Kuldiha WLS – A Birder’s Paradise – 22nd Feb 2021

Trip Report

Nestled on the foothills of the northern fringes of the Eastern Ghats in Odisha, is a small forest, known for its unique biodiversity and immense beauty. The Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary, located in Balasore District of Odisha, is home to more than 200 species of birds and around 40 species of mammals and reptiles. It has been very well preserved by the erstwhile ruling family of Nilagiri and is now being developed under the aegis of the Forest Department of the Govt. of Odisha. This blog attempts to provide all details to birders/wildlife enthusiasts, who wish to experience the wonders of nature that this gem of a place has to offer.
 
Reaching There:
 
The nearest airport is Bhubaneswar in Odisha, which is apprximately 220 Kms from the entry gate of Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary. NSC Bose International Airport at Kolkata, the biggest metropolis of Eastern India, is about 300 Kms from Kuldiha. Nearest railhead is Balasore, which is about 40 Kms from the WLS. From All the above places, excellent roads lead up to the entry point at Rissia. Most importantly, Kuldiha is one of the few WLS where you can drive your own vehicle, even inside the forest area.
 
Staying There:
 
There are many options to stay outside the core area. There are hotels in Balasore, Nilagiri and Panchlingeshwar (a pilgrim site, just outside the eastern boundary of the Kuldiha WLS). However, the best option to stay is inside the WLS, at Rissia Nature Camp, Gohirbhola. While options outside the WLS can be explored through various websites which offer online bookings, we will focus on the Rissia Nature Camp, Gohirbhola, in this blog.
 
Rissia Nature Camp is run by the Odisha Forest Development Corporation, as a community managed tented accommodation. It has nine tents which can accommodate eighteen guests on twin sharing basis. The tents are well appointed with a bedroom, an attached dressing room and an attached toilet with all modern amenities. Electricity is provided through solar panels which also run the water heaters. All meals are included in the plan when you stay in the camp. The camp is clean and well protected from any incursion by wild animals, through double trench around the campsite and an electric fence which is deployed at night.
 
The booking has to be done online through www.ecotourodisha.com, a website run by Odisha Forest Development Corporation. As on 22 February 2021, the charges are as under:
 
1. Rs. 3,000/- plus 12% GST = Rs. 3,360/- per tent per day, on twin sharing basis.
2. Rs. 300/- plus 18% GST = Rs. 354/- per tent per day, as transaction charges.
3. Rs. 40/- per person per day as entry fees. This will be charged for two days if you stay for a night.
 
Total booking charges for one tent, two persons, on twin sharing basis will be Rs. 3,794/- Accompanying child will be charged at Rs. 1,000/- extra, and will have to stay in the same tent with no extra bed provided. Transaction charges of Rs. 100/- plus 18% GST will also apply on the extra person. However, the beds are quite big to accommodate a child, if so desired. Entry fee of Rs. 40 per day per child will also be applicable. Check in time is 12 noon on the day of entry and check out time is 10 am on the day of departure. This is flexible by up to 30 minutes, not more.
 
All meals are included in the package which includes lunch on arrival day, evening tea with assorted pakoras, dinner and breakfast next morning. Meals are cooked within the premises and served in a dining hall by friendly staff. Chicken and Meat are not permitted inside the forest area, however, fish (locally caught from Rissia Dam) and eggs are served as per the menu of the day. Meals are wholesome and we found them to be very good. Outside food is not permitted and consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited. Should you so desire, you can inform the staff that you will have lunch on the day of your departure and they will be happy to serve you. Payment for such a meal will have to be settled separately.
 
Points to note:
 
Once you have booked your stay at Rissia Nature Camp, Gohirbhola, you will be issued with a Booking ID and receipt which can be printed and kept handy. When coming from Balasore, take a right turn towards Nilagiri at Sergarh and proceed to Nilagiri. If you are coming from Bhubaneswar, take a left turn at Sergarh and proceed to Nilagiri. At Nilagiri, go to the Kuldia Forest Range Office, which is located close to the sports stadium. Locals will guide you there. The office is open between 9 am to 12 noon only. Be sure to reach there on time. At the office, present your booking receipt to the clerk who will issue a vehicle pass (Rs. 200/- per vehicle, one time only) after taking the vehicle registration number and driving licence number of the person driving the vehicle. Then, and only then, proceed towards the camp, which is located 28 Kms from Nilagiri. If you happen to proceed without this important procedure, you will be denied entry into the WLS and will have to return to Nilagiri to complete the procedure, losing precious time.
 
