Ranthambhore tiger reserve, in the primarily desert state of Rajasthan, with its sub-tropical dry climate, has three very well defined seasons - summer, winter and monsoon.
Summer starts at the end of March and last through the months of April, May and June. While the days are very hot and dry, the nights also remain stiflingly hot with day temperatures regularly crossing 40 degrees and nights hovering around an uncomfortable 30 degrees centigrade. Strong hot and dry winds gather during the day, known locally as the loo, and here, in Rajasthan, it is very easy to dehydrate, and water becomes are very precious commodity.
The vegetation on the flat top plateaus and hills of the Araveli's dry out first, usually before the end of winter. These areas are heavily used by wild ungulates during the monsoon and in winter. Now by the end of winter, with no water and little, if any, grazing left for the grazers and browsers, most leave and come down to the greener valleys. Here to though, the grasses and vegetation are also being dried out by strong drying winds, and life giving water becomes a dangerous and unavoidable necessity. Anogeissus pendula or dhok tree – the short but dominant tree species of the reserve - shed their leaves by mid March and stay barren until the monsoon rains restore them to growth.
By the middle of March, summers are well established and most of the smaller waterholes start shrinking. This is most visible in the area of the lakes. Cynadon dactylon, a short green grass, flourishes in the ground left behind by the receding shoreline of the lakes and spotted deer love to feed on these tasty morsels. The sambar deer are in turn attracted to the lakes by the aquatic vegetation, wading in and eating the vegetation, while keeping a wary eye out for crocodiles.
By the end of March the only patches of green that can be seen in the reserve are along the permanent waterholes. There are though a few species of trees that do add some colour to the by now khaki coloured reserve. These include the brilliant red flowers of the “flame of the forest” Butea monosperma), the yellow flowers of AmaltasCassia fistula), the green leaves of a few Acacia, Ziziphus and Ficus species, on which the birdlife now depend on.
Langur are often seen feeding on the remaining leaf bearing trees and herds of spotted deer follow these playful monkeys, to feed on the leaves and nourishing fruits that are dropped by these wasteful creatures. Sambar deer balance nimbly on their back legs to get at the tallest morsels still left on the trees.
The few remaining waterholes, man made lakes and shady green trees are now an oasis for all of the mammals and birds. Large areas of the reserve are almost devoid of activity, while tigers' territories shrink and overlap in their ongoing quest for permanent water sources.
Birds that had visited the reserve during winter now return to their summer nesting grounds, while the summer visitors, like Golden Oriole, Crested Bunting, Paradise Flycatchers and Indian Pitta migrate into the reserve. A large number of reptiles start to make an appearance too. Most of the male deer loose their antlers and start growing new ones. They also loose their winter coat and start looking very shabby and under nourished. Summers in Ranthambhore are a time of shortage and hardship for most animals and birds.
Tiger sightings become relatively easy at this time of year, as they inevitably need to be near the remaining waterholes to drink and cool off in, and many have their favourite cool caves or shaded trees to wile away the long hot days, or pools to lie in.
As most of the prey is concentrated around the few remaining waterholes, the predators, not surprisingly tend to do the same.
Everything, both plants and animals, now waits for the next season - the glorious monsoons, that transform the landscape once again into a land of plenty.