As I sit down and write this blog the Asian Koel is back on its yearly trip to the tree next door. The customary song Kooo–ooooo Kooo–oooooo is playing and will continue for the next couple of months.March was an interesting month and I did have fun recalling the moments while writing the “What I saw – March 2021“ segment.
The first destination for March and this time my friend Rakesh invited me to work as a commissaire for a mountain bike race. The route to Hetauda from Palung, Simbhanjyang is a beautiful one as we passed through the Sal forests and fields dotted with villages in between. Black kites flying below and warblers singing in the jungle, I could see a couple of mountains far in the distance as we stopped for tea in Daman.
After a seven-hour plus ride through the road dominated by switchbacks, we finally reached Hetauda. As I checked into the hotel the call of the Common Hill Myna could be heard in the nearby tree. This was the first time I had heard this bird sing and the various melodious calls it made was mesmerizing.
The commissaire role activated I headed towards the community forest adjoining the Banaskhandi Temple to do a course inspection. While doing the track walk I could notice a troop of Terai Grey Langurs sitting on the branches of the Sal trees. This place was gold as the locals said that there were sightings of a leopard and deers as well. Another reason for me to come back and explore the place.
The community forest was predominantly a Sal forest but it did have some trees in the outskirts like the Odal and the Kadam that were in full bloom. The next morning at the race venue, the songs of the Common Hill Myna welcomed us again. As the race event concluded, it was time to head back to Kathmandu. On the way back I could see forest fires in some areas and wondered if the authorities were working on getting it under control. The hazy climate got an additional contributor.
Back in Kathmandu, it was time to go riding. The ride to Ichangu was not focused on birding so my bag was much lighter with just a 60mm lens on my camera. This was a focused fitness ride but the senses were all activated to notice and hear the wildlife around me. As I passed the Kalij pheasant farm I started hearing the songs from the White-eyes and Green-backed Tits.
The downhill single track had been cleared up so while cruising down, I also noticed a couple of Forktails flying alongside the stream. The exact species of forktail couldn’t be determined as the distraction while speeding down would have resulted in me seeing stars in broad daylight. I will be going birding soon in this area.
As the month progressed I went on a ride to Bungamati as well. Mountain biking along with birding was a bit tricky but as the month before spotting some birds was easy. As I rode through the fields I could notice Aphids on the mustard plant alongside Ladybird beetles while a Bumble Bee was resting on a concrete post nearby. The Broad bean fields had a lot of Hoverflies on them and were attracting some birds as well. Quite a diverse place. Sadly this area will be bulldozed for the fast track road development.
I was back on the road again and this time it was for the 4th COAS International Tri Adventure Competition 2021 in Bairini, Dhading. The campsite was right next to the Trisuli river and this allowed me to watch some wildlife in my downtime. I could spot Rhesus Macaques, Mongoose, Black Kites around the area. As I walked near the shore there were a couple of Great Cormorants on the rocks and one on the river. Found a spot where I could stabilize the camera and started documenting the behaviors.
After the event that started in Bairini and finished in Charundi I got dropped off at Mugling and then caught a bus to Bharatpur.
It has been a year since I had been to the Chitwan National Park. I tend to frequent this national park due to its diversity. The park contains subtropical broadleaf forests, riverine forests, grasslands, Narayani/Rapti river, its tributaries, and its riverbanks. With all this the potential of getting to see a diverse range of flora and fauna is massive.
I headed to Tigerland Safari Resort in Jagatpur from the bus stop. After freshening up I went next door to Jagatpur Lodge where Umang Thapa dai was staying and had just got back from the safari. With a deep understanding of wildlife, the conversation, and travel with Umang dai is always good. After a well-laid-out plan to explore the area for the next day, we called it a night and I headed back to my hotel.
Day one consisted of exploring the community forest in the morning and the second half inside the Chitwan National Park. There were some pretty interesting sightings in the community forest, like a herd of Spotted deers, Golden Jackels, Lesser Adjutant, and many more birds. While driving in the grassland we could hear the call of a Black Francolin.
Locating it in a nearby tree we moved on foot to take some pictures of it. As I walked slowly trying to take cover on the grass patches a Savanna Nightjar flew away some 10m from where I was standing. A master in disguise when resting this bird was hard to photograph. The other problem I got into was the camera not functioning properly as it had taken its toll after all these years of use.
Unsuccessful in this quest I headed to the jeep and we drove towards the riverbank. A couple of Golden Jackels could be seen running at the edge of the river bank heading towards the grassland. Far off some Ruddy Shelduck could be seen in the river and to our excitement, there was four Bar-headed Goose as well feeding in the river. Bar-headed Goose is a winter visitor and has been known to fly over the Himalayas. It is one of the world’s highest-flying birds.
While getting back on the jeep after photographing the Bar-headed Goose I noticed that a Jumping Spider had climbed onto my lens. I got it out from the lens and slowly placed it on the rock nearby. The spot looked pretty good so took a couple of photographs of the spider which kept leaping back on my hand.
