Cruising around Sunderbans

I had heard a lot about the Sunderbans and even watched many videos and documentaries about the man eaters in Sunderbans, the place always fascinated me, I did want to make one visit there last year as well, however, it didnt work out and so when this year we learnt of a group taking a trip to the Sunderbans we latched onto it.

 

At the outset we knew that tiger spotting is quite difficult around here, that did not deter me, for I have seen quite a few tigers in the wild, I know its all dependent on luck and so you should never make plans based on tiger spotting. I was keen though to atleast see all sorts of birds and more importantly the bio-diversity and the dense jungles that no one inhabits.

 

We reached Sonakhali ferry station, which is about a 4 hour drive by bus from Kolkata, at around 4.30 pm and set in our ferry for the place where we were going to stay, the sunset was quite mellow and there was quiet excitement amongst everyone.

 

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We reached our base camp in pitch darkness and at the camp they told us not to venture outside the lighted areas of the camp as they had seen a tiger roaming around just two days back. Perhaps this was done to ignite excitement among us and also to ensure no one ventured outside the camp vicinity too much!

 

The next morning we were all up early for a safari, however, the organisers told us that we cannot go towards the core zone as the forest office opens only after 9 and so we waited. In normal cases tiger safari’s are always to begin early in the morning so this was a first. Whilst we were waiting we did walk around the Gosaba island where we were based to get a feel of the local village life. Interestingly on that island there was only one shop vendor, who stood with a stool selling, honey, cigarettes and mineral water! That was just about it. Most or almost all of the houses around here had a pond dug around their house and paddy also grew abundantly everywhere so the local staple food of rice and fish was clear for all of us to see. The people here were pretty much entrenched in their daily routines of finding fish from their ponds or looking after their chicken and goats. Some kids were busy playing Bengal’s favourite sport football!

 

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A lady busy catching fish in the morning!

 

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The kids busy playing football

 

We did wander about and spotted a few birds and the people on the island seemed quite gentle and kind and ready to smile.

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A Fulvous Breasted Woodpecker

 

Eventually after breakfast we set out on our ferry searching for the tiger and more importantly ventured towards the core zone! The whole area is a delta and thanks to this richly dense mangrove forest all the storms of the Bay of Bengal is not allowed to enter the mainland. The vegetaion here is dense, the area gets flooded thanks to the high tide and so the land is not really easy to walk on. We infact noticed that during the high tiger the water went up by almost 15 feet!

 

The thing about Sunderbans is that the islands here are not small, they are pretty huge, so whilst you are only allowed to visit the place on boat it means you cannot get to see anything apart from the outer sides of the islands, secondly when it is high tide all you can get to see is tree branches, not even the trunk of the tree as the water goes up that high on the banks of the river. The area is highly inaccessible, dense and so your chances of wild life spotting are few and majorly dependent on luck! We tired our eyes watching however on the first day we barely saw some 10 king fishers and maybe two or three deers on a full day safari! Not ideal for animal watching is this boat safari, also they do not have smaller boats for us tourists or else we could go inside the smaller creeks and see more of the inside of the islands.

 

We did see quite a few kingfishers and many more deer and wild boars the next day, the highlight being one amazingly huge salt water crocodile, the biggest I have ever seen. Apart from that though the wildlife watching here is really difficult. I really wished there would be some way to see the islands from the inside but we couldn’t find any way yet. They do have a few watch towers, however, it was during the holidays and way too many people had come around there, plus even there the sighting was quite poor.

 

Thankfully we were quite a few friends together and we kept ourselves amused whilst the two  and half days that we cruised around here. As far as sighting is concerned the place is quite difficult unless they improve accessibility, that too ensuring no disturbance of the local eco-system. All in all the secrets of the Sunderbans are not there for everyone to see, it would require a lot more sources or a lot more time to be spent around here to find ways to get around the Sunderbans!

 

Perhaps nature at some places doesn’t want everyone to come about and see everything and maybe some things are better off without any human presence. I ll leave you guys with some pictures.

 

Personally I wouldnt recommend people to go to the Sunderbans with high hopes of seeing too much wildlife, the eco-system though is picturesque, however, unless you have some means of getting more access I think I wouldnt spend time cruising around with a boat for so much time.

 

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This croc’s size was humongous, I dont know if the pic does justice! It was really huge!

