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Rambles in Ravana’s Rainforest – II: Kithulgala and Nuwara Eliya

It was night when we arrived at Sisira’s River Lounge on the banks of the river Kelani in Kithulgala, the next stop on our Sri Lankan birding trip. After four days, we had a wonderful dinner – Sisira was an executive chef with the Taj group and has worked in India – and went to bed wondering if Kithulgala would be as abundant as Sinharaja had been…

Kelani riverbank

Day 5 – The bird of the trip!

We rose with the sun to be welcomed by an Indian pitta

I got up late – is my kaajal ok???

a brown-capped babbler, and a lesser yellownape.

Lesser indeed! Good things come in small packages, you know!

Along the riverside, we saw several green imperial pigeons. In a neighbouring garden, we found the endemic chestnut backed owlet calling away…

If pre-breakfast birding was so good, we couldn’t wait to find out what awaited us after the lovely breakfast that Sisira had laid out for us. For this, we had to cross the Kelani river and go into the rainforest on the other side. This was accomplished by means a narrow catamaran dugout – it was a bit scary to get in, but the ride was great fun! If only the river wasn’t so narrow, we could have had a longer ride!

Thankfully, the leeches appeared to be resting. Chami took us on a quest for the brown hawk owl, which didn’t want to be met. On the way, we came across a couple of kangaroo lizards, one with a huge moth in its jaws…

I’m going to take a while to have my breakfast, and I’d like my privacy…

To see something special, you have to make an extra effort. Especially when it happens to be a very rare and rather sensitive bird. We trekked through densely forested hillsides sloping at a 45o angle, following Chami’s exhortations to remain absolutely silent, to see the bird of the trip – Sri Lanka’s newest endemic discovery – the Serendib scops owl! What a present for all of us on Garima’s birthday!

I’m an owl. I sleep during the day. Got it? Now go away!

Don’t you think this beautiful bird has a face like Lord Ganesha? Though we remained very quiet, those large lovely eyes followed our every movement. Chami said that it would change its roost now that it had been spotted.

(Sorry about the shake…)

On the return trek, we saw a Malabar trogon and a Tickell’s blue flycatcher.

I am blue, in more ways than one…

After lunch, Chami drove us to a rubber plantation, with many birds busy getting their evening meal. There were Layard’s parakeets, chestnut headed bee-eaters, white-browed fantails,

What do you mean, my hairline is receding!

and the red backed black rumped flameback, which is endemic to Sri Lanka.

You should see my cousin, the crimsonback!

Day 6 – The merry coucal chase

Next morning, Chami took us to a riverside location to get shots of Layard’s parakeets and hanging parrots. Having missed seeing the green-billed coucal earlier, Garima and I headed back to Sisira’s. We found one in a jackfruit tree and tried hard to get a decent shot. Soon the others joined us and the green-billed coucal led us in a merry chase, during which we entered a garden with an incessantly barking dog. A yellow fronted barbet was hopping around outside.

If only my bill had been red, it would have complemented the blue, yellow and green I sport…

After a bit, the dog gave up, but we didn’t, and in the tree in which the green-billed coucal had hidden itself, we saw a brown headed barbet.

My bill is red, but my eye patch is yellow rather than orange…

On the way back, we ran into another Indian pitta!

And got a good look at some black bulbuls.

Black is beautiful, I always say…

Back at Sisira’s, we got a close look at a chestnut backed owlet, but I missed seeing the rufous woodpecker.

Who is better looking, Serendib’s or I?

After breakfast, we started for Nuwara Eliya, a long, tortuous, uphill drive that was hard on a few of our tummies. En route, we stopped at a beautiful tea estate called St Clair’s.

…like the English countryside…

The vistas at St. Clair’s were scenic, with a couple of lovely waterfalls…

Devon falls

The route took us through endless stretches of tea gardens – all of them created at the expense of the rainforest.  I asked Chami if the forest would survive the tea industry, and he didn’t answer. Here’s a video of a partially deforested hillside…

We reached Nuwara Eliya in pouring rain and freezing cold, so the first order of business was shopping for jackets. A brief visit to Victoria Park gave us a glimpse of a forest wagtail. As it grew dark, we headed to a wooded area where we got another brief glimpse, this time of the scaly thrush. Then it was too dark to see anything, so we headed to Humbugs bungalow – to hot showers, warm beds and a cute cat!

