Kaziranga National Park Feb 13—19, 2015

Posted by Dion Hobcroft

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Dion Hobcroft

Dion Hobcroft has been working for VENT since 2001. He has led many tours (more than 160) to Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, Bhutan, Indonesia, India, China, Southwest ...

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Our flight from Delhi to Guwahati went smoothly, and after lunch at a nearby airport restaurant we commenced the four-hour drive to Wild Grass Lodge, our base for exploring Kaziranga National Park. On the outskirts of the city we made a stop at the rubbish tip to see the rather grim spectacle of the gathering of the critically endangered Greater Adjutant Storks picking for scraps amongst the Black Kites, House Crows, and people.

 
Great Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros

Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros— Photo: Dion Hobcroft

   

Our first day began with an early start, and before we could really wake up we found ourselves on the back of an elephant—and trunk to horn with our first Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros. We were definitely awake now. We also encountered good numbers of both Swamp and Hog deer and an excellent variety of grassland birds. After breakfast back at the lodge we re-entered the park and were soon tallying up a good list of birds. Amongst the highlights were Bar-headed Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Ferruginous Duck, Red Junglefowl, Woolly-necked and Black-necked storks, Spot-billed Pelican, Pallas’s and Gray-headed fish-eagles, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Spotted Owlet, Blossom-headed and Red-breasted parakeets, Hair-crested Drongo, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, and Crimson Sunbird. We found our first Swamp Buffalo with their amazing spread of horns, a basking Smooth-coated Otter, and a herd of 16 Asian Elephants including an incredible tusker.

Greater Adjutant

Greater Adjutant— Photo: Dion Hobcroft

After lunch and a siesta we went back to the park, this time to Western Range and the fabulous wetlands of Maguri Bheel. Here we counted 25 rhinoceros in view at once. There were tons of birds including Pacific Golden-Plover, both Gray-headed and Northern lapwings, Alexandrine Parakeet and Yellow-footed Green-Pigeon enjoying the afternoon sun, Blue-throated Barbet, Streak-throated Woodpecker, Osprey, and Great Spotted Eagle. We watched a Pallas’s Fish-Eagle pursue a Common Teal and found an impressive Bengal Monitor. Not a bad day all up!

Our second full day was spent exploring Kaziranga East Range on both morning and afternoon safaris. The morning drive brought a constant procession of new species and improved photographic opportunities in good light. Graylag Goose, Himalayan Griffon, Green Imperial-Pigeon, Greater Coucal, Jungle Owlet, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Rufous Woodpecker, Common Iora, Tickell’s Leaf-Warbler, the scarce Spot-winged Starling, and a spider web-investigating Ruby-cheeked Sunbird were among the new birds seen. A party of five Smooth-coated Otters eating a fish and being dived at by a Greater Coucal was a highlight.

The afternoon turned into a bit of an adventure when one jeep broke down in the park. While the engine was worked on, a Great Hornbill made a fortuitous fly-past in good light. We discovered a nesting Changeable Hawk-Eagle and watched the female bring green branches to line the nest, a feature seen in many nesting raptors associated with nest hygiene supposedly. We transferred into one jeep when we could not get the other one working. It was okay for space, and we birded slowly up and down the road enjoying singing Hill Mynas, but overall it was fairly quiet in the jungle. Right at dusk some alarm calling and running Hog Deer and some alert looking Swamp Buffalo tipped us off that a Tiger was on the move on the flood plain. Although distant, we spotted one and then two Tigers on the move and watched, fascinated, as one of the great cats crouched down as a buffalo approached and then leapt out of the way as the buffalo charged. It was a rare sighting of two Tigers together, thought to be a male and female based on comparative size difference. It was also a rare sighting of the interaction between the Swamp Buffalo and the Tiger. By seeing off the Tiger, the Swamp Buffalo demonstrated the power of these behemoth ungulates. Last year in this park a Tiger was found fatally injured by a buffalo attack. It was a great way to finish our day—any Tiger sighting is a rare experience, and to see this behavior was extraordinary.

Hoolock Gibbon

Hoolock Gibbon— Photo: Dion Hobcroft

We made a pre-breakfast visit to Panbari Forest, a short drive from our hotel. This tall jungle is home to some dangerous bull elephants so it is forbidden to enter the forest. We were lucky to hear a Hoolock Gibbon singing when we first arrived. We were even luckier that it was close to the forest edge in a fruiting fig, and we were able to enjoy close scope views of this rare primate. As luck would have it, a pair of Great Hornbills flew in, and in a remarkable bit of detective work by Tarun we identified some large chunks of pelage belonging to a Clouded Leopard. The fruiting fig attracted numbers of Pin-tailed Pigeon, Fairy Bluebird, Lineated and a couple of Blue-eared barbets, and White-throated and Black-crested bulbuls, while on the forest edge we enjoyed both Verditer Flycatcher and Small Niltava. A troop of handsome Capped Langurs were a big hit. From breakfast we drove into the park at Central. We had several great encounters with rhinoceros and enjoyed a superb view of both Great Hornbill and a remarkably tame juvenile Great Spotted Eagle. A rare sighting was a Yellow-spotted Pond Turtle, and we watched two “Hati”—Asian Elephants bathing and drinking at a bheel.

After lunch we returned to the park to West gate where the major highlight was scoping a pair of Swamp Francolins, a localized and scarce South Asian endemic. Grassland birds were very quiet in the dry conditions, with extensive fires burning to promote fresh elephant grass growth in the upcoming monsoon. We added a few birds to the list like Eurasian Hoopoe, Marsh Sandpiper, and a beautiful male Emerald Dove.
It was time to return for our adventure by train in Rajasthan. Before breakfast we walked on the edges of the tea estate and added Olive-backed Pipit. We stopped at Deepak Bheel on the outskirts of Guwahati and observed hundreds of Lesser Whistling-Ducks, a few Black-headed Gulls, a Citrine Wagtail, and a Rosy Pipit. Then it was off to the airport to wing our way back to Delhi.