Saturday, July 9, 2016

Trailing the Quails of Ranthambhore!

Our Jogi was sitting at a tea stall talking to the experienced experts of the park and one of them was ‘Cat-eye Billu’ the driver who was serving the park in the 70’s and was assigned the task of taking Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur royal family for a royal safari in Ranthambhore! Billu narrated his experience, saying that the queen said to him that she had seen enough tigers and was not interested in them, instead she had a rather peculiar proposition – to see quails in the wild! Now our cat-eyed Billu was good in sighting tigers but he would fail in sighting a quail! Now having an elephantine task of exploring the quails in the vast landscape, Billu feverishly looked around. But it was Mh. Gayatri Devi who took him around a dense bush and as she beat the bush a flock of quails came frolicking around, she was excited to see the tiny birds doing their acrobatics and Billu was relieved that the day was saved! Jogi got curious and went to speak to Divya who is a bird enthusiast. Divya said, ‘most people who know quails are either avid bird watchers or fond of eating them! The others like our aunties and kaki’s know them as teetar – bater pair, because they mostly have known them to be eaten as food.
However, watching quails is a very interesting birding experience. I have seen few here in Ranthambhore. When we talk about the quails in India there are 12 species reported out of these Seven are seen in Ranthambhore. Birdwatchers would start to like them only in later stages of bird watching as they are similar looking birds and its difficult to identify them. However, in the wild these are some of the most interesting bird species to watch. It’s a good idea to hear their calls to identify them sometimes.
Divya went on to share bit of information about individual species so as to help young birders spot them on their next trip to Ranthambhore!
Quails found here belong to old world and new world, meaning - The New World quails or Odontophoridae are small birds only distantly related to the Old World quail, but named for their similar appearance and habits, and are placed in the bustard family – the Yellow legged Quail, Barred Buttonquail and the Small Buttonquail belong to this family. While the Old World quail are from the pheasant family Phasianidae, the Jungle Bush Quail, Rock Bush Quail, Common Quail and the Rain quail belong to this family.

 1.   Jungle Bush quail (Perdicula asiatica) – these are rich chestnut colored small birds which are 15-20 cm lengthwise and weighing 50-80 grams. The males have rufous –orange throat, white mustache and are heavily barred with black and white underparts and dappled wings while the females has vinaceous-buff* underparts and head similar to the male.
They make harsh grating chee – chee – chuck – chee – chee – chuck
Like most quails, Jungle bush quail survives on a diet comprising of a variety of grass and weed seeds, like pannicum, millet, maw and lentils. They also eat maggots and small insect larvae.
In Ranthambhore this is one of the commonest quail species encountered can be seen in grassland and scrublands, can be seen all over in the park.
Jungle Bush Quail 
2.   Rock Bush Quail (Perdicula argoondah) – the male is similar to the Jungle Bush Quail can be easily confused but has much heavily barred underparts, a rufous stripe above the pale eyebrows but it lacks the moustachial stripe of the Jungle Bush quail. The female has a plain rufous face, whitish chin and pale supercilium. Length is usually 17- 19 cm & weighs 60-90 grams. Their habitat is similar to Jungle Bush quail. Good areas to see this bird is near Surval, Chanakyadeh and the hills of Balas.

Rock Bush Quail
3.   Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix) – It is interesting that this is the only quail which is a winter migrant. It is the most secretive of all game birds and is rarely seen even by avid birders, as most of the time it is hidden in dense vegetation therefore good places to see it are grasslands like Indiala, Balas table top. It travels through Europe, Asia, Africa & Madagascar. Because it has to fly relatively far it has long, pointed wings to support flight as compared to the shorter, rounded wings of other gamebirds. The male has black anchor mark on the throat missing in females and the female has a plainer pattern on her head than does the male, with duller markings and no neck or throat bands. Its call is interesting ‘wet my lips’ sound and this can help you look for it in the wild. Its length may go up to 20 cm while the weight can be 90-130 grams.
Common Quail
Common Quail - Male
Common Quail Female
Common Quail Female
4.   Rain quail (Coturnix coromandelica) - its appearance is very similar to the Common quail. The male has similar appearance to common quail but more strongly marked head pattern, and cinnamon sides to 433wthe neck and breast. Female is smaller as compared to the common quail and spots on the breast are delicate. However the calls are distinctly different from common quail - metallic chrink-chrink, constantly repeated mornings and evenings, and in the breeding season also during the night. Good areas to spot this very animated bird are the farmlands around Ranthambhore mostly in the monsoon.

