A Birder in Tigerland

After spending several years in the forests of Central India - that is home to a no of large mammals Including Bengal Tigers - I share with you my birding experience in this area through this post. Though  I spent a fair share of my days in Central India in Kanha - I have visited Bandhavgarh, Panna, Pench and in recent times managed to see Tadoba and Satpura as well. In my opinion Panna and Kanha are the two best areas for birding closely followed by Satpura Tiger Reserve. Below are a few lines about my birding experience in all of the parks. 

Coppersmith Barbet

                                                                     Plum Headed Parakeet

The northern most park in this set is Panna - it is a semi arid area - though the River Ken flows through the national park - and for that the bird diversity is excellent compared to other similar areas. The key targets in Panna are Painted Spurfowl, Indian, White Rumped and Red Headed Vulture, the Himalayan and Griffon Vulture, Painted Sandgrouse, Jungle Bush Quail, Sulphur Bellied and Smoky Warbler, the beautiful Indian Eagle Owl & Striated Grassbird, White Bellied Minivet, Mottled Wood Owl, Savanna, Jungle and Long Tailed Nightjar, Rufous tailed Lark and Brown Rock Chat. Panna has a healthy no of 20+ tigers at present that are being sighted in regular intervals. Panna always throws up a few surprises - Wallcreeper, Himalayan Flameback, are two birds that have been reported from Panna over the last few years. 

Crested Serpent Eagle

Wire-tailed Swallow

Bandhavgarh is very scenic with undulating hills and grassy meadows. The park is home to the Malabar Pied Hornbill, Blue Bearded Bee Eater  Painted Spurfowl, Mottled Wood Owl, Brown Fish Owl, Sulphur Bellied Warbler, Long Tailed Minivet, Black Headed Cuckoo Shrike, Tawny Bellied Babbler, Marshall's Iora, Jungle and Long Tailed Nightjar and the occasional Cinereous Vulture that can be sighted in the Raj Behra meadows. There are records of Brown Wood Owl and Green Munia from Bandhavgarh - though I have never sighted either species here.

Dusky Crag Martin

Emerald Dove

Grey Necked Bunting

Indian Courser

Long tailed Nightjar

Oriental Whiteye

Velvet Fronted Nuthatch

Golden Fronted Chloropsis

Red Headed Bunting

Sirkeer Malkoha

Indian Silverbill

Kanha is a wonderful birding area. It offers quiet undisturbed areas for the birders. I have sighted birds like the Spot Bellied Eagle Owl, Brown Wood Owl, Mottled Wood Owl, Brown Hawk Owl, Grey Headed Fish Eagle, Jerdon's Baza, Blue Capped Rock Thrush, Scarlet Minivet, Scaly Thrush, Tickell's Thrush, Cinnamon Bittern, Painted Francolin, Yellow Legged and Barred Button Quail, Greater painted Snipe, Indian Yellow Cheeked Tit, White Rumped Spinetail, Black Winged and Black Headed Cuckoo Shrike, Rufous Bellied Eagle, Himalayan and Siberian Rubythroat, Orange Headed Ground Thrush and Ultramarine Flycatcher. Birds like Green Munia, Sarus Crane, Pale Blue Flycatcher, Lesser Florican, Western Crimson Sunbird, Chinese Sparrow-Hawk, Crested Tree Swift, Forest Wagtail and Ashy Minivet have been reported as well. There is one report of the Forest Owlet being sighted from outside the park but no one has got a photo of this recently re-discovered species. It is present at Melghat and Orissa and hence Kanha is a possibility for this species. 

Pench is a comparatively poorly birded area as most visitors to the park are city-sleekers trying their tiger luck. It is father south from Kanha and is poorly birded - there are some remarkable birds that can be sighted here. Grey Jungle Fowl -is found in the southern edge of the park. There are Orange Breasted Green Pigeon and Greater Flameback, Short Toed Eagle, Long Legged Buzzard and Booted Warbler in Pench - these birds are not sighted easily at the other three parks. Pench also has at least one report of European Bee-eater - a rarity for this area. Other birds in Pench that I have sighted include the Red Headed Bunting, Yellow Crowned Woodpecker, Small Pratincole, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Yellow Eyed Babbler, Yellow Wattled Lapwing and White Browed Bulbul. Pench is a good place for Sirkeer Malkohas too. Not many birders have spent time in the Maharshtra side of the park - primarily because the area is not open to tourists beyond a short distance from the entrance. 

