Saturday, February 25, 2017

Kaziranga - rhinos, hornbills and more

Our next day in Kaziranga NP (February 20th) was just as good. In the morning we returned to the central range, and again had tons of birds - almost 160 taxa. In the afternoon we went to the western range but got rained on, so birding was somewhat slower. Birding in Kaziranga is simply damn good. There were new birds to be seen constantly, both in the woodland and on the water. But with all respect to LBJ's (Little Brown Jobs), photography that day was dedicated to large, colourful beasts.
Kaziranga has the world's largest population of Greater (Indian) One-horned Rhinos (Rhinocerus unicornis) - about 2400 animals in 2015, two thirds of the global population. They are massive and they are very obvious. With their size and armour, they do not worry about humans too much, and if an animal is grazing close to a track there is no problem to approach it for a selfie 😉
They are amazing animals - they have the attitude of a dinosaur. In Kaziranga they are constantly followed by birds sitting on them or around them. Here is a male (I think) escorted by an Eastern Cattle Egret (photobombed by a cheeky Pacific Golden Plover in the back):

With Common & Jungle Mynas:

We were a bit too close to this one. It snorted in anger and we backed up - a couple of weeks ago my friend's jeep was rammed by a raging bull so we took no chances.

Buffalos are pretty impressive animals too, especially the huge-horned bulls (here with Great Mynas and a Hog Deer):

In the woodland there were fewer mammals than in Ranthambhore, but still large numbers of deer. We missed a Tiger sighting by a couple of minutes. This Himalayan Hoary-bellied Squirrel is almost as exciting, isn't it?

There were too many birds to watch and photograph on the 20th, but the obvious highlight was Great Hornbill. This bird is out of this world. Huge, and colourful, and almost human in its expressions and behaviour. We watched a pair checking out potential nest sites (large tree cavities) - they will start building their unique nest soon. I have seen many in the past, and they will never end up on Shetland, but I still think they are stunning and very sexy birds. 

The 3D structure of their helmet is incredible:

I didn't know that Great Hornbills have eyelashes. Few birds have eyelashes, that are modified feathers rather than hairs in mammals. They really give them a human feel.

The Southern Ground Hornbill is one more example for a bird that has eyelashes - I photographed this one in Masai Mara, Kenya, December 2008:

Back to India 2017: another birding highlight for me was Pallas's Fish Eagle. It appeared in the bird books of my childhood, and is a rare vagrant to distant parts of the WP. It's a bird I had always wanted to see and is Kaziranga I had my first encounters with them. They are quite common and we saw about 10 every day, but never f they posed properly.

Pallas's Fish Eagle

Harassed by Eastern Jungle Crows

I'm out of here!

River Lapwings are such funky birds!

We did quite well Asian Barred Owlets:

Minivets are among my favourite bird families. They are birds of joy! We saw several species, typically mobile in canopies, but one small flock of Scarlet Minivets came down and close. The stunning red males kept their distance, but some females gave themselves up to us:

White-rumped Shama is another common and charismatic bird of the Himalayan Foothills:

The wet fields and short grasslands in and outside the park are full of pipits and wagtails. It was nice to refresh my field experience with Eastern Yellow Wagtails, and with some eastern White Wagtail taxa. This is alboides, we also had leucopsis and personata, and something like baicalensis. Not easy to photograph these birds inside the park.

Motacilla alba alboides
Grey-backed Shrike

Other birding highlights included again a nice diversity of leaf warblers - I was especially impressed by the stunning Yellow-vented Warbler (Phylloscopus cantator), sadly it didn't pose long enough for a photo.
Scenically, Kaziranga is less dramatic than Ranthambore - it is very flat. But I really liked the vast expanses, wetlands and woodland.

This trip to India was very short, and focused on wildlife. But even in the tight bubble of 'normality' we had created around ourselves, the human diversity and complexity of India was ever apparent. The national parks and full of Indians like this: 

And just outside the park, villagers work their land in a way that is probably not very different to how their great grandparents did. More on this in following blogposts.

Our complete eBird checklist for 20/2/17 is here.

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