A brief revisit to a beautiful and less charted wilderness a little over a year after we first got introduced to it saw us enjoy a few more glimpses into its hidden wealth and find a few of it’s stars who had eluded us previously. The most fabulous of them came in our opening afternoon drive, where within 40 min. we found not one but two tigers walking together on the track bordering the canal 100m in front of us. As we slowly began to approach behind them, we could see spotted deer crossing the track closer in front of us and stare curiously down the track at the tigers moving in the distance. They decided to go off the track into the jungle. Closing the distance to get a hopeful glimpse closer up brought us face to face with one tiger literally 10 ft away in the vegetation as it stared at us calmly yet alertly. The first look at its size at that distance gave us a slight start at it’s size and thus had us assume it was a male and thus probably a mating pair. It then realised it was too close for its own comfort and went down the shallow embankment into the jungle and watched us from there. Wanting it to come out we decided to move ahead 40m or so, and give her the space and confidence to come back onto the embankment track and give us a better view. The strategy worked and in less than a minute, we saw the shrubs next to the track move and then have it appear. It scanned the track and even looked at something in the distance across the canal, before finally turning it’s head and look back at us, realising we were at a very comfortable distance for it to observe us without feeling nervous. It now turned and lay down in a sphinx like pose and started observing us at leisure. A couple of minutes later it decided to get up and start walking away back up the road we had just followed her down. As it moved to within 60m away another smaller tiger popped out from exactly the spot the other had been laying and observing us and looked at us alertly with its left forepaw raised. It was only at this moment we truly confirmed it was a mother and cub and not a mating pair we had juggled ourselves into thinking. The cub observed us for a few more seconds before realising that mother was getting too far for comfort and deftly trotted off behind her. It was only close to her being 100m from us before the cub finally caught up with her and they both walked in tandem for a few metres before turning once again in the direction of the jungle below the embankment. We had spun our wheels in motion to turn around and follow them again, when we saw them cross the track and move into the buffer vegetation bordering the canal. We closed in slowly, but thankfully long enough to suddenly catch them midway in the canal and using the drift of the current to cross the 60 or so metres separating the forest from the State Highway on the other side. The cars were buzzing at speed on the other side, and probably remained unaware of the tigers crossing, until one suddenly slammed the brakes in possible shock as the tigers must have darted across and vanished into the jungle beyond leaving a trail of macaque and spotted deer alarms in their wake.
The evening later brought us to a new road opened up by the Forest Department this season and another set of Female tiger tracks as well as regular spotted deer, wild boar, and even a couple of Hog Deer adding to the stunning habitat around.
Post sunset back at Chuka Beach Eco Camp/Resort had us enjoy seeing the three resident porcupines as they came for their daily foraging to the area behind the kitchen and feed on leftover food and scraps.
The following morning was one where we found very fresh tracks of one tigress right outside the track leading into the camp, as well tracks of a Sloth Bear with a cub further up. Two Leopards had walked together at the entrance of the Barahi Forest Rest House Road and the Canal, and as luck and cheekiness would have it a female tiger who had walked over our jeep tracks on the canal stretch between the irrigation barrier and Barahi FRH road, while we had gone to explore that stretch of forest.
The afternoon started very lively as news of 3 Burmese Pythons (Python bivitattus) sunning themselves next to the canal on the side road between Chuka Beach and the Irrigation area. The sight was one to behold as we got there a few minutes later, as we found two males between 6-8 ft lying on top of a gynormous 15ft female. Soon two of them moved off leaving behind the smallest male still coiled up and recharging his batteries.
Later that afternoon we chanced upon a Swamp Deer Hind and her Fawn at a waterhole in Mahof Range. As we stopped to observe them fleeing at our approach we heard the loud braying ring of the Swamp Deer alarm from the grass 100-150m away. The alarm was loud, urgent and insistent, and signalled that the deer could most likely see the predator (we suspected a tiger because of the habitat and time duration of the call, as well as because it was the territory of a male as well as a female with cubs). We aimed to get closer to the call from a new road created behind the grassland swamp, and managed to come within 60 odd metres of it, but its movement seemed to be going away from the road and further into the forest. We were surprised by a beautiful Hog Deer doe stepping out from the alarm call zone to cross the track, and then eye us with a sense of alarm as she stamped her feet and bobbed her head to better gauge the depth of our distance from her, before scooting into the forest she had targeted going into in the first place. The drive later found us older tracks of two more tigers, but some great grassland habitat. Near the end we headed back onto the canal road where we had seen the tigers the previous evening and heard a flurry of Rhesus Macaque and Red Junglefowl Alarms from across the canal, approximately where the tigers had crossed the water the previous day. The calls were frantic enough to warrant we double back a bit and cross the bridge onto the state highway and approach the same. The decision to do so was worth it, as we were treated to the Female and her cub calling to each other 50m from the road. Hearing vocalization from tigers is never the easiest, and that of a mother communicating with her cub is almost a human “Aaaaaoum” like moan by both, and thus every bit worth its weight in experience as a sighting, since it allows one to imagine the story in the dense foliage beyond. The following morning was our final drive and even though the fog played spoilsport, the sights of the Spotted Deer crossing the canal roads back into the forest was a pure delight to the eyes, as their colour of rich winter auburn contrasted beautifully with the freshly dewed green of the foliage around. Add to this was the bonus of finding the tracks of a tigress and her cub (more than likely the same we had been blessed to encounter on the first afternoon, since it was their territory) letting us know of their movement on this side of the forest.
Alongside the above, some of the highlights of the trip included.
1. A Lone White-Rumped Vulture (Gyps begalensis) perched on a tree top along the canal on 12/01/2018
2. A Trio of two male and a single female White-Naped Woodpeckers (Chrysocolaptes festivus) chasing each other through the forest.
3. Streak-throated Woodpeckers (Picus xanthopygaeus)
4. Scores of Great-Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus) amidst Brown-headed (Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus) and Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) as well as a few UFO’s on the Sharda Sagar backwater reservoir at Chuka beach.
5. Marsh Crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris)
6. The wonderful hospitality extended to us by the staff at Chuka Beach Camp, and last but not least the sharp guiding skills and fabulous hospitality and organisation by our guide Jeeshan Ali.
With Pushkarna Sachin, Anant Erickson