It was monsoon time ,and a visit to the Sunderbans was long time due .When the proposal came in from my friend Sutonu that a group of bird enthusiasts and wildlife lovers are venturing into the largest estuarine delta in the world to explore and unravel the beauty of Sunderban’s rich marine diversity of flora and fauna, I could not say no to such a mouth-watering prospect.
The journey started on 22-Aug-2015 in a Force Winger from Nicco Park to Godkhali.We had to our company the entire Das family – globe trotter,wildlife and nature lover specially birds,my brother-in-law Titash -truly bohemian at heart ,Harry and his wife –nature & wildlife lover and Arka Sarkar -an avid birder and his wife.It took us almost 3 hours to reach Godkhali jetti ghat as road condition was very poor ,you can image what happens to roads in Kolkata during monsoons.
With scorching heat and no signs of rain gods on the far horizon we started our exploration into the wild in our launch.
Sajal Da (Sajal Bar), the guide for our trip and the “Go To” man, welcomed us onboard with a beeming smile as we slowly crossed all the human habitation in Sunderban fringe area. We slowly started entering the buffer zone when I spotted my first lifer (in birding terminology when you encounter or spot a bird species first time) of this trip-“Lesser Adjutant Stork” at arms distance.
Slowly and steadily our launch was taking the meandering course through various creeks and islands in the Sunderbans mangrove forest and I was soaking in the beauty of the Sunderbans –its so serene and every turns seems to unravel a new mystery.
Our trail for today was Godkhali – Gosaba – Sajnekhali – Sudhanyakhali – Sajnekhali
We got our forest permit from Sajnekhali and “official” forest guide and started our journey into the biosphere.
Prior arrangements for Breakfast, Lunch and dinner was made in the launch itself by “Sajal Da”.
Birds spotted enroute to Sajnekhali :
Common Sandpiper,Large Cuckooshrike,Brahminy Kite,Collared Kingfisher,Lesser Adjutant Stork,Bl ack Drongo,Bronze Drongo
We kept our eyes focused on each and every nook and corners on both sides of the river with a hope to spot the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger.
Sunderbans beauty can only be felt once you are inside the area and you will be amazed to see how trees & plantation and wildlife here has acclimatized with high tide and low tide .
Salty waters of the region is home to various mangrove trees like Kholshi,Kankra,Hetal,Goran,Gorjon,Byne,Sundari and Genwa .These can be found in abundance in this region.
We even got a chance to see the nesting of Buffy fish owl ,a migrant from South east Asia, which comes every year to Sunderbans for nesting and breeding .
Post lunch we visited Sudhanyakhali watch tower and spend quite sometime. Here,we also came know that tiger was spotted yesterday from watch tower at 5:22 so as usual our thirst for witnessing the big cat intensified .
In the meantime we spotted Rd tailed pit viper –a venomous snake resting in the fence and allowed us to take good pictures from close proximity.
We could hear frantic calls of the Mangrove Pitta and Mangrove Whistler which are very rare and difficult to find.
Seeing people at the watch tower with their shooting guns on, could scare away any small birds ,so tigers won’t be an exception.
It was getting dark and we had to return to our resort at Sajnekhali .No one is allowed to stroll in the waters after dark and there are serious patrolling being done by forest department.
One point worth mentioning is that Sunderbans is only place in India where it is home to nine different varieties kingfisher :
Common Kingfisher,White Breasted Kingfisher,Stork Billed Kingfisher,Dwarf Kingfisher,Blue Eared Kingfisher,Ruddy Kingfisher,Brown Winged Kingisher,Collared Kingfisher,Black Caped Kingfisher,Pied Kingfisher (only Crested Kingfisher is not found here).
Our dinner was planned at the launch itself and after early dinner we dozed off for the day.
Day 2-23Aug2015 :
Our second day started pretty early with chirping of birds all around-what a calmness and tranquil atmosphere.
New renovated Sajnekhali tourist lodge of WB tourism is within the buffer zone of Sunderban biospehere reserve and only place to stay at Sajnekhali.Other accommodation can be Bali Island and Gosaba area.
From the common balcony we spotted Striated Babbler,Oriental White eye,Black headed cuckooshrike.
It was a clear ,bright and sunny day and we started our boat ride at 6:30 AM.
River banks was full of activity of fiddler crabs and mudskipper who were playing gleefully undisturbed by human presence.
Spotted an Archer fish enjoying its morning swim near our launch.
After a detailed discussion with Sajal Da ,Abhijit kaku and Arka Da the route plan for the day was chalked out.
Sajnekhali – Sudhanyakhali – Pirkhali – Dobanki – Sudhanyakhali – Godkhali
It was a hot and humid day and enroute a baby marsh crocodile gave us a quick stare and then disappeared in the shallow murky waters in no time whatsoever.
Here and there through out our journey we could get a glimpse of some birds like Whimbrel,Curlew,Whiskered Tern,Blue Tailed Bee Eater,Striated Heron,Collared Kingfisher to name a few.
It started to get cloudy and till the time we reached “Dobanki Char” it started to rain heavily. Here we spotted quite a number of winter migrants like lesser sand plovers(in breeding plumage) as well and whiskered terns-unusual at this time of the year.
Post lunch we continued our journey through narrow estuarine creeks but wildlife was very limited.
We again made a final attempt to have a glimpse of the black and yellow striped Lord of the Sunderbans from Sudhanyakhali watch tower and we were disappointed this time also.
It was my first birding trip in a group and a memorable journey for me ,enjoyed every bit of it -learned lot of new things about Birding, met new people and friends, came to know their experiences and many finer details about birding and wildlife photography which have added new dimensions to my passion.
Oh gosh !! forgot to mention my bird list crossed 200 in this trip and a big achievement for me.
All good things had to come to an end so was our journey to wilderness. With the sun setting far west ,It was time to say good bye to Sunderbans -another venture in pursuit of happiness …
Bird spotted :
Striated Babbler,Oriental White Eye,Common Sandpiper,White Breasted Waterhen,Bronze Drongo,Black Headed Cuckooshrike,Oriental Magpie Robin,Jungle Myna,Ashy Wood Swallow,Common Iora,Spotted Dove,Pacific Golden Plover,Common kmingfisher,Collared Kingfisher,Green Bee Eater,Blue Tailed Bee Eater,Eurasian Curlew,Whimbrel,Striated heron,Lesser Adjutant Stork,Lesser Sand Plover,Common Redshank,Whiskered Tern,Lesser Whistling duck,Cotton Pygmy Goose,Common Tailor Bird,Small Minivet,Yellow Bellied Prinia,Red Vented Bulbul,Red Whiskered Bulbul,Collared Dove.Large Egret,Pond Heron,Little Egret,Common Myna,Collared Dove,Rose Ringed Parakeet,White Breasted Kingfisher,Shikra,Buffy Fish Owl,Pied Kingfisher,Brown Winged Kingfisher,Red Jungle Fowl,Indian Cormorant,Brahminy Kite,Oriental Honey Buzzard,Large Billed Crow,Large Cuckoo Shrike,Asian Palm Swift,Streak throated Woodpecker,Black Drongo,Purple Sunbird
Other wildlife :
Spotted Deer,Mudskipper,Archer Fish,Marsh Crocodile,Water Monitor Lizard,Rhesus Monkey,Red tailed Pit Viper,Northern River Terrapin Turtle,Mongoose,Red Jungle Fowl
Day 1 birding from 10 am to 4 pm on boat and from 4pm to 6pm at Sudhanyakhali watch tower.
Day 2 birding from 6 to 4 on boat through various creeks and 4pm to 6 pm at Sudhanyakhali watch tower.