Tadoba - is not an easy place to bird - the reason for this is the constant rush to see a tiger or a leopard and the circular pattern of the routes. A birder can feel frustrated here - though there are some good birds here - Grey Jungle Fowl is common, Red Jungle Fowl can also be sighted here. Painted Sandgrouse, Jungle Bush Quail, Tawny Fish Owl, Mottled Wood Owl, Emerald Dove, Grey Bellied Cuckoo, Lesser Yellownape, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Grey Headed Fish Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard are some of the birds worth a mention. 

Melghat is a tiger reserve but it is the least visited of the lot - I have been there a couple of time - primarily to put a tick on the recently rediscovered Forest Owlet. A few pairs of these birds are there in Melghat area and people who come to see it normally do not do much birding in Melghat. The forest is open but the routes are poorly developed and hence birding is difficult. However, Barn Owl, Mottled Wood Owl, Jungle Owlet, Indian Black Eagle, large Grey Babbler, Tawny Bellied Babbler, Indian Yellow Tit, White Spotted Fantail, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Indian Scimitar Babbler and few other species. Melghat is 5 hours drive from Nagpur and accommodations there are basic - so those who wish to visit this area must keep it in mind. 

I wanted to finish this post with Satpura Tiger Reserve. This park is northwest from Kanha Pench and Tadoba and south west from Bandhavgarh and Panna - the location is crucial for the birder as part of the forest is the connecting patch between the foothills of north eastern India and eastern forests and the western ghats. This means several interesting birds from two bio-geographic areas can be seen here. The Malabar Whistling Thrush, Jerdon's Baza, Mottled Wood Owl, Barn Owl, Brown Wood Owl, Sirkeer Malkoha, Grey Jungle Fowl, Red Spurfowl, Spotted Creeper, Indian Skimmer, Flame Throated Bulbul, Western Crowned Warbler, Blue Capped Rock Thrush, Puff Throated Babbler, Eurasian Crag Martin are some of the highlights. There are unconfirmed reports of Black Baza and few other rarities but no one has yet come out with an image. 

Well thats some information for those interested to visit these areas - I have also listed my favourite birding lodges - I have kept in mind that a birder enjoys birding in the lodge and tried to balance that with the service and quality of accommodation. A short information on the way to reach these parks is also given below - 


How to reach - (Khajuraho - 30 minutes drive has an airport and a station)

Ken River Lodge - Excellent guides and good location. Downside is that some of the rooms need renovation - they are working on this. 


How To reach - (Khajuraho is 5 hours drive; Jabalpur is 4 hours drive and Umaria is the nearest railhead - 45 minutes drive)

Tigergarh - Good location, modest accommodations in a quiet corner of Bandhavgarh. Good for people on a budget.

Kings Lodge - Good location and service. Better for you if you are with a group. 

Tiger Trails - Excellent location but a bit run down and service can be lacking.


How to reach - (Airports - Raipur - 4 hours; Jabalpur 5 hours & Nagpur - 6 hours drive; Gondia station is 3 hours; All three airport towns have stations too. Bilaspur station is 6 hours drive.)

Shergarh - An excellent lodge for birders who are not on a very tight budget. 

Kipling Camp - An excellent lodge for birders - wonderful birding in the lodge premises.

Kanha Jungle Lodge - Excellent for birders - they do host several group tours - so you need to check availability well in advance.


How to reach - Airports - Nagpur - 3 hours drive; Nagpur has a station too.

Pench Jungle Camp - Excellent for birders, very knowledgeable guides, good accommodation.

Jamtara - New lodge will function this year onwards - a good accommodation for a birder who is happy spend some money.


How to reach - Airports - Nagpur - 3 hours drive; Nagpur has a station too.

Tiger Trail - excellent for birders, good location and nice rooms, but they host groups so make sure that the accommodation is booked in advance before checking in.

Svassara Jungle Lodge - Good lodge, a little too urban but they are working on that. Good service and rooms. Birders would like the proximity to the gate - reducing drive time.


How to reach - Airports - Nagpur - 6 hours drive; Nagpur has a station too.

The FRH at Kolkaz - A very basic government run forest rest house with a four rooms. 

Hotel Harshwardhan - A very rundown hotel with basic rooms. The property is approached by a narrow uphill road from Melghat forest. 

MTDC Chikaldhara - basic but cheap and at least the rooms are spacious. 


How to reach - Airports - Bhopal - 3 hours drive; Bhopal has a station too. Sohagpur is the nearest station (1 hours drive).

Forsyth Lodge - Excellent for birders. Very good guides and nicely done rooms. Good birding within the lodge premises.

Renipani Lodge - Excellent for birders who can fist out a little more money. Excellent rooms and superb food. 

Denwa Backwater Retreat - Great location and very knowledgable guides - not for those on a budget.