Saturday, May 13, 2023

2023-04-21-23 Pench Tiger Reserve (Turia and Khursapar)

Watching tiger in wild is always a thrilling experience.

And I had the oppotunity to witness this multiple times at Tadoba.

But I wished to visit other tiger reserves too.

In Jan-Feb 2023 one of our friend (Vaishali) decided to take the lead to arrange a trip to Pench.

The discussion started with Tadoba but since we had already visited it we decide to explore Pench, the one that inspired Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.

Train tickets on Duronto upto Nagpur were booked and then came the question of arranging other logistics.

Vaishali talked to many tour operators (small and big) to find the best package.

And we zeroed in on the package provided by Nature Explorers India (earlier Mumbai Travellers) 

The stay was booked at Beyond Stay Mahua Vann which turned out to be one of the best part of the visit.

6 of us started on night of 20th April 2023 and reached Nagpur on 21st Morning.

The car was already arranged and it was waiting for us.

We stopped at a MHKS Highway plaza for breakfast at around 8.30am.

The food was really good but the service was little slow so we ended up spending 1hour.

Finally reached Mahua Vann at 10.30am. So not a long journey as such from Nagpur which was the good part.

The location and rooms are really awesome.

High ceiling rooms with lot of space in the room plus a really huge bathroom.

Picture From website

Rooms are not built in a single building but in clutches spread over the big property so basically a lot of greenary, flowering trees and birdlife around. 

Just behind our room was a waterbody.

Where the rooms end starts a dirt road that seemed to have old trees around, so basically an untouched habitat.

This path lead to a stream.

After freshening up we decided to take a stroll even if the sun was shining harsh.

But it did not feel that hot or may be because were expecting really very hot mid noon and that was not the case.

The common hawk cuckoo was continuously calling not just the first day but every day for the whole day for the next 3 days.

With its rising crescendo giving its another name Brainfever bird and its call worded as paus-aala (rain has come) in Marathi giving its name Pavshya.

The other birds that we saw and heard on our short excursion within the property

Pale billed Flowerpecker

Purple Sunbird

Brown Headed Barbet

Black Hooded Oriole

Large cuckooshrike

Jungle babblers

Plum Headed Parakeets

Oriental Magpie Robin

And also Hanuman Langurs

And living upto the name there were Mahua trees :-)

We had our lunch at 1, had some short nap and started for the safari at around 3.15pm from our Hotel.

21st April 2023 - Turia Gate,MP 3:45pm

The safari starts at 3:45pm and it takes around 15-20 to reach the Turia gate.

We had 3 safaris (21st eve, 22nd Mor and 23rd Mor) from Turia in Madhya Pradesh and 22nd Eve safari from Khurapar Gate in Maharashtra.

Pench Tiger reserve is around 60% in Madhya Pradesh and 40% in Maharastra including core and buffer areas.

We came to know that in MP a larger 8 seater TATA Xenon is also allowed compared to the smaller Maruti Gypsy.

So we decided that for the remaining safaris we will go for that as with all 6 with cameras the seats are quite small to move around.

The safari started with not so much activity as ofcourse it was still quite hot.

At a small water body we saw a flock of Lesser Whistling ducks, Pair of spot billed ducks, a pair of Pied Kingfishers and many Sambar deers cooling off.

A little ahead we encountered a very bold jackal.

As soon as we spotted it we stopped the car and we thought that it would move away from us.

But to our surprise it came towards us and passed our vehicle from about 6 feet from us.

At a waterhole little ahead we saw a Chital with its 2 fawns drinking water.

It was fun to watch the fawns moving around the adult confidently but not moving too far from it.

As it was summer and most of the vegetation being deciduous the leaves had been shed.

Indian Hornbill and Indian Rollers were seen multiple times in a single safari and this was every day whether morning or evening safari.

But here we also saw a Black Rumped Flameback, again quite common in Pench, but this time we saw it hopping on the ground and in fact threatening a common myna.

