Our first safari into Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve couldn’t have started better with a female Painted Spurfowl feeding beside the road. It got even better when we found ourselves in close proximity to a huge Sloth Bear feeding beside the bumpy track on some termites. We followed it for quite a while as it walked through the bushes bordering the track and after 10 minutes it walked across right in front of us and disappeared into the forest.
We then drove along exploring other areas of this rather scenic reserve which is dominated by a huge escarpment complete with an old fort. We stopped at a forest outpost to stretch our legs and got swamped by a gang of Jungle Babblers and a few Rufous Treepies that actually took some biscuits out of our hands and we also added a Black Stork as well. So we headed back to the lodge for a late breakfast and afterwards drove to Suriwal Lake – despite the heat. What a good move as we found several new birds for the trip starting with a Great Grey Shrike (always used to be called Southern Grey Shrike but that's been lumped now) perched on some roadside telegraph wires and followed by a single breeding-plumaged Dalmatian Pelican swimming in the middle of the lake.
Further scanning from the dam revealed a flock of 500+ Great White Pelicans (not hard to miss really!!) on the far side of the lake, as well as flocks of Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, Greater Flamingos, Bar-headed Geese and a good selection of ducks. Driving along the other side we saw a couple of Greater Thick-knees and numerous Kentish Plovers, Dunlins, Little and Temminck’s Stints as well. A surprise came in the shape of a White-eyed Buzzard which flew around in front of us before landing in a field and began drinking from a small pool.
In the afternoon at 2.30pm we returned to the reserve on another safari and I was hoping to get the Route No 1 where a Tiger had been seen this morning, but we were given Route No 4 and I must admit I felt really cheesed off at this. So we bumbled along the bumpy track and got to a large lake where there were a few waterbirds and I half-heartedly began scanning.
We’d only been here a few minutes and I was thinking how stupid it was to go into a Tiger Reserve this early as any self-respecting Tiger is going to be sleeping in some shady section of forest when we heard the distinctive sound of a Spotted Deer alarm call. It’s the one sound you want to hear and when it called again we were off rather speedily around the lake and stopped to listen. After a few minutes of random scanning and listening we drove on further towards where we thought the sound had come from, passing a few jeeps along the way and asked them if they’d heard anything. The blank faces told us all we needed to know. We rounded a corner and headed up a long straight track and could see a couple of jeeps at the top of the hill – and when one guy urgently beckoned us forward the hairs on the back of my neck began to rise. As we drove over the brow of the hill we could see a few more jeeps already here and everyone was staring at a small waterhole off to the right……… And there it was!
Words can never fully describe the adrenaline rush and sheer relief when you first eyeball a Tiger and even after seeing so many over the years it is always the same, like seeing your first one all over again. So here we were, looking at a young female Tiger with just her head showing above the murky water.
After a while she got up and walked over towards us and off to our left where in the shade of some trees was her recent kill of a Sambar.
She sniffed and licked it a few times before going back to the pool for a drink and then she reversed into the water where she started licking her paws.
After some time she rolled over and then a little later got back up and walked over to her kill and it was then that an idiot jeep driver drove in front of us cracking some branches on the floor.
I’m sure the Tiger would have stayed if this didn’t happen as she walked off across the path and away into the forest. Of course the jeep in front held a photographer with a lense the size of a cannon and wanted to get that crucial close up – it always seems to me that a high percentage of wildlife photographers are total freakin idiots and care nothing for the welfare of their subject. Anyway, we’d been with the Tiger for well over half an hour and everyone was so happy as we drove away. So nothing could beat that and we birded for a while around the lakes and had a nice group of Sambar in the water and a few nice birds such as Greater Painted Snipe, White-browed Fantail, Bronze-winged Jacana etc But we soon had enough and drove on through the forest with only a Cinereous Tit stopping us reaching the exit and a nice cool swim back at the lodge.