These field notes come to me, Daleep Akoi, owner of a unique jungle lodge at the edge of Corbett Tiger Reserve, India's oldest and most spectacular of wild life preserves. Our naturalists at Jim's Jungle Retreat send me regular bits about the forest and its residents; I write or edit them and upload it here for you.

Summertime in Corbett
Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Place: Jim’s Jungle Retreat
Photo: Majid Hussain 
The onset of summer not only brings rising temperatures but a certain degree of distress for Corbett Tiger Reserve’s wildlife and intricate ecological changes of our flora and fauna. A severe lack of water this year in part thanks to the lagging monsoon and near neglible winter
rains has played havoc with human and wildlife. For the farmer, the Rabi crop yield was a reduction from previous years, while profuse forest fires have taken a serious toll inside the national park. It seems a certain lack of preparedness – with non-clearance of fire lines on time, was the major reason for the uncontrollable spread of fire. GLOBAL WARMING TURNS UP THE HEAT Meantime, the effects of global warming were seen in December-January when Tendu (Diospyros melanoxylon or Indian Ebony tree or bidi patta) started fruiting while sloth bears (Melursus urcinus) were still in hibernation. Similarly Sal (Shorea robusta or the Reliable timber tree), the area’s dominant tree, did not begin flowering until the first week of May, when it should have been in flower by late March! Importantly, the above changes do have a bearing on the population density as well as sighting of animals in Corbett’s tourism zones. Tiger sightings in the Dhikala zone have drastically gone down owing to the untimely and mysterious deaths of four young tigers during the December-January period. Sightings in Jhirna are erratic owing to water shortage issues, while sightings in Bijrani have suffered because of similar reasons. Young and powerful tigers occupy the main water sources while the weaker ones move out to look for water or become opportunistic while taking their share of water from others territory. LATE BLOOMERS The delayed flowering of Sal might result in late seed dispersal. But there are other dry and moist decidous trees, associates of the Sal, that also flower at this time. Amaltas (Cassia fistula or Indian Laburnum) flower along with Shisham (Dalbergia sissoo or North Indian Rose Wood), Kusum (Schleichera oleosa or Indian Lac), Haldu (Adina cordifolia or Indian Turmeric) besides Dhak (Butea monsperma or Flame of the Forest). The Dhak or Pallas’s tree are striking to look at, their red fire flowers visible from a distance. As you approach a Dhak-infested area, the forest appears to have caught fire. Bakuli (Anogeissus latifolia or Indian Axle Wood Tree), one of the associates of Sal also flower along with Semal (Salmalia malabarica or Indian Kappock tree) whose pods burst with flying “Budhias” (a child’s moniker for the floating cotton balls!) The Rohini (Mallotus phillippensis or mark of the Indian married woman tree) has started fruiting and offers excellent relief to the male elephant about to attain its state of ‘Musth’. TIGER’S TALE A part of the tiger’s summer routine is to find and secure a water source. Despite the low availability of water, tiger sighting in this period is regular as tigers follow marked routes when reaching water bodies, as is the case with the Patharwa Nulla water source, a stone’s throw from Jim’s Jungle Retreat. A beautiful male leopard near the retreat has also become resident because of water availability near the property. A similar schedule has also been observed at the high bank or Gorkha Sot while on the way to Dhikala. In Bijrani, waterhole No. 6 and Garjia Sot are the most sought after vantage points for visitors and in Jhirna, a patient wait at the waterhole in Jarh Paharh as well as Kothirao watch tower have yielded good tiger sightings. ELEPHANT BEAT With harvesting done, agricultural fields on the park’s peripheries are now barren. But the elephant population continues to try its luck for bamboo outside the forests towards Dhela and Laldhang. Most elephant sightings in the last 20 days or so have occurred outside Jhirna and Bijrani tourism zones. Wild elephant populations, in small and medium-sized herds are seen frequently in the Dhikala zone. An occasional big tusker can often be sighted in the vicinity of the largely female herds, giving an indication that the first pre-monsoon showers might well induce a fight among the males for their right over a elephant harem. Serpent Eagle, Photo: Daleep Akoi BIRDING PARADISE On the birding front, some of the peninsular migrants such as paradise flycatcher, Indian pitta, brain fever bird or Common Hawk cuckoo, etc. have already arrived. The length of paradise flycatcher tails can be seen increasing as eclipsed males begin to change their colours. The Indian cuckoo or ‘kaphal pako’ bird have brought down the message from the hills that the Indian black current has ripened and its time to return to the hills! Meantime, the Yellow-footed Green Pigeon and Emerald Dove species have begun their courtship rituals. The bursting flowering of trees in the forest has kept the insectivorous birds busy, while this is the time for our resident raptor population to breed. One can hear the territorial calls and abrupt flights of the Changeable Hawk Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Indian Honey Buzzard and the Pallas’s Fishing Eagle. The smallest raptor of Corbett, the Collared Falconet, also breeds at this time. The Great Indian Hornbill and the Oriental Pied Hornbill are also seen on the top canopies of semi-evergreen trees. The Great Hornbills are very vocal in these months, looking out for a possible mate. Their call is similar to that of a Langur’s alarm on seeing a tiger! Despite a lazy and often distressing summertime for the park’s wildlife, there is plenty of animal and bird behaviour to witness, discover and rejoice. We hope to see you here soon! Thanks and happy sighting!

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