Sonanadi Sanctuary Biriding Trip Report

By Nandita 

Date 5- 10 October 2018

We were a party of 6 members including 3 senior citizen sisters and 3 cousins from Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

Accommodation  The Magpie Cottage

The cottage has a woody backyard that plays host to over 40 species of visiting birds like the Emerald Dove and Khaleej Pheasant. It was amazing to bird-watch from the balcony outside and even the terrace on first floor. Whether it’s just enjoying the soothing view across the river, bird-watching or star-gazing at night, Magpie is the ideal hideout that connects you to nature. The place was immaculately clean and very well managed by Hemantji , who worked single-handedly & tirelessly to keep us very comfortable, and cooked a lavish breakfast, lunch & dinner that was simple, yet finger-licking delicious. Although the cottage has not been marked or named in any way, it can be found on Google maps. However, having someone stand at the narrow bypass under the main road did help us locate it.

Birding Guide Deepak 

We were delighted to learn that Mohit Aggarwal, CEO, was sending a guide, Deepak Kumar Saxena, courtesy Asian Adventures. After a round of introduction, Deepak suggested an evening walk as soon as we reached and he pointed out many birds that we were astonished to see in the front and back-yard of Magpie itself. He was polite, easy tempered and had deep knowledge of bird behavior, that could only come from passion and over a decade of experience. Armed with just his local torch, logic and his vast experience, he has the knack to open up seemingly quiet and empty patches of the forest to reveal camouflaged birds. He knew where to look and would spot hidden birds, identify them and explain their movement based on just listening to their calls and anticipating their next response. And he was uncannily accurate. He was also honest and admitted when he could not identify a bird or a call, but arrive at an answer a little later that was based on sound logic.

**Day 1 (5 Oct)** : At our request, he obliged to take us on a night drive on the main road, a short distance towards Dugadda. We stopped the car and started walking for a few minutes, when we heard an eerie cry (a call & reply from 3-4 directions) that he identified as a **Palm Civet** . It was confirmed when we caught 2 of them in the flashlight up in the trees calling out to each other. As we drove back to the cottage, he scanned the forest for chance sightings of fauna with his torchlight and we spotted 3 pairs of eyes reflecting in the torch beam across a dark corner of a bridge round a bend, and Deepak, based on the size and behavior, identified them as those of a mother **Tiger** and her 2 cubs. To have such a chance sighting of tigers so close to the cottage of the first day was thrilling!

**Day 2 (6 Oct)** : The following day, we drove upto Vatanvasa Gate (the Gate was closed at this time of the year) and beyond, a few kilometers towards Mundiyapaani and stopped intermittently whenever we saw any bird activity. On our way back to the Cottage we paused at a point where we saw a bird flying frantically around a large white bird. Deepak identified the large white bird as the Spot-Bellied Eagle Owl! We were so excited to see such a rare bird! It was facing us and looked so dramatic and formidable with its long ear tufts. We were lucky to enjoy watching the bird for the next 40-45 minutes. Later, we saw it crouch cat-like, all set to catch a prey in the nearby bushes, until it vanished as a ghost into the forest.

From spotting tiny birds like the black-chinned warbler to the Great Himalayan Hornbills soaring up in the sky, from the monitor lizard & palm civets to the tigers, Deepak as a bird guide, turned our fun family trip into an mini-ornithological-cum-wildlife expedition.

Hirak Chaturvedi: As a coordinator/ point-of contact, was prompt in response via email and by mobile.He answered all queries and offered viable alternatives to best suits our specialized requirements w.r.t.our interest in birdlife. It was a pleasure coordinating with him.

**Summary:** Our stay at Magpie Cottage was full of unexpected bird and animal sightings. We look forward to returning there soon next year. We thank Asian Adventures team for help in making our stay comfortable and take home life-long memories.

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