Sunday, 26 April 2015


I haven't blogged for a few days, so a quick re-cap on some recent birding; a patch visit on Wednesday produced 8 Ruff (including a ruffed male) on Ferry Lane Lake at Collingham; I took this as a good sign that Mons Pool may also have some interesting waders on it, but it wasn't to be.

An early finish on Friday saw me dip Wood Sand at Holme Pierrepont (it had gone...), but add Reed Warbler, Garden Warbler, Common Tern and Hobby to my Notts yearlist. A first look of the season for Grizzled Skippers at Saxondale was also fruitless, but did get me Lesser Whitethroat. On to Collingham, where waders were lacking, but further Lesser Whitethroat and Common Tern were obviously new for the year. 

Saturday's patch visit was not especially noteworthy, although the drake Scaup was back on Ferry Lane Lake, with 2 Swifts overhead. A wedding in the afternoon meant there was no chance of twitching the Hudsonian Godwit down in Somerset...

And so today; news of a Night-heron at Attenborough eventually spurred me into action in the early afternoon. This bird showed very well, and I'm glad I made the effort for it. 

Bittern showing briefly from the tower hide was a bonus, and a Gropper took me to 151 for my Notts yearlist. A final patch visit of the week tonight produced a single Ringed Plover - the first for quite a while - on Mons Pool, whilst a Little Egret made it a four heron day. 


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Patch Rouzels

I was out and about in north Notts yesterday, which allowed me a patch visit on the way home, in the hope of catching up with a Ring Ouzel that Susan Purdy had found earlier in the day at Besthorpe NWT. When I arrived, I quickly located it - then a second bird, and then a third! The three then fed together on the main grassy area at Meering Marsh (on the old works site). Very nice too. 

A patch visit tonight was less productive - 2 Greenshank that Ken Lomas had had this morning at Meering had departed. However, the Knot was still on Mons Pool, and the drake Scaup was still on Ferry Lane Lake. 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Tigers of Bandhavgarh

Over the last couple of years, I'd been becoming increasingly preoccupied with the idea of seeing wild Tigers. This preoccupation bordered on an obsession; there is just something incredibly special about Tigers. So, having saved some money, we bit the bullet and booked a trip to India. And almost 12 months later, at the start of April 2015, we found ourselves in Bandhavgarh National Park - perhaps the best place in the world to see Tigers.

We had eight scheduled game drives over the next five days, but Hemal, our guide, managed to arrange an extra drive for us on our first afternoon. Bandhavgarh is divided into three zones, and this drive was to be in Zone 3 – as it transpired, our only visit to this part of the park. Of course, we had to pay extra for this excursion, but there was no question that we were going to do it – the prospect of Tigers far outweighed any financial concerns! And so, at about 3pm, we set off in our open-backed jeep, calling by the forest HQ to pick up a local guide, and then negotiating the bureaucracy at the zone entrance – form filling and passport checking; a soon to be familiar routine.

And we're in!

And then it was into the park for our first taste of Bandhavgarh - and we weren't to be disappointed. Amidst the Sal and bamboo forest, there was a great selection of wildlife on offer – birds, or course (and more on those in another post), but also herds of Spotted Deer (Chital), occasional Wild Boar, Barking Deer (Muntjac), Golden Jackals, a Blue Bull (Nilgai), and Hanuman (Northern Plains Grey) Langurs. 

Tracks through the Sal forest
Wild Boar
Indian Muntjac
Golden Jackal
Hanuman Langur
Baby Langur

And then suddenly our jeep roared off in pursuit of another, and a few moments later we joined a pack of jeeps, their passengers straining to see deep into an area of bamboo. Initially we struggled to locate what they were looking at, but then a shape took form through the long grass – white spots on black ears, and a striped orange flank – my goodness, a Tiger! 

Our first glimpse of a tiger...

Gradually, it emerged from cover, slowly stalking several hundred yards from us, and slowly coming closer. We were then treated to an incredible 20 minutes, as the Tiger - in fact, a tigress - moved between two tracks (requiring rapid repositioning of the jeeps), crossing and re-crossing, and stalking a Jackal she had taken a disliking to, before melting into the jungle. An incredible encounter, and so good to see a Tiger on our first drive, taking the pressure off for the rest of our time in Bandhavgarh. I have to admit, I felt slightly overwhelmed on the drive back to our accomodation. Beautiful and awesome, what an animal...

No words needed!

