Friday, 17 May 2013

11th April – Nainital to Corbett Tiger Reserve

We were woken at around 5.00 am by a call to prayer, but managed to go back to sleep, we decided not to bother with the sunrise this morning, and woke up in our own time, and made our own cup of tea.  We finally emerged at 07.00 onto the terrace, really late by our recent standards.  The terrace looked down over the lake, and we could make out the Boatclub which was established by the British in the days of the Empire. 

The Nainital Boat House Club is the second oldest club in the country and has the unique distinction of sailing a class of boats which are not sailed anywhere else in the world. 
At this time of the morning it was quiet, less could be said about the rest of the city, dogs were barking, the traffic noises were intense, but through all of this we could hear the noises coming from the central square of a cricket match taking place.
After a very attentive breakfast we left the Retreat at 8.45, and wound our way out of the city, over the ridge and headed down the valley.  We stopped at a view point to see away to the south, a smaller lake, and a river snaking its way towards our next destination, Corbett Tiger Reserve.

Leaving the view point we continued on, for once a very good condition road.  As we headed downhill a big black bird flew fom the side of the road, and landed by the side of us as we drove past.  It was pheasant like, in black and silver, and when I was able to get to the book it was clear that it was a Kalij Pheasant.  They are considered hard to see, but are a special bird of this area so we were lucky to get the sighting.
Eventually the road levelled out, and we could see the forests of Corbett Reserve away in the distance.  Part of our tour was to visit the Jim Corbett Museum, this could have been interesting had we had the chance to see the village Corbett had created but we only toured some of his old heritance and looked at old photographs.  As we left the museum, we came across an Indian Monitor Lizard slowly making its way across the road.

After negotiating our way through Ramnagar we reached the Hideaway Lodge where we were to stay for next two nights.  However before we reached the hotel we past an irrigation dam with shallow water and were able to spot a Painted Stork, several Egrets and Cormorants on the small islands.

We checked in and received our instructions on the safari rides we were to get, these were not as we had expected, and after some further negotiation I went off with our guide back into Ramnagar to pick up passes for the reserve that afternoon.  It was now very hot and humid, but it was worth it to have an additional jeep safari.  We had lunch, and then got ourselves prepared for our first trip into the famed tiger reserve.
We had to leave at 15.00, as the gate were allowed to enter the park through was a forty minute drive.  The road from the hotel passed along a plantation of teak trees.  These are grown commercially on the edge of the park.  They are a very fast growing tree, and as a result take all the nutrients from the soil, and nothing grows beneath them.  The area is also a natural thorough way for elephants and the signs warn drivers that they may come across one, but I can’t see it making much difference to the driving behaviour.

The route took us into Ramnagar again, and as we drove through the town there was the usual chaos as trucks and buses lined the road, and people would amble along ignoring the potential danger of the vehicles on the road.

As we came out of Ramnagar we passed a rubbish dump where at least a dozen Black Kites circled above it.  The buildings soon gave way to fields, and we began to see different birds alongside the road and on the wires.  Green Bee-eaters, Brown Chats, Doves and Mynahs were the commonest, and above us we saw a Changeable Hawk, which soared above the fields.
Just before the jeep entered the park we stopped on the road to look at bees nesting on a large tree.  The bees were seen draping down from the branches in large “u” shaped masses. 

We didn’t realise at first but at the back of the tree was an Oriental Honey Buzzard, clearly attracted by the large number of nests in the tree.

After clearing our passes we finally drove into the park at 15.45, and as we drove along the first sandy trail we came across troops of Red-faced Macaques and Black-faced Langurs.  The Red-faced Macaques kept their distance.

The Langurs were more confiding, and would even allow the young to be seen.

While we were looking at the monkeys, birds were calling all around us and the guide was busy pointing them out. An Indian Grey Hornbill was in the tree and this was the best picture I could get.
Leaving the monkeys we came into a more open piece of grassland, and Green Bee-eaters were using a dead tree as the base for launching their flights across the grass in the hunt for insects.

A bird flew in to the tree that was not a Bee-eater, and very quickly became the target of some mobbing as a result.  It was a Shikra, a type of Sparrowhawk, and the bee-eaters were determined it should leave which it did after posing nicely.

The Green Bee-eaters were then replaced by a group of Blue-tailed Bee-eaters.  One had caught a dragonfly and seemed to be positioning itself to pass this as a present to its mate.