Getting inside the Kuldiha WLS and Rissia Nature Camp:
 
From Nilagiri, proceed west on SH19 for 16 Kms where you will find a prominent board directing you towards Rissia Nature Camp, on the left. From here on, the road is single laned tarmac upto Rissia village and single laned dirt road upto Rissia Nature Camp at Gohirbhola. The dirt roads are kept in very good condition through regular maintenance and are drivable even on small hatchbacks. Due caution is to be exercised if you encounter any traffic coming from the opposite direction as there are trenches on both sides of the road with barely enough space for two vehicles to pass. However, there is very little traffic inside the WLS. At Balianal, you will come to the entry gate of the Kuldiha WLS. Here, you will have to present the vehicle pass and the booking receipt to the gatekeeper, who will enter all details in a register and let you pass. From the gate, proceed on the road for another 1.5 Kms where you will come to a crossroad. The exit towards the right of this junction leads you to the Rissia Nature Camp, which is about a kilometer from this junction. Drive right into the camp where there is enough space to park your vehicle and the friendly staff will assist you in unloading your luggage and ushering you to your appointed tent. After you have settled into the tent, lunch will be served around 1:30 pm. Post lunch, you are free to explore the forest and whatever it has to offer.
One of the nine tents at the Rissia Nature Camp, Gohirbhola.
Points to remember:
 
1. Honking inside the forest is not allowed. Please refrain from using your horn. In fact, you will not feel the need anyways.
 
2. The staff at the camp are not familiar with Hindi and English. They are Odia speaking tribal folk who will try to understand what you are trying to tell them. Only a couple of them will be able to speak to you in Hindi, that too, broken into small phrases. Please be patient with them. Remember, it is their land and has been so, for ages.
 
3. Forest is not a place to party. Loud music and other such things are looked down upon. As explained earlier, consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited and will be promptly reported to the Wildlife Warden.
 
4. There is no mobile connection inside the forest. Do not go looking for it. Keep your phone switched off and conserve your battery. There are a couple of places (watchtowers mainly) where you will get mobile connectivity, should you require to contact someone in an emergency. The nearest place where you will get full 4G connectivity is Nilagiri, which is 28 Kms from the Camp.
 
5. Electricity and hot water are provided through Solar Panels and you will get limited electrical power inside the tent. A pedestal fan is also provided, use it judiciously to ensure that power backup lasts for the night.
 
6. Carry your battery powered torch or headlamps. They will come in handy.
 
7. Fill up fuel at Nilagiri/Balasore. You don’t want to end up without fuel in the middle of the forest.
 
8. Water bottles are provided in each tent. However, if you need extra bottles of water, please ask the staff and pay for it at the time of departure from the camp. They charge you nominally.
 
9. Do not try to go out of the camp at night. Firstly, the electrical fence is active at night and secondly, you do not want to get lost in the jungle. Elephants, Leopards, Jackals and Snakes are frequent visitors to the camp and some animals like to frequent the salt licks which have been created for them.
 
10. Make sure your batteries (Camera/Mobile Phone/Etc.) are fully charged. Although there are charging points provided inside the tent, powered through solar panels and batteries, they are not very reliable. You do not want to run out of batteries just when you are about to photograph a Malabar Trogon. Carry extra batteries if you are trigger happy with the camera.
 
11. Even if it gets hot during the day, please wear full sleeved shirts, trousers and shoes. Inside the forest, there are ticks and you will need protection against them.
 