Rain Quail
5.   Barred Buttonquail (Turnix suscitator) – it is grey billed & grey legged with bold barring on sides of neck, breast & wing coverts. It is rufous-brown above, rusty and buff below. Chin, throat and breast closely barred in black. Female larger and more richly coloured, with throat and middle of breast black. The blue-grey bill and legs, and yellowish white eyes are diagnostic, as are the pale buff shoulder patches on the wings when the bird is in flight. Absence of hind toe distinguishes Bustard and Button quails from true quails. Its usually seen in pairs, in scrub and grassland. Good places to see are outside the park like patch around nahargarh hotel.

Barred Buttonquail - female
Barred Buttonquail
Barred Buttonquails - male fighting

Barred Buttonquail female

6.   Yellow legged quail (Turnix tanki) – it also belongs to family of birds which resemble but are not true quails. This family is odd in this the female is large, colorful & polyandrous. Females offer food to the males during mating and once they lay the egg the male takes care of the eggs. They are tiny birds weighing 35-70 gm and are 15-18 cm long. The adult male has a black crown with a buff margin, and sometimes a buff central streak, and the female is richer colour and in having a broad, reddish-brown collar round the back of the neck. The spots and vermiculations on the back and tail are not so dark, the beak and legs are brighter yellow.

Yellow Legged Quail - Male and female (in grasses)
Yellow Legged Quail female

7.   Small Buttonquail (Turnix sylvaticus) – they are the smallest of the quail family found in India, 13 -14 cm length and weigh 35-80 grams,  the king quail standing a close second at 14 cm. They have very small, pointed tail. Grey bill and pinkish to greyish legs. It has sand brown upperparts and buff under parts with black flank markings. It resembles the common quail although it is not related to the true quails.
It is sighted in Ranthambhore mainly in the monsoon months as the remaining time it spends either in central India, good places to spot this very notoriously difficult bird are open grassland areas such as Kundal. Look for the calls, the female call are deep hoom –hoom –hoom and males replies are kek-kek-kek

Jogi started to say bye and walk off, ‘going to look for the quails, its monsoon time cant miss the opportunity, hope you too are out with your binoculars?!’

* Some terms simplified - 
Buff - Pale Yellow Brown color
Coverts - small feathers covering the bases of the longer feathers of a bird's wings or tail.
Vermiculation - like little worm, because the shapes resemble worms providing camouflage/ decoration. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The unfortunate death of T11

T11 with her cub from 2nd litter 
Jogi came back from the long meditation and returned to his beloved Ranthambhore, but sadly he was perturbed to hear about some tigress death and headed to meet Dharmendra Khandal – after some coaxing, Dharmendra narrated to Jogi about the incident…
On 25th a 12 year old tigress T11 was found dead, it is indeed a sad incident for Ranthambhore. Besides losing a female in the present scenario is also a significant loss for the park. T11 has gifted 7 tigers to the park through her 3 litters. She was a resilient tigress surviving in harsh landscapes and was mostly dwelling around Sawata - Bhid, she was special to us also because when the VWV started with their camera trapping exercise the first tiger captured was T11, and unfortunately it was them who informed the system about her death too.
She was found about 150 meters above ground on a steep hill, near a small water point called gular jherna. It was about 2-3 days past her death, and unlike other tigers in this situation her skin was still intact and so was the fur, she had no external injuries on her. There was a 40 feet long rock stretch from where she had slipped down before her death and there are claw marks on the rock which says she tried to hold herself before the final fall. The tip of the claws were all broken except for her front right ones – claws are usually very sharp, because they have important role while hunting. Also her one canine was chipped vertically and was shiny, which means it had come off recently.

She slipped 40 feet on this rock before the fatal fall
The site where she was found dead
The canine which was chipped vertically, looked like recently chipped
Broken Claw

The claw marking indicates that she tried to stop herself from falling
Intact body including the fur 
The rock on which her head collided and the same spot doctor said has a hematoma

The slop from where she fell

The Spot of her death in corridor area

As per the initial post-mortem there was a hematoma in her head at the site where the head hit the rock. Notably, there are also a sloth bear bone, fur and body parts in almost the same place, these must be a month ago – it is possible that T11 killed it.