It sat with the dragonfly on the branch alongside another bee-eater, which was probably a female by the way he moved towards her, and she looked like she was prepared to accept the present.

However it clearly changed its mind because it ate the dragonfly itself, swallowing head first. Much to her amazement

She didn’t seem to like this one little bit, and here she seems to be showing her disgust for his selfishness for not giving it to her.

When the first bird decided that maybe it needs to whisper in her ear sweet nothings to try and address the situation she was clearly having nothing of it

The male then went off and caught a small bee, but she was gone.

It turned out he wasn't the only one not who had not managed to impress mates with their offerings of bees!

The trail took us through some high grasses, and the guide pointed out a very distant Indian Roller.  Unfortunately this was the best view we could get of this really beautiful bird.

A little further on, and the jeep suddenly stopped and the guide indicated to an area under a bush.  Looking closely I could see there was a bird there, a Greater Thicknee.  It was an amazing spot, and the thicknee was completely motionless.

We came around the corner and into some late evening sunshine.  On a branch was a lovely Green Bee-eater, and it sat nicely in the lovely evening light.

It was then joined by another and they both made a lovely composition.

The track now began to take us back into more scrubby land, and as we looked down the track, an Elephant walked purposely across the it.  At first I just thought there's an Elephant, then I realised it WAS an Elephant.

We stopped to see if others would follow it, but it was on its own.  In the tree by the side of the track a White-rumped Sharma sang.  It is about magpie size, and to say sang is probably an understatement, but it made a noise.

A little further on we came across another Oriental Honey Buzzard, this one was much more in the open, and gave some excellent views.  Note the pigeon like head that is characteristic of all Honey Buzzards.

We would see monkeys in troops and different locations, but if there were Red-faced, there always seemed to be Black-faced as well.  They would provide nice portraits, and I like the eyes on this individual.

We would also get glimpses of Spotted Deer, these are the main prey of the Tiger, and they are very good at hiding in the scrub, the spots providing the perfect camouflage.

We had several stops when the guides thought they had heard something in the jungle.  The hope was that this would be a tiger, but it would either turn out to be deer or even elephants away in the distance.  We would also hear the low rumbles of the elephants.
At one point we stopped to watch a male Peacock displaying.  We could hear and see Peacock everywhere.  It didn’t seem possible these were wild birds, as they are commonly seen in ornamental gardens around the UK. 

There is though something compelling about the peacock display, and even our guide, who must have seen it many times actually filmed this male as it displayed to a hidden female.

As we watched the Peacock, above us a Rose-ringed Parakeet fed on the blossoms on a rather beautiful Flame tree.

By now the sun was getting low, and there was a dusty, misty sky.  This turned the sun into an orange red fireball, something that I would always associate with an Indian scene.  With dusk approaching we passed a large group of Spotted Deer on the river bank feeding.

Away from the Spotted Deer was a Barking Deer.  These are more solitary, but in the dangerous task of drinking in the open they like to stick close to other species and use them as their lookouts.

We were now on the search for elephants, there were signs of a group moving through, and we drove around in the hope that we could head them off.  As we did so we saw a Bay-backed Shrike, Pied Bushchat and a Black Redstart.  The sun was glowing large in the sky, and with the calls of the Peacocks it was very atmospheric, just like the nature films you see on the TV.

We finally came across the herd of Elephants, and we watched as a couple of females guided two youngsters across the road and away from us.  One of the youngsters was no more than a baby, a big baby though.

This left a couple still in view, one gradually made it way past us, and across the track and away, but we were left with a big male that was showing signs of being in must.  It came close to us, and started to through dirt and sand over itself in quite a spectacular way.  We decided to move past it slowly as it walked towards us.

It crossed the road behind us, but never left the side of the road, and it was showing signs of being rather agitated.

The problem we had was it was getting dark and the exit to the park was back past the elephant, and the driver was not happy going past it at the moment.  When we had decided to attempt it at speed, it actually came onto the road.  In the end we had to call on the assistance of some park rangers that were in a building close to us.  One shot was fired into the sky.  The bull reared up, and thundered off into the jungle, and we were free to leave.
The journey back to the hotel was amazing, driving at night was always going to be an experience, and it turned out to be just that.  Headlights came at you without any dipping, and people and bicycles would suddenly appear in front of you. 

In Ramnagar the roads were blocked due to trucks waiting for sleeping cows to move away, it was chaos, but we finally made it back to the hotel, and we dropped off our stuff, and headed for the bar and a cold beer. Quite an eventful day.

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