A haven for birds

Avifauna CONSERVATION

A haven for birds

With a birding trail and a bird-watching camp in proximity, Dandeli makes for an ideal birder’s paradise, writes B V Prakash

Natural wonders like the Kavala caves & Syntheri rocks and the rapids of River Kali are some of the common attractions that draw nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers towards Dandeli in Uttara Kannada district.

Wildlife, specifically birds, is another popular tourist attraction. Dandeli and its surroundings, which host a significant part of the State’s avifauna, have evolved as preferred birding destinations. A wide range of resident birds including the Asian paradise flycatcher, Malabar trogon and migratory birds including  the brown shrike, grey wagtail, rosy starling and marsh harrier can be found here.

The major attraction among the resident birds is the impressive hornbill. Natural water bodies and easy access to food attract water birds too. Comb ducks, lesser whistling teals, garganeys and spot-billed ducks are frequently spotted here.

Birders from all over the country make a beeline to Dandeli during winter. Hence, it is no surprise that birdwatching and bird conservation awareness programmes are being organised with a new zeal in the Dandeli region.

Individual enthusiasts and associations like the North Karnataka Birders’ Network have been collaborating with local organisations and conducting activities to promote birding and eco-awareness in the region. As a result, during my visit to Dandeli recently, following the birding trails became a priority. With winter inviting the migratory birds too, the time could not have been more appropriate.

The Hornbill Trail

Of the nine different hornbill species found in India, four species namely, the great pied hornbill, Malabar pied hornbill, Indian grey hornbill and Malabar grey hornbill are found in the Dandeli region. These  colourful birds with horn-like bills are found in the forest area of Dandeli’s timber yard, which is located within the town’s boundaries. A bird trail has been developed here with focus on hornbills. It was initiated in 2008 by Manoj Kumar, the then deputy conservator of forests, Dandeli.

The objective was to create awareness about the conservation of hornbills. Consequently, the State Government declared an area of 77 acres as the Hornbill Conservation Zone in 2009. This also led to the conservation of ficus tree varieties, the major source of food for hornbills, in the area. The move also prohibited the felling of any standing deadwood tree for timber so that hornbills could use them for perching and basking in the sun.

The Hornbill Trail was developed with the help of naturalists and guides. Initially, a census of fruit-bearing trees in the area was listed. Information about hornbills was put up at different locations. Different short-distance trails were created with signages at appropriate spots describing the length of the trail, direction, tree species found there and the birds commonly sighted.

The trail begins at the entrance of the timber yard, where a ficus tree stands. From there, the walk goes along the metalled road for a distance and then branches off into the forest. In the very beginning of the trail, I saw a couple of Malabar pied hornbills basking in the warmth of the morning sun. With huge yellow beaks and a prominent casque they looked awesome.

As the different species of ficus trees bear fruits at different periods of time, hornbills don’t starve for food here. The nesting habits of hornbills are unique, says Shashidhar, a naturalist with the Jungle Lodges and Resorts. Tall trees with huge girth are, therefore, necessary. Breeding cycle of hornbills is not only interesting but also precarious. After a nest is selected (normally tree cavities), the female is sealed inside, leaving a small opening to receive food.

During the 50-day incubation period, the female stays inside and the male travels far and long to fetch food for the mate and chicks. If the male happens to die during this period, the whole family starves to death. This makes the conservation of hornbills all too important.

Many other birds like the yellow-footed pigeon, lesser flame-backed woodpecker and golden orioles also depend on ficus trees for fruits.

Not far from Dandeli (22 km) is the site of Supa reservoir at Ganeshagudi. The place, where lush and thick forest covers the valley, is home to hundreds of lovely birds. The Old Magazine House forest camp here offers good facilities for birding enthusiasts. Several perches and birdbaths have been erected at different points. With a birding trail and a bird-watching camp in proximity, Dandeli makes for a birder’s paradise.

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