most welcoming. First they brought chairs out into the street so we could watch the dancing in comfort, then they invited us into their house and where the ladies were keen to be photographed with Margaret.

 

Later we (well mainly Margaret) joined in with the dancing …

 

… and we were treated as honoured guests. The bride and groom-to-be had yet to arrive but everyone else seemed to be having a great time on their behalf.

 

Now I’ve heard of ‘a bull in a china shop’ but its not that often that you come across the ‘cow at the mobile disco’, well not this sort of cow anyway.

 

Atul was a bit hesitant about visiting the actual Tal Chappar reserve (Tal meaning low-lying land) as heavy rain had made the tracks unsuitable for vehicles. As a result the following morning we first visited a lake near the gaushala.

 

We found a few waterbirds we had seen earlier on like these Indian Spotbills but the River Terns we found were new for the trip.

 

Spotbill used to be a single species but has since been split into Indian and Chinese varieties. I think it looks rather splendid in the pale-yellow light of dawn

 

Eventually Atul relented and took us to the nearby Tal Chhapar, but we had to leave the vehicle at the entrance gate. In this low-lying hollow the mist persisted, producing some atmospheric views of the local Blackbuck.

 

As well as Blackbuck there were quite large numbers of Wild Boar.

 

However some of the piglets showed characteristics more typical of domestic pigs so there must be some interbreeding. Also seen were Common Cranes and Western Marsh Harriers, but unfortunately not Monties or Hen Harriers (I dare say we would have seen more if we could have stayed or if the visibility had been better).

 

Well we weren’t able to walk very far as we had huge great clods of mud stuck to our boots, making walking rather difficult. Back at vehicle we had a very close encounter with a male Blackbuck. I don’t know if I’ll ever see this magnificent antelope again, but if I don’t I can’t complain about the views we had this time.

 

So we returned to the other side of the road and explored another area dodging great herds of goats on route.

 

Here we found Indian Desert Jirds. We only saw about ten but their burrows were everywhere.

 

These little rodents are preyed on by many raptors including …

 

… Booted Eagles (although in Europe rabbits are their favoured mammalian prey) …

 

… and Long-legged Buzzard.

 

Tawny Eagles are know to be mainly a scavenger and a kleptoparasite but I dare say the odd Jird or two would make a tasty snack, if they were quick enough to catch one.

 

We had spectacular views of a Tawny Eagle being harassed by a pair of Lagger Falcons. Unfortunately in my photos either the eagle or falcon are blurred so I’ve included one from iNaturalist taken by Philippe Boissel see here

 

The little Shikra is in the genus Accipiter which feeds mainly on birds rather than rodents.

 

Rather commoner than the larger Gyps vultures but still declining severely is the widespread Egyptian Vultures.

 

We came across a group of four on our drive around.

 

Also seen was (yet another) Spotted Owlet.

 

Enjoyable as it had been it was time to leave Chhapar and heard to our next destination.

 

That afternoon we drove to Jodhpur and stopped for a short while at Mumbar Gardens near the city where there was an attractive temple and a wetland area caused by the damming of the local river.

 

We didn’t learn anything about the temple a this was just a short impromptu stop …

 

… but like all old Indian architecture it was very beautiful.

 

There were a few birds in the temple area …

 

… but most were in the overgrown water channel. These included a ‘water rail’, I hoped that it would be the recently split Eastern Water Rail (or Brown-cheeked Rail), after all the scientific name is Rallus indicus, but it proved to be the same one we get at home.

 

Perhaps the most notable feature of the temple was the very approachable Hanuman Langurs.

 

The next post will cover our visit to the city of Jodhpur, the nearby Bishnoi villages and a nearby lake where Demoiselle Cranes gather.

Western India part 4: Siana and Mt Abu, Rajasthan – 19th – 22nd January 2016   2 comments

This post covers the areas around the town/villages of Siana and Mt Abu in Rajasthan. The thorn scrub and montane woodlands held some excellent species, several of which were life birds for me.

IMG_2995 John, Rob & Tom Siana

We arrived at our lodge at Siana in the early afternoon of 19th after some birding on route.

IMG_2987 fig

The clearing by our chalets was dominated by this huge fig.

IMG_2991 bees nest

…. and nearby trees held some enormous bee’s nests ….

IMG_3045 Indian Scops Owl

…. and a roosting Indian Scops Owl.

IMG_3003 Langurs

There were plenty of Hanuman Langurs in the area ….

IMG_3009 Langurs

…. including this mother and baby.