Birders’ Corner:
 
This section is for Bird Watchers, others may skip or read on. Now that you have settled into the camp, you can proceed to Jorachua FRH in your car. Jorachua FRH is around 9 Kms from the camp. The complete checklist for Kuldiha WLS can be downloaded from ebird.com. Keep your eyes and ears open to the sights and sounds of the jungle. Every corner you negotiate has something in store for you. You will also find the Indian Giant Squirrel (Malabar Giant Squirrel) at many places.
Guide Map of Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary
That's our birding party. We were graciously accompanied by our families as well.
Start your trip soon after lunch because the light available for photography/observation is very limited, late in the afternoon. From the camp, move up to the four point crossing (Mukhochoturi Four Point Crossing) as shown on the map and take a right turn towards Juriatota Watch Tower which is 1.5 Kms from the road junction. Park your vehicle at the watchtower and climb the starirs to reach the top of the tower. You will have a 360 degree view of the canopy and will get to see a lot of birds in good light. You will also get to see the Indian Giant Squirrel at close range. Spend not more than 15 minutes on this watch tower. From this place, take a right turn and proceed towards Jorachua FRH, which is 6.5 Kms from Juriatota Watchtower. Enroute, you can take the first left turn and proceed to Machhkund which is a good spot for birding. You will have mobile connectivity at Machhkund. From here, proceed to Jorachua FRH. The drive is very scenic and the road straddles a Nala, offering an excellent opportunity to look for your target species of birds. Orange-headed Thrush, Tickell’s Thrush, White-rumped Shama, Red Junglefowl are a common sight on this road. You can also keep your ears open for the distinct call of the Malabar Trogon. Just before you reach the Jorachua FRH, there is a road turning left which goes to a pond, as marked on the map. This area can be scouted for the Malabar Trogon. Another road leads you around the Jorachua FRH and is an excellent habitat for all kinds of birds. Pale-capped Pigeon can also be targeted on this road. This is a heavily wooded section of the forest and you might have a chance encounter with Elephants, Spotted Deer, The Red Muntjac (Barking Deer), Sloth Bear, Leopard, etc. You can also spend some time at the Jorachua FRH to look for the Malabar Trogon and the Pale-capped Pigeon. Return to the camp before sunset to get the maximum from this trip.
 
One of our cars, coming out of the Rissia Nature Camp, for a trip to Jorachua FRH.
The staff at the camp will serve you tea and pakoras in the evening and you can spend time at leisure. Dinner is served at 9:30 pm  and you can retire for the day amidst the sounds of the forest. you can also walk out of the camp for a short distance to look for Nightjars. We heard distinct calls of the Jerdon’s Nightjar and the Large-tailed Nightjar before we were promptly ordered inside by the dutiful staff who had to deploy the electric fence for the night. Nights are very peaceful and the sounds of the jungle can be heard from a long distance. Enjoy the serenity of the place. You are virtually assured of a good night’s sleep unless you suffer from insomnia.
 
Get out of bed early next morning and proceed to the crossroads at Mukhochoturi. Spend about an hour/hour and a half at the crossroads and the bridge on the Nala just below the crossroads. You will thank me for this piece of advice. This is a veritable treasure trove. You will see all kinds of passerine birds, sometimes several species on one single tree. Just stand on the bridge with the Sun behind your back. you can get down to the Nala bed and walk for a furlongh, if you wish to explore further. You will not be disappointed. From here, proceed towards Juriatota watchtower and mark your observations. After this, proceed towards the left of the watchtower towards Kuldiha FRH, which is 3.5 Kms from Juriatota Watchtower. Expect to see a lot of action on this route. Once at Kuldiha FRH, spend some time outside the FRH looking for birds. You might find the Crested Serpent Eagle here. Another road from Kuldiha FRH leads to Tenda Dam, which is where you can look for the elusive Malabar Trogon. At the Tenda Dam, expect to find the Blue-eared Kingfisher along with other species. The road will lead you back to the crossroads near Rissia Nature Camp. Be back at the camp for breakfast, which is served at 8:30 am.
 
After breakfast, go to the Rissia Dam and look out for the Blue-eared Kingfisher and lots of waders. When the Sun is up, all birds in the forest seek cover from the rising heat. The forest goes silent and there is hardly anything to see. It is only around late afternoon that you start to see birds again. Therefore, come back to the Camp for lunch and proceed for birdwatching soon after lunch. This time, take the route backwards i.e; Rissia – Tenda Dam – Kuldiha FRH – Juriatota Watchtower – Rissia Camp. This circuit should give you all that you would have missed out on your previous excursions. Doing this circuit twice over, from different directions and at different times of the day, you will be able to explore the entire circuit and discover its full potential. Be back at the Camp before sunset to recoup and rewind. Retire for the day after dinner.
 