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These folks probably know the most about these jungles than anyone else!

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The roots of the Sundari tree have this way of coming out of the soil, this is where Sunderbans gets its name from

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These fishermen do go inside these islands to collect honey and they I think are our way to seeing this place up close, perhaps when we venture alone here!

 

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A black capped kingfisher pops a crab for lunch!

 

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These dense mangroves have so many stories inside that they do not want to reveal!

 

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A common kingfisher watches us pass by!

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This is the kind of banks the islands had, no way you could walk without your legs going knee deep in the mud! The mudskippers though loved the place!

 

Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary

So the last weekend of the year we travelled to Jamnagar for a road trip, I had spent 4 years of my life in that city and ever since I left it as a kid I had not returned there, with junior camping in the vicinity we thought spending two days in that city would be quite okay. Wife was drooling at the prospect of buying the famous Bandhani’s from Jamnagar and I was thinking of seeing my old school and eating typical Jamnagar food. Alongside we had decided to spend some time in Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary since it was winter and migratory birds would have surely come here.

 

I had heard a bit about it, however, I must confess we did not go with too many expectations, infact one gentleman told me that 20 days back he had met someone who had gone to Jamnagar that this year very few birds have come. That did not deter me as we wanted to check it out first hand but it did tone down all expectations. I had read somewhere that some 300+ species come there and infact when legendary Bird expert Dr Salim Ali had visited Khijadiya in one day he had recorded 104 species!! However, when you go with minimal expectations you always end up with much happier moments.

 

We left for the park at 6.15 from our hotel in pitch darkness to reach the Sanctuary by sunrise, its about 25mins drive from the city centre, we got our tickets from the counter. They charge Rs. 40 if a person is going to walk, if he is in a car then its 500 per vehicle, doesnt matter how many people in the vehicle. They also charge 200 for a camera. The ticketing was smooth and the guys were pretty courteous, you can also hire a guide if you like but we didn’t hire one and decided to have some own time.

 

It is pretty rare that they allow you inside a sanctuary alone, in your own vehicle and I quite liked the idea. I know many people misuse this freedom and break the limits however, I just wanted to be there on my own waiting for any bird or animal at my own patience and whim and at the same time have peace and not get into unwanted conversations that many times keep happening when you are on safari in National parks with a guide and a driver giving you information that many times you already have.

 

We drove about stopping and spotting birds, they had arrived in plenty, we even saw more than 1500 flamingos, over 30 cranes, heron, ibis, black ibis, spoonbill, mallard etc were so many and so scattered its difficult to put a count on it. The place is blessed with birds and its difficult to list them all here, over all I think we spotted more than 35 species in about 5 hours that we spent there.

 

The place is quite and serene, surprisingly no littering around was spotted by us, there was so much peace with few visitors and the park authorities have kept things simple, they have made roads near the water bodies and put benches under tree’s so that you can go sit there and quietly wait for the birds to slowly figure out that you are not a threat and come closer. I loved the whole concept, we were short on time other wise I thought spending a whole day in a park by just paying 700 from 6am to 6pm is a steal. There is no food or drinks available inside the park so when you do go, go prepared, carry loads of water and fruits and a picnic hamper there are so many places inside where you can sit and enjoy and bask in glorious winter weather.

To be standing together in a frosty field, looking up into the sky, marvelling at birds and revelling in the natural world around us, was a simple miracle. And I wondered why we were so rarely able to appreciate it.”
Lynn Thomson

The more patient & silent people will probably get the birds more closer to them. I actually think that a trip simply to Jamnagar can be made with just visiting this park on the agenda. I found the place so good. The freedom, the silence, the whole place that was so full of nature kind of perked my spirits up. It seemed like a nice place to go on long walks and rejuvenate I say. People who love the peace, quiet and serene nature alongside bird watching are bound to fall in love with this place.

 

Here I have a few pictures I took there, hope you like them! 😀

 

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The park has two parts walking about would be for the supremely fit as it is a pretty huge area, taking a bicycle would be the best bet, infact the next time I go, I am taking a cycle on this park’s visit!

Common Cranes flying about

Common Cranes flying about

 

A crested lark struts about royally

A crested lark struts about royally, in its own tiny world this tiny bird is a king! 

Godwits are here in loads and loads of numbers!

Godwits are here in loads and loads of numbers!

