Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Corbett National Park - Part 1

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?

I....think so

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.....

Guys...I have it on the Spotting Scope!

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.


  1. liked the asian fly catcher, but my fav pics are grey horn bills - both of them . I was quite stumped when someone said 2 o clock and 10 o clock the other day..later it struck me..

  2. lucky lucky lucky you !!!!

    my fav photo has to be of the hornbills in mid air...

    I saw almost the same scene when i was there !!! only i didnt have a good camera then to capture it !!!!

    I am so so so happy to see these pictures... !!! and so so so wanting to go there again !!!!

    hmmmm !!!!

    thanks for sharing !

  3. The pics are so so so beautiful Vam! U are so lucky to have gone to Corbett...So Saru has made a complete Bird watcher out of you! Btw...the pooping monkey was one of the grossest pics i ever saw but just in terms of photography..what timing!:)) You can almost see it looking so scandalous and traumatised at the blatant intrusion of its privacy! My fav was the hornbill collision pic too!

  4. Vamsee, The write up and narration is getting to be more interesting than the trip itself. You certainly put it well ! and the pics !! Superb.. straight out of the forest!

  5. loved the hornbill as well as the flycatcher... all the pics were good, and the narration even better... loved every minute of it....

  6. Awesome pictures. The lighting in most of the pictures is very soothing. I can not believe Saru missed this.

  7. Vamsee - As usual, great writeup. I was surprised by your admission that you let somebody else plan this trip knowing your penchant for your meticulous planning.

    As for my favorite pictures, I liked both the pictures of the Rhesus macaques. The one with the soulful look - makes you wonder as to what is mindset is and as for the pooping monkey - the look says it all, what were you thinking Vamsee :-)


  8. Hi Vam,
    Great narration and pictures ! I loved the opening conversation :-) Eagerly waiting for your part II. Thanks for sharing.

    Amit S.

  9. That opening conversation - That is how most of my trips in birders company are ! "Bird ? Whaa ? Where ? Gone ? Good !"

    The expression on the macaque's face is priceless !

  10. wow - I'm so envious! Corbett National Park ... sigh. One day we will travel around in India too. Your pictures are amazing and so is your account of the trip.

  11. I was trying to pick a fav pic from the birds but when I scrolled down I saw the elephants! The baby elephant in the herd is so so cute. I think I will love part-2 of the Corbett travelogue.

  12. 200 species of birds !! That's awesome.

    After reading this post, I feel like I was the 15th member in that team.

    Your bird images are nice and my favorite is the first image of the pair of Chestnut-headed Bee-eater...Thomas

  13. Hey Vamsi

    Its a very good write up with good pictures.

    The starting lines have great punch.

    I cant wait for part 2 and more.....

    Some post processing with Photoshop for all pictures and particularly for Oriental Pied hornbill for getting the leaf on his/her eye will add more definition for pictures.

  14. waiting for the tiger !

  15. Lakshmi,
    Yes, the clock thing is confusing initially.

    Hitch writer,
    Thanks and I hope you get to go there soon.


    Welcome to my blog. You are the only one (who went on the trip) commenting here!


  16. Tara,
    Saru is kicking himself for not coming. He loved the pictures and my endless tales on Corbett. Next birding/wildlife trip....he is there even if he has to quit his job!

    I am serious.....i don't enjoy trip planning as much as I used to. Part of the reason is that I am traveling too much and I can't keep up. Plus it is hard to plan trips in India. For these kinds of birding/wildlife trips - we are going to try and go with Adesh rather than do it ourselves.

  17. Amit,
    Welcome back to my blog. Thanks for the comments.

    This is just the beginning. I want to travel a lot more in India.

    Oh....yes. You will have your fill of elephants from the next post.

    wow...thanks. You are always generous in your comments.

    Welcome to my blog. I use photoshop to crop and adjust levels, but don't feel good about changing images completely. It also makes them look artificial.

  18. The pooping macaque takes the cake (no twisted puns to be read into that please). But all the photos are really really good. What camera do you use? And yes, to repeat some other readers, awaiting the tiger photos.

  19. hitchwriter,
    don't be so eager to see the tiger. I might or might not have great pictures.

    Welcome to my blog. Your comment was funny 'The pooping macaque takes the cake".
    We use a Nikon D70 and most of these pictures were taken with a 70-300mm VR lens.