He didn’t have a name, so I named him Humbug! 🙂

Day 7 – Thrush tapasya on Diwali

Imagine waking up at 3 am on a freezing morning and driving for two hours to see a bird that shows up only at the crack of dawn! That was our tapasya this Diwali day – reaching Horton’s Plains at 5 am in pitch darkness – waiting for daybreak to see the Ceylon whistling thrush! It is an extremely rare and difficult bird to see. We got out of the van as the light crept into the sky, and saw an Indian blackbird in the gloom – but no thrush… Chami told us that he had seen a whistling thrush couple nesting near the ladies’ toilet on his last visit. So we stood some distance away, with our eyes fixed on the entrance to the toilet. Still no thrush. Suddenly three minibuses pulled up and disgorged a horde of elderly European women – at least 20 of them, dressed in colourful outfits, conversing loudly. On this freezing morning, what could they do but make a beeline for the loo! We gave up hope of seeing the thrush and walked around in the drizzle. Then, out of the mist, the thrush whistled – and bestowed darshan on us! Not only the male, the female too! Our tapasya did bear fruit!

This thrush has a high-pitched whistle, unlike the more melodious song of the Malabar whistling thrush.

In spite of the mist and drizzle, we saw a dull blue flycatcher couple, (here’s the female preening)

grey headed canary flycatcher,

Seen anything cuter than me?

yellow eared bulbuls, Sri Lanka bush warbler and a troop of purple faced bear monkeys!

Is my face purple? Come closer…if you dare!

As the sun rose and the mist cleared, Horton Plains revealed itself.

Not quite so plain at World’s End!

Hungry, we headed for the sanctuary canteen, where a huge male sambar called Raja allowed people to get quite close, though he wouldn’t take grass from my hand.

I’m a king, and you feed me grass??

Chami then took us to the Pattipola railway station to see munias – instead we came across a flock of yellow eared bulbuls and a troop of purple faced monkeys, and some of us got good views of the Ceylon woodpigeon!

I’m Woody woodpigeon. Any animation roles for me??

Most of the afternoon was spent in searching for a place to have lunch (all restaurants were closed on account of Diwali). We ended up at the coffee shop of the Grand Hotel, where I had absolutely the worst pizza I have ever eaten!

Day 8 – Foggy birding

Last day. We went to Victoria Park once again. It was dark and foggy…

Misty Victoria…

A forest wagtail foraged along the stream…

Ceylon white-eyes are a darker olive green than Oriental white-eyes…

We got just a glimpse of a pied thrush. Then we headed to the scaly thrush place again and came across the last bonanza of the trip – a male Kashmir flycatcher busily displaying! We just couldn’t get our fill of it, when someone from the forest department chased us away, saying we were not supposed to do any photography there 😦

Since we had missed seeing the crimson-backed woodpecker, Chami decided to make a brief stop at the Udawattakele reserve forest at Kandy. It was almost 4 pm and getting dark when we entered the gates. Barely ten minutes into our walk, we realized that all of us had several leeches clinging to us and climbing steadily. These leeches were the quickest we had seen, and we ran back to get our leech socks. By then it was too dark to go looking for the woodpecker, though we heard its call.

Bye bye Humbugs!

Day 9 – Dawn at the beach

We reached Colombo late in the night, shopped a bit, ate some dosas (finally!!) and pizza (not me!) and spent the night at a homestay in Negumbo. Some of the others woke early to visit the nearby beach, where they saw some gulls and terns. Our departure was as dramatic as our arrival, as our 9 am flight was turned back to Colombo due to high wind speeds at Chennai. It took off again only in the afternoon, and it was well past midnight when we reached Bangalore.

Such drama, and much physical hardship!! But it was all worth it – the BULBs’ Sri Lanka endemics tour rocked! Thanks are due to Rajneesh for putting it together and to Chami for his indefatigable chauffeur-guiding! And to all the others for the vibrant company!

Wonder where we’ll go next…

Some more pics here

Rambles in Ravana’s Rainforest – I: Sinharaja

Diwali 2010 was a landmark for our birding group – the BULBs’ first birding trip abroad! Rajneesh’s Wayfarer put together an itinerary for us to see the endemic birds of the emerald isle, and some of the group (Rajneesh Suvarna, his wife Suma, Garima Bhatia, her dad Mr Jitender Bhatia, Gayathri Naik, Jainy Maria and I) set off for Sri Lanka on the penultimate day of October!

Day 1 – Drama in the dark!

