Saturday, July 4, 2015

Birding in Ajanta!

We don't think of Birds when we think of Ajanta. Ajanta is better known for the famous Ajanta caves, the second century BCE Buddhist monument with the Jataka tales painted and sculpted on the walls. But Ajanta is much larger and much more diverse than what we see at the caves.
The Ajanta Caves are surrounded by dry dry deciduous forest
The Ajanta UNESCO site also protects 3000 hectare of dry deciduous forest in its surrounding. This forest is an excellent habitat for many of the regions fauna. It also forms a steeping stone connecting Gautala and Autramghat wildlife sanctuary and the Bothaghat wildlife sanctuary. So far I have seen over 250 species of birds in the hills surrounding Ajanta. The two key eBird hotspots are Ajanta caves and Ajanta-andhari dam. By no mean means are these hotspots well birded. I dont have the analysis but the accumulation curves are nowhere near saturation. The highlights for me so far have been Indian pitta, Sirkeer malkoha and an abundance of Paradise flycatacher.

A paradise flycatcher from Nandi hills, Bangalore
The real amazing birding in this place is during the winters. Migratory species such as Isabelline shrike, desert wheatear and orphean warblers are easy to see in the scrub around agriculture fields. Duck such as Ruddy shelduck, Pochards, Garganey flock to the Ajanta-andhari dam in the hundreds. The forest around the caves is also a great place for raptors. It is fairly easy to Crested serpent-eagle, Changeable hawk eagle, Bonnelli's eagle, Booted eagle and Short-toed snake eagle. The real excitement of walking in the forest of Ajanta is also due to the possibilities of seeing mammals such as Hyena, wolf, fox, blackbuck and nilgai. If you are super lucky they you may even see a leopard!

A stripped hyena in the scrub forest of Ajanta 
 The common grassland birds in Ajanta would be the many species of larks, pipits, quails but the most exciting so far has been the Common grasshopper warbler! I am not yet sure if it winters here or just passes by to its winter grounds in the western ghats.

The male blue bull or Nilgai in Ajanta

Indian Bushlark at Ajanta-andhari lake