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Nights at Singinawa Jungle Lodge- the story of the Gliding Squirrels

The 110 acre expanse of wilderness that is Singinawa Jungle Lodge encompasses Sal forests, riverine forests, grasslands and thick bamboo forests. This varied habitat provides a healthy habitat for the animals of the buffer zone of Kanha Tiger Reserve. We can proudly see that we have extended the buffer zone by another 110 acres with our planting and habitat modelling over the years. The wildlife to their time to trust us but recently the results have been great. The three resident spotted deer herds, multiple troops of Langurs and the large sounders of Wild Boar were the first to trust us. They roam freely through the property, sometimes walking between the cottages at dawn, dusk and at night. The secretive representatives like the Barking Deer or the Indian Muntjac, Gaur, Rhesus Macaques and Sambhar are seldom seen as they restrict themselves to the Bamboo patches around our water holes, coming out at twilight hours to satisfy their thirst. They are more often heard (when the cats come visiting) than seen. This healthy herbivore population was bound to attract carnivores like Leopards, Wild Dogs and sometimes even the beautiful tigress that patrols this and the surrounding forest patch. It was exciting to get these beauties on camera in our grounds. It was definitely a moment of delight for the entire team as all our efforts were paying off.

As exciting as these encounters and sightings maybe, the true benefit of this healthy environment within our boundaries lies in the fact that this is the best opportunity to study the nocturnal life of the region. These animals are seldom seen as the park is open only from dawn to dusk. What happens after that was always a mystery. Apart from the random glimpse on the main road on the way to the lodge or park, there was no concrete basis to study these special members of this ecosystem. The regular setting up of camera traps and random night walks at various times of the night were scheduled to try and see what we get here. It got more exciting than we anticipated.

The Black-naped Hares were the first find as they seemed to be all over the property. It was the easiest catch, something even guests encountered on the way to their rooms after dinner. As exciting as the Hare were, we needed a bigger challenge.

We started off with a great find, the mass roosting of Fruit Bats or Flying Foxes on the banks of the Tannaur River. They use the planted Pine trees ( planted by a local nursery) and their thick foliage as cover from the sun during the day. They would fly to the river at dusk for a drink before heading out for their night feast. This kept us excited for a good few days but we needed to find more. The area around the Leopard Rock dinner spot seemed to be the hub for a pair of Indian Crested Porcupines (We also learnt that the collective noun for porcupines is ‘a prickle of porcupines’!!!Nice right!!!). They were caught on our camera traps and tracks were found at our waterhole but they haven’t been seen yet despite all our efforts. We probably need a better strategy to outsmart these sharp quilled and sharp witted members of the forest.

These two were really exciting catches. We also had multiple visits from a Jungle Cat, who probably came in looking for our Hares, adding to the night’s exciting list. The tracks of the rare Bengal Fox were seen on the sandy banks of the Tannaur River. This one probably uses that trail to get from their well-hidden subterranean den to the fields, looking for crabs, scorpions and small rodents en-route. These exciting catches were  a real treat for our efforts but one question always kept bothering us – ‘Where were the Civets’ ?

We decided to regularly walk the grounds at night looking for these long-tailed short-legged cat-like prowlers, especially around fruiting figs and the flowering Mahua trees. We were focussed on seeing the Palm Civet, a fruitarian and occasional carnivore as they are easier to find than the rarer Small Indian Civet. The Palm Civet spends the day in tree hollows, coming to the forest floor at night to feed. They are also known to be very active amongst the canopy when the bounty is plentiful. The canopy also acts as a refuge when they are disturbed, so when they see a carnivore or any such hindrance, they often climb the nearest tree and hide amongst the foliage. Thus, most of our focus was restricted to shining our torches amongst the tree branches. On one of these walks, we got the eye shine that we were waiting for. The animal was hidden amongst the leaves of a Kossam tree ( Schleichera oleosa) so all we could see was an eye shine. As we cautiously stepped closer, we saw something we definitely didn’t expect. The animal suddenly decided to fly to the next tree. What was this we saw!!! Definitely not a Fruit Bat as the eye-shine was too strong. And the animal did have a long tail. We approached the tree where we thought the animal had landed, our heads buzzing with thoughts and questions of the various possibilities. Could it be what we think this is?? In our property??

