Sunday, July 01, 2012

More from the wilds of Ranthambore

Indian Hare, the bubbly guys!!

Before the parks close for Monsoons on June 30th, I made another weekend trip to Ranthambore National Park. Another night's drive of around 400 kms in superfast mode ensured that we reached our hotel just in time for our morning safari. However, even the superfast mode didn't give us a minute's time to relax at the hotel as our safari vehicle was waiting for us as we entered the hotel.

T-28, star male

During my last two visits, I have only been to zone 3 & 5. Thankfully, this time I got a change of scenery as we were allotted zone 2 for our morning safari. This is one of the smaller zones and falls into the territory of T-28 male tiger and T-22 female tigress.  With more experience, I have realized that sighting a tiger is totally a matter of luck and now I don't expect to see a tiger every time I am out on a safari.  But I got lucky again, as we took a curve and saw T-28, the star male named so because of a star sign over his left eye, right next to the road about 10 meters ahead of us. Thanks to our driver who couldn't switch gears smoothly and made enough noise to disturb the tiger who drifted into the woods. This same tiger passed before our gypsy the last time I visited Ranthambore without giving us a clear shot. And he did the same thing again. However dominant he might be known as, he surely is camera shy.

After that, we tried to locate him again without any success. Then, we moved further into the jungle in the hope of sighting T-22, which again didn't happen. So, apart from the short sighting and a few dancing peacocks, this safari was pretty dull and we were out of the park half hour before the allotted time. A sleepy breakfast followed and we dozed off to catch whatever little sleep we could before afternoon safari.

In our afternoon safari, we got zone 4. I had wanted to visit this zone for long as the legendary tigress, Macchli now inhabits this zone. At 16 years, Machhli is claimed to be the oldest tigress in the wild and is also famed for having killed a crocodile. At this old age, she doesn't move much which increases our probability of sighting her in her smaller territory.

T-25, a 6 yr old male

However, we were in for a pleasant surprise when we entered our zone gate. A gypsy was coming backward trying to tracking a male tiger. As expected, we also started tracking and after straining our eyes for sometime trying to look into the woods, I saw something huge moving parallel to the road. He came into the clearing and here he was, a huge male tiger over 10 feet long from nose to tail. While he was scent marking a tree to warn other predators of his territorial presence, I could here shutters clicking all around me. If it hadn't been for a well traveled Bengali uncle in our gypsy who literally commanded our driver to stop, the tiger would have crossed the road right in front of us. Still, we were satisfied having sighted such a magnificent tiger. He was T-25, also famous for being the only male tiger known to be bringing up two cubs after the tigress died last year. I wonder why his other name is "Zaalim" even after him being caring enough to think of the cubs and not moving on to some other tigress.

Machhli, the grand old dame of Ranthambore
After the tiger crossed the road and disappeared on the other side, we went further into our zone in search of Macchli. On our way, we passed by Malik Talab which had become just a small pool of water in which many birds like painted stork, cormorant, black headed ibis and spoonbill were found fishing in the shallow waters. We also passed by many dancing peacocks enjoying the slight drizzle that had made the weather in this May afternoon enjoyable.

A paradise Flycatcher

As we approached Lakarda area of the national park, we finally saw Machhli walking across the road. She seemed smaller and whiter compared to other tigers. Probably a result of of old age!! While I clicked a few pictures, she moved nonchalantly to finally lie under a palm tree. From here, she was heard growling for over 10 minutes which probably signified hunger as she is unable to hunt efficiently having lost all four canines in battle/hunting. We then went to the forest checkpost and asked the person posted there to feed the tigress as she seemed hungry. Upon our way out, we saw a dead Civet. Civets are known to climb trees and he possibly fell to his death. We also saw some exotic birds here like Paradise Flycatcher, Green Beaeater, Shrike, Golden Orioles. Paradise Flycatcher was really a treat to the eye with its magnificent orange color which turns to white with age.

A Heron looking for its prey

Back at hotel, we dived into the pool to get some respite from the dry heat of May. Our hotel was perfect in all aspects including good rooms, nice swimming pool, a good lawn except for food which was tasteless without fail.

A sambhar deer in middle of Rajbagh Lake eating aquatic plants

Next morning, we woke up around 5:30 and hurried ourselves to the hotel gate, where our gypsy was waiting for us. This time we got zone 3 which is the most scenic zone of Ranthambore as it has three lakes which act as perfect habitat of both prey as well as predator. Though zone 3 used to be quite popular for tiger sighting a few years back when Machhli ruled the lakes with her 3 cubs, but I have not seen a tiger in zone 3 in over 3 safaris.

A monstrous Monitor Lizard

Upon entering the zone, we first went inside hoping to see T-19, a female tigress with 3 cubs. However, we were out of luck as the area was totally devoid of any signs of her presence. After that, we came back around Rajbagh lake to find a number of alarm calls warning of the presence of a predator in the area. Finally when we reached the source of alarm calls, we saw a sick cheetal sitting on a rock and a sambhar deer was giving alarm calls while looking at the cheetal. Sambhar deers have very weak eyesight but a strong sense of smell. Here it seemed as if the sambhar had caught the smell of tiger scent from some earlier territory marking and he confused the sick cheetal for a tiger. Standing there with his tail up, he continued to give alarm call for over an hour. Disappointed, we moved around the lake where we saw a couple of small crocodiles lying in the sun while a number of sambhar deers were inside the lake eating aquatic plants without seeming to fear for their life. Also, three monitor lizards were moving along the lake searching for bird eggs to eat.

Biggest Turtle I have ever seen

On the other side of the lake, we saw a giant turtle resting about 5 meters away from the lake. Disturbed by the sound of our gypsy, the turtle immediately put its head inside his shell and moved into the lake. Though, we didn't see a big cat in this safari, but seeing that huge turtle kept us excited.

A female Neelgai
In our afternoon safari, we got the only zone I didn't want to see: Zone 1. This is the smallest zone here and there are hardly any water left in this zone in the month of May. Though this zone falls into the territory of two tigers but both would have moved somewhere in search of water. There are some specific berries loved by bears in this zone which also opens the possibility of a sloth bear here. However, as feared, the zone was totally dry in terms of animals except for a few langurs and spotted deers.

A beautiful Golden Oriole
Monsoons are not really easy for Tigers as water in the lakes increases the reach of crocodiles enhancing chances of a conflict between the two ferocious animals. Also their prey gets more dispersed due to the flooding in low lying areas and availability of grass in higher plateaus. So wishing the 8-9 cubs recently born in Ranthambore all the luck in surviving their first monsoon rains!!!!

Painted Storks in Flight mode