  20. I cannot believe you went to this trip without me. ^$%^&%^*

    It is a lot of fun to read the blog - read it couple of times already. Nice start on the blog. I had a good laugh. The white eye and starling pics are awesome - great timing. But, hands down, pooping monkey gets my vote. :). I am sure Bhas will enjoy this. Did he see it, Kala? Btw, you remember tigers from the trip? I thot you imagined seeing one a mile away through a scope. That does not count.

  21. Nice writeup with great snaps. I felt as if I am there in the spot.

    I love the Oriental White Eye snap.

  22. Enjoyed the pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Vamsee - Must say ur writing is getting better and better with each blog. I like how you intersperced the present with the past, verbatims with the narration. Man - you are throwing around so many bird names in every sentence. I'm embarrased to admit that I haven't heard of most of them :D I do know that next time I come visiting, I will have to plan a vacation with you so I can enjoy it the way you are.

    Ur blogs are now becoming part of my afternoon reading - as I hold Ruhi asleep and can't do much more other than surf with one hand or read a book :)
    My fav pic was the Hornbills collision - I thought the moment was captured quite well, although i must say the monkey pooping was a close second...again, another moment captured quite well :D

  24. Saru,
    Love that you are actually leaving comments on my blog!! And....ssshh about the tiger.
    Thanks. White eye is one of my fav picture too.
    That was a very sweet comment. Thanks a lot. We should definitely do a trip when you guys visit.

  25. Awesome! Awesome!! Only some people have the oppurtunity, while only some people have the heart to appreciate it and some are lucky to have BOTH! :-)
    The pooping monkey is just amazing - what timing!!! Needless to say the gyey hornbills colliding mid-air is fantastic!! I can't decide which one is my fav the Oriental white eye or the chestnut tailed starling.
    I don't think I have ever named so many birds in one go :-) - see you are enlightening people like me through your blog.
    And finally your opening account is hilarious and captivating

  26. Wow! What do I discover here!
    To answer your question, I hesitate between the couple of bee eaters and the mid-air collison! Fabulous photos and story!

  27. Lost for words. Such beautiful captures. I liked the expressions of the monkey. Knowing me ! it took me back to a sculpture from mahabalipuram



  28. Shanti,
    It is comments like yours that encourage me to keep writing. Thanks a lot. I mean it.

    Welcome to my blog and thanks for becoming a follower.

    You live and breathe sculptures, so I am not surprised:) Read that post and left a comment.

  29. Let me confess it that it is not possible for me to chose the best one. All are fantastic images. They are sharp in nature. http://exposemaximum.blogspot.com/

  30. This comment has been removed by the author.

  31. vam
    very nice pic and narration... keep it coming

    my favorite the hornbill collision and the gross but v. well taken pooping Rhesus:)

  32. hey vamsee

    nice pics.. makes me fork over the moolah for VR and maybe even the 300/f4.. we'll see. :) are you uploading the rest of your album anywhere else?

    nice write up too, makes the rest of the crew look quite civil..

    and are you guys thinking of going to phansad?



  33. exposemaximum,
    Thanks. That is a big compliment.

    OMG....you visited my blog again!! That is awesome. Thanks for the comment.

    Welcome to my blog. Saru and I are almost convinced that we should buy a 300mm 2.8 and a converter. Will think about putting the rest of the album on picasa.

  34. Hey Vamsee, I really really like your write-up! It is so different from the usual birding blogs. Lovely pics - though I've seen many of them, they have a different feel when they are part of a narrative :) I do so love the pooping macaque pic :)) That was a brilliant capture - a unique moment - not many are privileged to get shots like that! And you're so right when you say that one is transported back there every so often. Corbett is one place that is very difficult, if not impossible, to get out of one's system... Waiting for part 2, and the crimson sunbird pic :)) And also waiting to go to Corbett again, and again, and again....


  35. I liked the Chestnut tailed starling and the hornbill. I am waiting to see some elephants and tigers. Vidit would enjoy seeing them.

  36. Uma,
    Thanks. I completely agree. I was sitting in meetings the week after and had to really struggle to not think about Corbett.

    Vidit will get his fill of elephants in part 2

  37. @Vamsee: Your narration has such an impact on the reader. Your hilarious but absolutely original accounts transported me back to those moments....Gosh.... I wished this blog was mine :-)

    When are you uploaded the 2nd part? I cant wait ....very eager :))

  38. Absolutely Captivating !!

    Salil Choksi

  39. Adesh,
    HEY!! You left me a comment!! Thanks. Now I am more excited about writing Part 2. Nothing like a good dose of comments to encourage you. Will post part 2 in a couple of days.

    Welcome to my blog and thanks for leaving a comment.