As we reached the tree we noticed that the animal was on a low perch. The view was much better this time and there was no doubt that we were looking at a Indian Giant Flying Squirrel ( Petaurista philippensis). A Flying Squirrel!! Just a few metres above us!!! We were ecstatic!!!

The grey coat, long dark tail, slender long feet, long claws designed for the perfect grip and the distinct flap of loose skin along its flank, the gliding flaps. Unmistakable!!! The animal stood there watching us for a long time, giving us time for a few clicks before it decided to go further up the tree and glide on. When in flight, we could see that there were two sets of flaps on each side- One that ran between the fore and hind limb, and the second that ran between the hind leg and the tail. This additional flap is the main difference between a flying squirrel and a giant flying squirrel; apart from the obvious size difference.  This flap helps them glide further and sometimes even short distances amongst the middle canopy.

Though widespread in most of peninsular India, these squirrels are now facing multiple dangers, mainly from loss of habitat. The chopping down of tall mature trees makes it hard for them to find a suitable tree hollow to rest for the day. Apart from this the constant planting of introduced tree species like the eucalyptus and the excessive collection of forest fruit for local demand have put increased pressures on them from various angles. They are now restricted to small pockets where healthy habitat remains intact, letting them thrive in peace.

Keeping all these factors in mind, it is absolutely incredible and satisfactory beyond measure that we have been able to find them in our premises. We found a second one in no time next to our water tank adding to our joys. The task now lies in finding the hollow that they use ( it might be harder  than we think). That will ensure that we keep that sight well protected and monitored to better understand these extraordinary creatures of the night.

We went looking for Civets and we got a few Flying Squirrels. Maybe we’ll find a Pangolin next time. We’ll definitely keep you all posted if we do.

Cheers

 The Naturalist Team of Singinawa Jungle Lodge

First Day in the Jungle

October-1st 2016 –

Ours was the first vehicle to enter the Kanha National Park,Madhya Pradesh and , it was a fantastic feeling, especially because it was also the first safari of the Season. We three naturalists were with our guest Ms. Mili Sham, jokingly telling her that taking more than one naturalist along could be a disaster and she just might end up seeing nothing.

Our safari began at six in the morning, the lush green jungle was so refreshing. We were welcomed by large herds of spotted deer, locally known as the Chital. Before we knew it we spotted a small bird trotting in the middle of the jungle – surprisingly it was the Forest wagtail which is a passage migrant. Interestingly this is only species of wagtail found in Central India, which wags its tail sideways, contrary to other wagtails which wag theirs up and down. We were lucky to click a few images of this bird and observed the details through our binoculars. The forest wagtail has a characteristic wing and breast pattern, and a prominent, long, whitish stripe that extends from each eye towards the back of the head.

The morning hours also gave us a chance to see a number of Gaurs, Sambars, Barking deer, Barasingha (also called the Swamp deer) and a variety of other species of birds.

Continuing with our safari, while driving along a small hilly road called the chota chattar pattar, at around 8am we were taken by surprise by a sudden encounter with a male tiger coming out of bushes. By now there were a few other vehicles around and they informed us that this particular male was running away from another dominant male. The Tiger could now be clearly spotted as it was out of the bushes and we began to click a few photographs, while also observing his behaviour through our binoculars. The tiger was regularly marking its territory by spray marking the trees, scrape marking the ground, sniffing the trees, and grazing or rubbing his cheek on the tree bark, usually what all tigers do.