Suffice to say, we had a celebratory Kingfisher beer (or two) that night, before setting our alarms for 4.50am - as would be the case for the following four days. Over the next couple of game drives, morning and afternoon, we again hit lucky, with another Tigress in Zone 1, flushed out by two mahouts on elephant back; a briefer encounter, as she soon slipped back into the dense undergrowth, but no less special. Our third drive, in Zone 2, produced more Tigers, this time three 7-month old cubs in an open area, one gorging on a Sambar carcass, the other two playing a short distance away in the long grass.

One of the cubs with a Sambar carcass
One of the other cubs in the long grass

On our next five drives, we came close to Tigers, seeing fresh footprints, and hearing alarm-calling Chital and Langurs, but no sightings; although somehow it always felt like they may be watching you - even if you couldn’t see them. However, these excursions were still hugely enjoyable, and I soon had my favourite spots in the park - and there was plenty of other wildlife to see; ranging from the huge Sambar and Gaur (the latter recently reintroduced to the park) to the much smaller; bats (roosting in their hundreds in a cave), a Madras Tree Shrew, Northern Palm Squirrels and Common Rose butterflies. No Leopard, Dhole, Jungle Cat or Sloth Bears though – our luck didn't stretch that far!

A tiger passed this way recently!
Female Gaur
Female Gaur (right), with the huge bull sat to the left
Madras Tree Shrew
Northern Palm Squirrel

One evening, Gagan Gahlot, the owner of Tigergarh  (our accomodation - highly recommended) took us out for a short night drive across an area of land close by, in the hope of nocturnal wildlife. Whilst birds were lacking, we enjoyed close views of an Indian Fox with her cub, and three Indian Gazelle (Chinkara) - the only sightings we had of both species. 

Indian Fox

Our last day dawned, and we had a final game drive in the morning before heading off to catch the overnight train back to Delhi. It would be nice to finish with one more Tiger encounter… We set off full of hope, and after only a short time, were experiencing that thrill that comes from being just a few metres from a Tiger; another tigress, this time buried amongst the bamboo, with a kill – the smell was pungent, and it was this which had caused the jeep in front of us to stop and investigate. However, the Tiger herself was barely visible – her head could just be seen from one angle, but it was far from ideal. 

She's in there somewhere

And so, we waited. Occasionally we could hear her moving, dragging the carcass short distances. And eventually she stood up, and slunk off into the jungle. The Chital began to alarm off to the right, so that’s were we headed, despite the fact that it looked like she’d gone left. After a short wait, our driver decided that we’d been fooled by the deer, which sometimes ‘fake call’, and headed back the other way. This was the right decision, as we rounded the corner to see a lone jeep, with the Tiger on the track just yards from it! She moved off into the jungle, and we, and the other jeeps which had by now joined us, careered off in the expectation that she would cross another track further round. And after a short wait, she emerged, crossed the track in front of us, briefly snarled in the direction of one of the jeeps, and then melted back into the jungle on the other side. At the risk of over-using superlatives; incredible!

And so finished our Tiger experience. Bandhavgarh is a truly special place; although small by Indian standards, its core area, at c.450sq km, is about a fifth the size of Nottinghamshire (i.e. slightly bigger than Rushcliffe Borough). Studded with hills, the diversity of habitats in the park is impressive, with thick forest dominated by Sal trees and bamboo; more open woodland; scrubby areas; parkland-like landscapes; tall grasslands; short grazed areas; small wetlands; and flowing streams. To be in this ecosystem, full of predators and prey, as the sun rose, smelling the sweet fragrance of the flowering Sal trees and hearing calling Peacocks and the ‘ku-tok, ku-tok’ of the Brown-headed Barbets was a life affirming experience.

Two of the domestic elephants that work in the park

However, it’s true to say that Bandhavgarh isn't without its problems. We were told of a Tiger being electrocuted, and another caught in a snare, just a few months earlier, and a villager being killed by a Tiger. That these things happen is tragic, but perhaps not surprising. Rural life in India looks incredibly tough, and the park is surrounded by human populations. Whilst the core area of the park has a buffer zone, covering an additional c.800sq km, this doesn't appear to differ much from other areas beyond the park, with farmland, overgrazed areas and degraded forest. Although partly fenced, people enter the core park (to poach deer or collect firewood), and Tigers sometimes leave. There are even small areas of private land within the core area where farming takes place, which are being slowly bought up by the forest department and the people relocated, but whilst these persist, it seems inevitable that there will continue to be tragedies for both people and Tigers. Tourism seems to be the best solution for protecting the Tigers, and providing an alternative income for local people. So I have no hesitation in recommending a trip to Bandhavgarh - if you get the opportunity to go, do it.

Our guide, Hemal Dey, on the left, and our driver Raj (our lucky charm with the tigers)
Ravi, our other driver - and a great photographer
Sunset over Bandhavgarh