Thursday, January 05, 2012

Corbett National Park (North India - Day 10)

Boxing Day was taken up exclusively with the drive from Chambal to Corbett. There is a direct road but it resembles a river bed and would have taken the same amount of time as the trip we took, driving back to Delhi, through the outskirts and then up to Corbett. We set off at 5am in the thickest fog imaginable. At points we were looking out the side of the car to judge road position as there was a complete white-out in front of us. Despite these conditions we did make good progress though it did take fully 11 and a half hours to make the trip to Camp Corbett.

We arrived shortly before last light and enjoyed dinner and drinks before getting an early night.

The next morning we were up early for some birding ahead of breakfast, which involved taking a walk down from the camp alongside a water channel, over a river bed and into some forest which actually forms part of the park. Being early the lighting was poor for photography but we did enjoy seeing Crested Kingfisher, Changeable Hawk Eagle and Plumbeous Water Redstart, amongst others.

We also started to appreciate just how cold it was going to get with the chill morning wind blowing down from the Himalayan foothills along the dry riverbed...

We headed back to the camp for breakfast with the light improving sighting White-throated Fantail:


Red-billed Leiothrix:


An amazingly colourful little bird, also Grey-hooded Warbler:


After breakfast we drove to the Tiger Camp lodge, based just outside the main access to Corbett National Park having repacked overnight bags for our night in the Forest Lodge at Dikhala, within the park itself (at roughly 20 minutes notice!).

On arrival at the camp we swapped to another gypsy and then headed to the park to drive through it to Dikhala. This is where things started to get complicated. Our guide had a voucher for the park accommodation but at the gate we were told we also needed a permit. To cut a long story short I found myself some 90 minutes later in the middle of a shouting match between the chap who had booked the accommodation, a separate gypsy and guide and who wanted the balance of the money he believed he was owed and our guide and his gypsy who didn't want to budge. Much shouting ensued. Eventually I asked them both the quickest way for Helen and I to enter the park as we'd pre-paid almost the entire holiday and wanted them to shout amongst themselves while we went birding in the park.

So in a much plusher gypsy (the tyres even had tread) and with a new guide, we drove back to the entrance gate armed with a permit and then into Corbett National Park proper.

Once inside the park we drove the main track towards Dikhala. Being lunchtime at this stage we asked the driver/guide to help us make up for lost time and to bird the route rather than driving to the forest lodge to pick up a forest guide and then heading out, which would have chewed up yet more time.

We enjoyed the leisurely pace combined with our new guide's expertise, and stopped about halfway to eat our packed lunch.

The guide had chosen a cracking spot, and we enjoyed views of White-capped Water Redstart:


And then a complete bonus of a group of hunting Otters. Six in all, this one was leaping to catch a fish:


Mission accomplished:


The water was so clear we could see the Otters swimming past us submerged as they hunted. The whole thing took around ten minutes and was just great to see!

The view up river; the bank is literally covered with Cormorants, hundreds of them:


We drove on towards Dikhala eventually stopping at 'the best birding location in Corbett', which is a track that overlooks a river. We did indeed see a number of birds here including Rosy Pipit:



Grey-headed Fish Eagle:



Himalayan Bulbul:


one became two:



Common Stonechat:



Common Kingfisher:


We also had brief sightings of a Rosefinch, I don't think it was a Common Rosefinch but I failed to take a picture, I was too busy trying to point it out to everyone else. Doh!

Lots of birds did come and go, the majority being more common Bulbuls but it was a great spot. As the afternoon wore on some Sambar deer came to feed on the grasses growing on the shoreline:


We did hear a couple of deer alarms and spent some time at a crossroads waiting for Tiger but didn't see one.

Corbett is a beautiful park and at the heart of habitat and wildlife conservation in India. It's also clean, which is no mean feat in India. We loved it.

We got to the Forest Lodge at Dikhala just as the sunset and checked-in. The rooms are stark and empty, just a bed and loo. No heating, no air con, simple beds and pillows, etc. The food was good but it was an uncomfortable night at the lodge.

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