But wait, suddenly to our surprise, the tiger started displaying some unusual and probably never seen before behaviour! This male tiger stood up on its hind legs, started hugging the tree, and licking the tree several times. He would glance around in between, looking for the rival male. Then again he would start hugging the tree and looking around like a curious cat .The Tiger then started walking along the road, sat in a nearby small stream to quench his thirst. We noticed that he soon repeated the same behaviour of hugging and licking the trees for a while. A few minutes later we saw the rival male tiger walking the same path and spray marking the very same trees, probably trying to re-establish his territory. What a treat the morning safari had been for us!!

After getting back to the lodge, and being still intrigued by this behaviour of the tiger, we shot off a few emails with relevant photographs to a few of our friends and experts, wanting to know more about this unique behaviour of the tiger. We were not very successful in getting information on this but got a lot of different opinions. We also spoke to Dr. Raghu Chundawat, a wildlife expert who has studied extensively the tigers of Panna National Park, Central India This is what he had to say and I quote “This may be an individual behaviour of this particular tiger and unless we get more solid data we cannot conclude about this behaviour “ Tigers are one of the most studied mammals, yet as more and more naturalists and biologists step in to work in the field, we keep getting newer and more fascinating details each day reminding us that the natural world is full of wonders and we have barely touched the tip of an iceberg! The safari trail not only left us full of excitement but also left us a little wiser.

There is no doubt that our Safari season had begun with a bang and we couldn’t have asked for more. We had great sightings of birds, mammals, and yes the unique tiger behaviour!

David Raju

Grace from Mother Nature

Game drives at the Kanha National Park always instil the adrenaline to spot one of the big cats. Its in that rush of excitement that we generally tend to overlook the other beautiful gifts of nature.

 This morning, the centre stage was occupied by the Indian wild dogs (Dholes) – the most systematic & barbaric predators of the Indian jungles. As we proceeded with our drive, we came across this pack of dogs, walking towards us, in a world of their own, playing & relishing each other. To my delight, I caught a glimpse of a certain behaviour being displayed by the dogs – scent-marking! This behaviour of urinating on a substrate has a lot of significance in nature like establishing territories, eligibility to breed within the marked territory and displaying dominance over other dogs entering that territory.

 Wild dogs are considered to be the most social carnivores as they often live and hunt in packs. Fascinating fact about these predators is that only one pair breeds at a time to ensure a high success rate of breeding and also so that the other members of the pack can provide maximum help and attention to the young ones. The breeding pair is called the alpha male & alpha female.

 This particular pack seemed to have travelled a long way as they sprawled on the luscious greens for a much needed break. We switched off our engines in an attempt to least disturb this beautiful spectacle of nature.

 The human heart is a greedy one and after about forty minutes of watching the pack, we headed out in search for more. But Mother Nature had different plans for us – sufficing our need rather than our greed!

 Satisfied with the day’s proceedings, we headed back with a renewed hope to feed our greed for more the next day!

 Rajnish Pradhan

Mud Wallowing

We had a show stopper this morning – walking down the road as though it were a ramp, was a stunningly beautiful Sambar Stag.  Just a few feet away from us, it walked toward a waterhole. Normally that would mean it was headed to quench its thirst, but no, wait – we were in for an action-packed morning!

 As we took out our cameras to get some good shots, the stag started displaying distinctive behaviour. Digging the muddy soil with his antlers, he set foot in the wet mud, urinated and suddenly started rolling back and forth on his back.  Covered from head to toe, he spent a good thirty minutes in the slimes of the wet mud.

 The mud acts like a blanket and keeps the urine scent for longer. After this hustle of activity, the stag will leave his scent wherever he goes – in the bushes, thickets & tree trunks.  This allows him to send mating signals to the females around and also mark his territory.

 These wallowing, sparring and scent communications are rituals of behaviours displayed to attract females for courtship. True to its male behaviour, the stag displayed a sense of chauvanism in all aspects – its walk, its sturdy built, and of course its assertive and strong nature – truly a spectacular sight!

Killing Instincts of the Weaver Ants

During the construction of our newly positioned machaan at the end of the Maidan I heard the sound of scratching in the nearby grass. Initially I thought it was the rope being used by our construction team to tie the roof as the rope was being dragged through the grass. However, as I drew nearer I found a completely different cause of this rustling sound. There was foul play afoot. . . . . .