Rajneesh had driven us into Chennai the previous evening, and we awoke to pre-dawn drama. In pouring rain, our cab to the airport, which was already late, punctured a tyre near T Nagar. The cab driver, a strong, silent type (too silent, not strong enough) struggled ineffectually to change the tyre. We were just about to flag down some autorickshaws when an empty van (on its way to the airport for a pick-up) arrived like an angel from heaven!


At Colombo airport, we were met by Chaminda Dilruk, our inseparable guide-cum-chauffeur for the entire trip. He took us to Martin’s Lodge close to the Sinharaja Heritage Forest atop a hill, with amazing views of a range covered with dense rainforest.

View from Sinharaja Information Centre

Our trip was characterised by what I can only call close-encounter birding. The first one was en-route with a crested serpent eagle sitting on a lamp-post right above our heads, calling and posing for a long time.

Mama! Help! These people are taking my picture!

Then on the walk up the hill to Martin’s Lodge, we saw Layard’s parakeets, which are endemic,

I'm no Layabout!

orange minivets which are not 🙂

Orange, scarlet, a minivet is a minivet - nice contrast to the forest, no?

as well as a Ceylon hanging parrot, a Ceylon small barbet, Ceylon green pigeons, and black bulbuls. And a cobra that crossed the road just a few feet away!

The real close encounters came when we reached Martin’s Lodge – an emerald dove, a young Ceylon junglefowl and a huge water monitor!

Never seen an emerald dove this close!

Nightfall at Martin’s Lodge did not mean that all the wildlife went to bed. This beautiful hawk moth paid us a visit,

Which hawk moth?

as did hundreds of flying termites, followed by a couple of frogs who gobbled up the termites with glee. Sometime during the night, so did this massive atlas moth (almost 10 inches across) – we found it early next morning, surrounded by ants, flapping its wings very feebly…

Atlas moth on its last legs...

Day 2 – Birding bonanza

The day started with an unfamiliar call just outside our door – two brilliantly coloured Ceylon blue magpies feasting on dead flying termites from the previous night!

When I look at this bird, I feel that God would have drawn its outline, and given it to a kid along with a box of crayons, and asked the kid to colour it. It is one of the gaudiest possible birds with a very strange colour combination – bright blue body; bright red beak, feet and eye-ring; brown head and wings; white and black tail feathers!

If I'm not colourful, how will I stand out in this dense forest?

Happy with this wonderful start to the day, we set off into the dark depths of the rainforest, leech socks and all. Our foray was extremely productive, netting us several birds! The first one was the endemic spot-winged thrush. (This video has a loud background noise).

It was followed by the Ceylon scimitar babbler, black capped bulbul, red-faced malkoha, yellow fronted barbet, Ceylon rufous babbler, Malabar trogon and Legge’s (white-throated) flowerpecker.

I'm the smallest bird in Sri Lanka!

The brown breasted flycatcher seemed to be everywhere.

LBJ I may be, but I'm cute as you can see!

The Ceylon crested drongo looked to me like a cross between the racket-tailed drongo and the bronzed drongo 🙂

I've got a crest AND I'm glisteny!

A couple of times, a flock of ashy headed laughingthrushes passed alongside…

Ha! I'll have the last laugh!

There were Sri Lanka giant squirrels in the trees around, their calls exactly like those of the Malabar giant squirrel.

Yes, I'm black, not maroon. So?

For me, the find of the day was the brilliant green pit viper, of which we were lucky to see two!

What's the use of such camouflage if I'm going to get stared at like this?

I thought the Ceylon junglefowl at Martin’s Lodge was bold as he was used to coming there everyday, but another couple we saw on our trek turned out to be even bolder, coming right up to us, just a couple of feet away!! I asked Chami about this, and he said that the birds seemed unafraid as the Sri Lankan wildlife protection laws were very strict and nobody killed wild animals or birds. Any thoughts on this, Mr. Jairam Ramesh? 🙂

Had to step backward for this full frame shot!

Is this close enough?

And here he is, coming towards us!

Day 3 – Leeches galore!

The leeches were out in full force after the previous day’s rain. Most of us gave generous blood donations. I had encountered leeches by the hundred in Agumbe before, but Sinharaja had the greatest variety in leech size. I found a tiny, less-than-half-cm-long leech between my toes! Having dozed off in my chair after lunch, I was awakened by screams of ‘leech! leech!’ I awoke to find everyone looking at this blood-sated monster on the floor.

Bloated bloodsucker!

