This is the final month of the year, and what a year it has been. I can’t recall much though, but finally, there were a couple of adventures in the last quarter. Not being able to visit the Terai region in 2022, it was a no-brainer to explore some of the places that were on my bucket list.
The plan was to visit at least three places in the Terai and document the flora and fauna. The trip started with a team of three people: Debby Ng (disease ecologist), Tashi R Ghale (wildlife photographer), and me. The first stop was Sauraha for a couple of meetings and to visit a nearby wetland. It has been a while since I last stayed in Sauraha, so this time I made a point to stay a bit further from the noise and the crowd.
Sapana Village Lodge was a good choice as it had a very large property where we were able to do some birding during our stay. The first day was quite interesting, as we gathered our cameras as soon as we checked in and headed to the grassland where a couple of Red-naped Ibis were. A couple of Little Cormorants stood on the bank of the Budhi Rapti river, perched on a discarded wooden piece of furniture that had drifted to the edge. After documenting the bird I slowly walked toward where the Ibis was.
A Black-hooded Oriole was calling from a tree, and as I sat down to document the Ibis I also noticed a Bee-eater high up on the branch. Pied Bushchat, Common Kingfisher, Black Drongo, Ruddy Shelduck, and a Greater Coucal were also spotted while moving around the area. The evening ended with a One-horned Rhino coming and grazing 20m away from the fences of the hotel property. Don’t get surprised as this Rhino wanders through the town and has become quite the spectacle for visitors. The night ended with hearing the Jackels howl far in the distance.
Early the next morning, the landscape was white as the fog had set in, and we slowly headed toward Bishazari Tal. This oxbow lake system in the buffer zone of Chitwan National Park is one of those places that I love to visit whenever I am in Sauraha. Passing through the vast mustard fields and the villages, we reached the entrance to the park.
The surreal vista that the area provides when shrouded in fog is mesmerizing. The birds and the animals were busy foraging in the early morning. Resting on the edge of the lake, we observed the various species of birds perched on the dead trees, while birds like the Bronze-winged Jacana walked with ease on top of the floating Water Cabbage (Pistia stratiotes) that had covered most of the Kumal Tal. An invasive plant native to South America, these water cabbages can be seen in and around the water bodies in Nepal just like the Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes).
Lesser Adjutant, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Intermediate Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Pied Kingfisher, and Darter were seen flying in or perched on the trees around the lake. Far in the distance, I could also see a couple of Wild Boars walking on the edge of the lake and feeding. Alexandrine Parakeet could be heard flying from one tree to the other.
Sightings of different species got even better as we drove around the park. The park provided excellent birding opportunities, ranging from Black Stork to Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker. Spotted Deer was another mammal species we got to see, but we saw some large paw marks of a tiger. We could see a Lesser Adjutant standing in between a mustard field just 20-30 meters away from our vehicle as we drove out of the park and back to the hotel.
In the hotel, it was back to birding on and around the property. I went to one of the sandy beaches across the Budi Rapti to observe the Martins as they flew around catching insects and occasionally landed on the beach and foraged around.
Our Sauraha trip ended without entering the Chitwan National Park due to a new rule regarding taking lenses longer than 200mm. A new rule enforced a week ago made us rethink our travel.
It is quite odd for the park to impose such a rule instead of taking the measures that caused the problem that made them think of banning people with camera lenses above 200 mm, but then this is Nepal, where sometimes rules are made on a whim. In hindsight, I have a suspicion that somebody with a big lens might have taken the opportunity of going into the park and unethically photograph wildlife.
I have seen an increase in people doing birding and also taking up wildlife photography. This is very positive news, as more people will be aware of nature and how it functions. The message of conservation also spreads. With all these positives, there is a dark side as well.
Unethical ways of photographing wildlife and birds have started to be a problem in Nepal and around the world. The desire to get a better picture by disturbing the habitat, baiting, chasing animals, and so on, has been a problem. The competitive spirit rises, but people are unaware of the long-term impact he/she has had on the species after taking the trophy photo.
Amaltari was our next destination, and we stayed at the Tharu Community Lodge, which also had a good garden area where we could do some preliminary birding. The Greater Coucal and some Drongos were frequent sightings in the area. We also saw a Spotted Owlet sitting on the water tank tower. Having arrived at the hotel around 3 p.m., we decided that it was enough time to do some sightseeing around the Narayani River and, if we were lucky, spot some river dolphins.