Alone Cricket was desperately trying to defend itself from a small mob of ferocious red Weaver Ants to survive another day. There were 3-4 ants which continuously bit the cricket from all sides, and were observedtrying to drag it within a recently sewn up mass of leaves to provide them a good meal. The poor Cricket tried valiantly to fight them off, but all its efforts were in vain. I watched as the Weaver Ants slowly squeezed the cricket through the hole in the leaves, and them they all disappeared from view. Such is Nature.

Sachin Sharma
Naturalist
Singinawa Jungle Lodge

 

Tiger in the mist

It is now that time of the year, when its misty and cloudy during the morning hours.

This morning I decided to fulfill my dream to photograph a tiger in the mist and as destiny would have it ,fortune was on my side.

I went to the Bishanpura patrolling camp ,where in the past I had seen fresh tiger pugmarks  practically everyday in the morning . However  this morning I did not see any pugmark so the park guide suggested us to stay there and wait for some   alarm calls so that we could know the movement of  the big cat.

We waited for more than fifteen minutes at the same place but  the jungle was quiet.

Thus we decided to move on. To help increase the odds of spotting a tiger we went to various  places where it’s most likely you’ll get a good sighting.

During one of our turns  we chanced upon an animal walking in the middle of the road and coming straight towards us. I immediately stopped the vehicle and with the help of my binoculars I realized it was a majestic tiger walking in our direction. My heart skipped a beat and I whispered ‘’ Tiger! Tiger!’’

se

It was a beautiful tigress and she knew she was being spotted and began moving away from the road and went close to a tree, lifted her tail high and marked her territory by spraying and then slowly disappeared  into the undergrowth.

We however, gauged the direction of her movement and drove a short distance and decided to wait for her to reappear.

And there she was, right in front of the vehicle. We enjoyed seeing her walking on ahead of us on the road and silently mesmerized we watched her slowly fade away into the mist .

Rajnish Pradhan

Rare Behavioural Patterns

“To have behavioural patterns an animal must move different parts of its body in a coordinated manner”

Which behavioural patterns do we think are the most interesting of all? In my opinion it is the breeding behavioural norms of all living creature that has turned our Planet into the vibrant, fascinating, living planet we have the opportunity of observing today.

One misty winter morning we were traversing Kanha’s winding routes during a safari – listening to all the collective sounds of the jungle. We halted near a large water body to watch all the winter visiting birds. We observed Pintails (winter visitors) paddling across the water, leaving arched ripples on its surface. After watching the fine plumage of these visiting ducks for some time, we drove a little ahead and suddenly spotted a large, fresh Tiger pug mark planted right on top of the previous vehicle’s tracks. Examining these for a few seconds, we realized the dominant male Tiger had very recently patrolled this particular area, but there had been no alarm calls, and no prey species had been seen at all.

Lack of air shattering alarm calls from the abundant prey species in Kanha makes progress difficult in tracking tigers, or any predator. After listening intently to the jungle we proceeded and waited on top of a bridge – again not one single alarm call was forthcoming! Normally if a tiger is around there should be some kind of indications as to its presence. Maybe there were no animals in the vicinity, or perhaps the tiger has passed by in hurry. I was quizzing myself, waited for few minutes, and then I drove a head for more clues – such as more pug marks, sent and scratch markings etc. But there were no visible signs – making our search complicated, yet exhilaratingly interesting.

Suddenly I had a hunch and turned the vehicle around, following my intuition and stopped again. Almost at once I heard the Tiger, and there he was, in the grasses walking straight towards us. He came and stood staring at us. A line from William Blake masterpiece sprang to mind – “what immortal hand or eye”, and suddenly another tiger appeared, but she went directly under the bridge.

tig

The male Tiger walking back up from the jungle stream.

The Tiger lapped up water from the nearby flowing stream, turned and walked back up into the jungle, and the female followed.