On 22nd June, a VWV reported a tigress pugmark, however T11’s daughter also inhabits the same landscape so that is a possibility.
This was the incident scene, however there are 3-4 things to be noted:

1.  She had slipped alive and this is proven by the broken claws as she used them to stop herself.
2.  A cat slipping is a worst case scenario, this could be because of an old sickness, injury (although there was no external injury on T11), there was a fight with other tiger or sloth bear, but in this case she has no injury and there are no evidence of another tiger.
3 There is a delay of 2-3 days and its difficult to gather evidence in natural habitat – this place is situated in difficult terrain and thus tracking is not easy. 
4. Lastly, she could be chasing something speedily and fell, there is also a possibility of poisoning for this enough bodily materials were gathered and tests will be done.

Jogi read in the paper that the Forest department didn’t find out about her death etc, and smiled thinking that how many people are ignorant about the fact that the VWV is a team constituted by the forest department knowing that they are requiring assistance by village volunteers and this is their program and team that helped track tigers far and wide.

The tigress T11 was last spotted in a VWV camera on 6th June

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Madhosinghpura - Bairwa Basti - Step towards a beautiful painted village

​From Dharmendra Khandal to Mr Mrityunjay Singh ji (Meetu Bana). A reply to his handwritten letter thanking Dharmendra for meeting Meetu Bana’s friend from South Africa Mr Fred Smith – a Naturalist and private Game reserve ranger.

Dear Meetu Sir,
After many year I received a hand written letter. Thank you for sending it.
Your friend Fred Smith was very down to earth individual and took immense interest even in lesser level taxa of biodiversity. He donated US $ 1000, it was a very kind and generous support for the cause.

 Fred Smith - wildlife game Ranger from Dulini Lodge - Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa.

We used his money in a very interesting project. The project is an effort towards making an 'Adarsh Gaon'​ - Ideal village in Modern India. My wife Divya started a drive to encourage villagers towards creating beautiful surrounding in their villages. She is feeling that with the present government taking the initiative of cleanliness and hygiene it is important for individuals and responsible organizations to participate in all ways that they can to create a better India. Her effort is to adopt 1 village near the Ranthambhore National park and work continuously for its betterment which will encourage the others around to follow suit. The selected village is called Madhosinghpura Bairwa basti. This village is situated at the periphery of the Ranthambhore National Park, its population is about 450 individuals (including children). A total of 45 families reside in it. Most of the villagers are working as daily wagers or in close by hotels or establishments.
The village has cemented road and 2 sided drain which is cemented on two sides but not in the bottom, because of this reason the villages filled it with soil and closed it. 

The Situation of the village before intervention 

Garbage scattered around the village

The well at the entrance of the village 

the roads are covered with mucky water, kids and bikers skid often

This has led to the water and waste to flow on the streets. The slippery roads due to the drain water have not only created heaven for mosquitoes and flies but also the kids slip on it and bikes skid too! She approached villagers and motivated them to clean the drains and clear the garbage from the surrounding periphery. 

Three government officials have been approached to help in the project- former collector of Sawai Madhopur Mr. Giriraj Singh Kushwaha, present ADM Mr. Ishawar Singh Rathore and Ranthambhore Field Director Mr. YK Sahu. All three officials guided her in the endeavour. ADM keenly monitoring the process and gave her confidence that whenever there is need for government agency intervention he will make sure that it’s available. Mr Sahu said that if there is any financial hurdle, he will make it available through tiger conservation as the village is on the periphery of the national park. 

Mr Giriraj Singh Kushwaha (former Collector - Sawai Madhopur)

Mr Y K Sahu (Field Director RTR)

Mr Ishwar Singh Rathore (ADM - Sawai Madhopur)

But the work has started with the seed money of Fred Smith, initially the plan was to engage 10 boys and 10 girls in working 10 days; their wages to be given from the ₹. 60,000 and they would give 3 days of free service as it was for the betterment of their own villages. 

A day was decided to start the work but instead of 20 people there were about 95 women already doing work, not a single man engaged. 

Women engaged in the cleaning work

Divya was very shocked to see so many women and told them that since so many were engaged they would have to finish the work in 2 days instead of 10 days as there was limited fund for the particular project.

cleaning drive in progress 

The drainage was cleared and cleaned in 3 days, roads were cleaned, and many tractor trolleys of garbage was taken away and disposed in the village’s communal garbage dump site. When it was calculated, ₹. 150,000 was already spent in the labour work.

