It was only when we took our first jeep ride into Kaziranga National Park did we realize why this place was synonymous with the one-horned Rhinoceros.
They are everywhere!! Dotting the otherwise stark elephant grass landscape, they graze blissfully unaware of the many eyes staring at them. In fact our welcome into the Park was a few miles before at Kanchanjhuri, where our driver stopped the car at a look out point just off the highway and pointed out four Rhinos in an area less than a square kilometer. “This is Kaziranga for you sir,” he proudly exclaimed. Watching Rhinos at such close quarters from the National Highway left us in complete awe.
The 100-year old Protected Area is spread over 430sq. km with the mighty Brahmaputra along its north and the National Highway 37 forming its southern boundary. Its habitat consists primarily of tall, dense elephant grasslands scattered with tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen forests. The short grasses adjoining the numerous small lakes or 'bheels' are where one can spot rhinos, water buffalos, elephants, swamp deer (eastern race) and a myriad of water birds including the Greater & Lesser Adjutant Stork, Black-necked Stork, Bengal Florican (very rare), Northern Lapwing, Pied Harrier etc. Raptors abode this place – Grey headed and Pallas’ s Fishing Eagles, Harriers, Kestrels and several aquila Eagles.
Our sojourn into this famed reserve started with jeep rides into the popular Central Range. Our very first ride yielded views of the some & striking Khaleej Pheasant and the hard to see Swamp Francolin. The Park is divided into three divisions – Central, East and West. While the Western range is mostly grassland interspersed with bheels, Eastern is the birder’s paradise, with it evergreen forests. Debeshwari, in the Eastern division (entry needs special permission from the Park Director), is a recommended place to get glimpses of the Greater Adjutant, Black-breasted Parrot Bill and also the rare Bengal Florican.
We stayed at the much-hyped Wild Grass resort, which needs a serious infrastructure overhaul. However, we were extremely thankful to Jhintu, our bird young and enthusiastic guide was assigned to us. He was not only familiar with the local birds but also surprised us with his knowledge of their vocalizations.
Our visits to Panbari Reserve Forest and the nearby tea garden (both mentioned in Krys’ book – Bird watching guide to India), were discovery of sorts. The sound of the Hoolock Gibbons morning calls reverberate as you enter Panbari. Following the calls, it was easy to sight the lonely and less shy male in the forest canopy. Restless and frantic he did not give any great photo ops. We also spotted the Pygmy Blue Flycatcher, the Grey-bellied Tesia, Striped Tit Babbler, and White-throated Bulbul. Trekking through Panbari’s neatly laid trail was also very refreshing. The highlight of the tea garden was the great view of an Oriental Hobby finishing its feed on top of a tree perch at the break of dawn. Here, chasing the White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Green magpie, Greater & Lesser Necklaced Laughing thrush was tiring yet rewarding.