This Blog is written by my wife and guest blogger Shweta Gupta.
We have visited a few of the big National Parks in Southern, Central and Northern India over the last decade. They all make the best holidays and allow us to totally disarm ourselves from the otherwise urban life. We were visiting Tiger Reserves and therefore as is the charm of the tigers, cheetah, leopards, our attention would often take up a large section of our safaris and they have definitely been very gracious to us; giving us a generous dose of glimpses on amazing occasions. The bio-diversity of the jungle will amaze the human as how the animal kingdom co-exists when they considered living in survival mode, while the human race has moved to the most comfortable lives on earth, is threatening the very existence of the planet.
Our trip to the jungles of North-East along the Brahmaputra River – The Kaziranga, was different in some ways. We chose this time to spend the most part of our days in the jungle watching the birds of water and trees, and these are much in abundance. There are three ranges that open their periphery to the eco-travelers, and we lived in the only resort that is close to the Eastern Range – called as Agoratoli Range. This range allows for most bird watching view, and likely even in the high tourist days, makes room for the travelers for a quieter time with the birds and their calls.
We were escorted by some wonderful nature loving folks, who had made their mission to spend a length of time understanding the peculiarities of the species that live in water and wings itself high into the air. Their in-depth knowledge made our hours spent inside very valuable and created a deep sense of appreciation of the local knowledge and variety of the fauna.
NOTE: This article is for the travelers who have recently or planning to make a foray into bird-watching. The seasoned folks, will likely find our records rather raw.
Preparing for the jungles:
In the Winter months: Layer of warm clothes as the early morning into the jungle can start with a very very cold breeze, and also the afternoon safaris make it cold around 4:30 pm IST when the sun sets in this part of India.
What to take: Preferable a good easy to shoot camera. This tip is for those who are not carrying foot long camera lenses which are preferred by most avid photographers. And of course, a set of good binoculars is useful, though the safaris are generally well equipped with a good pair of these eyes.
What to read: The book is by an environmentalist from Assam, Soumyadeep Datta, an Ashoka Fellow.
Date of our visit: 14-15 December 2018
1st Safari- Eastern Khaziranga – Agoratoli Range
The entrance to the park has a water body, and within a few kilometers, we could spot a few dozen birds and more types of ducks. We spent 4 hours; 8 am to 12 noon at this part of the forest, covering barely a few kilometers, immersed in the process to identify the quaint duck with the purple face. In our second day safari, we made sure that we drove into the full range as we were eager to get a full glimpse of the mighty Brahmaputra(ADD song lyrics) that is only accessible to safaris at this range.
In our company was Deepankar Sir, an Architect by profession and an avid birder who hails from Guwahati. He volunteered his time as a warm gesture towards his love for wildlife and our enthusiasm (hopefully :)). He happened to be in the resort on one of his work travels, as a friend to Mr Bhaskar, owner of the Agoratoli Resort, and a very passionate naturist working with this forest conservation.
We were joined by the Forest Guard, Khagen, who has developed keen insight towards the birds who are resident or migrants for the Khaziranga National Park.
I am referencing my notes with the Field Guide “Birds of the Indian Subcontinent” by Grimmett, C Inskipp, T Inskipp (2016 Edition)
And it led to ponder what is the difference between the birds’ BILL and it’s BEAK
The highlights of the morning safari:
– Burmese Python, saw it moving and then saw it very still
– 3 black Otters idling along the water body, reminding me much of the Alice in Wonderland
– Falcated duck (Plate 11 – Page 60) – Rare sighted, and specially difficult to spot in a water body with so many different ducks. A keen eye of our Forest Guard and much patience was needed before we could spot this one
– The distinct whistle of the Grey-headed eagle perched on Urium tree, whistling distinctly
– A chase of a bird to another that had a fish – Remember Top Gun Chase?
Here is list of the birds that I was able to write down with the help of the experts, and then subsequently reference it with the book:
Minivet – This is the bird pair on the cover of the field book (older edition). I had never heard on them before, let alone see them. I thought they would make a very rare sighting, however, they made themselves appear several times in the forest – both males and female. They are tiny but their bright colors (Red:Male, Female:Yellow) are immediate attention. However, they are very very flighty, and hard to get a full sitting view of them. We saw them flutter around at high trees. And finally on the second day of the safari, we had a renedevous with them as they gave us the view from all angles, in different postures.
