Posted by: tim ellis | October 28, 2017

India – Sunday October 29th 2017

It is cloudier this morning when we get up, but we do eventually get a glowing red orb of a sun at dawn. We are back in Tala zone, and the jungle seems slow to wake up, and what is around is not hanging about for photographs – a jungle owlet flies past and vanishes into the trees.

 Pug marks and tyre tracks

There are fresh pugmarks of tigers in the road and the occasional alarm call, so we are able to head down to where the tiger is presumed to be (apparently it is a female with cubs) – there is even reported to be a forest ranger on elephant back looking for her – but despite repeated circling no sightings occur.

We head off to the breakfast camp to discover Alan, Carol & David had already visited there this morning when a puncture required swapping the spare wheel as you are not allowed to leave the vehicle elsewhere in the park.

After eating, we head back to where the tiger is supposed to be. We do see the elephant and rider, but still no tiger. Our route out of the park goes via another patch of jungle, where a male tiger is believed to be resting, but he proves equally elusive. We do, however get our first vulture sightings when we come across a field full of them.

Funnel Web Spider

After lunch there is a troop of langurs around (and in) the grounds of the lodge, before we head off for our afternoon excursion. We see as many different species in the first ten minutes as we saw in the first two hours this morning, including our first sightings of Golden Jackal. Another first this afternoon is the Funnel-web Spider. I am sure we have seen the webs on nearly all the previous trips – but this is the first time we have stopped to look at the spiders themselves.

After hearing a few alarm calls, we stop overlooking a waterhole, where we spot a White-throated Kingfisher, and while we are photographing this we hear the deep-throated growl of the tiger – probably a male marking his territory. We stay put in the hope he will make an appearance, but all that emerges from the forest are deer and monkeys, and none of them seem concerned about the possible presence of any nearby predators.

Spotted Deer

Dinner tonight is obviously a Chinese themed meal, hot and sour soup, followed by fried rice, noodles and Chinese chilli chicken – accompanied by poppadum and chapattis

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Posted by: tim ellis | October 27, 2017

India – Saturday October 28th 2017

A 4:45 alarm call gives us time for coffee before we set off seemed a good idea last night…  The sky looks fairly clear with lots of stars visible.  We are in Maghdi Zone for both trips today.  Although our groups remain the same, the jeeps change – it turns out these are not owned by the individual lodges but allocated on a trip by trip basis from a central pool – some are definitely better than others!

Indian Roller Plenty of bird life this morning, including Black Stork, Crested Hawk Eagle, an attractive Indian Roller and a couple of Magpie Robins (for ornithologists who can’t make their minds up).  No tigers though. We do a catch a brief glimpse of a Ruddy Mongoose. (Very brief in my case, it disappears into the undergrowth as I work out where it was). We have breakfast at a jungle camp – hard-boiled eggs and samosas – before returning to base, stopping to photograph Langurs on a bridge and Rhesus Monkeys on a wall in the village. Rhesus Macaque

We don’t seem to have been back long before it is time for lunchtime and shortly after that we are out again – the sane part of the park, but a much shorter drive.  There is not as much wildlife around this afternoon, and most of what is new is not well placed for photographs.  There is another Crested Hawk Eagle, however, sitting nicely lit in a tree.

Crested Hawk Eagle

Listening to the deer and monkey alarm calls, it is decided we are perfectly situated to a tiger when it comes to visit a nearby waterhole – except nothing appears.  The next theory is that it may be a leopard, which are shyer, and take longer to move about as they tend to stay in cover more. We wait longer, but still no joy (possibly it is spooked by another vehicle).

Time (and light) are against us, if the jeep is late out, the vehicle, driver and guide are all banned for the season.  Close to the gate all the vehicles are stopped, as someone thinks there is a tiger across a field in the edge of some woods.  I can see where they are looking, but can’t make anything out in the near twilight murk.  Carol, with the benefit of a good pair of binoculars finally decides it was a sloth bear (I still didn’t see it, whatever it was).

Roy had asked yesterday if there was any chance of fish and chips for dinner – we had chips with lunch tonight and dinner tonight included fish – so almost!

Posted by: tim ellis | October 27, 2017

India – Friday October 27th 2017

We arrive at Katni Junction around 6:00 am – It is already busy with passengers and cows filling the platforms.  Again the porters load up prodigious amounts of our gear (two of them manage all of our cases) and we follow them out to where two cars are waiting to take us to Bandhavgarh.  We are promised a toilet stop at a filling station “just outside town” – however it is a new road, and most of the filling stations are still being built!  We do finally find one to break our journey briefly, then carry on, arriving at the lodge around 8:40.

