My encounters with birds and animals, butterflies and trees, and anything else in nature…

Uttarakhand

Glorious Corbett – II

Ramganga1

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!!

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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?

Dhikala

 

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…