Monday, March 4, 2013

The Tiger Diaries: 04-Ranthambore Safari Day 3

Tobin David
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Day 3: Wildlife sightings galore

The morning safari on day 3 was in a canter. Even though the large mammals, Tiger, Leopard, Sloth Bear, Deer etc. are the more famous inhabitants of the Ranthambore National Park, the park has its fair share of bird species. There are reportedly 252 species of birds in the park which without doubt will be a birding enthusiast’s delight.

Painted Stork and Crocodile, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

A painted stork fishing as a crocodile and
Red-wattled lapwing look-on on the banks

Black Stork, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

A Black Stork
The safari began with sightings of a wide variety of birds, of all shapes and sizes, including 
- Peacocks, 
- Common babblers, 
- Tree-pies, 
- Black Storks, 
- Painted Storks, 
- Woolly-necked storks, 
- Rose-ringed parakeets, 
- Red-wattled lapwings, 
- Black cormorants, 
- White egrets, 
- White-throated kingfisher, 
- Common blue kingfisher etc. 

Rufous Treepie, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

A Rufous Treepie

This was followed by sightings of crocodiles basking in the sun, Blue-bulls (Nil Gai) munching away on the leaves and langur monkeys playing around. Then came the highlight of the safari!

Common Jungle Babbler,Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

A jungle babbler quiet for a change

Common Jungle Babbler,Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

A jungle babbler family sits in silence
An alarm call from a Sambhar deer instantly ensured pin-drop silence within the canter. There were 4 canters and 3 gypsies within a stone’s throw of each other, but the silence was deafening and absolute. The suspense was killing! Everybody strained their eyes to catch a glimpse of orange coat with black stripes. Then came the alarm call again!

The second alarm call more or less confirmed the fact that a predator was definitely in the vicinity. The guides consulted amongst themselves and determined that the calls were coming from the direction of a nearby hill which had a lake behind it. All the vehicles rushed to the lake’s edge and waited. Hundred pairs of searching eyes, on high alert and wide open.

White-throated Kingfisher,Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

A white-throated kingfisher

And then, we saw it!!!! We saw the orange coat with black stripes moving behind the bushes! I felt the (by now) customary thrill down the spine!  

The tiger was huge and powerful, yet so silent, as it moved along the lake’s edge. Then it stopped and with its piercing eyes, surveyed the vehicles and its passengers, from behind the bushes. Without doubt, the variety of ‘international cuisine’ on-board the vehicles must have been very tempting and mouth-watering for the tiger.

The guides at Ranthambore light-heartedly inform all western tourists ‘Tiger likes white meat, Indian meat too spicy’.  But there were no untoward incidents as the tigers do not consider people in vehicles as prey…………as yet. 

(However, here’s the link to a youtube video showing a tiger charging at a gypsy in zone 9). 

A Tiger lurks, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

Orange coat with black stripes lurking

Beware if you step down from the vehicle.

We watched the tiger for some more time and then started for the park gates as it was time to exit the park. There was excitement in the canter as we exited the park. Variety of birds, animals and finally the tiger! It had been an excellent safari indeed.

There was the usual bragging back at the hotel, as I finished lunch and prepared for the afternoon safari.

Afternoon shift

A Jackal, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

Mr. Jackal checks out the dining options
The afternoon safari was in a canter and we entered the park at 3 pm. Within 15 minutes of entering our zone, I noticed some movement behind some bushes and alerted the guide and driver. It turned out to be a pair of jackals (some bragging about spotting the jackals was on the cards). Sighting a jackal during the day is not too common as the jackal is a nocturnal animal. The pair trotted along and kept looking around with intent and purpose, as if searching for something. 

Was Mr. Jackal on the lookout for a fine dining experience for Mrs. Jackal? Apparently, Valentine’s Day fever had not worn off as yet.

Bad jokes apart, we followed the jackals in our canter. Then, we spotted some Sambar deer in alert position. The jackals were near the Sambar deer family and the deer had sensed the presence of the jackals. Was the baby Sambar deer Mr. Jackal’s idea of gourmet food?

A Jackal runs across the path, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

Mrs. Jackal follows Mr. Jackal in anticipation
 of a fine dining experience
Well, the jackals did not bother the Sambar deer. Papa Sambar deer and Mama Sambar deer were probably too big and heavy to mess with. The jackals continued their search, crossed the path in front of the canter and then disappeared into the forest.

As the safari continued we sighted Langur monkeys, Spotted deer (Chital) and Blue bull (Nil Gai) who presented us with good photography opportunities. The crowd favourite was ‘Bambi’, deer fawns. The cute fawns with their lovely doe-eyes never failed to elicit oohs and aahs from the ladies. Boys craving attention from girls, please note.

Then we neared a lake with a lot of crocodiles and birds including kingfishers, ducks, cormorants, storks, herons etc. More photography opportunities for the taking. Then, we saw a kill right in front of our eyes! 

Wooly-necked Stork, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

A Wooly-necked Stork
A kingfisher caught a tiny little fish in it’s beak in the blink of an eye. And within no time it swallowed the fish. Talk about instant food! On comparison, a cup of 2 minute noodles did not seem instant anymore. How wildlife safaris lead to perspective changes!

Next we sighted a jungle cat in the tall grass. Jungle cats are medium sized cats and very shy by nature. They are not commonly sighted. The jungle cat ducked into the tall grass and later ran across the path in front of the canter. 

It had been a good day due to some not-so-common sightings i.e. jackals and jungle cats.

Common Blue Kingfisher, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

Blue kingfisher gets breakfast
The search for the tiger never really took off. There were no alarm calls during the safari. There were no pugmarks to follow as the rains, two days ago, had led to the ground becoming hard. The guides can decipher a lot of information from the pugmarks on the soft dust tracks, such as, whether the pugmarks are old or recent, whether the pugmark is of a male or female tiger, probable direction and/or location of the tiger etc. Due to the rains eliminating pugmarks as a means of tracking the tiger, tiger sightings had become that much more difficult.

The safari ended after some time without the slightest hint of the tiger. Nevertheless, it had been a good safari with a lot of bird and animal sightings. 

It had been the Day of the Jackal… and the Jungle cat as well.

A Jungle Cat, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India

A jungle cat darts across the path
Dinners at Ranthambore Bagh are usually around a fire, exchanging experiences with other guests, in the presence of the owner Aditya ‘Dicky’ Singh. Dicky is a professional photographer having travelled around the globe photographing the wildlife in different countries. He is a treasure trove of information on wildlife and photography. 

After dinner, I retired for the night looking forward to next day’s safaris.

Tobin David
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