So I’ve donated blood (very unwillingly) to the tiniest and the largest leeches in Sinharaja!

In spite of the rain, birding was good – Suma gave us a present on her birthday by spotting the brown capped babbler, which flew circles around us before settling down to pose for the photographers. It has a call very similar to our puff-throated babbler.

Wouldn't you say I'm brown all over?

We had great sightings of a flock of yellow browed bulbuls from the dining area of Martin’s Lodge.

It's not only my brow that's yellow!

Another close encounter at the Lodge was with a Ceylon grey hornbill, which sat and posed on a tree for a long time.

Is this profile better or should I turn around?

Day 4 – Seeking the Spurfowl

Our last outing into the Sinharaja forest was the toughest and leechiest, yielding white-faced starlings, besra, three red-faced malkohas, a pair of hornbills and several other birds. A few of us trekked up with Chami to a spot to see the Ceylon spurfowl which are notorious as very shy skulkers – we got a good look at them, but this was all the photography I could manage as the birds took flight at the slightest noise!

Only a beady eye!

Unlike this fellow, who was completely still, no matter how much the camera shutters clattered!

I'm a ... uh... green garden lizard

And here’s an actual green one…

I'm a green green garden lizard, unlike you-know-who!

On the way down from Martin’s Lodge, a bonanza awaited us – a tree full of crested treeswifts!

One of the gentlemen...

...and his lady perhaps?

The surroundings of the Blue Magpie Lodge where we stopped for lunch, provided an exciting finish to the birding at Sinharaja. We saw this rufous and white Asian paradise flycatcher,

I wonder, are there flies in paradise?

a small flock of black capped bulbuls,

Family picnic - each of us has to pic our own nic...

white rumped munias, kingfishers and a crested serpent eagle in action. Then, happy and exhausted, we said goodbye to Sinharaja and set out for Kithulgala…

Some more photographs here

Coming up next, Kithulgala and Nuwara Eliya.



B R Hills

Hill forest

There is something inexplicably wonderful about going into the forest in the rains – the green is fresh and bright, and though the sightings of birds and animals are not as frequent and varied as in the dry season, the lush greenery soothes the mind and heart immensely. And when the forest is on a range of hills, like in BR Hills, it makes the trip all the more special.

Imagine shivering with cold in the middle of June! The sky was covered with clouds, and chill breezes accompanied our jeep rides through the undulating forest.

Cloud covered forest

Cloud covered forest


K Gudi

The K Gudi Wilderness Camp has quaint log cottages, with thatched roofs hanging low. One night, we awoke at 3 am to the sound of someone or something pulling at the thatch! Madhavi managed to photograph the culprit the next day. She has also got some amazing shots of the landscape at BR Hills.

The camp had some really interesting denizens – on the walkway outside the cottages, I saw this colourful character…

What a dung beetle!

What a dung beetle!


Our constant companions at K Gudi, especially during mealtimes, were very bold and fearless. One of them leapt onto our breakfast table as we jumped away, and another stole up to the buffet and made off with a stack of toast!! But most of the time, they were busy relaxing and bonding 🙂

There were wild boars running around in the grounds, wary, but not frightened of people. Our jeep surprised this one as we drove out.

Don't be fooled by my white whiskers - I'm very young - look at my eyes!

Don't be fooled by my white whiskers - I'm very young - look at my eyes!


And just outside the camp, we met someone as curious about us as we were delighted to see him!

I'm the original 'bright-eyed and bushy-tailed'! Well, maybe not so bushy...

I'm the original 'bright-eyed and bushy-tailed'! Well, maybe not so bushy...

Look at his smile! Unfortunately this beautiful stripe necked mongoose didn’t hang around too long… he walked off leaving us beaming at this wonderful encounter!

We saw the usual suspects – a small herd of sambar that stood very still…

Is this still enough for your pic?

Is this still enough for your pic?

Several herds of spotted deer, including this lone stag who decided that the lush grass around was not good enough to eat…

We got caught in a sudden downpour and had to stop the jeep, and to keep us company, there was this herd of gaur, completely unaffected by the rain!

Hmm... the rain tastes good!

Hmm... the rain tastes good!

Maybe, but I don't like getting my eyelashes wet...

Maybe, but I don't like getting my eyelashes wet...

Oh give me a break! Don't be all wet!!

Oh give me a break! Don't be all wet!!

Yeah yeah! You stop trying so hard to be funny...

Yeah yeah! You stop trying so hard to be funny...

