“Mystery fills the air, beauty treats the eyes and magic spells the mind”
The mysterious mangroves have their own way of making their presence felt. There is always an eerie sense of things transpiring inside the thick undergrowth. The abundance of life within the dense foliage secretly wander around without being seen by the eyes of the explorer. Sometimes though, jaw-dropping surprises appear from deep within.
Our recent photography tour to Sundarbans was indeed a special one with phenomenal sightings of the mangrove wildlife. As always we all got together at Kolkata airport, arriving from different directions and with different expectations in mind. Driving from Kolkata airport for around 3 hours, we reached Godhkhali just in time to embark on our boat and head along the Sundarbans waterways to begin our experience of the place.
We began with a quick round of introductions. The skipper gave a short presentation about Sundarbans, about the mangrove habitat, their adaptations to survive in the harsh, saline environment and shared a few tips about photography. Unlike other wildlife photography tours, Sundarbans require capturing the wildlife from a constantly moving boat. So, tips were provided to get the right settings in camera to effectively handle the situation.
Post that, we slowly immersed ourselves in observing the mangroves surrounding us. It looked serene, tranquil and yet intriguing.
Our first splash of surprise came in the form of a Brown-winged kingfisher. Sundarbans host a variety of colourful kingfishers. Some belong to the region and a few others are migratory. We also spotted the little Collared kingfisher and the Black-capped kingfisher. Over the course of the tour, we had incredible opportunities to make some great images of these fish eaters.
Then, there were many raptors that came our way. They flew every now and then to display their wide wingspan. Few of them were the Crested serpent eagle, White-bellied sea eagle, Oriental honey buzzard, Short-toed snake eagle and the Osprey that drew our attention. The highlight among raptors was the fastest bird on the planet, the Peregrine falcon, which cooperated greatly with our cameras.
There were many other birds that flew past us like the Lesser Adjutant Stork, Greenshanks, Redshanks, Whimbrels and Curlews.
Life in Sundarbans is dictated by the tidal changes which occur every six hours. There can be a bit of a lull during the high tide as most of the wildlife hide inside the mangroves. Once the tide recedes, they come back on the mudflats looking for food. It was during such times that we spotted scuttling, colourful crabs and multitude of mudskippers (the amphibious fish).
A jackal arrived for a quick pose and disappeared swiftly into the forests. Low tide also brought out a few huge salt-water crocodiles to the mudflats to bask in the sun. With their mouths wide open, they looked amazing, against the mesmerizing mangrove forests. Many monitor lizards also came out looking for a quick snack and some sun.
Among mammals, we saw Spotted deer, Wild boars and Rhesus macaques. Tigers and other lesser cats are always difficult to spot in this difficult terrain. But, we were in luck and how! On the third day of our outing, early in the morning we were ambling along on the boat looking for any signs of the king of the mangroves. As the golden light of the morning was at its best, our guide and boatman exclaimed in high voice, Tiger! Tiger!
We turned out boat and as we moved a bit further, we saw this majestic animal standing in shallow water, right at the edge of the treeline and the mudflat, probably assessing the situation. What a sight it was!! Effortlessly, he got into the water and swam across the channel, got up on the other side and disappeared into the forest. He gave a cursory look towards us just as he went in. We were all stupefied.
A sighting like this is very hard to come in a place like Sundarbans. The sighting was still not done. As the tiger moved in a particular direction, we constantly tracked it and encountered it at the other channels. The whole sighting lasted for close to 4.5 hours! This indeed was a lifetime sighting.
Images below by Anoop King
During the lull of the high tides, we soaked in the peaceful sceneries of the Sundarbans and involved in meaningful discussions about forest and wildlife conservation. We had sessions to understand the natural history of the region, its specialty and significance to the ecology. We also learned the nuances of wildlife photography.
At the end of the tour, we were immensely contented with the sightings and the images we could capture in the Sundarbans. While we left the mangroves, we deeply appreciated the good food on offer in our boat and bid adieu to return again.