Sunday, 26 February 2012

A date with dolphins

23rd February

The tide was prohibitively high this morning so we postponed our sailing until after a thoroughly civilised breakfast, including the Sunderbans' deservedly celebrated honey. This didn’t stop the birdiest among us strolling to the village at first light, before breakfast. White-throated kingfishers flashed their tropical-ocean wings from the treetops, purple and purple-rumped sunbirds crowded to a bean tree in flower, and both dusky and Blyth’s reed warblers gave their distinctive tek calls from the mangroves along the levee.

The rest of our day was spent in the park, travelling south to the Neti Dhopani camp on the edge of the core area and north again through the creeks of the sanctuary. Kingfishers in five flavours were much in evidence: black-capped (everywhere), common (common), collared (quite common), white-throated (just the one, but we weren’t in its habitat and after the torrent of these gorgeous birds in Assam we can hardly complain), and brown-winged (just one but what a superb creature!). Curlews and common sandpipers were often to be seen on the mud at the edge of the forest and as a single whiskered tern bounced delicately over the waves our first whimbrel flew past on sharp dark wings.

Heading back, after a delicious lunch, cooked and eaten on the boat, we found two saltwater crocodiles basking in the sun on the mudflats exposed as the tide fell. Finally, as the sun oozed to the horizon we met a pair of Irrawaddy dolphins, one of the Sunderbans’ signature animals and the silent star of Amitav Ghosh’s fascinating novel The Hungry Tide. Having so recently seen dozens of Ganges dolphins we were well placed to compare the two species, especially as today’s animals were very obliging. Perhaps most immediately noticeable was the Irrawaddys’ loud blow as they surfaced, though we could also see their globe-shaped heads, their stronger dorsal fins and their lovely pearly-grey colour shining in the light of an estuarine evening.

Long may they swim, fly and rove here, all these rare, beautiful creatures of the mangroves.

Today’s newcomers


Irrawaddy dolphin
Orcaella brevirostris


purple-rumped sunbird
Leptocoma zeylonica
Blyth’s reed warbler
Acrocephalus dumetorum
brown-winged kingfisher
Halcyon amauropterus
whiskered tern
Chlidonias hybrida
Numenius phaeopus
red-rumped swallow
Hirundo daurica


saltwater crocodile
Crocodylus porosus

2012 Totals
Mammals: 32
Birds: 324
Reptiles: 5
Amphibians: 0
Fish: 0

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