Of course, no trip to BR Hills can be complete without the elephants! In the dense forest, they are quite difficult to spot. One can come upon them suddenly, and then just as suddenly, they vanish into the greenery. We saw this little family for only a few seconds …

And no discussion of mammals in an Indian forest (except Gir!) can be complete without the tiger. No, we didn’t see one. A newbie couple (new to wildlifing) – capless, camera-and-binocularless, the guy in a pink shirt and the girl in a colourful kurta, with a new JLR employee driving them, saw one – it ambled across the track in front of their jeep! That’s life! (We’ve resolved to wear pink shirts to tiger reserves from now on :))

We did, however, see fresh signs of a tiger on our morning trek. A pugmark…

Fresh pugmark

Fresh pugmark

...fresh scat...

...fresh scat...

...and fresh scent marking

...and fresh scent marking

The birds

We saw numerous birds, several lifers for me among them. But I couldn’t get good pictures, possibly because of the dense canopy and the cloudy weather. Here’s one…

Asian fairy bluebird

Asian fairy bluebird

There was an abundance of orange-headed thrushes and Indian blackbirds, and the forest resounded with the song of the Malabar whistling thrush. Here’s a grainy video of one of them singing, with Garima joining in towards the end.

Another bird that we saw fairly often was the Southern hill myna, flying around in rather raucous flocks!

Having been used to shy, skulking rufous treepies, I was pleasantly surprised to see two of them sitting and preening for a long time on a bare tree!

That brings us to my favourite category of birds – the woodpeckers! A lifer for me was this yellow crowned woodpecker…

We saw of three of these cuties together, though I could film only one…



Some interesting trees…

A rather common yet fascinating sight; a strangler fig eating into another tree…

Killer tree and its victim

Killer tree and its victim

The tree that bleeds… the honne mara (Dalbergia ougeinensis) whose sap looks like blood…

Would you want to cut me now?

Would you want to cut me now?


And this strange tree with deformities on its trunk looking like carvings in an ancient temple…

Hanuman? or dancing apsara?

Hanuman? or dancing apsara?

…and creatures…

A very co-operative common toad, who allowed us to pick him up and did not jump away even after we put him down…

Sigh... nobody kissed me :(

Sigh... nobody kissed me 😦


The largest crab I’ve seen – almost the size of a dinner plate!

Hmph! So long as you don't think I'm dinner!

Hmph! So long as you don't think I'm dinner!


And this tiny pond terrapin (just two inches long), alongside a minuscule pool of water in the hollow of a large rock! I wonder how he got there… and I wonder what will happen once the pool dries up. Narayan, the naturalist at K Gudi, said that he would most definitely become a meal for a bird of prey sooner rather than later…

You're sooo in my face!

You're sooo in my face!

For a species reputed to be slow moving, this one was quite chipper – and was most glad to get back into the water, where he shot across to the darkest corner. Here he is trying to get away from my camera…


…and the EVENTS!!!

Mother Nature is not exactly compassionate. We saw several instances of this on the trip.

Our second morning found this unfortunate stag near the camp’s lake, unable to get up. He had probably injured his spine in a rutting fight with another male. A vet was called for; but it seemed highly unlikely that he would be able to walk again…

Cruel nature...

A victim of cruel nature...


On our trek, we came across a small water body where a life-and-death drama was in progress. A large crab had caught hold of a common toad, and held fast as the toad struggled to get free.

Who will win?

Who will win?

The toad was almost as large as the crab, and for as long as we watched, both of them refused to give up.

And just a couple of feet away, the production of new life was busily in progress…

Life in the making...

Life in the making...


Finally, the most exciting experience of the trip – while watching this black drongo busy collecting flies on the ground…

Drongo momma?

Drongo momma?

…our attention was drawn to this unusual looking bird…

Why is everyone staring at me?

Why is everyone staring at me?

A juvenile Indian cuckoo!! As we excitedly clicked away at this magnificent find, it fluttered its wings and uttered a high-pitched call. And the drongo that was busy collecting flies flew up to it and fed it!! All of us were too stunned to get any pictures or videos of the event. But we followed the cuckoo with our cameras as it flew to another branch, and then, it happened again. This time both mommy and daddy drongo came to feed their darling thief of a baby! And luckily, I managed to get a video of sorts…


And so, though we did not see a tiger, or leopard, or sloth bear, it was an extremely interesting and satisfying trip. Narayan, the naturalist at K Gudi, accompanied us on all our safaris and took us on a lovely trek. Thank you, Narayan, for all the time and attention you lavished on us! A ton of thanks to Garima for making the bookings, and to her and Jainy for driving us all the way to and from BR hills!

