Monday, 20 May 2013

13th April - Corbett to New Delhi

The alarm went off at 6.00 am for a nature walk with our guide Sanjiv.  Helen decided to pass on this one, and I left her asleep as I went to reception to meet Sanjiv.  It was another clear sunny day, and we set off along the main road away from the hotel.  Sanjiv did not carry any binoculars only his camera and he used that to confirm what he was able to pick out from nowhere.  To prove the point as we walked along the road, he stopped and pointed out to me a Red-breasted Parakeet at the top of a tree.  Characteristic of this bird is the greyish pink cheeks and the black collar.

We turned off the road and headed along a sandy track towards the river.  We stopped again to look at a series of Leopard paw pugs in the sand.  They are a lot smaller than a tiger, but still as unnerving, apparently they are commonly seen along the river.  In the bushes as we made our way to the river were Grey-breasted Prinias, and Scaly-breasted Munias, small birds that refused to show within the bushes.
The river bed was very sandy, and strewn with rocks and boulders.  We had been hearing a River Lapwing calling as we walked to the river, and finally it appeared in amongst the rocks and sand.

As we reached the river a large flock of Little Egrets, and Indian and Little Cormorants flew up river.  The cormorants and egrets work together to stir up the fish, the egrets disturbing them from the shallow water for the cormorants to pick off, and the cormorants doing the same for the egrets.
A Common Kingfisher sat on one of the large boulders along the side of the river.  It cast a very serene scene, as the water behind it glittered in the weak morning sunshine.

A Green Sandpiper flew in amongst the egrets, and proceeded to feed along the edge of the island.  A dog that had been following us ran off into the egrets and they flew off taking the cormorants with them.  As they flew down the river the delicate white of the egrets could just be seen in the morning haze, and the high sides of the river valley created a lovely effect.

A Pied Kingfisher had been sitting in a tree watching the egrets and cormorants, but once they were gone it started to fish.  It would fly around quite high above the water, and then hover before plunging into the river.  It did this several times before catching a small fish, and it was off.

We walked along the river, close to the water, and as a result we flushed a Little Heron, that flew up river.  We picked it up later but it was a long way off and had merged well into the rocks.
Sanjiv clearly knew the area, and some birds obviously have favourite perches.  It was still impressive though when he pointed out a Grey-headed Fish Eagle sitting majestically on a tree on the far bank.  It would only move its head the eyes searching the water below.



Sanjiv then amazingly picked out a small falcon at the top of a tree, at the top of the cliff on the far side of the river.  This was apparently a Red-faced Falcon, another regular.
We climbed up the bank and walked across a very old and worn out suspension bridge.  The path on the other side took us through a plantation of Teak trees, and all that was below them were the dead leaves.  Again Sanjiv scoured the cliff face, this time in search of a Tawny Fish Owl, but this time without any luck.
We came out of the teak trees and walked along a path now high above the river.  Below us we could see shoals of Mahaseer Fish all facing up river.  The path came out to another bridge and a large temple called Seeta Bani. Legend has it that Devi Sita, the consort of Lord Rama had entered into the lap of Mother Earth here.  There were lots of tents where Indians have come to visit the temple.  Religious people could be seen along the side of the path and below us.  People were also bathing in the river.

There were Black Kites circling over the temple, and a Crested Kingfisher was seen in the distance on a rock by the river.  We decided to walk along the other side of the ridge, and almost immediately came across a brown warbler in front of us.  At the time it was difficult to identify, but once we saw the pictures we both agreed on Dusky Warbler.

There were a lot of small birds in the verbena bushes this brightly coloured bird was a Common Iona.

This is a Pied Bushchat.

Holes in the small banks were thought to belong to Green Bee-eaters, but when Sanjiv used the lens of his camera to shine a light in, a Plain Martin flew out.  An Indian Roller frustratingly flew over, and a Peacock called to alert us to a Shikra flying through.
There were more Leopard paw prints in the sand, and we also came across some Tiger scats, which contained a fair bit of what I am reliably informed was Samba Deer hair.
Other birds to be seen were an Indian Robin

And a female Asian Pied Flycatcher, which is just as striking as the male bird even if it doesn’t have the long tail feathers.

A Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker was a very nice find in one of the trees.