Village youth awaiting to receive the funds for purchasing the construction material

About seven hours have been invested by Divya in the project, So total of ₹ 350,000 worth of work is done money wise and actually ₹ 70,000 has been invested. The Oberoi Vanyavilas has supported with 20,000 for the project, so there is ₹. 10,000 still in hand. The basics of the village have improved.

Drains being constructed

The next phase is to make it a painted village, with rural depictions and aboriginal designs. Also the community hall needs some basic repair and the community well needs a shed where women can bathe etc.

It is a process and it looks achievable.
This is what has been happening, one things after another. I had wished to write to Fred but not that I have written all this in detail to you, I will request Divya to upload it in her blog.
Hope to see you sometime.
Warm Regards,
Dharmendra Khandal

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ranthambhore Tiger Diary 2013 before park closing ...

2013 Ranthambhore Tigress chronicles -

This season has come with a new challenges for the park. Of the human related ones there is a threat which may potentially take the lives of the precious tigers by themselves. The park now has a sex ratio of one to one ideally, this should be 3:1 females to male. We have 13 adult females living alongside 12 males in the park. Even in the cubs we have almost 14 male cubs and 9 female cubs and recently spotted cub from tigress T41 which we are not sure of whether its male or female. 

This has already started the trouble in the small piece of tiger haven with the sub adult males trying to push their siblings to fabricate their own territories. Tigers being territorial, each one wants the a piece of land. T26 a shy tigress in a rather non-tourist part of Ranthambhore has raised with care and concern her 3 male cubs in this litter, she was aware the challenge will be at home with all three males, there would be a bloody fight. The dominant brothers have now pushed one of her cubs firmly out of the park. He has walked into the Madhya Pradesh's Datiya forest range...

It’s interesting to note - at this point, of the 13 adult females, 10 females have cubs that they are still nurturing and 2 are single, and one is unknown she has some relation with T26 may be daughter or sister of T26. Grandmother Machali – the most celebrated tigress of Ranthambhore, is now 17 – lives in the mainstay area of the park in Lakarda. It is concerning that most of the females on the other hand are raising their cubs in the periphery of the park and when the dispersal would happen there is bound to be cubs walking out into the unknown.
Six females can be seen by visitors, as their territories lie in the tourism zones of the park while seven live in the non-tourism zones.

These most admired ladies of the landscape are the Chidi Kho female or Ladli (T8) with her two cubs. Machali (T16), her daughter from the last litter Unnis, now called Krishna too (T19) who has just left 3 sub adult cubs – Unnis has taken the dynasty forward by having her control over the lake area after sister Satara (T17) left (later went missing). Mala (or Noor) T39, is often seen with her mischievous cub Sultan. Laila (T41) has recently been sighted with a really young cub, and Gayatri (T22) does not have any cubs at this time. Lastly, there was the tiger queen Satra or T17, who had three cubs. She was pushed by male tiger T28 after a fight and had settled at the fringe of the park near  some unfriendly villagesshe went missing a month ago, leaving her 11-month-old cubs behind. The cubs are now being raised by the forest department.

A very unfortunate death was that of T37 in March 2013, the last blood of the Guda lineage, the Forest department raised T37 & her brother after their mother had died. The brother was radio collared and had started to live on his own but without being trained by the mother, he met his fate when a male tiger T42 killed him in a territorial fight. Later, his sister T37 settled in Sawai Mansingh Sanctuary and was often seen with the same tiger T42. We were hoping to see cubs in this new tiger home, which has become a triumph of conservation since 10 cattle herders were made into wildlife guides here and this area was opened to tourists recently.  With his mate gone, we are hoping that T42 finds himself a new mate soon.

We at Ranthambhore are happy and proud that this is probably the only place in the country, which has at any given point each tiger known and identified. This attainment been further elevated with the Rajasthan Forest Ministry taking a unique initiative of publishing a booklet-giving flank marking of all the tigers which is available to the public.
The extraordinary cooperation between the park staff, NGO’s like Tiger Watch, and the private sectors has ensured the present health of the park. More on Ranthambhore tigers coming soon... adios ! 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Welcoming the Summer Birds - Divya and Dharm

Indian Courser with chick

Indian Roller

Great Thickknee 

Small Indian Praticole

Indian Courser

Collared Pratincole 

Indian Pitta

Paradise Flycatcher Male (Juv.) 

Paradise Flycatcher

Yellow Wattled Lapwing

Pied coockoo


Crested Bunting 

Indian Golden Oriole