Way to Jungle Safari

We have breakfast at 9:30, followed by an orientation talk on Indian Tiger Safaris and how they work – our first one will be at 3:00 pm this afternoon (after lunch at 1:00 pm) We are in three jeeps – I am with Roy, Mark & Wendy in the second and Alan, Carol & David in the third (we will remain in these groups throughout our stay).  Eddie travels with a different group each time – he is with us this afternoon, with the lodge drivers/naturalists Sim and Ayan in the other two jeeps.  We are in the Tala Zone (closest to the lodge).  We start well by spotting Alexandrine Parakeets and a Spotted Owlet in a tree while waiting for the gates to open. Inside the forest is broken by dry river beds and the occasional meadow, as well as some impressive rocky outcrops. No tigers. But we do see Rhesus Monkey, Grey (Hanuman) Langur, Spotted (Chital) and Sambar Deer and some impressively large Giant Wood Spiders.  We also spy a Scops Owl resting in a hollow tree and an Adjutant Stork atop another. Scops Owl

It is quite dark by the time we return at 6:00 pm.  The resort staff are on hand with hot towels and tea or coffee.  Dinner and checklists at 8 – even with three different jeeps we don’t seem to have covered many of the species on the checklist – we resolve to do better tomorrow – first drive at 6:00 am

Posted by: tim ellis | October 26, 2017

India – Thursday October 26th 2017

Travel to Heathrow yesterday was painless, and as a bonus, they are experimenting with allowing you to check your bags in at any time (despite what it says on the boarding card) so I don’t have to hang about before going through security and getting something to eat. I find Mark & Wendy at the departure gate, but we are sat at opposite ends of the plane.
On the flight I do have cause to wonder why, if the vegetarians pre-book their meals, I am always left on BA flights with only the vegie option available! – Although they do promise I will get a choice for breakfast…
I join Roy, Alan and Carol in the queue at immigration, only to find we are in the wrong one, so more queuing ensues, not helped when the number of officials drops down to one for a while, but eventually we are cleared, collect our bags (already removed from the carousel), change our money, and , finally join the others. A short ride to the Holiday Inn follows, where we have two rooms booked to allow us to change and freshen up. Roy, David and I take one, and we chat until lunchtime.
Lunch is an impressive buffet, and we are advised to make the most of it, as we have a “packed lunch” for dinner on the train. We leave at three for a drive through crowded New Delhi roads to the station, where the porters impress us by carrying our (wheeled) suitcases on their heads. We set off in pursuit, which means no time to take photos of the monkey we pass (our first wildlife), to the platform where we wait for the train, watching the locals, the birds and the bandicoot (large rats – not related to the Australian marsupial of the same name) scurrying besides the rail.

Katni Station

Our train arrives and we find our allocated seats. I am in a 1st Class AC cabin with 3 strangers, David, Roy, Alan and Wendy are in the one next door. Mark & Wendy are in a 2nd class AC cabin at the other end of the carriage (the difference, apparently is we have a door rather than just a curtain), while out guide, Eddie (Aditya) is in another 2nd class cabin further down the train. My three strangers turns out to be Deepak. He has two friends who are also sleeping elsewhere in the train – they join him to eat and chat, then disappear to their own berths. Until, that is, we stop at another station at around 11:30 and we gain another cabin mate. There is a certain amount of confusion as he has a bottom bunk, both of which are occupied, but it turns out Deepak should be in a top bunk, so he has to relocate.

Posted by: tim ellis | July 30, 2016

Svalbard – Saturday 30th July 2016 – Longyearbyen

Svarlbad Museum

Everything needs to be packed up, and bills settled as we leave for the last time. We are to get a tour of Longyearbyen, followed by lunch in the Radissson Blue hotel – Hannah says many of the expedition staff may try and join us there . Just before we leave, however, she announces a change in plan means she will now be returning to the UK with us as the engine problems have forced the cancellation of the next trip.

We set out in two busses – ours goes first to the museum. It is a bright sunny morning, and we park right outside, so to save carriage, several people leave coats on the bus. The museum is shut, and, according to the sign, isn’t due to open for another hour. Although it bright and sunny, the wind is still quite chilly, so we get back on the bus… Fortunately someone soon comes and lets us in. The Museum tells of the history, geology and ecology of the archipeligo. It isn’t huge, but does have a gift shop!

