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
29/12 - 30/12/03
Bikram Grewal; Asit Biswas
Sajnekhali, Sudhannokhali, Netidhopani
26/3 - 28/3/04
Sudhannokhali, Netidhopani, Dobaki, Bali Island
4/6 - 5/6/04
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;
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
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
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
of Birds Seen
names link to images from these trips)
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.
Flock of 11 birds on the Bidya river between Bali camp and Sajnekhali Tiger Reserve (STR)
Pair seen well on the way to Sudhannokhali on 4/6. This bird is rarely recorded from the Sunderbans area.
Single male observed from the Sudhannokhali watchtower on 4/6.
Single record from Bali island on 27/3.
At Dobaki watchtower on 27/3
Very common. Over 40 birds seen in December. Smaller numbers in later
Only one bird seen well on the way to Netidhopani on 30/12. 3 birds seen by Sujan Chatterjee a week later.
Not common. 5 in December and a couple in March. None in June.
The most abundant Kingfisher in December with practically one at every turn. 6 in March and none in June.
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.
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.
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
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.
Several seen at Bali Island on 4/6 and 5/6. Heard on all days during March visit.
Single bird seen at Netidhopani watchtower
Common. Seen or heard on all trips.
Common, seen on every trip. Often flocks of 100's seen in flight at dusk.
Asian Palm Swift
At Bali island and enroute on 29/12 and 4/6
Barn Owl Tyto alba
Two birds at Bali island village on 28/3
4 birds on Bali island on 28/3. Call recorded at Bali Jungle Camp on 4/6 where it is a nightly visitor.
Heard on 26/3 and 4/6 at Bali camp. One bird seen on the track to the camp on 27/3.
Common at Bali island.
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
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.
A noisy gathering of 6+ at Sudhannokhali on 4/6. A few observed on all trips
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.
6 birds on the mudflats on 29/12 and 30/12
8 birds observed from the boat on 30/12.
Observed near Malancha on the way to the STR on 26/3
Two birds seen on 29/12
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Seen on the way to the STR on 29/12.
Very common in December with over 100 birds counted. Stragglers in March and none in June.
On the way to the STR on 29/12.
40 plus near Malancha on the way to the STR during December visit
Common Ringed Plover
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
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
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.
One bird seen in flight just after Sonakhali on 29/12
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.
Two birds seen in flight on the way to the STR on 29/12 were presumably of this species.
Great Crested Tern
4 birds seen in flight over the Bidya river on 30/12 near Bali camp.
seen in December only.
One bird seen in flight just after Sonakhali on 29/12
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
One bird seen well on the way to Netidhopani on 27/3
Crested Serpent Eagle
Opposite Bali island on 5/6. Single record.
One bird seen well at Bali island on 4/6
Single bird recorded near Dobaki on 29/12
Not common. One or two on all trips.
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Commonest egret. 7-10 on each trip on the mudflats.
A few near Malancha on the way to the STR on 29/12 and 26/3.
30+ in December over two days. Lesser number in March and unrecorded in June.
Only two birds seen on the way to Sudhannokhali were positively identified as this species on 29/12.
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.
One bird seen in flight near Bali camp on 4/6
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
One or two in December and March
ssp. tricolor at Bali island on 4/
Rufous Treepie Dendrocitta vagabunda
3 birds near Bali camp on 4/6 and 5/6
Common on Bali island
Ashy Woodswallow Artamus fuscus
50+ birds seen on the way to the STR perched by the roadside on 29/12
Common on Bali island.
One bird seen well inside the STR on 4/6
A few on all trips inside the STR area. 4 at Sudhannokhali watchtower on 4/6.
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]
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 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.
Male seen on the banks of the Bidya river from Bali island on 30/12.
Riparia paludicola ?
A flock of 8 hirundinidaes seen from the Bali Jungle Camp are presumed to be of this species
A couple seen inside the STR on 30/12 and 27/3.
Oriental Magpie Robin
Common and abundant.
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.
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
One bird collecting nesting material at Bali island on 5/6
Blyth's Reed Warbler
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.
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.
Call record on 4/6 in the Sudhannokhali area.
5 birds seen outside the STR area on 29/12.
3 birds seen at the Sudhannokhali tower on 4/6 are the only record.
One bird at Netidhopani on 30/12
Seen at Bali on 27-28/3 and 5/6
Common and abundant
3 birds at Sajenkhali on 29/12
Common at Bali island
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.
1) Rhesus Macaque
2) Spotted Deer
3) Wild Pig
4) Indian Flying Fox
5) Irrawaddy Dolphin
Lucky to see 4 of these endangered mammals.
6) Bottlenose Dolphin
7) Estuarine Crocodile
We saw an 18 foot monster, one of the largest ever recorded in the area.
8) Water Monitor
9) Common Indian Toad
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