About Me

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Hyderabad, AP, India
I used to be a bit of a drifter, still am partly, but life is getting more and more organized recently due to a special someone. I love playing and watching cricket, I have recently realised that I have a very big interest in wildlife and birding. I work for a blue chip company. I am well and truly blessed! No complaints there :)

Friday, December 31, 2010

Pench - Lengthy encounter with a jungle enchantress

The wife and yours’ truly decided to go northwards in search of the tiger which has proved elusive for us since the last year when we visited Ranthambore. This time around we had a choice between Kanha, Bandavgarh and Pench. We decided to go to Pench due to the easier access from Hyderabad.

Unlike our earlier safaris that we planned ourselves, this time we went through a professional safari organizer Jungle Lore.

We arrived in Nagpur on the 24th morning and proceeded to Pench Jungle Camp near the small village of Khawasa about 2 hours from Nagpur. This was to be our base for the next 3 days as we forayed 4 times into the Pench National Park. The park is ~300 sq kms and is home to 33 tigers amongst a host of other flora and fauna.

Day 1 (24th)
Evening Safari
This was the best safari of the lot simply for the fact that this was the only time we saw the famed tigress. But what a sight it turned out to be, and that too for a full 20 mins!
It had been only 10 mins since we had entered the park and we had already spotted a collared-scops owl when our attention was quickly drawn towards a Changeable Hawk Eagle, a first time sighting for us. About 500 meters up ahead guys in another gypsy were furiously beckoning to us and we rushed towards their vehicle. Just around the corner, a full-grown, female tiger was just approaching us front on. The first shot of this glorious sight here below:

From Pench!


But sensing the over-crowded roadway, the tiger just stepped off the road into a dry river bed filled with vegetation. Though we could not see the tiger at this point we were able to hear her roars quite clearly from the river bed. Using this as a reference point our expert guide led us to spot from where we expected the tigress to cross the road. His intuition proved correct and the tigress did come back on to the road - turns out that she was busy marking her territory all the while. We also came to know that she had delivered a litter of cubs recently and that she was hiterto unnamed. We duly named her ‘Bhagyashree’ for her lucky visit before us and continued our experience of observing her for the next 15 mins before she decided to walk deeper in to the jungle.

From Pench!


From Pench!


From Pench!


After this terrific sighting our spirits were soaring high and we proceeded to an area called Aligatta to try our luck with some jackals. The evening light was brilliant and we did spot a couple of jackals just about to enter the tall grass in the area. The light made for some good photography and we enjoyed photographing jackals and peacocks at this location. We also started seeing more bird life around this area and this led to spotting our first set of Grey Hornbills, Alexandrine Parakeets and Barn Swallows. After taking a brief break at the chowki near Alighatta we headed back in the direction we came from and duly ran again in to the tigress who had regaled us earlier in the evening. This time however the light was not as good for photography, so did not get any interesting shots. One thing that did stand out during this sighting was the behavior of people in other gypsies. There were children screaming and insensible tourists pointing their cameras with flashes turned on, head-on at the tigress. It was more like a paparazzi. The tigress however did not lose her temper amidst all this clamoring- she continued with her business. Finally she had enough of the commotion and decided to go deeper in to the jungle to get away from all the commotion. We exited the park lost in deep thoughts which were bordering on incredulity from the behavior we had seen from people when they came close to the tiger.

From Pench!


From Pench!


From Pench!


From Pench!



Day 2 (25th)
Morning Safari
After having seen the tiger the earlier evening, most of the discussion at the camp site was about our chances of seeing a few more in the morning. But I had a strange sense that we would not be seeing any more tigers for the day. My intuition proved right in the end and we had to contend with seeing mostly bird life and some herbivores like the spotted deer and nilgai. During this safari I had the chance to see and capture the Ashy-bellied Drongo and Common Treeswift for the first time. We also saw the Shikra and parakeets as part of this safari. We tried our luck once again with the collared scops owl just as we exited from the park, but could not see it open its eyes. Here are some pics from the morning safari.

From Pench!


From Pench!


From Pench!


From Pench!


From Pench!