Plate 117, Page 272
Asian Pied Sterling (Myna family)
Plate 182, Page 402
Jungle Myna – Black body, orange bill
Plate 182, Page 402
Black headed Oriole
Very beautiful full yellow body with black head and orangish bill
Plate 122, Page 282
Bee-eater (Blue-bearded Bee-Eater)
(Plate 102 – Page 242)
Barbet (saw big groups)
(Plate 106 – Page 250)
Grey-headed Fish Eagle whistling perched on Urium tree
Palla’s Fish Eagle
Plates 33-34, Pages 104
Rufous Treepie (long tail)
Plate 125, Page 288
Oriental Turtle Dove
Plate 78, Page 194
Storks – we saw 4-5 types of Storks, and some very large once in the water bodies
i – Greater Adjutant
ii – Lesser Adjutant
iii – Woolly-necked Stork – We saw 5-7 in a swamp, full black only white neck. Very pretty. The guide told us that earlier they were called white-necked, and now renamed to wolly-necked
iv Black-necked Stork
v – Open-bill Storks We saw many large groups. There bill/beak is kind of open all the time
Plate 18, 19, Pages 74-76
Plate 23, Page 84
Egrets of many sizes, Intermediate Egret, Great Egret
Plate 24, Page 86
Spot-billed Pelican – we saw them in very large groups, and also flying together
Plate 26, Page 90
Ducks (this was amazing variety and a first time realization that there are so many types of duck other than what we always see)
(Plates 10-13, Pages 60-64)
– Falcated duck Rare sighted, and specially difficult to spot in a water body with so many different ducks. A keen eye of our Forest Guard and much patience was needed before we could spot this one
– Ruddy Shelduck Brahmini ducks; Very Orange and in pairs, we saw multiple sets pair and 3 different sightings
– Brown-head Eurasian
– Mallard (distinct green-head)
– Gadwall (common in large numbers)
– Indian Spotbill Duck
– Northern Shoveler (multi-colored) a dabbling duck
Black-headed Ibis – Very White with the black neck-head and bill. Very easy to identify once we know this description.
Bar Headed Geese – Migratory from Tibet, come over Himalayas. We saw these in very large groups and different water-bodies
(Plate 9 – Page 56)
Plate 55, Page 148
– Red-Wattled LapWing
– Northern LaWing (uniquely identifiable tuff/antenna)
Indian Roller – Saw many times the Indian Roller, in flight it looks its most beautiful with blue wings.
We fist confused it with the Kingfisher because of the blue wings
(Plate 99, Page 236)
Rose-ringed Parakeet – We saw multiple groups of parakeets. One was just outside the Agoratoli Resort, on the farms, and then inside the forest range
(Plate 81, Page 200)
Snake-bird (Darter) – Our first identification, and we happened to see many snake-birds, identified by very sender neck which looks like a snake floating on water. We saw it in many avatars; perched on branch of a dead tree; sitting next to the water drying its wings full open and very -very still
(Plate 28, Page 94)
This was first time introduction to Tailor birds. Very small, and looked like the sun birds that visit our home at Pune.
(Plate 145, Page 328)
Red whiskered Bulbul
Plate 139, Page 319
Greater Coucal (Very bloody Red-eyed)
Plate 87, Page 212
Pheasant Tail Jacanas
Plate 53, Page 144
Plate 119, Page 276
2nd Safari- Western Khaziranga – Baghori Range
This range is the first range if one is driving from Guwahati. The range is very varied in terms of the landscape. At the start is the water bodies, which is often accompanied with very very large open landspaces. This is likely one of the most open space range in India (comes from our perception and not actual study).
The Rhinos, Water Buffaloes, Hog Deer can be seen enjoying themselves along with all the there water bodies on these open space, making the travelers very delighted.
The landscape then changes into the tall Elephant Grasses and the big dense tree forest. The other 2 Big 5, Elephants and Tigers are not open space species and make access to them much rarer. We did not spot any Elephant Family in this range until the very the last safari. We saw a family cross the safari track just ahead of us. It is amazing how quietly a full family of elephant along with a little one walks across a narrow treaded elephant path, and though they are a large animal they have their own ways of keeping a rather low profile.
We wrapped up our holidays having spent some very solid time in the jungle,
very grateful to the abundance of the creation
very grateful to the magic of the creator
and grateful that we have this opportunity to soak in the beauty
and hopeful that we shall pause our mindlessness to let it perish
and hopeful that we shall allow the abundance and magic to flourish
and only in this consious act of ours, we shall desolve and merge in the life’s magic