Common Myna was another interesting observation that I had not seen in Tadoba. They are in plenty inside the core area than outside.

And this was another species that was seen all throughout the safaris.

There is a Breakfast point demarcated by the forest department and the guides & drivers are also very particular that tourists should only have their food here and nowhere else in the jungle. This I found was really good so that there is less possibility of polluting the core habitat.

Very near the breakfast point is a place where the backwaters need to crossed and there is a huge grassland kind that is formed.

Here, we are almost at the water level and we got good views of Brahminy Shelducks.

There were some Chitals and a wild boar was crossing calmly.

Just then there was a comotion and we saw a Jackal came running from the other side of a small hillock crossed the road in front of us and went towards the water climbing another hillock. That was not the main point but that it was carrying a big piece of probably a chital kill.

Quite strong jaws to hold a big prey while running such a long distance.

This was also accompanied by the sight of a Malabar Pied Hornbill flying accross and we all got good flight photos.

As said earlier the Rollers were plenty and also the black rumped flamebacks were not uncommon.

Here are some more pics of the same form the later in the day.

A colorful Red Junglefowl was also seen moving in the grass.

The evening was spent photographing some Langurs and Rhesus Macaques.

The day ended with the first raptor of the day :-) , the White Eyed Buzzard.

More about White Eyed Buzzard sighting in upcoming days.

The safari ends at 7pm and we were back at Mahua Vann by 7.30pm.

Before dinner we heard the calls of a Jungle nightjar from far off and 

post dinner stroll in the campus produced a Russell’s Kukri which Rahul just missed by few millimetres :-)

The next day 22nd April 2023 was going to be a long day as the morning safaris are longer - 5:45am to 11am

And evening safari was from Khursapar gate in Maharashtra which was around 30min from our hotel.

Additionally one can enter earlier than MP i.e. 3pm instead of 3:45pm

22nd April 2023 - Turia Gate, MP 5:45am

As planned we started at around 5.20am from Mahua Vann.

Morning started with flock of 15-20 chestnut starlings and few Brahminy starlings at the gate.

As we entered sun was just rising.


In the forest its always a fun to hear a combination of bird calls one hears.

Here is one such 30s audio comprising of Brown Headed Barbet, Common Hawk Cuckoo, Purple Sunbird and Indian Grey Hornbills at the end.

Earlier day we had followed the Route No. 3. The guide had told us to request for Route No 1 as it is a longer route and good to do in morning.

A little ahead on the route we saw Indian Thicknee. We saw them in fact twice in our trip very well camouflaged on the yellow grass but very near the road.

Racket Tailed Drongo an expert mimicry artists were another species that were seen many times in the safari and they used to make varied calls.

Got some usual species like the spotted dove and the Indian Roller on the way.

Yesterday had enquired with our guide about the sighting of Mottled Wood-Owl and he had mentioned that there is a roosting spot on Route 1.

So as soon as we approached a spot where some jeeps were waiting and looking high up in the tree I anticipated and this was it.

And there it was a pair of Mottled Wood-Owl. One was looking down at the jeeps while the other was sitting well camouflaged.

Little ahead a White Eyed Buzzard gave us good views than yesterday.

After a good Hour and a half drive we came to a point where there were lot of jeeps waiting.

Our guide had a very sharp eye sight and before asking he could spot the tiger sitting.

It was very difficult to spot it as it was sitting on the other side of the canal on a slope within lot of bushes and grass.

He showed us the porcupine quills on the side of the road and probably the tiger had killed it and now were sitting in the shade feeding or resting.

It was not just one tiger but 4 tigers a tigress and 3 cubs.

But since they were resting in the canal nothing was much visible so our guide decided to take a drive around to find another tiger, have breakfast and then comeback to see if they were still around.

We were back in around 1hour and they were still there.

Our luck was really good and soon after sometime we arrived at the spot the tigers started to move.

The question was whether they would climb the hillock and vanish to the other side or come towards the road and cross towards the other side for water.