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to going there again – this time hopefully we’ll see a leopard!

Glorious Corbett – II


The Ramganga

A constant feature of Corbett is the Ramganga River. We spent a lot of time driving alongside it, and occasionally across it. Since it was the dry season, there didn’t seem to be too much water in it, though in some places it was quite deep. One of the best views of the river was from High Point, at the top of a cliff, from where a long stretch of the river could be seen.

View from High Point

View from High Point

Ramganga rocks ;)

Ramganga rocks 😉

From high above, we had a bird’s eye view 🙂 of the river and its residents –gharials and muggers (Indian freshwater crocodiles) next to each other – afloat in the shallow water, and basking in the sun on the riverbank.

Glistening gharial

A very precious gharial

The gharial is listed by the IUCN as critically endangered – its numbers had come down to just 200 breeding adults in 2007.

At another place, the riverbank was a vast field of rocks in varied pastel shades…

The riverbank rocks ;)

The riverbank rocks 😉

We saw several birds along the river – some of them very expertly camouflaged. Here’s a brown dipper hiding under a rock.

Can you see me 1 - Brown dipper

Can you see me 1 - Brown dipper

And this long-billed thrush was barely visible…

Can you see me 2 - Large billed thrush

Can you see me 2 - Long billed thrush

From a distance, this crested kingfisher wasn’t too easy to see either.

Crested kingfisher

'Spotted' this beauty! - Crested kingfisher

And when it wasn’t moving about, so was this rosy pipit.

Rosy pipit - a lucky sighting!

Rosy pipit - a lucky sighting!

On the other hand, there were some colourful birds too, like this citrine wagtail.

Citrine wagtail

Yellow yellow pretty fellow - Citrine wagtail

And here’s a white wagtail engaged in the universal activity of every living creature – the quest for food…

And that brings us to…

…the birds!

Corbett is a bird paradise – almost one-third of India’s birds can be seen here. In some places, it was difficult to decide where to look – there was such a profusion of birds! One such place was near a bridge across a sot (stream) on the way to Mohaan and Kumeriya. We stopped on the road near the bridge overlooking the small gulch of the sot, which had dense vegetation. A few puddles left behind by the drying stream attracted a variety of birds. There were birds on the trees in front of us, in the bushes just below eye level, and on the ground below, all happily unaffected by the trucks and buses and SUVs that roared incessantly past!

Here’s the Northern sub-species of the red-vented bulbul with a brown cheek patch.

There were so many of these birds around, we almost got tired of them...

There were so many of these birds around, we almost got tired of them...

And the pretty little black-lored tit.

One of the cutest birds we saw :)

One of the cutest birds we saw 🙂

Very restless bird, this one…

A particular delight were the “pollen-fronted” white-eyes (Adesh Shivkar’s name for them :)). There were several of them just a couple of feet in front of us, but they would disappear if we got too close. Here’s a tender white-eye moment…

A “lifer” for most of us was the red-billed leiothrix, a colourful master of camouflage. Can you spot it in this pic?

Can you see me 3 - Red billed leiothrix
Can you see me 3 – Red billed leiothrix

One of the most unforgettable experiences of the Corbett trip was seeing eleven species of woodpeckers! One such lifer was this lesser yellownape.

Lesser yellownape

Lesser yellownape

Another was this grey-capped pygmy woodpecker.

And yet another – the fulvous breasted woodpecker

And here is Garima’s collection of nine of the eleven woodpeckers!

Barring the peacock, the most flamboyant bird we saw was the red junglefowl.

He knows how to strut his stuff!

He knows how to strut his stuff!

Sometimes, flamboyance is best displayed together! 🙂

Fowl company...

Fowl company...

Another source of non-stop birding for us was a peepal tree outside Corbett Nature Camp. Yellow-footed green pigeons, Indian grey hornbills, red whiskered, red vented and ashy bulbuls, rose ringed parakeets, chestnut tailed and Asian pied starlings, and Himalayan flamebacks! And a flock of three Oriental pied hornbills that stayed for just a few minutes!

Some more “Wow!” moments…

My first sight of the beautiful black-crested bulbul…

I like to juggle with my food!

I like to juggle with my food!

…and the brilliantly coloured rufous bellied niltava!