Observing tigers is a rare experience, but to watch a courting pair is an even rarer phenomenon. To watch the breeding behaviour of Tigers is one of the rarest and most captivating of experiences you can ever hope for in the jungle.

Pradeep Rana
Naturalist at SJL
Kanha National Park, M.P.

 

An Evening Drive Into Kanha National Park

The temperature was pleasant  as we left for our afternoon drive. After the long wait for the season to start, I was quite excited.  I wasn’t very optimistic because  the monsoon had barely receded , and there were pools of water everywhere.  One of the water bodies is regularly frequented by a handsome young male and sensing the possibility of a sighting, our naturalist drove straight to it. Driving through Kanha’s verdant Sal forest, I was suddenly overwhelmed by nostalgia . I  began reflecting on my cherished memories of my first experience to Kanha with my husband, and all the subsequent visits …

Somehow this drive felt different. I was the proud owner of a lodge in my favourite jungle in the world. I had always entered Kanha as a guest at someone else’s lodge. I was lost in reverie until we reached  the water body. Upon reaching we were a little disheartened to see the area rather too calm and without any sign of the black and orange beauty. However we decided to linger on and  give it some time. We stopped under a tall , shady Mahua tree, which provided us cool respite from the sun . I immersed myself in watching the antics of a cormorant diving into the water for a meal.

Time lapsed and we began to question why we were waiting, yet some optimism lingered on amongst us all, in the  environment of the jeep. Suddenly a loud alarm call of a Barking deer shattered the purity and silence of the deep emerald forest. This lifted our spirits as barking deer calls are almost always able to pin point a big cat! There were four continuous calls and then  complete silence for a few seconds, then the silence was shattered once again, this time by the crackling sounds of the fallen leaves… something was on the move… slowly and stealthily coming directly towards us.  We all sat holding our breath in intense anticipation.

The moment passed into oblivion as from out of the bamboo thickets came forth the huge form of the black and orange striped beauty of a male tiger… burning bright in the golden light and our hearts soared.  The tiger stood up on the bank of the water body, staring right at us. The passionate jubilation of the magnificent sight before us slowly turned into a sense of relief and satisfaction… we watched him for a while, making his way down from the bank and into the water. What filled me with happiness and content was that this wasn’t the last time, as there would be many more such surreal experiences like this in store for me. This is what I had dreamed of growing up… and I am so lucky to have Singinawa fulfill this dream for me.

Tulika Kedia

It’s always a matter of chance

After a very quiet afternoon safari, we were enjoying the sight of Langur antics in a nearby tree, and listening to the dwindling song of birds returning to their roosts. All of a sudden everything changed with the explosive alarm call of a Sambar Deer.

Anticipation mushroomed in our vehicle, and I redirected the jeep towards the source of the calls. This lead us to an area behind Andhakua patrol camp. We stopped there and waited. The deer soundings became more intense, along with the reliable alarm calls of the Langur. The calls seemed to be all aimed in our direction, and we frantically looked about us in all directions. One particular Langur then caught our attention, and we scanned the area where his stare was fixed, but still we had not a clue to any movement – except for that constant Langur’s coughing calls.

We decided to wait there patiently a little longer and sat listening, when a rustling sound of dry leaves grabbed our full attention. We pondered on what kind of big mammal could be walking in the undergrowth towards us – it could be Gaur, another Sambar. So we just stared at that patch of foliage – and waited for whatever it was to appear…. Moments later we all gasped as a huge yellowish, black stripped head emerged from the Bamboo thicket, and we all clamoured in controlled unison – “TIGER”.

A stunning, healthy female Tiger emerged out on to the road, stopped for few minutes, looked around, crossed the road – and, as usual, simply vanished back behind the veil of her jungle.

tige

Tiger sightings are always matter of chance, and even searching for evidence of a tiger’s presence can be intensely dramatic – but please be respectfully patient.

Rajnish Pradhan

Naturalist at Singinawa Jungle Lodge

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