Then at this far off place we saw so many flamingos

Then at this far off place we saw so many flamingos

This bunch was a little more nearer and more accessible, like me they didnt care for photo's they just kept their heads down and kept eating!

This bunch was a little more nearer and more accessible, like me they didnt care for photo’s they just kept their heads down and kept eating!

Even these folks are here in plenty and they come nearer and pose!

Even these folks are here in plenty and they come nearer and pose!

Although I have seen the Hoopoe many times before this, this is the first time I have got a proper shot of one!

Although I have seen the Hoopoe many times before this, this is the first time I have got a proper shot of one!

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Painted Storks were there as well to perk up the surroundings!

Hundreds and hundreds of Rosy Starling, Many many White breasted Kingfishers and Black Drongos were also to be seen everywhere!

Hundreds and hundreds of Rosy Starling, Many many White breasted Kingfishers and Black Drongos were also to be seen everywhere!

We even managed to spot one male and 6 female Nilgai's (bluebull) grazing about

We even managed to spot one male and 6 female Nilgai’s (bluebull) grazing about

Bird watchers are a lovely bunch, I like them, quite and unobtrusive, immersed in nature and always fancying their binoculars they all revel in places like these!

Bird watchers are a lovely bunch, I like them, quite and unobtrusive, immersed in nature and always fancying their binoculars they all revel in places like these!

This is just one spot, the park has many many spots like this, where in you can decide to sit and become a part of the surroundings, sleep, take a picnic lunch and spend time letting the birds come nearer and soak in nature

This is just one spot, the park has many many spots like this, where in you can decide to sit and become a part of the surroundings, sleep, take a picnic lunch and spend time letting the birds come nearer and soak in nature

Old Magazine House

I have been planning to go to the Western Ghats for a birding trip since long, many articles, pictures and stories have been coming my way since a long time about how the bio-diversity here is amazing. Eventually this Diwali we managed to go and finally made a road trip down to North Karnataka.

The first destination on the list was The Old Magazine House a jungle camp that is run and managed by The Jungle Lodges and Resorts. As it turned out this place is a heaven for bird watchers!

Tucked slightly away from the highway, a 2 kms off-road drive brings you to this small camp. Amidst tall trees and very little sun peeping through the camp gives you a feel of calm and peace and tranquility about it. They have a small area that has been cleared of the trees where they have put some bird baths and on days when there is no rain around these very bird baths are an absolute favourite of the birds. The birds come here in throngs and they have put some green nets with small gaps made for the camera so that the birds are not disturbed by the bird watchers and photographers.

The first evening itself after around 5 till around 7 we counted 32 different species of birds at one spot, all you had to do was keep your note and pen ready, we would sit around sipping tea or reading a book and the birds would come! I mean I have gone to a lot of places to spot birds and yes there is a lot of fun and a sense of achievement in walking on trails and identifying birds but this was a first!

 

Here you just wait and all the birds from the surrounding woods come and give their attendance! How cool is that!? We counted 48 species in 24 hours and that I think is an amazing number! So many firsts that I cannot even tell you! This place is an absolute paradise for bird watchers who are lazy to go on trails I tell you!

 

The staff in the place is also very well equipped in terms of bird, plant, reptile identification and can have a conversation with us quelling all our curiousness. They not only are efficient that ways but are extremely caring and hospitable, never imagined govt tourist houses to have such a courteous and caring staff. They made some awesome meals as well and also took us out on trails in the woods.

 

The boarding facilities are basic, whilst the cottages are under repair the dormitory that they have are quite simple and good and adequate. Very neatly run this place has to be up on your list if you are looking to go birding in the Western Ghats. Here are some of the birds that we spotted here!

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Flame Throated Bulbul

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White Bellied Flycatcher

 

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Spider Hunter playing hide and seek with us

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Orange Headed Thrush & Fulvetta

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Emerald Dove, the state bird of Tamil Nadu

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Asian Paradise Flycatcher (female)

 

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Hump Nosed Pit Viper. Apart from the birds there are many other things to spot too 😀

 

 

 

 

 

 

The birds of Binsar

So the road trip came to a brief halt for two days at Binsar, where we shun the car and took the boots, off we went walking on trails into the woods looking for the winged beauties, we did get to see a bounty, whilst all were not keen enough to be photographed but still the paparazzi in me did manage to catch hold of a few as these lil beauties hopped, strutted, jumped, laughed yes that too whilst I got busy with my Nikon.