Walking down the trail towards the river, we could spot Common Kingfishers, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Pied Kingfisher, Ruddy Shelduck, Little Ringed Plovers. The big Simal trees with wide branches provided a safe place to perch for Lesser Adjutants and Red-naped Ibis as well as other species of birds. Pied Kingfishers could be seen hovering above the Narayani River, trying to spot fish before diving to catch the unsuspecting prey. As the sun set in the distance, Cormorants could be seen flying to the northeast. The flock of Ruddy Shelducks was as noisy as ever, floating around and occasionally diving into the river.
The following morning, we headed on a jungle safari to the community forest nearby. The dense mixed forest was interesting to observe as the towering trees provided space for epiphytes like Orchids, mosses, and ferns. While driving through the trail, I could see false white teak, also known as rhino apple trees, Simal, Sal, and Curry leaf plants, among many other plant species.
Along the way, on a grassland, we spotted a Rhino grazing, and as it moved slowly toward the forest, we spotted another pair walking about 100 meters away from our place. This time it was a mother and a calf. The cautious mother was observing her surroundings and slowly entered the forest. We noticed after a while another rhino in the distance from where the mother and calf had come. This time it was the male rhino, who, by the looks of it, was chasing the pair.
A female rhino generally protects and keeps its calf until it reaches adulthood, and due to this reason, a male rhino can chase the calf or even kill it when it wants to mate with the female. The scene that was unfolding was the male rhino chasing the calf. We also had news of another calf being killed by a male rhino the previous night, and this sighting suggested the reality.
After more than 30 minutes, the noise that came from inside the jungle suggested an ensuing chase or fight between either the male and female or the calf being chased. The brutal unscripted reality of the jungle.
Following the trail, through the grassland, we headed towards the riverside to see if any water birds had migrated to this place. As we slowly arrived at the beach, we could see a Darter perched on a dead tree on the river basking in the sun. There was a huge flock of Ruddy Shelduck and among the mix, we could also spot Bar-headed Goose, some Common Teals, Mallards, Red-naped Ibis, and other water birds. A Hog deer was also grazing on the side of the beach.
While heading back, we stopped at Jatayu, a vulture restaurant where dead cattle are provided to vultures that are found around the region. This vulture conservation work has been replicated in other places around Nepal. We could spot Cetrnious Vulture, White-rumped Vulture, and Slender-billed Vulture, during our brief stay outside the perimeter of the place. I will be writing more about this place in my January blog.
On the way back to the hotel, we spotted a Green-billed Malkoha, some Jungle Babblers, and Barking deer. We made another trip to Narayani Beach to see if we could spot any River Dolphins but another day passed without luck. Nevertheless, we could spot a Little Ringed Plover near a pond and a Golden Jackal while heading back to the hotel alongside the Common Kingfisher, Ruddy Shelduck, and, Cormorants.
Lumbini was the final destination of the Terai road trip. This was my first time visiting the region, so I didn’t know what to expect. Researching the place, I found that Jagadishpur Taal (lake) was one of the prime locations to observe migratory birds, and the Lumbini Crane Sanctuary was a place to see Saras Cranes. With high expectations, we arrived in Lumbini late in the evening and booked a vehicle to visit the lake that was around 30 km from our hotel early the next morning.
Traveling through the vast fields, it took us an hour to reach the destination. Jagadishpur Taal is a manmade lake that acts as a reservoir to irrigate the farmlands in the vicinity. As a sanctuary for the incoming migratory birds, this reservoir was declared a Ramsar site in 2003. Walking up the short flight of stairs, I was excited about how the day would turn out.
Expectation versus reality. This place has changed from what I used to hear before. The perimeter had changed from a natural embankment to a good, solid concrete makeover, mirroring a similar fate in other popular lakes and ponds across the country. Nevertheless, the focus shifted to the birds, which we observed and documented. There were quite a few Red-crested Pochards.
It seems that the bad weather pattern in autumn resulted in fewer species migrating to the lake, but I was able to spot 3–4 duck species. From Red-crested Pochard to Little Grebe the lake was filled with activity. On one of the reed islands nearby, there were the Little Cormorants. The Black-headed Ibis and Red-naped Ibis were perched on trees on another island. White-breasted Waterhen was also out and about, as was the Bronze-winged Jacana. Common Coot was a bit adventurous and would come near the shore.
As we walked around the perimeter, we could see Prinia near the shores and also around the fields outside the lake perimeter. An Asian Openbill Stork also flew in and perched on top of a tree in between the fields. The activity in the lake was busy, as was the human activity around its perimeter. The place was also a popular destination for large-scale picnics. Even with all the commotion and loud music, we did have a good sighting in Jagadishpur Taal.