Sanjiv pointed out the calls of a Grey Slaty Woodpecker.  This is one of the largest woodpeckers in the area, and they usually move around in flocks.  They kept calling until eventually we could see them at the top of a tree.  However as soon as we got onto them they flew off.  There was four of them, and in flight they looked huge, very much like hornbills.
We came back on ourselves, and headed back to the river.  Coming past the temple there was a Crested Kingfisher sitting on the wires, looking down at the Mahaseer fish below.

After this the walk back was without any major surprises, but as we came up to the hotel, once again Sanjiv pulled another gem out of the bag, this time a Chestnut-breasted Starling, again at the top of a tree.

After breakfast we decided to make the most of the fact that we didn’t have to leave the room until 16.00, so we went to the pool. It had been nice a relaxing yesterday, so we were looking forward to the same today.  How wrong we were. 
We were soon joined by other residents and as it got hotter they decided that they wanted to swim too.  The hotel had a policy of only appropriate swimming costumes to be worn in the pool, and we soon found out why.  At first the ladies walked into the pool with their clothes on, but they were soon told that this was not acceptable, and they were offered swimming costumes to hire.  This was so comical; we watched them as they attempted to size the costumes by holding them up.  The costumes both male a female were some really amazing colours and patterns, and the ladies suits had long legs and little frills.  Some decided to wear the costumes regardless; some didn’t, and just snuck into the water in their clothes.  They then organised a three hour water polo game that was extremely noisy, with water going everywhere.
There was one forced break when we all looked for a ring that had come off someone’s finger.  It was found though, and the game continued.  The commotion though didn’t stop the dragonflies, they were still about, and one would settle on my toe.  They probably felt safe as the Bee-eaters were not about due to all the noise.

Finally the game ended, and our fellow guests started to wander off, but unfortunately time was against us.  As we were packing up, and drying off I noticed a vulture over the river.  As it came closer I could see it was not the usual Himalayan Griffon, but an Egyptian Vulture.



At one stage it came completely over the pool area giving me the chance to get some close pictures.

Just before we left I realised that I had not taken any pictures of the Red-whiskered Bulbuls that were all around the hotel grounds.  Fortunately this one posed beautifully for me, again a rather smart bird that because they were everywhere was overlooked.

We went and had lunch sitting on the terrace overlooking the river.  As always the camera and binoculars were not far away, and I noticed an unusual shape on the rocks in the middle of the river.  It was a Crested Serpent Eagle that seemed to be just sitting there.

However this was not the liking of the River Lapwing that proceeded to dive bomb the eagle, the eagle in turn would lash out as the lapwing flew close.

Time was running out on the holiday, and we returned to the room to finish the packing, and to get ready for the final adventure of the holiday, the overnight sleeper train.
We were picked up by taxi, and taken to the station at Kathogadam.  The journey was uneventful, passing through villages and lots of cereal fields that were being harvested.  The air was full of dust from where the wheat was being threshed.
We stopped in a hotel for some dinner, and despite being told we couldn’t have a beer, they managed to get some, for which we were grateful.  Half way through the meal the lights all went out, and we wondered what was going to happen, but fortunately the power returned, and we were able to finish.  We were dropped at the station at 19.30, the train being due to leave at 20.40.  Our train arrived at 20.00, and we were able to get on.  Fortunately we had a cabin to ourselves with bunk beds, so contrary to the information we had been given back in the UK we didn’t have to share with an Army Major, or Bank Manager!  The platform was the usual scene of chaos though, and once again the train led us a merry dance as it moved up and down the platform.

We slept on the train, on and off, but it was nowhere near as bad as were thinking it was going to be.  We arrived in Delhi at 3.45 am, and immediately found a porter.  As we left the train we stepped over sleeping bodies, on both the platform and the stairs.  Outside it took a while to find Mr Singh, but once we did we were in the car and off to Green Meadow Guest House.  Here we were able to get some more sleep, a shower and breakfast in the morning before Mr Singh arrived to take us to the airport. 

We arrived in Heathrow on time, and we were home by 19.30.  Suddenly the Indian Adventure we had talked about for some time was all over.  It had been such an amazing experience, we had lived with some wonderful people, eaten some wonderful food, and seen some incredible scenery.  On top of this I had seen 160 new birds, and been able to capture many on photograph.  We regularly get asked would we do it all again, and we would.  It was hard at times, and the nights were long and dark, but the mornings and the day were wonderful and humbling experiences.  Thank you Villageways, and a big thank you to all those that made this such an incredible experience.  From the guides to the village committee,s to the cooks, and to the villagers themselves who let us into their lives.

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