Sunderbans Trip Report
by Sumit Sen
January 2006

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The Trip begins...

We reached Sunderbans Jungle Camp, the rustic and quaint resort run by Help Tourism at mid-day. The journey took us under 5 hours from the time we left home. The resort is located on the island of Bali ~ one of the southernmost inhabited island in the Indian Sunderbans. Bali is bordered by the Gumdi on the south, the mighty River Bidya on the north, Khanakhali on the west and the Duragaduani on the east. The resort is located on the banks of the Gumdi and overlooks the Sunderban Tiger Reserve and National Park. 
Bali is home to 40,000 residents who constantly struggle against the elements to eke out a living from agriculture, fishing and collection of forest produce.

© Sumit K Sen 2006
Traditional welcome, Bali Jungle Camp

While the rest of the group stretched their legs, the intrepid photographer scouted the area around the Jungle Camp for avian subjects. Bird number 1 on Bali was a fine Indian Silverbill - a species not previously reported from the area. A great start to the trip! 

© Sumit K Sen 2006
Indian Silverbill

Common Kingfisher, Green Bee-eater, Jungle Babbler, Oriental Magpie Robin and Plain Prinia were also in evidence around the Camp. 

Post a memorable lunch we headed for the Sajnekhali Forest Office to get our first taste of wild Sunderbans and, more importantly, to pick-up our Forest Guide. Leaving Bali we crossed the Gumdi heading east meeting boatloads of very cheerful holiday makers on the journey. A short halt at Sajenkhali and a chance to say hi! to the rather touristy Rhesus Macaques thronging the jetty. Next stop was the Sudhanykhali watchtower. Sudhanykhali is usually a nice place to see Water Monitors, Spotted Deer, Red Junglefowl and the occasional tiger (a tourist saw 4 a couple of days before our visit). We were looking forward to spending some quiet time in the forest as the sun set around us.

But that was not to be! On the day of our visit, the jetty was blocked by an invasion of tourist boats and we decided to stay away from the crowds and enjoy the serenity of the ride instead.

As the boat turned from the jetty, a flash of orange and red caught our eye on the opposite bank. Here was a chance to see one of the most enigmatic kingfishers in India, the threatened Brown-winged Kingfisher. This large Kingfisher is a mangrove specialist and can be found in places as far as Lankawi (Malayasia), Bhitarkanika (Orissa) and the Sunderbans. Nowhere is it seen in large numbers and nowhere is it common. So a boatload of us had the rare treat of watching this beauty taking its evening bath - a truly memorable moment!

© Sumit K Sen 2006
Brown-winged Kingfisher

Coastal areas are renowned for the beauty of their sunrise and sunset. Sunderbans, to me, is a sunset place. At this time the sky assumes myriad hues which reflect on the calm waters creating brilliant sparkles which are framed against the backdrop of dark and silent jungles. 

 © Sumit K Sen 2006

Back to base for the night, but the birding never stops, even after sundown! Bali island, like most areas of the Sunderbans, has no electricity. Help Tourism uses solar lights at Jungle Camp. The only bright light in miles is a surefire invitation to insects and inevitably to those creatures of the night who live off insects. The Spotted Owlet watching us with a certain amount of disdain is thus a regular at the Camp ~ keeping the mice down and the visitors entertained

© Sumit K Sen 2006
Spotted Owlet

......end of Day One


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