295kms from Delhi is the Corbett National Park….and what a park! It is the oldest National Park in India and quite well known but somehow in all these years we never had the opportunity to visit.
January saw us change that. On a dense foggy morning we set off for Corbett. When I say foggy, I mean ‘FOGGY’….three pairs of eyes peering into the white blanket, watching out for the faintest of outline of a vehicle ahead, and one driver warily watching the edge of the road!
Our base was the Aahana Resort. A lot of thought and heart has gone into making the resort. The hotel pays its own tribute to nature by having a wide array of plants and trees, all labelled, if I may add, providing a mini sanctuary to a number of birds.
Post lunch and a brief rest, we set off with Mr Satypal Singh, the in-house Naturalist, to a tributary of the Kosi river near by. What awaited us was quite a treat.
Completely camouflaged in the Lantana shrub was a Brown-headed Barbet. The camouflage is so complete that there is very little chance of seeing it with the naked eye and with the binoculors one has to almost wait for the bird to move to spot it! Along came two Common Babblers, not so common actually, close to the Barbet’s perch. Soon we saw the Himalayan Bulbul. The crest on the head gives it a very distinguished look. Prancing about in the plants close to the water was a Plumbeous Water Redstart. It wouldn’t sit still for even a minute…..stretching our patience and testing our photography skills!
As we started to walk towards the larger area of the river bed, suddenly there was a flash of black and white wings. I thought perhaps a Pied Kingfisher had a flown past but couldn’t see it. A few steps further ahead, a kingfisher was perched on the branch of a dry tree. It was the Crested Kingfisher! The biggest kingfisher in the Indian sub-continent. Black and white, handsome, big and beautiful. Sitting in the clear so we wouldn’t crib about not being able to photograph it! Of course, little did we know at this juncture that in this trip we were going to cover a variety of kingfishers.
The river bed was quite large with a small stream running through it. The area was quiet, with all trees along the river bed. On the river bed were sitting Himalayan Vultures, Cinereous Vultures, Griffon Vultures and a couple if Woolly-necked Storks and Black Storks thrown in for good measure! It was our first sighting of vultures! As if on cue, post our photo session with the vultures, they took off for the tree- tops. In flight, one can appreciate the massive size of these vultures.
Closer to our side, Eagles were perched on the trees. The jury is still out on which Eagles they were. Steppe or Indian Spotted? The setting sun was casting an orange glow on them. The waders and smaller birds, not wanting to miss out on the show, were busy on the river stream. There were river lapwings, wagtails, black-winged stilts, common redshanks, drongos and stints.
Another highlight of the evening was the hugely contested Tawny Eagle. Perched on the rump of a felled tree, in clear view, giving us the opportunity to study it at length but not come to a conclusion!
Other sightings on this visit were Spangled Drongo, Grey Hornbill, Ashy Prinia, Red-vented Bulbul and the Long-billed Crow.