Our guide was very knowledgeble and stopped the car at a place and also instructed the gypsies behind to stay where they were creating a gap of around 100feet or so to allow the tigers to cross.

But there were too many vehicles and the tigers were too afraid to cross. Sad to see that.

But finally one of them mostly the mother took the first step and crossed from behind our vehicle.

And then a cub walked further down passing our vehicle from within the thickets and crossed in front of us.

We didn't have the clear shots as ours was in the middle but we got good views and that was good enough.

Finally we ended our safari with the sighting of a monitor lizard on an ant hill.

At the main gate there is a government run shop which sells souvenirs and we bought some T-Shirts and Caps.

We were back at the hotel by 11.30 or so. But today we didn't had much time to take rest.

We had lunch and had to leave at 2:15 as our safari was from Khursapar in Maharashtra at 3pm.

Before leaving the hotel we had a nice view of Racket Tailed Drongo taking dip in the lotus pond within the campus.

22nd April 2023 - Khursapar, MH Gate 3:00pm

Just a few kms from the Khursapar gate of Pench we were welcomed by a pack of Wild Dogs or Dhole.

The alpha male was very bold and was staring at us and checking out if we were dangerous :-)

It gave us good views, crossed the road to the other side to drink water and was back with the pack. There were around 8-10 of them.

The forest on the maharastra side was very different. Firstly there was not so much teak here so it did not appear that dry.

There were these trees with black bark and small green leaves and that gave the forest a very pleasant feel.

Also the terrain here was very hilly. We were almost always either climbing up or going down a small hillock.

We were told that these hillocks and rocks provide a perfect habitat for leopards to thrive here.

But unfortunately we could not sight any.

But anyway we had interesting bird sightings and atleast at 2 places we heard alarming calls and then waited for some sign of tiger.

But unfortunately no tiger sighting.

The first sighting though of the usual bird was the Indian Roller.

But the interesting part was the behavior.

Initially we just saw a single Roller but later came second, third and a forth roller.

There was some display either for territory or for breeding.

Finally 2 of them flew away and then 2 of them sat on a branch and did a display.

Took a series of pics of this and here is the animation of the same.

Little later we saw a White Eyed buzzard again not uncommon but it had caught something.

It went and sat on nice open branch and we could capture it feeding on the frog it had caught.

Little ahead we stopped to see something and almost completely missed a huge Oriental Honey Buzzard sitting camouflaged right in front.

Got really good views of this pigeon headed raptor.

At Baginnalla Waterhole we waited for sometime to see if there was some activity.

And here we saw a big rat snake.

We started our return journey and came across another pair of Indian Thicknee, Red Junglefowl and Racket Tailed Drongo.

Just outside the gate we heard the Jungle Nightjar and Indian Cuckoo.

Back at Mahua Vann by 7:15pm.

Hi-Tea and pakodas were waiting for us :-)

Today we spent sometime chatting on various topics on the table outside the dining hall.

It had rained a bit in the afternoon and so the weather was quite pleasant.

23rd April 2023 - Turia,MP Gate 5:45am

Next day was going to be the last safari of the trip.

It was not very eventful except for sighting of the male and female tigers at long distance.

There were otherwise usual sightings.

One other important sightings was sight of 8-10 white rumped vultures flying high up in the sky near the breakfast point.

Back at the hotel we got ready to checkout of our rooms.

We had time after that till lunch and post lunch too till our vehicle arrived to take us back to Nagpur.

Plan was to do some birding in the campus itself and take a stroll towards the stream.

In the campus we got the Orange Headed Thrush, Black Naped Monarch, Jungle Babblers, Plum Headed Parakeet, Oriental White eye, Oriental Magpie Robin, Red Spurfowl and Large Cuckooshrike. And also a Forest Calotes.

Back at the stream the main activity was of Black Hooded Oriole, Coucal with lizard, Rufous Treepie, Large Cuckooshrike and Jungle Owlet. The jungle owlet was calling out loud

With this we ended a very nice trip with not a lot of tiger sightings but overall good bird and mammal sightings !!