Blue Throated Barbet calling!! Look at your 2’O clock position
Where is it? Where is it? I don’t see it?
OK, Do you see this green bush in front of you?
Behind that is a dry tree. Left of the dry tree is another green tree. Do you see it?
Start from the roots of that tree and go up to a point where the tree forks. Follow the left side of the fork. The bird is sitting three branches above the fork.
I don't see it. Can you please repeat that?
See this green tree in front of you.....see the dry tree behind it? Oh Wait!! The bird moved.
Oh! I see it. Wow!! It is so beautiful. Oh My God! Look at the colors on the bird. Blue throat, crimson forehead and green body!
Where? Where? Show me!!
OK, See this green tree in front of you.......then there is a dry tree behind you.....
The normally disciplined group would surround the spotting scope fighting and pleading for their turn (You saw it already...NOT FAIR....that's enough....how long will you see it?) Mad rush would ensue followed by exclamations of “wow” and “amazing” and “unbelievable".
I left Corbett about a week back, but Corbett refuses to leave me. I close my eyes and am instantly transported back to the paradisaical land of Sal trees and singing birds, of grassy chaurs and giant mountains, of dancing peacocks and prancing deer,
of playful elephants and ferocious tigers, and of scented flowers and fallen leaves.
After a decade of touring all over the world to see some of the most beautiful places, travel for me has become more about appreciating simple things in life. At Corbett, the highlights of my trip were really simple things like waking up to a cup of steaming hot bed tea, riding in an open air jeep, breathing cold, crisp mountain air, listening to the singing birds and most of all being outdoors all day. Of course it didn't hurt that we saw herds of elephants, baby elephants, deers of all kinds, peacocks, monkeys, a lone jackal, a tiger and over 200 species of birds!!
After years of planning our trips meticulously, I am ready to take a break and who better to go with than Adesh Shivkar of Nature India Tours. Based on my experience in Bhimashankar, I knew that he would pick the best trails, best accommodation and provide the best bird watching experience. The local guide, Manoj Sharma was excellent and often regaled us with stories of his wildlife encounters. The eclectic group of 14 included a mix of budding birders, experienced birders and photographers.
We met at the Old Delhi train station in Delhi to take the Ranikhet express to Ramnagar, the nearest railhead to Corbett National park. We reached Ramnagar at 5:00 AM and were soon whisked away to our camp site. Nature Camps, where we stayed for 2 nights was a decent camp site on the banks of Kosi River. Breakfast was a huge spread of bread and jam, paratha, cereal and tea.
We drove towards Mohaan and Khumeria for some road side birding. A minute after we started, our jeep came to a screeching halt at the sighting of yellow footed green pigeons. A little ahead, we stopped again when the jeep in front saw a chestnut headed bee eater. We all jumped off the jeep and walked into the woods to get a better view. We ended up spending at least 15 minutes chasing and photographing the bird. This is a picture that I took later in the trip.
Chestnut Headed Bee Eater
A sighting of a female Greater Flameback woodpecker got us all excited and we jumped off the jeep yet again. We heard louder pecking and found the male Greater Flameback wood pecker. This location had great views of the Kosi River and a bridge built by the British.
Greater Flameback Woodpecker (female)
Greater Flameback Woodpecker (male)
View of an old bridge on Kosi River
A little ahead, we spotted two wagtails, named because of the way they keep wagging their tail. It was very cute to see that.
Grey Wagtail (in breeding plumage)
White Browed Wagtail
Then we came up to the one of our most favorite place on this road where we could photograph birds at eye level. We found a flock of bulbuls, chestnut tailed starlings and oriental white eyes. High up in the sky we saw a Himalayan Griffin and a blue throated barbet. Down below in the river, Garima spotted a red billed Leiothrix and a male paradise flycatcher.
Oriental White Eye (I love the mischievous look in this bird)
Chestnut Tailed Starling (what timing huh!)
Asian Paradise Flycatcher -Male (One of the most handsome birds i have seen to date)
Let me stop my boring blow-by-blow account of the birds we saw and tell you how we got into birding. It was July of 2001 and Saru and I were in the Daintree rainforest in Australia. We were on a tour and the jeep stopped for a few minutes. A cassowary (pheasant type bird) jumped out of the bushes, saw us and scurried away. A woman from our group jumped up and down in excitement screaming “Oh my God!! I saw a cassowary!! Oh my God!!” She hugged and kissed her partner and was delirious with joy. Apparently it was a rare bird and she was thrilled to check it off her list. Saru looked at her in admiration and said “I want to be like her”. We went back to the US where Saru bought his binoculars and it went with him everywhere. (I went too…albeit grudgingly). Numerous trips were made to the local wildlife refuge where he stared at ducks for hours while I bicycled around to kill time. A trip to Alaska fueled his interest even more with the sightings of Artic Turns and Puffins. I didn’t really get into birding until we visited the jungles in Belize. The colors and sizes and shapes of these birds bowled me over. After Corbett, I have to say that I am hooked!
