Monday, 6 February 2017

Owl festival and the fishing cat encounter !!!

Owl Festival 2017 at Jagadishpur Reservoir Ramsar site

I went to attend Nepal Owl Festival 2017 at Jagadishpur, Kapilvastu (mid-west lowland Nepal) along with my work colleague, Nagendra (Awasthi) dai. We traveled in night bus, and reached the festival site the next morning by 7am. The festival went well with nature and bird watching program early in the morning and followed by various cultural programmes later in the day. The Jagdishhpur reservoir is one huge wetland lake and a ramsar site important for numerous migratory and resident water birds.

During the birding sessions, over 30 species of birds were spotted that included bar-headed goose, bean goose, gray lag goose, asian open-bill, ruddy-shelduck, ferruginous duck to name some by expert birders. During the night, lot of calls of owls was heard. I was also excited about this place that it is a known habitat for fishing cats (Prionailurus viverrinus), they had been recorded (Sagar Dahal et al. 2014) in and around the lake area. Most of the time, I was wondering about their presence around and really wanted to go track their signs.

So, in this 2nd day of the festival after our morning birding session, I insisted Nagendra dai to go and hunt down their tracks in a nearby small shallow pond which was wet and easy to access. As we walked through the edges, a carnivore scat was encountered, which i believe should be of jackal (unsure), I didn't have the feeling of it to be of a felid because its morphology was quite different than my pet cat's feces (which I am much familiar with). As we went by, we spotted small felid pugmarks, it was a joyful moment. We went ahead, and again spotted even more fresh tracks in a pretty wet area of the pond. In this second encounter, you could also tell the path the cat walked through, it clearly looked as if the cat was climbing up the slope into the edge from the shallow area, the claw marks were intact in the tracks. I took photographs and GPS through my mobile device. As soon as we returned to the festival area, I showed it to Yadav (Ghimirey) dai, he confirmed it to be most likely of fishing cat based on habitat and size of the track. This made my day having tracked a fishing cat track. We attended the festival program and enjoyed our rest of the day in the festival area, I volunteered by putting owl stamp to children and adults too. The festival ended well with messages of owl conservation and awareness among the local communities with many other fun-filled local cultural and entertainment activities.

The next day, we were bound to return early morning. We woke up and got ready by 5.30am when we finally started to move towards bus stop. We had some really good friends who helped us in reaching bus stop at time (by waking up early themselves) by dropping us through bike. I and Nagendra dai started walking and almost covered half way to the bus stop when Kaushal (Yadav) dai took us in his bike (double-load). He was riding very slowly, and suddenly we noticed something move, there the guys started to shout out with joyous voices, then Kaushal bro called "fishing cat". It was a blessing moment of our journey I would say. As we were leaving the place, a fishing cat showed it to us, we were able to see it as it ran through the farm-field and into a bush nearby where it disappeared.

As we reached the bus stop, we excitingly informed it to Yadav dai, who was already there. This joyous moment wouldn't have been possible if Yadav dai had not insisted me to come to the festival. My huge thanks to him, and rest of all Friends of Nature team for organizing such a wonderful festival. This sighting was my second live sighting of a wild cat in the wild.

Sagar Dahal et al, SMCRF (2014). Status of Fishing cat in Jagadishpur Reservoir and Ghodaghodi Lake and assessment of threat.



Fig 1: habitat area (shallow pond), where we tracked for signs

Fig 2: pugmark spot 1

Fig 3: pugmark spot 2

Fig 4: pugmarks (claw-marks intact), claws would protract as the cat insist on climbing through slope

Fig 5: slope at edge of the pond, arrows showing tracks with claw-marks

Fig 6: carnivore scat in edge of the pond

Fig 7: Jagadishpur Reservoir

Fig 8: Map showing locations of pugmarks and live sighting of fishing cat (Google Earth Pro image)

Fig 9: Owl face painting was one of the attractions in the festival


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