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Home >> Hotspots >> Kaziranga
 

Kaziranga (Assam)

Jul 28, 2005 at 06:32 AM
 
If Kaziranga were not so closely identified with the rhino, its claim to fame would probably be the fact that it is one of the world’s finest birding destinations. I have lived in Kaziranga for most of my life and have experienced the magic of the park year after year. There is no ‘off season’ in Kaziranga.  As the months roll by the flavour of the park changes, the mood changes, the vistas change. This is a characteristic of the Brahmaputra Valley where the season’s change every three months, and with it the entire natural living canvas.
 
February
With every passing winter’s day, I notice that the birds are becoming increasingly vocal.  The White-tailed Rubythroat that winters in the grasslands now begins to sing, as do the resident endemic babblers including the Slender-billed.  This vocalization is a way of maintaining territories, which in turn determines reproductive success.  I record birdsong and to my mind one of the most fascinating song sequences is that of the Assam Bushlark, with its ascending flight and accompanying song. Its scientific (Latin) name is Mirafra assamica, yet it is inexplicably referred to in most bird books as the Bengal Bushlark, rather than the Assam Bushlark.  This seems illogical to me, particularly when Houbaropsis bengalensis is universally called the Bengal Florican.

The days are now shorter and night birds are much more prominent during excursions after dark. One sees and hears the Large-tailed Nightjar and Brown Hawk-Owls more often. The most common owl in the park by far is, however, the Asian Barred Owlet, which most visitors driving through forested tracts in Kaziranga can spot.
 
March
A sea of grass stretches to the horizon. Behind me flows the Brahmaputra, strong and silent. It is 1998 and David Bishop (a British ornithologist) and I are at Debeswari in the north-eastern part of Kaziranga in search of Bengal Floricans. These newly-formed alluvial grasslands provide ideal habitat for these highly endangered grassland birds. It does not take us long to find them, thanks to their spectacular mating flight. We see not one, but two displaying Bengal Floricans, each fluffing up its breast feathers and propelling themselves up into the air, only to descend slowly in a ritual perfected over millions of years. As we were watched these birds a beautiful male Pied Harrier skimmed over the grassland, literally over the Florican.  

I live for unpredictable and delightful sights such as these. And no matter how rare and wondrous a sight I see, I know that yet another will surely turn up to eclipse the one that took my breath away. This is probably my greatest motivation to be in the field .And when I am asked what my most exciting birding experience has been, I reply:

“The next one…”.

 Kaziranga in March is a haven for birders. Most avians have established territories and I experiment with their reactions by playing back songs and calls that I have recorded.
They respond with vigour by flying out to challenge the non-existent electronic intruder. I do not use this method frequently, but on the few occasions when I needed to identify shy and skulking grassland birds about which hardly anything is known, I have used the strategy to great advantage.  

As we move through a clump of Phragmites reeds, we hear a whistling call.  “Parrotbill” I half-jokingly announce to David, referring to the Black-breasted Parrotbill, a bird that hardly anyone has seen in the recent past.  David smirked in response.  But we taped the call anyway and when we played it back a few times, sure enough it was an incredible Black-breasted Parrotbill that flew out of the reeds!  This was a rediscovery of the bird in Kaziranga. Past records suggest it existed here in the early part of the 20th century.

While people are justifiably concerned about the loss of forest species, it is the grass-land birds of Assam that are most threatened. These birds do not belong to particularly threatened families, but human modification of their habitat has made them scarce.

Which is why areas like Debeswari along the Brahmaputra must be fully protected if we are to have any hope at all of ensuring that this fascinating park and its diverse lifeforms are secure well into the future.
 
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