Longyearbyen

From the museum we travel out of town to see the “Warning – Polar Bears Crossing” traffic sign – unlike most signs which have a red border around a white sign with a black symbol, this one has a white bear on a black background. We continue past the sign to Camp Barentz for coffee and a chance to see some teams of sledge dogs

Longyearbyen Airport

Finally lunch at the Radsison, and shopping in the nearby shops before heading up to the Airport – we are there in plenty of time, and, since it is a charter flight, don’t need tickets. However what we did need was the company to have sent the official passenger manifest to the airport, which doesn’t seem to have happened. Hannah eventually sorts them out and we are able to depart only slightly later than scheduled…

Posted by: tim ellis | July 29, 2016

Svalbard – Friday 29th July 2016 – Poolepynten

Poolepynten
This morning is slightly overcast and quite windy.  Hannah was hoping there would be Walrus on the beach – but there is only a skeleton.  Despite the wind, we will still be going ashore, although we are warned it may get “a bit choppy” on the way back.  Spook is ready nice and early, so gets on the second zodiac out.  They have just landed when the decision is taken to abort, as the wind is getting stronger. (And yes, the ride back is quite choppy!)

 
Blue Whale
We hope for better conditions this afternoon, and indeed the wind drops and the clouds lift as the day progresses. However the ship’s engine has started to overheat, so our progress is slowed and our arrival at Longyearbyen is delayed, leaving us on the ship all day. – We do however get the bonus of a Blue Whale showing up just after lunch.

 Longyearbyen

Posted by: tim ellis | July 28, 2016

Svalbard – Thursday 28th July 2016 – Isbjørnhamna

Arctic Tern
No fog this morning, although as often seems to be the case, low lying cloud is obscuring the tops of mountains. We sail up the fjord to the glacier at the top end, where we take a zodiac cruise, looking at some interestingly shaped icebergs and the glacier face.  A couple of Ivory Gulls are flying about and there are several Arctic Terns on an iceberg, but little other wildlife.

 Ivory Gull

This afternoon’s excursion is close to a Polish research station, which we see, but do not visit, instead trekking inland up a stony valley to a Little Auk nesting site.  A few people, on looking at the terrain, opt instead for another zodiac cruise – which may have been a good choice on their part, as they get a close encounter with some Beluga. We see them from about a mile away up the hillside, but persuading people the small dots in the photos are really whales may prove tricky!  We do see the Auks in abundance, however, and a couple of reindeer, one quite close and the other on top of the mountain, beautifully silhouetted against the sky.  There is also a very dark Arctic Fox which wanders through the bird colony.
Little Auks at Isbjørnhamna
 

Alex takes us on a “mini cruise” on the way back to the ship, via the glacier in the next bay.  The Beluga were here earlier, but have obviously moved on.  There is a large iceberg which cracks noisily, causing some of the passengers to jump, and a large lump of ice that calves off the glacier before we return to the ship.  The last party who return to the ship reveal that the iceberg has now split into three, with a large piece of ice erupting to the surface close to where we were when we heard it crack!

 Iceberg - Isbjørnhamna

Tonight is the Captain’s farewell dinner, with lots of thanks to all the Crew and Staff.  The desert is listed as “Baked Alaska on Parade” – which turns out to be several baked alaskas, complete with Roman candles and sparklers, leading a parade of all the kitchen and restaurant staff, who get a (well deserved) round of applause.

Posted by: tim ellis | July 27, 2016

Svalbard – Wedneday 27th July 2016 – Boltodden

Boltodden
A rather foggy morning when we first get up, although clearing slightly after breakfast, allowing us to go ashore (although the “Long Walk” is cancelled).  The “Medium to  Short Walk” sets out along the beach past Red Throated Divers and an abandoned hut to see Eider and Long-Tailed Ducks.  Some people then return to the ship, while the rest of us (joined by the “Medium to Long” walkers set off in the opposite direction to see some wind-carved rock formations, encountering Snow Bunting, Purple Sand Piper and Long Tailed Skua on the way.  All in all quite a long walk with a bit of a climb involved!

 
Snow Bunting - Boltodden

Hannah announces at lunch that we will be later arriving at this afternoon’s location than orriginally envisaged, so she will allow us an “Offical Afternoon Nap”.