Guide Map of Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary has been provided in this blog. You are encouraged to download the map and carry a printout for ready reference.
 
Our own checklist of birds, the ones we were able to observe/photograph/hear is uploaded on ebird.com by my colleague and birding partner, Dr. Anirban Bhaduri. We were able to document 51 species within a span of 24 hours inside the Kuldiha WLS. This trip has left us wanting for more and we plan to visit the place again in the near future.
 
Our Checklist: Our Checklist dated 22.02.2021
 
Kuldiha Complete Checklist : Kuldiha Checklist
 
Maps/photographs are uploaded for better appreciation of the description given in the blog. Please feel free to comment/ask and we will be more than happy to reply. 
 
Portrait of an Indian Giant Squirrel, near Juriatota Watchtower, 22.02.2021
A pair of Bronzed Drongos, near Mukhochoturi Chhak, 22.02.2021
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, near Mukhochoturi Chhak, 22.02.2021
Golden-fronted Leafbird, astride the bridge on the Nala, 22.02.2021
Crimson Sunbird on a flowering Mango Tree, near the bridge on the Nala, 22.02.2021
The star attraction, Malabar Trogon (Male and Female). Photo Courtesy, Soumya Kundu, a friend and fellow birdwatcher, 14.02.2021
Go on then, HAPPY BIRDING at Kuldiha.
 
Post Script: Panchlingeshwar is a pilgrim site, on the eastern periphery of Kuldiha WLS and offers very good opportunities for birdwatchers. There is no requirement of any permit for visiting Panchlingeshwar. The shrine itself, is a good spot to observe many passerine/forest dwelling birds.

List of Species - Kuldiha WLS - 22nd February 2021

Common NameScientific NameS82136474Total
Lesser Whistling-DuckDendrocygna javanica2020
Cotton Pygmy-GooseNettapus coromandelianus11
Red JunglefowlGallus gallus11
Oriental Turtle-DoveStreptopelia orientalis22
Spotted DoveStreptopelia chinensis44
Asian Emerald DoveChalcophaps indica22
Orange-breasted Green-PigeonTreron bicinctus22
Jerdon's NightjarCaprimulgus atripennis11
Eurasian MoorhenGallinula chloropus22
Pheasant-tailed JacanaHydrophasianus chirurgus22
Bronze-winged JacanaMetopidius indicus22
Intermediate EgretArdea intermedia22
Little EgretEgretta garzetta11
Cattle EgretBubulcus ibis22
Indian Pond-HeronArdeola grayii11
White-throated KingfisherHalcyon smyrnensis22
Black-rumped FlamebackDinopium benghalense11
diurnal raptor sp.Accipitriformes/Falconiformes sp.11
Rose-ringed ParakeetPsittacula krameri11
Plum-headed ParakeetPsittacula cyanocephala33
Small MinivetPericrocotus cinnamomeus22
Scarlet MinivetPericrocotus speciosus11
Black-hooded OrioleOriolus xanthornus22
Common IoraAegithina tiphia11
Black DrongoDicrurus macrocercus11
Ashy DrongoDicrurus leucophaeus22
Red-vented BulbulPycnonotus cafer44
Red-whiskered BulbulPycnonotus jocosus22
Indian White-eyeZosterops palpebrosus44
Jungle BabblerTurdoides striata55
Velvet-fronted NuthatchSitta frontalis33
Common MynaAcridotheres tristis22
Orange-headed ThrushGeokichla citrina66
Tickell's ThrushTurdus unicolor22
White-rumped ShamaCopsychus malabaricus55
Verditer FlycatcherEumyias thalassinus11
Taiga FlycatcherFicedula albicilla11
Purple-rumped SunbirdLeptocoma zeylonica44
Purple SunbirdCinnyris asiaticus11
Crimson SunbirdAethopyga siparaja22
Golden-fronted LeafbirdChloropsis aurifrons11
Forest WagtailDendronanthus indicus22

Photo Courtesy

  1. Maj B Parihar
  2. Soumya Kundu
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