When it comes to birdwatching, Central India might not be the most happening place in our country. The forests of Western Ghats and the sub-Himalayan belt of North India, as well as the forests of Northeast India, hold much more diversity than the deciduous forests of Central India. But still for a bird enthusiast like me, the forest of Kanha can spring up a few surprises every now and then.
It’s been almost a year now that I have been here, and during this time I have managed to see 11 new bird species in the forests of Kanha! But among these new birds that I got to see, the most exciting were definitely the two species of bazas.
Bazas are raptors, meaning predatory birds, belonging to the genus Aviceda. A prominent feature of these bird is a long crest originating at the back of the head. Five different species of bazas are found from the African continent in the west, through South and Southeast Asia, up to the eastern coast of Australia in the east. Some members of this genus are also known as cuckoo-hawks, especially the African species.
In India, we have two species of bazas, the Jerdon’s Baza and the Black Baza. Both these raptors are residents of Northeast India and Southern Western Ghats, and are only scarcely recorded in Central India. But both the bazas have previously been spotted in Kanha. Because of their scare records, I never really thought I might get a chance to see these two beautiful raptors here. But as luck would have it, I got to see both of them, and that too within a span of just one month.
In March, I was on a safari with an elderly American couple. It was their first safari, and they were hoping to get a glimpse of tiger on at least one of their drives; so watching birds was not our top priority. Early into the safari, while driving through a fairly open patch of forest, I casually glanced upwards on a dead tree, and saw a medium-sized raptor perched there. It was still a little dark, and all I could make out was that the bird was brown in colour; no other features were visible. My first guess was that the bird was an Oriental Honey-buzzard, but as I stared at the bird a little longer, I noticed a crest poking above its head. The thought of this being a Jerdon’s Baza, a new bird for me, started playing in my head repeatedly, like a catchy song that gets stuck in your mind. I immediately pulled out my camera, and clicked a few record shots. As the light was bad, I could not get very good photos, but managed decent enough shots so that the identity the bird could be confirmed later on. And later on, it did turn out to be a Jerdon’s Baza. I shared the exciting news with the American couple, but they only smiled meekly at me, probably perplexed as to why one should get all excited on seeing a bird!
Approximately a month later, in April, I was doing a morning safari with an enthusiastic Indian family. Being experienced wildlife campaigners, the family had expressed their wish to see everything in the forest, and not just the bigger wildlife. As we drove through a patch of Saal forest, we spotted a back bird flying though the top canopy of the tall Saal trees. Not expecting a baza, I dismissed the bird to being an Indian Jungle Crow. But a second glance of the bird in flight revealed the white patches on the underwings. No more glances were needed to recognise the bird, but I wanted to try and get a photo. The Black Baza kept on scurrying from one tree to other, in an attempt to avoid us. Luckily, it then it caught a large, green insect (may be a mantis or a caterpillar) and settled on an open branch to feed on it, giving us ample opportunities to get some photos. But more than getting the photographs, I was really happy to see the bird through the binoculars, and I have to confess that this is one of the most beautiful birds I have ever seen.
Sighting both the bazas of India in Kanha within a span of just one month put me on cloud nine for a while. But as the excitement settled down, I realised that I have been really lucky to be in the right place at the right time, as during both the instances, ours was the only car present to see these rare birds. There are some more birds on my wish-list to see in Kanha, and I just hope that my luck with birds continues just like this in the coming season too.
Naturalist, Singinawa Jungle Lodge