As planned the second half of the day was spent inside the Chitwan national park with various sightings of birds and mammals in the jungle. Mammals like the Gaur, One-horned Rhinoceros, Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer, Terai Grey Langur, Tiger could be seen. Some of the male Indian Peafowls (Common Peacock) could be seen perched on the tall trees while some were down on the ground displaying their beautiful feathers in a shape of a fan as a ritual they display during courtship.
Documenting the Tiger was fun as Umang dai saw it first as the tiger was looking at us from the tall grasses some 30 -35m away. For me, it was a bit confusing until I was able to locate the silhouette of the tiger. After a couple of minutes, the tiger took another route towards the north which was notified by the call from the Spotted deer in that area.
The national park for me is not just about spotting big mammals and birds but also insects. As we were trying to see the tiger paw marks, I spotted some caterpillars navigating their way through the fallen dried Sal leaves. A beautiful composition could be brought out so I got out of the jeep and took a couple of snaps.
After some night photography and wildlife spotting from the deck of Jagatpur Lodge, we called it a day and I returned to my hotel next door. While walking back towards my room I was thinking about the calls made by the Large-tailed Nightjar while observing them from the deck.
Suddenly to my surprise I had an encounter with a Large Indian Civet around the corner near my villa. Both of us were surprised by the sudden encounter just 6 meters apart. Both of us staring at each other, my mind admiring the creature and at the same time trying to lift the camera to document the moment. I guess my reaction time was slow as the Civet broke the stare off and started walking away in the darkness.
The second day and it was all about exploring the Chitwan National Park for the whole day. Another day of seeing a lot of flora and fauna. Orange flowers on the Flame of the Forest trees were in full bloom and it along with the flowers from the Simal trees made the grassland look beautiful. Parakeets were busy feeding on the flowers.
The furthest we reached that day was the forest edges near Amaltari where we had lunch overlooking the Narayani river. The excitement grew as we neared the Chure hills. The remainder of the Leopard encounter a couple of years back came into my mind. This place is mysterious and magical. With the leaves of the trees starting to turn red, the ambiance in the jungle was different. Spotting a Red-headed Trogan elevated the excitement even though it was impossible to photograph it.
The first trip to the park this year with Umang dai was a success. I got to learn a lot of things from him and sharpen my knowledge. As the day ended I also got a chance to walk around the Tigerland Safari Resort with Ajit Bikram Rana dai and spot some wildlife. We spotted a Collared Scops Owl busy eating a worm and Ajit dai helped me differentiate the call that was coming from two nightjar species in the distance. I was also able to photograph the Short-nosed Fruit Bats that he had shown me the previous night.
Below are the collective names of the species I was able to document or see during March 2021.
Black Francolin, Red Junglefowl, Indian Peafowl, Bar-headed Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Black Stork, Lesser Adjutant, Red-naped Ibis, Black-crowned Night Heron, Purple Heron, Cattle Egret, Great Cormorant, Darter, Black Kite, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, White-eyed Buzzard, Common Moorhen, Red-wattled Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Bronze-winged Jacana, Oriental Turtle Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Spotted Dove, Emerald Dove, Alexandrine Parakeet, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Red-breasted Parakeet, Greater Coucal, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Collared Scops Owl, Savanna Nightjar, Large-tailed Nightjar, White-throated Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Red-headed Trogan, Indian Roller, Common Hoopoe, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Minivets, Long-tailed Shrike, Black Drongo, Racket-tailed Drongo, Spangled Drongo, Rufous Treepie, Sand Martin, Red-vented Bulbul, Himalayan Bulbul, Common Tailorbird, Jungle Babbler, Common Myna, Jungle Myna, Common Hill Myna, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Oriental Magpie Robin, Forktail, Common Stonechat, Pied Bushchat, White Wagtail, etc.
Gaur, Golden Jackal, Short-nosed Fruit Bat, One-horned Rhinoceros, Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer, Hog Deer, Barking Deer, Wild Boar, Terai Grey Langur, Tiger, Large Indian Civet.
Cotton bug, Moth, Caterpillar, Common Sergeant Butterfly, Plain Tiger Butterfly, Common Five-ring Butterfly, etc.
Kimbu, False White Teak aka Rhino apple tree (Belar), Simal (Bombax ceiba), Teak (Tectona grandis), Sal (Shorea robusta), Ashok (Saraca asoca), Flame of the Forest (Butea monosperma), Burflower-tree (Kadam), Tatelo (Oroxylum indicum), etc.
March was an eventful month with some traveling. One common thing that I was able to observe was that all these places had some kind of wildfires going on. This year particularly we had a very dry winter as there has been a below-average rainfall.
The haze in Kathmandu and outside was getting thicker every day and eventually, it peaked around March 26 and continues. The visibility from my room towards the south side has been just a couple of kilometers.
While I was in Chitwan the controlled burning for the grassland management was also happening. This is a necessity but what bothered me is the smoldering logs that were left unattended after burning the grasses. These logs gave out a lot of smoke and I wished that there was a tanker following the places where the grassland would be burnt and douse the flames that got into the big logs and fallen tree trunks.
With all these going on along with the virus situation it is best to be masked while going out and maybe at home if the haze situation worsens.
Wishing everyone a healthy, good and, a productive month ahead.
Ajay Narsingh Rana