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Sunderban Area Trip Reports
~ by Sumit K Sen

© Sumit K Sen

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I visited the Sunderbans delta on three different occasions between 29th December 2003 and 5th June 2004. A combined total of 7days was spent in the area on these trips. This report summarizes the observations made by me and accompanying birders. Given the topography of the area, and the fact that most of the birding has to be done from a motorized boat/launch, the list of 114 birds is only representative of the species one can expect to see.



Area covered

29/12 - 30/12/03

Bikram Grewal; Asit Biswas

Sajnekhali, Sudhannokhali, Netidhopani

26/3 - 28/3/04

Asit Biswas

Sudhannokhali, Netidhopani, Dobaki, Bali Island

4/6 - 5/6/04

Asit Biswas

Sudhannokhali, Dobaki, Bali Island

Highlights: Brown-winged Kingfisher; Collared Kingfisher; Lesser Yellownape; Green-billed Malkoha; Orange-breasted Green Pigeon; Ruddy-breasted Crake; Grey-headed Lapwing; Short-toed Snake Eagle; Peregrine Falcon; Lesser Adjutant; Mangrove Pitta; Plain Martin; Striped Tit-Babbler; Striated Babbler; Loten's Sunbird
( In italics: Rare for area or unrecorded previously)

Description: The Sunderbans are a part of the world's largest delta formed by the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. Situated on the lower end of Gangetic West Bengal, 22.00° N - 89.00° E, it is also the world’s largest estuarine forest. 70% of the area is under saline/brackish water and the area is criss-crossed by hundreds of creeks and tributaries. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sunderbans is a vast series of islands covering 4264 square km in India alone, with a larger portion in Bangladesh. 2585 sq. km of the Indian Sunderbans forms the largest Tiger Reserve and National Park in India. 
In a landscape dominated by great tidal creeks and waterways, the only way to access and enjoy the area is on motorized boats which come in various sizes and shapes. Sunderbans is the home of man eating tigers, estuarine crocodiles, sharks, poisonous snakes and pirates. The visitor has no choice but to stay within limits and out of trouble. This means that there is very little conventional bird-watching, more observations from water and at the various watch towers in the area. 

How to reach:
Sunderbans is accessed from Kolkata ( Calcutta) by traveling either towards the South East or the South West. The South West route takes one through Diamond Harbour to Kakdwip and Namkhana. You can take a boat from these places or from Gangadharpur and visit Lothian Island and surrounding areas.
The South Eastern route is more popular. You drive 86 kms through wetlands and agricultural land to reach Sonakhali. You can take a 3 hour boat ride from Sonakhali jetty to Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge/ Bali Jungle camp or cross over to Basanti. From Basanti take an auto-rickshaw ride to Gadkhali (11kms) and thereafter a ferry to cross the Bidya river to arrive at Gosaba. A Cycle Rickshaw ride will take you to Pakhiralaya in about half hour. Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge is across the river from Pakhiralaya. 
If you are staying at private resorts, they will arrange both ways transfer from Kolkata. All the trips that are covered under this report were handled by Help Tourism who run Bali Jungle Camp, an eco-tourist resort in Bali Island  which is across the river to Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary. Help Tourism provide pick-up from Kolkata to Bali Jungle Camp and launch service from Sonakhali to the resort. It takes about 4-5 hours to reach Bali Jungle Camp from Kolkata.

Where to stay:
Sunder Chital Forest Lode at Sajnekhali run by the Tourist Department is very basic and poorly appointed. Help Tourism's Jungle Camp at Bali island outside the reserve is well appointed but limited in size. Sunderban Tiger Camp at Dayapur, Gosaba is some distance from the park and has 14 rooms. They run conducted tours from Kolkata.

Very pleasant during November - February with lows in the 10oc's and highs touching 24oc. Gets warmer from March & by June highs can be an unbearable 36o~38oc. The monsoons arrive in full force by June and depart in September making travel difficult in this period.

