There is something remarkably alluring as one sets foot in the wilderness of the Satpura Tiger Reserve. It is therefore no surprise that in the mid-1800s Captain James Forsyth, an officer in the Bengal Lancers, shared similar sentiments in his book titled ‘The Highlands of Central India’ as he navigated this magnificently biodiverse region on horseback. Spanning over undulating montane forests, Satpura is the largest Tiger reserve of Madhya Pradesh, covering a staggering area of 2100 sq km. The park experiences variations in its altitude, ranging from 300 meters above sea level of breath taking dry and moist deciduous forests to the higher reaches of evergreen forest tracts comprising of Saal Trees at 1350 meters. Apart from this, the area also depends on countless streams that feed in two of Narmada’s major tributaries – Sonbhadra and Denwa. It is this geographical culmination that makes it one of the best regions in Central India that harbours a rich avian diversity along with an array of wildlife. Below are a few notable mentions about why a tour here offers the complete experience for any birder –
Walking Safari in the Core Area
Satpura is one of the few parks in the country that allows you to walk in the core zone of the Tiger Reserve. A hike through the forest trails, taking in the sights and sounds as you follow the pugmarks of the big cats, there’s a sense of timelessness that sinks in. From the jungle floor dappled in morning light, the chorus of extraordinary birds and Indian Giant Squirrels jumping from one canopy to another are some of the remarkable sights that will brighten your day. As you walk, keep a look out for Small Minivets, Puff Throated Babblers, Indian Yellow Tit, Great Tit, Yellow Throated Sparrow, Plum Headed Parakeets, Raquet Tailed Drongo, Sulphur Bellied Warbler, roosting spots of Mottled Wood Owls, Streak Throated Woodpecker, the rarely seen Lesser Yellow Nape, Oriental Magpie Robin, Red Whiskered Bulbul, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Black Stork, Asian Open Bill, Painted Storks and many more.
Even trails in and around Pachmarhi Wildlife Sanctuary serves as a great opportunity to explore montane forests that share pockets of diversity to that of the Himalayas and the Western Ghats. The region is also better known for species such as the Black Crested Bulbul, Indian Nuthatch, and the Malabar Whistling Thrush, while the gorges here are ideal nesting sites for vultures and birds of prey as well.
Birding Via Motorboat or Canoe
Navigating the Denwa and the Sonbhadhra rivers is possibly the best way to watch the vistas unfurl. With a picturesque scenery from dawn to dusk, the backwaters here are teeming with scores of waders and winter migrants as the receding water gives rise to mud flats which are vital nesting grounds for the endangered Indian Skimmers, Small Pratincoles, River and Black bellied Terns, River Lapwings and even Pipits. The exposed mud embankments too are homes for Kingfishers whereas the rocky boulders serve as ideal roosting spots for Thick-Knees. Migrants like the Bar-headed Goose emerge in large congregations to graze on the seasonal grasslands. Ruddy Shelducks, Eurasian Spoonbills, Black Winged Stints, Pied and Yellow Wagtails and Plovers are also seen in and around these shallow waters. Even birds of Prey such as Ospreys along with Grey Headed Fish Eagles too partake in the mass feeding while Marsh Crocodiles bask and exude in the sun.
Farmlands and Grasslands Abundant in Diversity
There are plenty wildlife lodges in Satpura that guide you through grasslands and farmlands in proximity to the villages in the area. There’s a good chance here to see hovering Black Shouldered Kites and Common Kestrels seeking a potential meal. These areas also have popular for spotting weaver birds, bee eaters, larks, prinias, starlings, parakeets, pipits and buntings to name a few. The water bodies here in a particular are also hotspots to witness the rarely seen Painted Snipe, Brown Crake along with a few sandpipers and shanks. At times, if you’re lucky enough, there’s even a good chance of seeing the Indian Courser or Eurasian Wryneck.
A Full Day Safari at Churna
A full day safari to the Chruna Forest Guest House in the very core of the Satpura Tiger Reserve is opportunity of a lifetime. The journey is riddles with many streams, watering holes, bamboo tracts, meadows and woodlands as you uncover undulating trails to track some of the finest bird. Here, some of the key species you may encounter are the Malabar Pied Hornbill, the Orange Headed Thrush, Blue Rock Thrush, Peregrine Falcon, Shikra, White Eyed Buzzard, Bonelli’s Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Scarlet Minivets, Sirkeer Malkoha, Red Breasted Fly Catcher, Verditer Fly Catcher, Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher Golden Fronted Leafbird, Spangled Drongo, Crested Hawk Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Brown Fish Owl, Stork Billed Kingfisher, Eurasian Wryneck, Painted Spurfowl, Grey Jungle Fowl, White Naped Woodpecker, the Black Rumped Flameback, Black Hooded Oriole and Jungle Owlet along with the rare and elusive Blue Bearded Bee Eater. Once you arrive at Churna, you witness a whole new world as the night sets in. The nocturnal life becomes active with Black Crowned Night Herons squawking in large number as they fly towards the waters. You can also hear the calls of Nightjars and Owls. The species you may encounter here include the Brown Hawk Owl, Indian Scops Owl, Oriental Scops Owl and the Indian Eagle Owl and if you’re lucky, you might even see the India Flying Squirrel amongst them.
Not just a Bird’s Paradise
Satpura is endowed with mixed deciduous forest which implies that there’s plenty of seasonal fruit for most of it’s the four legged dwellers, but the one that seems to benefit from it the most is none other than the Sloth Bear. These termite seeking fuzzy fur balls along with Leopards, Wild Dogs and Tigers are the highlight of this park and your chances of seeing them here are considerably high. The region is also one of the few places in Central India where one can see the Malabar Giant Squirrel.
With the kind of abundance offered in terms landscapes and the wildlife, sheer options one has at their disposal, Satpura encapsulates as one of the top birding destinations in Central India, serving as a perfect birding tour for nature lovers and enthusiasts alike.