 

The fog has been on and off all day , and is quite close again at Hamburgbukta, so we will just be zodiac cruising rather than landing. The cruise is best described as “Atmospheric”  – visibility is quite low – we do find a Bearded Seal on an iceberg, but he slips into the water and vanishes before anyone can get close enough for a good view. Even the glcaier is elusive in the fog, and it is only thanks to the GPS readings that we can find the ship again on our return.  Expedition time and the ships timetable have not meshed well this afternoon – the bar staff were laying out tea when we left, and have tidiesd it away before we return!
Kittiwakes

There is more entertainment after dinner (by which time either the fog has lifted, or we have sailed out of it) when a call suddenly comes over the intercom that several large Whales have been sighted.  It turns out to be a large group of Fin Whales, maybe 15-20 animals, all feeding around the ship, including one that occasionally shows us tail flukes.
FIn Whales

Posted by: tim ellis | July 26, 2016

Svalbard – Tuesday 26th July 2016 – Nordaustland

Brünnich's Guillemot, Alkefjellet
We have entered the Hinlopen channel between Spitsbergen and Nordaustland in the early hours of the morning, and are in the zodiacs at 8:00 for a cruise along some impressive bird cliffs – the skies are black with Guillemots, who are the main inhabitants, although there are a few Kittiwakes and the occasional Glaucous Gull amongst them. (A lone Great Skua also flies past us at one stage). We also see an Arctic Fox quite close to the shore. He appears to have an injured hind leg, but it doesn’t seem to slow him down significantly as he climbs amongst the rocks in search of food.
Arctic Fox at Alkefjellet

There are a number of waterfalls created by the melting snow, but at the end of the cliff there is a river flowing over the glacier and forming a major torrent, discolouring the sea as the sediment is deposited at the base of the cliff.

Polar Bear at Torellneset

Back on board the ship we make good time towards our afternoon location, even allowing for a stop to view a sleeping polar bear – he awakes briefly and looks up at us before settling down again.

 

After lunch we are supposed to be landing for walks and Walrus viewing.  All the “Long Walk” people disembark first, and the “Medium Walk” are just starting to get ito the zodiacs when then advance party spot a bear – it seems to be asleep, and a long way back, but the safety rules say “No Landing if there is a Bear”.  The Governor of Svalbard’s boat is in the bay, so even if we wanted to break the rules (which we don’t!)  now would not be the time to do it!

Who's Watching Who?

There are plenty of Walrus on the beach and in the water however, so we cruise along the shore taking photos.

 

We sail past the Brasvelbreen glacier just before dinner, and while out on deck we are treated to the sight of a Humpback Whale feeding, aqccompanied by a flock of Kittiwakes taking advantage of the fish he was driving to the surface.

Humpback Whale
At about 12:30 AM  as the boat enters the Freemansundet the tannoy goes off to announce several Polar Bears on the shore.  They are on the side of a mountain, which, annoyingly, has the sub behind it, making viewing difficult in the glare, but becoming easier as we move along the cliff.  There are at least seven bears, possibly more, spread along the mountain, either walking or resting.  As we get to the end of the cliff , the captain circles the boat back around to give people a second chance to spot them all.

Posted by: tim ellis | July 25, 2016

Svalbard – Monday 25th July 2016 – Sea Ice

Polar Bear
We are awoken at around 2:30 am by Hannah on the tannoy, announcing the first sighting a Polar bear swimming ahead of the ship.  A quick scramble into clothes ensues, followed by a mustering on the forward observation deck.  The bear is swimming along the ice front, so it takes everyone a little time to spot.  Gradually more and more people find it, and help point it out to others. Just the head is visible, but once you have found it, it is easy to keep tracking its progress.  Eventually though, it climbs out onto the ice floe, albeit briefly, when it becomes much more obvious.  It returns to the water, swims to the next floe, then climbs out again.  He remains out for longer this time, allowing for better (and given the ships movement) closer viewing.

Polar Bear
The weather was quite good, if cold and windy while we were watching the bear, by breakfast there is a sea mist and the ice we are sailing along is barely visible. Eventually it clears, and calm conditions allow for a zodiac cruise along the ice edge – including a chance to get out and stand on ice floe at 81o04’ North.  There is not much wildlife in evidence – a couple of Kittiwake and a Skua, then just before we return to the ship, a young inquisitive Harp Seal

In the Sea Ice
We continue to cruise North East along the ice edge until mid-afternoon when we turn back South again, but wildlife remains scarce – we do see a Bearded Seal hauled out on the ice, but he is quite away off from the boat.

Bearded Seal
Hannah gives us a Polar Bear talk as part of the briefly this evening, which includes some photos of this morning’s bear, which she has now decided (after reviewing the pictures) was probably a young male.

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