1) Mosquitoes can be a problem and carrying repellent is advised.
2) The area has no electricity though the resorts run generators or use solar power. If you are staying at Sajnekhali Tourist Resort you can use the wired-off area to walk around.  the private camps are outside the reserve area and is surrounded by villages. Walking is unrestricted.
3) Very few amenities are available to buy in and around the Reserve Forest area. Food is generally provided by the tour organizer or is available at the resorts.
4) Bird watching involves travel along the main and subsidiary waterways to various watchtowers sprinkled across the National Park. Some watchtowers like Netidhopani are far and require a full day to visit and return.
5) Permits are required to visit the Tiger Reserve. They are issued at various embarkation points like Sonakhali, Canning etc. Permits are also issues at Sajnekhali Forest Office. Permits are inexpensive and can be taken for the duration of the trip.
6) Foreign tourists require a permit to visit which is obtained from the Jt. Secy (Forest), Govt. of West Bengal, Writers' Building, Kolkata. Tel# 2225-5601 ext. 411/754

List of Birds Seen
( Underlined names link to images from these trips)

Red Junglefowl Gallus gallus
Common at Sudhannokhali watchtower. Male seen on 27/3 & 4/6

Lesser Whistling-duck Dendrocygna javanica
Two pairs seen on 5/6 enroute to Dobaki watchtower. Large rafts of ducks numbering several thousands seen far away at dusk on the Matla river on 30/12 were possibly this species.

Gadwall Anas strepera
Flock of 11 birds on the Bidya river between Bali camp and Sajnekhali Tiger Reserve (STR)

Lesser Yellownape Picus chlorolophus
Pair seen well on the way to Sudhannokhali on 4/6. This bird is rarely recorded from the Sunderbans area.

Streak-throated Woodpecker Picus xanthopygaeus
Single male observed from the Sudhannokhali watchtower on 4/6.

Black-rumped Flameback Dinopium benghalense
Single record from Bali island on 27/3.

Common Hoopoe Upupa epops
At Dobaki watchtower on 27/3

Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Very common. Over 40 birds seen in December. Smaller numbers in later trips

Brown-winged Kingfisher Halcyon amauroptera
Only one bird seen well on the way to Netidhopani on 30/12. 3 birds seen by Sujan Chatterjee a week later.

White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis
Not common. 5 in December and a couple in March. None in June.

Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata
The most abundant Kingfisher in December with practically one at every turn. 6 in March and none in June.

Collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris
Seen on all trips. One bird on the way to Netidhopani in December. 7 birds in March notably at Bali Island and Dobaki watchtower. 5 birds in June and again at Dobanki which seems to be the best place to see this beautiful species.

Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis
Not common and seen in the fringes. One bird on the way to Sunderbans in December and a pair on the canal connecting Gosaba to the STR area on 26/3.

Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis
Seen in numbers during the December visit with 40+ at a roost near Bali Island. Smaller numbers in March and June.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater Merops philippinus
Pair on 4/6 inside the STR.

Common Hawk Cuckoo Hierococcyx varius
Heard at Bali island on 26/3 and 27/3

Plaintive Cuckoo Cacomantis merulinus
Male at Bali Island on 4/6 and two in flight inside the STR on 5/6.

Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea
Several seen at Bali Island on 4/6 and 5/6. Heard on all days during  March visit.

Green-billed Malkoha Phaenicophaeus tristis
Single bird seen at Netidhopani watchtower

Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis
Common. Seen or heard on all trips.

Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri
Common, seen on every trip. Often flocks of 100's seen in flight at dusk.

Asian Palm Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis
At Bali island and enroute on 29/12 and 4/6

Barn Owl Tyto alba
Two birds at Bali island village on 28/3

Spotted Owlet Athene brama
4 birds on Bali island on 28/3. Call recorded at Bali Jungle Camp on 4/6 where it is a nightly visitor.

Large-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus macrurus
Heard on 26/3 and 4/6 at Bali camp. One bird seen on the track to the camp on 27/3.

Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Common at Bali island.

Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis
2 birds seen on Bali island on 30/12.

Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis
Four on Bali island on 29/12, 30/12. Common at Bali during subsequent visits.

Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Common. 15-20 on all trips

Yellow-footed Green Pigeon Treron phoenicoptera
5 birds recorded at Netidhopani on 30/12. None on subsequent visits.

Orange-breasted Green Pigeon Treron bicincta
Two birds recorded at Netidhopani on 28/3 and 4 at a fruiting Banyan tree at Sudhannokhali on 4/6.