Back in Lumbini, we visited the Maya Devi Temple. With all the noise and unmanaged crowds—quite the opposite of what a sacred place it should have been. My thought was that Lumbini, with the legacy Buddha had left, would be a peaceful place to walk, contemplate, and learn, but I forgot that it was a tourist hotspot with no holds bar. Even the central canal was turned into a loud motorboating extravaganza.
With so many human-centric constructions going on in the land that should have been left as it was, this place was the opposite and beyond my expectations as a place of peace and serenity. Nature is a very humbling medium for grounding oneself and should be kept in its pristine form for people to get inspired, and have Buddha’s teaching resonate.
Spotting birds around the area was hard so we headed to the Crane Sanctuary. Even though we were a bit late and almost dark, the 45 minutes we spent in there were blissful. The following day, we reserved a night bus instead of heading to Kathmandu early and spent the day inside the Sanctuary.
The place is quite a change from the chaos right outside the gate. This 256 acres of land is being developed as a Sarus Crane and Bird sanctuary. Spending almost the whole day inside the sanctuary, we got to see a lot of species of flora and fauna.
It was a good day for spotting a couple of mammal species, like the Blue Bull, and Golden Jackel. In the bird species, we got to see the Woolly-necked Stork, Ferruginous Duck, Intermediate Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Red-rumped Swallow, Common Hoopoe, Long-tailed Shrike, Grey-backed Shrike, Black Drongo, Common Tailorbird, Shikra, Purple Heron, a flock of Red-wattled Lapwing etc., and the highlight of the day was the Sarus Crane.
All in all, this Terai trip was very fruitful, and adventurous, and had a lot of learning. There are now new places that I want to visit, as well as revisit old ones to see if I can document species that I missed during this trip.
Following are the species of flora and fauna that I was able to see or document in December.
White Wagtail, Rufous Treepie, Black-hooded Oriole, Asian Pied Starling, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Asian Openbill, Lineated Barbet, Spotted Owlet, Common Kingfisher, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Lesser Adjutant, Pied Kingfisher, Ruddy Shelduck, Alexandrine Parakeet, Greater Coucal, Plum-headed Parakeet, Common Woodshrike, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Darter,
Bar-headed Goose, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Crested Serpent Eagle, Cinereous Vulture, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Mallard, Red-naped Ibis, Common Teal, Green-billed Malkoha, Pied Bushchat, Little Cormorant, Great Cormorant, Little Ringed Plover, Great Tit, Scaly-breasted Munia, Green Bee-eater, Red-crested Pochard, Eurasian Coot, White-breasted Waterhen, Common Moorhen, Red-wattled Lapwing, Grey-headed Lapwing,
Bronze-winged Jacana, Grey Heron, Great Crested Grebe, Common Pochard, Black-headed Ibis, Gadwall, Little Grebe, Sarus Crane, Woolly-necked Stork, Ferruginous Duck, Indian Grey Hornbill, Intermediate Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Red-rumped Swallow, Common Hoopoe, Long-tailed Shrike, Grey-backed Shrike, Black Drongo, Common Tailorbird, Shikra,
Purple Heron, Common Stonechat, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Black Stork, Spotted Dove, Lesser Whistling-duck, Plain martin, White-throated Kingfisher, Red-vented Bulbul, Jungle Myna, Common Myna, Black Kite, Eurasian Wryneck, Common Kestral, Sand Martin, Prinia, Himalayan Bulbul, Steppe Eagle, River Lapwing, etc.
One-horned Rhino, Hog Deer, Nilgai, Chital, Barking Deer, Golden Jackel, Wild Boar.
Common Castor Butterfly, Cabbage Butterfly, Pond skimmer bug, Backswimmer, etc.
Mugger crocodile, Indian Python juvenile, etc.
Broken Bones Tree (Oroxylum indicum), Bel (Aegle marmelos), Indian Screw Tree (Helicteres isora), Bakena tree (Melia azedarach), Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), Water Cabbage (Pistia stratiotes), Simal Tree (Bombax ceiba), Sal (Shorea Robusta), Sisau (Dalbergia Sissoo), Curry Leaf Plant (Bergera koenigii), False White Teak (Mallotus nudiflorus), etc.
2022 was good, better than the stalled adventures since the pandemic. I hope in 2023 I can bring in more stories from the wilderness and share with you the documented species.
Wishing everyone a happy, productive, and healthy year ahead.
Ajay N Rana