Simlipal Tiger Reserve (STR) is part of one of the largest contiguous tiger and elephant habitats in the world. With a Biosphere Area of over 5,000 sq km, it is one of the most promising landscapes for tigers and their prey species. To me, it was a long time quest that finally got fulfilled! The Pale-capped Pigeon or Purple Wood Pigeon(Columba punicea)is one of India’s rarest birds (Vulnerable C2ai). I had struggled to try and find this bird over the years in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and parts of eastern Odisha (Satkosia & Bhubaneswar). Not even a glimpse! Thanks to the advice of IFS officer Manoj Nair, who had extensively reported this bird from Simlipal Tiger Reserve where he served as Field Director, I made a trip in the second week of May to Simlipal Tiger Reserve in western Odisha.
I was thrilled to find the bird in the area described by Manoj and counted a total of 37 birds at a point in time when they were at a salt lick amidst Sal forest (Shorea robusta). There could have been more birds still in the trees or left the lick. They were from multiple flocks and were congregating at dawn and dusk. Many thanks to Aditya Panda who helped me plan this trip plus Wajid bhai who, as a local guide, knows the precise spot. The birds were quite far and these are significantly cropped images using Canon 1DX + 800mm + 1,4x.
Simlipal has frequently been in the news for extensive poaching especially elephants. Huge settlements exist inside the park (last few images) and human activity is very high. In 2010, after a number of elephant deaths were reported, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) constituted an independent assessment team on 3rd June 2010. The two-team members (Biswajit Mohanty and Belinda Wright) proceeded immediately to Simlipal to visit the Tiger Reserve from 6 to 11 June 2010. Here is their report.