White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus
A noisy gathering of 6+ at Sudhannokhali on 4/6. A few observed on all trips

Ruddy-breasted Crake Porzana fusca
A juvenile seen well as it flushed at the Sudhannokhali watchtower on 4/6. This may be a new record for the area.

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
50+ seen in December and a flock of 25+
birds seen on the way back from Netidhopani on 27/3. Strangely, a pair of presumably over-wintering birds were seen on 5/6 at the water-hole at Dobaki during high tide.

Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata
5-6 birds on the mudflats on the way to Netidhopani from Bali on 30/12 and 27/3.

Common Redshank Tringa totanus
6 birds on the mudflats  on 29/12 and 30/12

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
8 birds observed from the boat on 30/12.

Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis
Observed near Malancha on the way to the STR on 26/3

Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Two birds seen on 29/12

Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Seen on the way to the STR on 29/12.

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Very common in December with over 100 birds counted. Stragglers in March and none in June.

Temminck's Stint Calidris temminckii
On the way to the STR on 29/12.

Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
40 plus near Malancha on the way to the STR during December visit

Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Observed near Malancha on the way to the STR in December.

Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
Observed on a drained out shallow water-body on the way to Sonakhali on 29/12 

Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
Observed on a drained out shallow water-body on the way to Sonakhali on 29/12. Two near Dobaki on 27/3.

Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii
Observed on a drained out shallow water-body on the way to Sonakhali on 29/12 

Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus
27 of these globally threatened birds at Malancha on the way to the Tiger Reserve on 29/12. This is a regular wintering site. The birds were however not observed on 26/3 at the same spot.

Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus
One bird seen in flight just after Sonakhali on 29/12

Pallas's Gull Larus ichthyaetus
5 birds seen on the way to Sonakhali on 29/12

Brown-headed Gull Larus brunnicephalus
A flock of 300+
seen fishing on the return trip from Netdhopani on 30/12. Scattered flocks on the Bidya river on 30/12, 26-28/3.

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Two birds seen in flight on the way to the STR on 29/12 were presumably of this species.

Great Crested Tern Sterna bergii
4 birds seen in flight over the Bidya river on 30/12 near Bali camp.

Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus
seen in December only.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus
One bird seen in flight just after Sonakhali on 29/12

Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus
Seen on both days in December with a nesting pair at Netidhopani. scarce in March and not recorded in June. 

White-bellied Sea Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster
Common during December visit along the major waterways. Presumably nesting pair near Netidhopani. Not seen on subsequent visits.

Short-toed Snake Eagle Circaetus gallicus
One bird seen well on the way to Netidhopani on 27/3

Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela
Opposite Bali island on 5/6. Single record.

Shikra Accipiter badius
One bird seen well at Bali island on 4/6

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
Single bird recorded near Dobaki on 29/12

Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger
Not common. One or two on all trips.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Commonest egret. 7-10 on each trip on the mudflats.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
A few near Malancha on the way to the STR on 29/12 and 26/3.

Great Egret Casmerodius albus
30+ in December over two days. Lesser number in March and unrecorded in June.

Intermediate Egret Mesophoyx intermedia
Only two birds seen on the way to Sudhannokhali were positively identified as this species on 29/12.

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Abundant in December but strangely unrecorded in subsequent visits.

Indian Pond Heron Ardeola grayii
A few seen on all trips.

Little Heron Butorides striatus
Recorded in December and June.

Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis
One bird seen in flight near Bali camp on 4/6

Black Bittern Dupetor flavicollis
Heard on 29/12. Common in June when over 7 birds were recorded in various parts including an individual at the small pond in Bali Jungle Camp.

Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus
Relatively common on the waterways with good views of 2-3 birds on each trip. This globally threatened bird seems to be making a comeback in the area.

Mangrove Pitta Pitta megarhyncha
One bird heard calling near Bali island on 4/6

Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
One or two in December and March

Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach
ssp. tricolor at Bali island on 4/

Rufous Treepie Dendrocitta vagabunda
3 birds near Bali camp on 4/6 and 5/6

House Crow Corvus splendens
Common on Bali island

Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos

Ashy Woodswallow Artamus fuscus
birds seen on the way to the STR perched by the roadside on 29/12

Black-hooded Oriole Oriolus xanthornus
Common on Bali island.