Rufous belly, yes... but you should see my back!

Rufous belly, yes... but you should see my back!

Seeing this collared scops owl in a tree on the road outside Corbett Nature Camp

Collared scops owl1

How can I sleep in this racket??

Watching the graceful chestnut headed bee-eaters perform an aerial ballet

Chestnut headed be1

Resting ballerina

Desperately trying to get a good shot of a crested serpent eagle on a tree some distance away, and turning around to find this one in the tree behind us!

And the “Wow!”est moment of all – watching Indian grey hornbills locked in combat at Dhangadi gate! I missed recording that – but here is Garima’s capture of the moment, along with other birds of Corbett.

The tiger?

Oh yes, we did see it – for just a few minutes, from the cliff-top at High Point, far down below! It was an awesome sighting, as the tiger emerged from the grass on one side of the river, swam across, scrabbled around in the gravel on the opposite side, and disappeared into the grass. As usual, my brain didn’t work and I didn’t record the moment. But we all got a good look at His Majesty through Manoj Sharma’s spotting scope. Thanks Manojji!

I will give a link to Garima’s pic of the tiger once she uploads it 🙂

So let me end with one of the tiger’s prey animals – the shy and skittish barking deer. We saw quite a few of them, but this sighting of a mommy muntjac licking her baby was a real bonus!

Mommy and baby2

Did you clean behind your ears today?

Thank you, Adesh Shivkar and Manoj Sharma, for an unforgettably wonderful trip! And thanks to the entire group – Garima, Ranjeet, Madhavi, Ram, Vamsee, Rajesh, Capt. Haridas, Naren, Harshad, Jayanthi, Sangha, Nikhil, Shibani, for making the trip so enjoyable! You guys rock! I can’t wait to visit Corbett again…. and again…. and again!!

Glorious Corbett – I

Please excuse the corny title. But like all clichés, this is also true. Corbett is magical. It has been over two months since our trip there, but I still haven’t gotten over it. And I can’t wait to go back there again.

This account will not include any routine details about the Park, which can be found on its official website. It will only cover my experiences, with pictures and videos.

The forest and its trees

One of the magical aspects of Corbett is its varied landscape. The trees making up the main forest are sal, and the primary experiences of a tourist in Corbett are endless jeep rides through the dappled shade of the sal forest.

The sal forest

The sal forest

There are many species of trees in the forest – but one that I find very interesting, and which is seen in many places, is the strangler fig. One associates trees with non-violence and peace, with the Buddha, with calmness and serenity. But the reality of the strangler fig belies that philosophical connection. What better example of Nature’s dark, silent forces than a tree that kills another!

The killer tree!
The killer tree!

A colourful feature of the forest that struck us as we drove along was a red tree that would suddenly pop up among the sea of varied green. We came across three trees that were red in colour – the kusum tree with red leaves, the Indian coral tree and the flame of the forest, both with red flowers.

A kusum tree
A kusum tree
Kusum leaves
Kusum leaves
Flame of the forest
Flame of the forest
Indian coral tree - this one always had spangled drongoes on it, but when I tried to take a pic, they all flew away :(
Indian coral tree – this one always had spangled drongoes on it, but when I tried to take a pic, they all flew away 😦

Another beautiful flowering tree we saw was the kachnaar. The tree was covered only in pink and white blooms, with several birds having a great time on it!

Kachnaar tree with a golden-fronted leafbird
Kachnaar tree with a golden-fronted leafbird

Nothing like green to soothe the eyes and the soul though – and the forest showed us several shades of green. Like this tree with a creeper around it, each with leaves in different greens. I wonder what they are…

What are these two?
What are these two?



And then there were the mountain trails that took us on roller-coaster drives to cliff-sides with wondrous vistas – one such sublime vista was the view from the observation deck at the Dhikala forest guesthouse.

View from the deck at Dhikala lodge
View from the deck at Dhikala lodge

The deck overlooked the Ramganga river and the grassland surrounding it, with hills in the background. Dhikala’s domesticated safari elephants were bathed in the river and left to graze there. I’m sure wild elephants also visit, though we didn’t see any. We did see a family of wild boars, a herd of chital, a flock of vultures feeding on a carcass (in the far distance) and several other birds. There are steps leading down from the deck to the river, barred now by an electric fence – apparently a tiger had climbed up the steps one night some years ago!

The deck also provided us with a really close encounter – a crested serpent eagle flew past just a few feet above us! All of us were too stunned to take a photograph!