Please do click on the collage to see individual photos of all the birds and the names of all of them are also revealed. Special thanks to our bird watching guide Jack who helped me identify all of them and showed me many others as well which we could not capture with our camera but remain in our hearts! 🙂

 

The Miracle

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“To be standing together in a frosty field, looking up into the sky, marvelling at birds and revelling in the natural world around us, was a simple miracle. And I wondered why we were so rarely able to appreciate it.”
Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Memoir

I read that quote at Cedo centre in Moti Virani in Kutch and it made me stop and think, the world is abundant of things to marvel at and revelling in ain’t it? If you want to that is, if you are able to stop for a moment, pause, breathe, think and let it dawn upon you! How busy have we become in our routines that we have just stopped noticing so many wonderful things around us. Let us endeavour to just give things one moment more, let us soak up things around us, find the joy of small things and I am quite sure they can make us so much more thankful to this world around us! 🙂

Bird Watching

Honestly, till before I bought my camera, I was never inclined in watching birds or identifying them, I did know a few species that were common but nothing more than that. Its the camera’s advent in my life and simultaneously friends like Shail, IHM and Sangeeta that I slowly but surely started identifying the birds. Once into the identifying thing, I realised how little we took notice of such pretty creatures, even though some of them were so near us we knew so little about them. After beginning to identify thanks to these buddies, internet and FB Group like the Indian birds, I have noted that as many as 19 different species visit my garden!!!! I never knew so many different fella’s actually came about to take a look at me every year!

The Birds of Indian Subcontinent (book), internet amazingly aided in the keen interest that was not developing. In fact since I started noticing these birds and I am thankful once again to my lovely friends Shail, Ihm and Sangeeta for this I have realised that every step I take outdoors is now so much more interesting than before, that so many of these fellas are there to be looked at, identified and noted albeit in the mind!

The day my friend Nitinbhai sent me the details of the Bird Conservation Society of Gujarat’s program of bird watching in Kutch I had decided that I was going to go. It was a total no-brainer, I knew that perhaps the best season is probably still about 50 days away but I wanted to find out the places where to look more than anything. What I did not anticipate was the fact that I was going to be amidst a crowd of hard core bird watchers (read lovers), Ornithologists, Botanists, Conservationalists and Environment activists!

It was fascinating to listen to these folks either when I asked them something or whilst they conversed with each other. To be frank I felt tiny, there was so little I knew about the world around us and I wondered what the hell was I doing all this while? So many questions never arised in my mind about how what happened and why? The finer details of all things around us amazed me and that there are so many people who actually look out for these things and appreciate it and try to understand solve the puzzle is surely something to be appreciated.

I also met one very senior bird watcher, Mr Shantilal Varu, apparently he has been keenly into bird watching and record keeping since over 50 years!!!! I found it quite staggering really, in an age when no such bird books were available as easily, there was no internet how this gentleman went about watching birds and identifying them. Fortunately for me, he was in our jeep at all times during this trip and I absolutely was amazed by the amount of knowledge the man had gathered about birds from so many years of observing them, he could tell us their traits, flight patterns, their call types and so much more. Also he would just not guess any bird unless he got a clear sight of it. Everything thing he saw, he would carefully note it down in small writing pad he had at all times. He then regularly transfer’s all this records into a diary that he maintains which could be useful for bird record keeping! Quite intriguing to me how much a man can love something and how dedicated and disciplined he becomes thanks to it. Simple pleasures of life I guess are just around us, its only about when do we realise them!

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All in all I must confess I am falling in love with this activity, yes, perhaps I will never be as dedicated to this one thing or be very disciplined about record keeping and yet I must say this bird watching is enthralling. 🙂

Since we are onto the bird watching theme, here is one passage migrant, a first timer for me, Red Backed Shrike, that Mr. Shantilal helped me identify. This Red Backed Shrike is a carnivorous passerine bird of the Shrike family, also known as the butcher bird for the way it consumes its prey. You can visit here to see how it holds its prey and eats it. This bird breeds in most of Europe and western Asia and winters in tropical Africa. Whilst it makes its journey to Africa for about a month in September you can spot them in Kutch! Amazing traveller these birds are I tell you! Here are a few shots of it that I managed to capture! 🙂

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