IMG_3042 around the camp fire

It was pretty cold at night so we huddled around an open fire to eat.

IMG_3133 open jeep

Transport in the Siana area was in these open-sided (and open-fronted) jeeps.

IMG_3114 near Siana

The area was composed of rocky hills and dense thorn scrub.

IMG_3047 vulture rock

We spent some time around this rock outcrop ….

IMG_3116 Indian Vultures

…. as this was the only place we were likely to see the critically endangered Indian Vulture which nests on the rock. We saw at least four, possibly six of these birds during our time here. See the previous post for an explanation of the catastrophic decline of India’s vulture population.

IMG_3059 Sulphur-bellied Warbler

Between the rocky outcrops we saw a number of Sulphur-bellied Warblers, on the face of it just another hard to identify Phylloscopus warbler ….

IMG_3054 Sulphur-bellied Warbler

…. but in practice quite easy to identify due to its habit of foraging on tree trucks and rock faces rather than among the leaves.

IMG_3071 under the boulder

Speaking of rock faces we did a fair bit of scrambling and searching around them in an unsuccessful attempt to locate a roosting Indian Eagle Owl.

IMG_3069 eagle-owl site

We failed to find the owl but we did hear and see one in flight in the same area at dusk.

Striped Hyena IUCN Hyena specialist group Photo from a camera trap placed by Alireza Mahdavi

After we had seen the eagle owl we spent some time spotlighting the escarpment and eventually picked up the eye-shine of a distant Striped Hyena. Through the scope the views weren’t bad and we could see the striped legs and flanks, powerful muzzle and huge ears. I think this was the highlight of the entire trip for me. Of course under those circumstances I couldn’t get a photo so I have included this one from the IUCN Hyena specialist group’s website which was taken using a camera trap near Tehran, Iran by Alireza Mahdavi.

IMG_3100 ST Eagle

On the top of one high outcrop a Short-toed Eagle peered down at us ….

IMG_3081 Langur

…whilst from another this Hanuman Langur stared disdainfully at us.

IMG_3105 Yellow-throated Sparrow

Whether you call it Yellow-throated Sparrow or Chestnut-Shouldered Petronia, I got the best views I’ve ever had of this often elusive bird.

IMG_3124 Syke's Warbler

Syke’s Warblers were quite tricky as well. This scarce visitor from Central Asia has turned up in the UK on several occasions including Dorset.

IMG_3020 White-bellied Minivet

One of the key birds in this area was the beautiful, yet elusive White-bellied Minivet which we saw only once.

IMG_3031 Wild Boars

Late in the day we quietly hid by this pool in the hope that Painted Sandgrouse would appear. Whilst we were waiting this herd of Wild Boar came down to drink.

Painted Sandgrouse IBC Jugal Tiwari Gujarat.

Eventually a pair of Painted Sandgrouse appeared but by now it was too dark for photography. This photo from the Internet Bird Collection was taken by Jugal Tiwari in Gujarat. Painted Sandgrouse was the last of the 16 species of sandgrouse in the world for me, another family 100% under-the-belt.

On the 21st we headed from Siana to Mt Abu, a former hill station in the Avalli range which is looking quite down-at-heels these days.

IMG_3214 Mt Abu Hotel

However our hotel, the Connaught House, is a throwback to the days of the Raj, with its paintings of Queen Victoria and photographs of officers and gentlemen in their finery.

IMG_3212 Mt Abu Hotel

This is the dining room ….

IMG_3251 me at hotel at Mt Abu

…. and here is one of the bedrooms. This place complies with the unwritten law on bird tours that the quality of the accommodation is inversely proportional to the length of stay!

IMG_3142 Mt Abu

Back in the village we searched the fields, animal enclosures and trees for our target species ….

IMG_3171 Crested Bunting

…. Chestnut Bunting ….

IMG_3189 Bay-backed Shrike

…. Bay-backed Shrike ….

IMG_3199 Brown Rock Chat

…. another Brown Rock Chat ‘doing what it says on the tin’ ….

IMG_3150 Blue Rock Thrush

…. Blue Rock Thrush ….

IMG_3156 Indian Robin f

…. Indian Robin ….

IMG_3232 Green Avadavat

…. but most importantly a small flock of the very rare and localised Green Avadavat.

We left Mt Abu on the morning of 22nd after scoring with Red Spurfowl and Indian Scimitarbill. From here we headed into Gujarat, a state where both alcohol and meat are banned, not an attractive proposition for a beer-loving carnivore like me.