Large Cuckooshrike Coracina macei
One bird seen well inside the STR on 4/6

Small Minivet Pericrocotus cinnamomeus
A few on all trips inside the STR area. 4 at Sudhannokhali watchtower on 4/6.

[Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus
A male with deep scarlet underbelly and contrasting black and scarlet plumage was most likely of this species. This observation requires confirmation as there are no previous records from the area

Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus

Bronzed Drongo Dicrurus aeneus
Netidhopani watchtower is a good place to look for these birds. seen on both the December and March visit to this area.

Spangled Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus
One bird seen well on 29/12 inside the STR

Common Iora Aegithina tiphia
Common and abundant in the Bali camp area as well as at all watchtowers.

Red-throated Flycatcher Ficedula parva
Only one bird recorded at Sajnekhali tourist complex on 29/12.

Verditer Flycatcher Eumyias thalassina
Male seen on the banks of the Bidya river from Bali island on 30/12.

Plain Martin Riparia paludicola ?
A flock of 8 hirundinidaes seen from the Bali Jungle Camp are presumed to be of this species

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
A couple seen inside the STR on 30/12 and  27/3.

Oriental Magpie Robin Copsychus saularis
Common and abundant.

Chestnut-tailed Starling Sturnus malabaricus
Bali island in December and March.

Asian Pied Starling Sturnus contra
Common on the way to the STR. Not recorded in the STR in December but seen on subsequent trips in the general area.

Jungle Myna Acridotheres fuscus
None in December, common in March and abundant in June. Sunderbans is a breeding area for the species and migrants swell local ranks.

Common Myna Acridotheres tristis
A few.

Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer

Oriental White-eye Zosterops palpebrosus
One bird collecting nesting material at Bali island on 5/6

Blyth's Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum
2/3 at Bali island and Sajnekhali area on 29/12 and 27-28/3.

Clamorous Reed Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus
A few on Bali island during the December and March visits.

Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius
Heard and seen on all trips.

Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus
One at Netidhopani on 30/12 and another presumed to be of this species on 28/3 at Bali island.

Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides
Fairly common winter visitor. Seen on both December and March visits. The crocodile pond at the Sajnekhali complex always has a few around.

Striped Tit-Babbler Macronous gularis
Call record on 4/6 in the Sudhannokhali area.

Jungle Babbler Turdoides striatus
5 birds seen outside the STR area on 29/12.

Striated Babbler Turdoides earlei
3 birds seen at the Sudhannokhali tower on 4/6 are the only record.

Pale-billed Flowerpecker Dicaeum erythrorynchos
One bird at Netidhopani on 30/12

Purple-rumped Sunbird Nectarinia zeylonica
Seen at Bali on 27-28/3 and 5/6

Purple Sunbird Nectarinia asiatica
Common and abundant

Loten's Sunbird Nectarinia lotenia
3 birds at Sajenkhali on 29/12

House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Common at Bali island

White Wagtail Motacilla alba
On the way to the STR on 29/12 ssp. alboides 

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
One bird at Netidhopani. Possibly ssp. zaissanensis

Red Avadavat Amandava amandava
A flock of 10 on the reeds on Matla river on 30/12. Could be escapees.

Mammals / reptiles seen: 
1) Rhesus Macaque Macaca mulatta
2) Spotted Deer Axis axis
3) Wild Pig Sus scorfa
4) Indian Flying Fox Pteropus giganteus
5) Irrawaddy Dolphin Orcaella brevirostris
    Lucky to see 4 of these endangered mammals. 

6) Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus
7) Estuarine Crocodile Crocodylus porosus
    We saw an 18 foot monster, one of the largest ever recorded in the area.

8) Water Monitor Varanus salvator
9) Common Indian Toad Buffo melanostictus
Telltale pugmarks of the Tiger were the only signs of the monarch of Sunderbans.

1) Birds of the Indian Subcontinent; Grimmett, Inskipp, Inskipp
2) A Filed Guide to the Birds of India: Kazmierczak, van Perlo
3) Birds of south-east Asia; Craig Robson
4) Fauna of West Bengal Part1 - ZSI 1992
5) Sidensticker's list of birds of Sunderbans



Sumit K Sen
Kolkata, india

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