Evening Safari
The evening safari was much more eventul than the one in the morning. Though we did not see the tiger even on this one, we were suitably satiated due to the fact that we chanced upon a jungle cat, a species that is rare, reticent and as a result that much tougher to spot in the wild. We were sauntering along rather morosely after only having distant Eurasian Thick Knees to show for our effort after around 2 hours in to the safari when we heard some loud alarm calls from a group of langurs just around the corner from the road we were traveling on. We proceeded to that spot in haste and just across the road along a small walkway there was a jungle cat lying prone on the ground with barely its head showing above the tall grass. In the circumstances, it was really good spotting by the guide in the previous vehicle that helped us even see this rare animal. We spent the next half hour rooted to the spot, in what was poor light due to dense foliage and the fading light of the day. The resultant photography was not necessarily the best, but I was glad that I had at least gotten a few record shots of this species.

From Pench!


From Pench!


From Pench!


From Pench!



Day 3 (26th)
Morning Safari
After a long conversation with experts the previous night on the merits of Ranthambore vs. Bandavgarh for tiger sightings, the day started with loads of expectations. If not for the tiger, we at least wanted to see the leopard and I was under strict instructions from all involved to quit going after birds and just focus searching for the big cats. The entry into the park was uneventful and we decided to proceed towards a dense part of the jungle where a male and female tiger were known to exist. The next 2 hours were the most thrilling parts of this safari as there were alarm calls happening all over the place around us as both the tigers became active. There was one instance where we missed spotting the male by about 10 mins as were busy waiting for the female to show up at another location. This pattern repeated itself fairly regularly through the next 2 hours and we ended up seeing no tigers though we did feel we were close to one of them always. With tigers not putting in much of a show we proceeded towards the Karmazari gate for a bit of a break from all the frustration. Just as we were about to enter the Karmazari gate area we saw a White-eyed Buzzard perched atop a nice perch. We stopped to photograph it and also come across various other bird species like the Flameback Woodpecker and the Common Hawk Cuckoo.

From Pench!


From Pench!



After a nice cup of chai and a plate of Aloo Poha at Karmazari, we returned back in to the jungle to continue our pursuit of the elusive tigers. Again there were a few alarm calls and a promise of the golden stripes, but alas nothing really came out of the bushes to surprise us. By now it was time to exit from the jungle and we were driving back along the main road to exit from the Turia Gate when we started cribbing about not having seen a tiger. I was a bit disappointed too, but not at not being able to see the tiger, but at not being able to see as much bird life as possible. My final plea to the driver of the gypsy was to stop close to the Collared Scops Owl (which by now had become a featured stop on every one of our safaris) to see if I could a shot of the bird with its eyes open. Unfortunately that was not to be. This is exactly when the driver asked us if we would be interested in making a brief detour to visit some spotted owlets. Boy, would we mind?!!
We duly exited the park and were driven to a point beyond our usual turn off point besides our jungle camp where we saw 3 spotted owlets staring back at us curiously through those big round eyes of theirs. It was an excellent opportunity and we spent the next 20 minutes observing and photographing these beauties.


From Pench!


From Pench!


From Pench!



After this we returned back to our base camp and pushed onwards to Pune to board our train back to Hyderabad.

If you are interested in a similar safari either at Pench or any other location in India, do check out the plans that Jungle Lore has in place on their website.

Here is the complete list of animals and birds spotted during this trip:
Tiger
Jungle Cat
Jackal
Spotted Deer
Nilgai
Sambhar Deer
Changeable Hawk Eagle
Common Hawk Cuckoo
Collared Scops Owl
Indian Roller
Green Bee Eater
White-eyed Buzzard
White-browed Wagtail
Spotted Owlet
Yellow Wagtail
Cattle Egret
Painted Stork
Indian Cormorant
River Tern
Common Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher
Grey Hornbill
Common Mynah
Red-wattled Lapwing
Shikra
Spot-billed Duck
Crested Treeswift
White-browed Fantail
Tailor Bird
Eurasian Thick Knee
Barn Swallow
Rofous Treepie
Green Pigeon
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Plum-headed Parakeet
Alexandrine Parakeet
Gray Langur
Gaur
Grey Jungle Fowl
Jungle Bush Quail
Drongo
White-bellied Drongo
Racket-tailed Drongo
Pond Heron
Flameback Woodpecker
Jungle Babbler
Golden Oriole
Black-naped Oriole
Spotted Dove
Ashy Prinia
Indian Peafowl
Jungle Owlet
Ruddy Shelduck
Little Grebe
Indian Robin

National Geographic Photos