Tiger Tops is famous for its wildlife, its up-market food and lodging, and its elephants that take its guests on wildlife-seeking excursions. The habitat is subtropical and dominated by forests and grasslands with the Narayani river running through it. Last year we stayed at Tiger Tops for only two nights (Jan. 31-Feb. 1,1998) but this year with a group of non-birders (except for two others besides ourselves), we stayed for three nights. We deliberately chose ahead of time to stay at the tented camp for our first two nights, some twenty minutes away by vehicle from the main camp (an hour by elephant), and to spend our last night at the main camp in one of the two lodges. The tented camps located in woods offer a variation of habitat with fewer people but less conveniences -- kerosene lanterns instead of light bulbs, for example. But the food is equally good at both camps!
Everyone in our group who opted to go out to look for game on Elephants on our second morning was rewarded with seeing a Tiger out in the open. Tigers are seen far less here in the woods and grasses of Chitwan (perhaps a sighting only once or twice a week) than in India's Ranthambhor N.P. Sightings are rarer around the main camp than around the tented camp. Birdlife is great at both camps, but by covering both places the birder, not surprisingly, will pick up more species. When it came time to transfer to the main camp, we opted to walk instead of ride and thus picked up several new birds in doing so. We highly recommend any birder staying at Tiger Tops to consider doing the same.
Everyone in our group got to see several Indian (one-horned) Rhinos more than once and at least one sighting of the shy Gaur (Indian Bison), the world's largest bovine. The Gaur usually travel in small groups of at least two. We also saw Wild Boar and a few Spotted Deer (Chital). The Sambar and Hog-deer can also be seen from time to time.
We saw several Mugger (Marsh) Crocodiles and Gavials, the long needle-nose crocodiles, along the banks of the river or one of its tributaries.
Birdlife is plentiful in Chitwan NP with over 480 species recorded, but because of the inaccessibility of some of the habitat, the vastness of the park (350 sq. miles) and the short duration of most visits, the numbers of species seen are modest. To an outsider the birds, however, seem both exotic and sensational. Both birders and non-birders usually take the boat trip down the Narayani River. From our boat we saw Small Pratincole but missed the Sand Lark we saw in 1998. On land, unlike 1998, we also missed seeing a White-tailed Stonechat in one of the tall grassy areas but did see several Common Stonechats. Our land guide was Kalu Ram, an exceptional birder.
One of our target birds was the Giant Hornbill, and four times, twice at each camp, we went to look for them in fruiting trees where they sometimes frequent. No luck. One time we heard one or two coming from trees high along a distant ridge and another time we learned one had come to a tree right above where we had just had breakfast an hour earlier. On our last morning with only a few hours of birding time left we gave up on seeing the hornbill. Instead of visiting one of the fruiting trees, we decided to concentrate on seeing other birds. Later, while doing so, a Giant Hornbill suddenly appeared from nowhere and sat in a nearby tree at a great viewing angle. He sat for about two minutes or at least long enough for Margot to view it, quickly grab a camera out of her bag and get off two photos before this heavy creature went flying away -- whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. It is still difficult to comprehend why with all the thousands of trees in the vast forest, the Giant Hornbill decided to land so near us before resuming its journey to somewhere. It was almost a religious experience!
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo (one) Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea (6 pairs, later 100 together) Common Merganser Mergus merganser (female) Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax (one) Black Bittern Ixobrychus flavicollis (2 in open; Superb views) F Red-naped Ibis Pseudibis papillosa (one feeding) Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans (one in tree) Woolly-necked Stork Ciconia episcopus (two) Gray-headed Fish-Eagle Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus (adult and imm.) Crested Serpent-Eagle Spilornis cheela (three) F Mountain Hawk-Eagle Spizaetus nipalensis (one soaring over) Red Junglefowl Gallus gallus (male) Brown Crake Amaurornis akool (one) Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus (one) Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago (two) Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia (one) F Small Pratincole Glareola lactea (two) River Lapwing Vanellus duvaucelii (one) Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica (one) F Orange-breasted Pigeon Treron bicincta (one) Plum-headed Parakeet Psittacula cyanocephala (one) Red-breasted Parakeet Psittacula alexandri (two) Common Hawk-Cuckoo Cuculus varius (one) Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis (three) Jungle Owlet Glaucidium radiatum (two) Large-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus macrurus (one heard only) Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis (one) Stork-billed Kingfisher Pelargopsis capensis (one) White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis (two) Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis (one) Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti (8-10) Oriental Pied-Hornbill Anthracoceros albirostris (2 together, nice views) F Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis (1 sitting, super view) Lineated Barbet Megalaima lineata (one) Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker Dendrocopos macei (three) F Rufous Woodpecker Celeus brachyurus (one) F Greater Yellownape Picus flavinucha (2 together) Scaly-bellied Woodpecker Picus squamatus (2 males, 1 female) Gray-faced Woodpecker Picus canus (one) Himalayan Flameback Dinopium shorii (female) Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus (several) Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus bracteatus (six) Greater Racket-tailed Drongo Dicrurus paradiseus (one) F Green Magpie Cissa chinensis (one) Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos (several) Black-hooded Oriole Oriolus xanthornus (five) Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus (4 males, 1 female) Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus picatus (one) F Golden-fronted Leafbird Chloropsis aurifrons (two) Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach (1, Bl.-capped race) F Spot-winged Starling Saroglossa spiloptera (twice several) F Chestnut-tailed Starling Sturnus malabaricus (a few) Jungle Myna Acridotheres fuscus (a few plus several more) F Hill Myna Gracula religiosa (six) F Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica (1 sallying) Verditer Flycatcher Eumyias thalassina (one) White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus (male, later a female) Common Stonechat Saxicola torquata (3 males, 1 female) Pied Bushchat Saxicola caprata (male) Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch Sitta castanea (3 males, 2 females) Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis (one) Sand Martin Riparia riparia (a few) Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus melanicterus (4 or 5) Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus (at least 10) Himalayan Bulbul Pycnonotus leucogenys (several) Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer (several) Gray-crowned Prinia Prinia cinereocapilla (one) Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius (one) Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush Garrulax pectoralis (a group of abt. 10) F Puff-throated Babbler Pellorneum ruficeps (one close) Chestnut-capped Babbler Timalia pileata (one) Yellow-eyed Babbler Chrysomma sinense (one) Striated Babbler Turdoides earlei (several) Great Tit Parus major (two) House Sparrow Passer domesticus (male, later a female)
Note: We use "a few" for 15-25 birds.
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