Some of us were better prepared when a similar encounter occurred with a Pallas’ fish eagle on the guesthouse grounds while we were busy looking at this collared falconet.


Collared falconet

Collared falconet

Unfortunately I was not among those – I just watched open-mouthed as the eagle winged past a couple of metres above us. Here is Garima’s photograph of the eagle, along with those of other raptors we saw in Corbett.

Staying at Dhikala, in the heart of Corbett, is an experience that is difficult to describe. We awoke early in the morning while it was still dark, to the calls of at least three different nightjars. Flocks of rose-ringed and orange-breasted parakeets flew overhead as the sun rose. Around us in the trees and on the ground were lineated barbets, Oriental turtledoves, red collared and spotted doves, chestnut-tailed starlings, crested buntings, and of course, the collared falconet. Families of rhesus macaques gambolled about.


The chaur…

In stark contrast to the thickly wooded forest is the grassland, called chaur. This is the favourite haunt of elephants as well as deer such as chital and hog deer, and of course the tiger. It is also home to several species of grassland birds.

Elephants in the chaur
Elephants in the chaur
Chaur around the Ramganga reservoir
Chaur around the Ramganga reservoir

…and its denizens

We visited two chaurs, Dhikala and the one around the Ramganga reservoir. At the latter, we saw a stone curlew and a jackal – both ran away, before the stone curlew decided to sit down, and remained there for a long time. The reservoir had several water birds and the chaur around it had a profusion of Oriental skylarks, many of the males busily displaying. The male skylark flies and sings at the same time for several minutes! Energetic bird indeed!


This paddyfield pipit posed very obligingly for quite some time.

Paddyfield pipit
Paddyfield pipit

The deer in Corbett seemed very shy, especially the hog deer. At the Dhikala chaur, this one took off at lightening speed as soon as our jeep approached, even though we were a fair distance away.

Hog deer
Hog deer

A herd of chital, much further away, seemed comparatively unconcerned by our presence.

Chital scape - look at that forest!
Chital scape – look at that forest!

Every stalk of grass seemed to have a bird on it – bright-headed and zitting cisticolas, drongoes, pied and Hodgson’s bushchats and common stonechats.

Common or Siberian stonechat
Common or Siberian stonechat
Full frame shot - this pied bushchat was really close to the jeep - could take a few shots before he realised how close we were!
Full frame shot – this pied bushchat was really close to the jeep – could take a few shots before he realised how close we were!
Hodgson's bushchat - really lucky to see this rare bird!
Hodgson’s bushchat – really lucky to see this rare bird!

And here is a pied bushchat with the most prominent occupants of the chaur…

Bushchat scape
Bushchat scape

…the elephants!

They are such a delight to watch, especially when the herd has little babies! All of us went berserk with our cameras!

Mommy and baby
Mommy and baby
Family of four
Family of four

Here they are indulging in their favourite activity.


Our jeeps were on a trail cutting across the middle of the chaur. A herd (or part of a herd) on the right side decided to cross over to the left. We stopped the jeeps to let them pass. First the matriarch came up to the path and sniffed the air in our direction.

"I'm not saluting!"
“I’m not saluting!”

Then the herd started to cross, a few elephants at a time.

"Last one across is a langur!"
“Last one across is a langur!”


There were a couple of babies that needed to get across. The bigger one was bolder, it walked across on its own. The tiny one was unsure, and waited till mum was alongside.


There were a couple of heart-in-the-mouth moments too. Here’s one of them…

Another such moment came when we were returning. A jeep (not one of ours) had stopped on the path as a nearby elephant kept charging when it tried to pass her. Our jeep quickly drove past, just missing the elephant as she charged again. She stopped just short of the stationary jeep, as she had done before – a mock charge!

A third such moment was when we encountered a group on the side of the road along the Ramganga. We came upon them quite suddenly, just as they were about to cross the road towards the river. We stopped. So did they. They watched us. The matriarch picked up a stick and started scratching her face. Then…


…all was well. They crossed the road and went into the river to have their fill of the cold, clear water.


There was a tiny baby in the herd, who found it difficult to maintain a foothold on the rocks in the river, and kept slipping and sliding…


Then baby fell down, and struggled to get back on its feet. Mommy and the others didn’t seem too concerned with baby’s plight.


Finally, one of the adults gave the baby a trunk-up, and they all went on their way.



Hope you liked this – please do leave a comment. Birds of Corbett in my next post…