  40. Hey vamsee,
    An absolutely captivating account accompanied by superb images.Loved your macaque just a little more than the others.Looking forward to the next part.

  41. Hey Vamsee,
    Super write-up and description of the "NUT CRACK PEOPLE" (in Harshad's words!!) ;-) After reading this I have decided to become even lazier, and simply link to your excellent Corbett report from my blog :-)

  42. dear vamsee, from all those of us who can't make it on natureindia tours with adesh as often as we would like to, this report is refreshing, captivating, and vicariously fulfilling. thanks for the sunny writeups and great pictures! looking forward to part 2....
    warm wishes,

  43. Dear Vamsi, You have made me experience once again the bird watching time at Corbett. Very dramatically explained, yet very true, the dialogue that was heard every now and then. You should add Uma’s conversation to make birds comfortable before photographing - “Do not worry, I am not taking your photos, this is not a camera etc”- in the part 2. The pictures are fantastic. Thanks for sharing.
    Capt haridas

  44. Rama aka birdbrain,
    Your screen-name is funny. Thanks for your comments.

    Didn't realize Harshad called us nuts!
    My reports are nothing compared to yours....so, please take the effort and write them.

    Welcome to my blog and thanks a lot for your sweet comments.

    Thanks. I will definitely write about that!!

  45. Fantabulous, Vamsee.Refreshing account that made me relive the enchanting moments of my trip in Feb (ist batch with Nature India). Lovely Pics and I loved that "dry tree behind green tree and 3 branches above the fork" bit (lol !). I am eagerly waiting for the second part.

  46. Sorry, The Anonymous was me.
    Prakash Swaminathan

  47. Hi Vam,
    Awesome narration, I love the pooping monkey picture. I couldn't stop laughing seeing the picture. Can’t wait for next installment of the blog


  48. Everyone takes a photo of a monkey, but only you, Vam takes a photo of a monkey pooping. LOL. Well, thanks to all your recent birding posts, I've re-picked at an old hobby. I've returned to bird watching after having quit it for three years. I used to be relatively good at identifying birds by sound...now I'm annoyed with myself for having forgotten even some of the very common bird songs. Thanks for the motivation! :)

    PS. My favorite's the oriental white eye.

  49. Wow! So many bird shots!
    All my favorites. :)

  50. superb report vamsee. i was in the first batch with adesh & manoj & this report took me back there totally. I too started writing my trip report, but it was getting so long that my blog still has only day 1 :(. Will wait for ur further sections

  51. Gosh, those pictures are brilliant! And so is the text that goes with it! Even birding sounds interesting when you write about it. Maybe I should stop smiling at my mother while she is talking to “her” birds when they visit her windowsill during the winter to get their food. She even give them names! She knows every little bird and swears that some of them return year after year (I am at a loss how she can tell).
    OMG that monkey story and picture – what a hoot!
    But what is “bed tea”?

  52. If I have to choose one, I'll go for the first - a picture I had meant to shoot once I stepped out of the jeep, but did not get around to doing it finally.

    Your bird pictures are superb, and it's amazing that you are able to identify them. Thanks for sharing these interesting details.

  53. Vam, Fantastic Photos and coverage as usual. Bird photos were breathtaking. I loved the monkey and Gharial snaps too. Cant wait for your blog on subsequent travels.


  54. Prakash,
    That introduction is such a common occurrence at these birding activities that I couldn't resist opening with it.

    Your first comment on my blog. Yay!

    I didn't take a picture of a pooping monkey....the monkey pooped at the exact instant! Am glad you picked up birding.


  55. Dr. Sangeetha,
    Thanks for your comment.I read your blog post and loved it.

    Thanks. My mom is the same way too:) Bed tea is when you drink tea the minute you wake up.

    Thanks. This was a birding trip, so I better identify at least the ones I photographed!

    OMG....is this the first time you came to my blog!! OMG....this is too cool. Thanks for the comment!

  56. Amazing pictures of the birds! Liked them the most. I have thought of becoming a 'birder' too (whatever happened to 'birdwatching?); I guess there is still time. I love the jungles!

  57. i read ur part II first and then landed here :) anyways, liked all the pictures and trip report. completely agree with the logic for why people luv bird watching :)

  58. Grey Horn Bills - Mid-air Collision.
    It is difficult to take such shots. In many such images by others I also get to see diff expressions of birds.
    i have never managed to take such images till date.
    A very good blog.
    Vijay Mewada

  59. Congrats for the Grey Horn bills mid-air collision picture. It's really amazing. I never knew about most of these birds. Very informative.

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