We returned back to the camp site for lunch and a cat nap and were back on the road by 4:00 PM. Afternoon was not that great in terms of birding, but the scenery on the drive was beautiful.
I was trying to photograph a rhesus macaque. I got a decent shot, but wanted a better one, so I stood up on the seat of my jeep. The monkey was so alarmed at the sight of a tall desi woman pointing a long lens at it that it pooped in its pants. I don’t know if I should be proud of my timing or disgusted. Saru was thoroughly amused when he saw this picture, so I am posting it here.
A pooping Rhesus Macaque!!!
Day 2 saw us being woken up at 5:30 with a steaming cup of bed tea. 30 minutes later, we were ready for our morning birding. While waiting for the others to get ready, a few of us walked to the roadside and were immediately gifted with the sighting of Oriental Pied Hornbills. I could not believe my luck! In birders terminology, that was a lifer for me!
Oriental Pied Hornbill
This was followed by the sightings of the Himalayan Flameback woodpecker, lineated barbet, yellow footed green pigeons, roufous tree pie and grey horn bills. Then there were the flocks of screaming parakeets. It was, as you can tell, a glorious start to the day.
On the way we saw some magpie robins, more woodpeckers (lesser yellow nape, slaty throated) and some really cute black chinned babblers. Being out in wilderness and birding makes me very philosophical. I am dazzled by the intricate colors and markings of each bird. Within the same species, a bird can be plain, black chinned, yellow-eyed, puff throated and rusty cheeked and this was a very simple species I picked. The abundance of variety in color combination and features is just mind boggling!! I am constantly in awe of nature when I am birding!
We stopped at the entrance of Corbett. Out breakfast and luggage had arrived in a separate jeep. We were ravenous after the morning activity and were ready to pounce on the food. Breakfast was bread and petrol-flavored omelets (will leave you wondering about this). Soon after, we heard horn bills, so rushed to that tree and found two males fighting. It was pretty cool to see them dash head-on in the air and just before they hit the ground they would take off again.
Grey Horn Bill
Grey Horn Bills - Mid-air Collision!
We took off to drive 31 km to the Dhikala guest house, where we were staying for the next 2 nights. The drive was beautiful through Sal forests and we saw lots of birds and animals. While listening to the songs of a banded bay cuckoo, we spotted a tiny woodpecker called 'Speckled Piculet'. My jeep-mates were very amused with me screaming "little....tiny woodpeck type thing on that tree". Manoj was quick to look in that direction and identify the bird.
There were some stretches of road when we would not see any bird for over 30 minutes, but I was not bored. I would patiently stand up and comb the forest for any change in color or movement . 'I must be becoming more patient', I told myself when Manoj asked:
"Do you know why people love birding?"
"It reduces stress, nice to be outdoors and we get to see beautiful birds"
"What about photographing birds?"
"That is just our way of saving memories"
"One of the biggest reasons why people love birding is because we all have a hunting instinct inside us. It is just like hunting where you have to be very alert because you don't know when or where you can sight a bird. Plus....hunters used to shoot birds/animals and bring it back to show-off. We shoot birds with our cameras and display our pictures"
That logic sounded correct to me. Plus it was a more plausible explanation than me becoming patient.
True to their Hindi name Kotwal, two drongos were belligerently and fiercely protecting their nests. They were patroling/flying around their nest in a circle trying to scare away monkeys and to my utter surprise, were successful. This fellow jumped to the next tree and was waiting for his partner to join him.
Rhesus Macaque - What a soulful look!
We stopped at the high bank and got down to stretch our legs while admiring the forests and the Ramganga river. We saw a few ghariyals floating in the water and also a couple of crocodiles. Ghariyals are a type of fish eating crocodile that are more slender and have an elongated snout. We went to the guest house, had lunch, rested for a while before going on our first safari inside Corbett!!
View of Ramganga river from High Bank
Coming up in Part 2 - Elephants, Elephants and more Elephants and maybe even a tiger!
Preview of Elephants
Leave me a comment and tell me which one is your favorite picture.