Bird spotting at Dandeli

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Bird spotting at Dandeli

The swooshing sounds from the wings of a hornbill filled the valley as the last rays of sun painted the sky in various hues of red and orange. A lone malabar pied hornbill made its way across the hills, gracefully flapping its wings in a nonchalant manner. Standing on a cliff at Dandeli’s Sykes Point, where River Kali cuts through a steep gorge and meanders into a valley, watching the evening sun go beyond the hills and seeing a fisherman’s boat gently cruising through the valley was like sinking into a world of surreal paintings. A homing hornbill silhouetted against the sky was all that was needed to make everything perfect.

Bird diversity

You will never miss seeing malabar pied hornbills and great hornbills when you are in Dandeli. The town and the thick woods around it are teeming with these large birds, but a keen observer gets to see a diverse variety of birds unlike anywhere else in Karnataka. They come in a surprising variety of colours, like the dazzling scarlet minivet in bright crimson at one extreme and white bellied drongo in just black and whites at another extreme. I sometimes found these birds in unlikely places. Shashi, the local naturalist, took me to a timber yard at the edge of the town where the trees were few and far apart and the chances of finding birds seemed to be low. But it was here that I saw the largest flock of hornbills having a loud conversation among themselves and relishing on wild fruits. That was not all; I also saw a colourful coppsmith—a bird whose call sounds like someone hammering on metal—searching for fruits on a ficus tree. A pair of barbets called out continuously, camouflaged perfectly beneath the leaves and never revealing their position.

If one could see so much without leaving the town, what can one expect to see in the jungles?

My expectations ran high and Dandeli did not fail to live up to it. A fifteen-minute drive from the town, a marshland surrounded by thick forest provided the ideal habitat for many species of birds. I spotted here a blue tailed bee eater showing off its deep blue plumage, sitting on the tip of a dry twig. Jacanas walked freely over the lilies at the edge of the water. Grey wagtails walked along the shore, wagging their tail and searching for insects. The trees were full of life, where I noticed rocket-tailed drongos hopping between branches, woodpeckers pecking on the tree and a Malabar giant squirrel keeping a careful eye on us.    
                      
The most colourful of the avian lot were scarlet minivets. The males had a deep crimson hue while the females were yellow. Always found in pairs, they would stay high up in the canopy most of the time and quickly skip from branch to branch, rarely giving me time for a closer look. The common kingfisher was another colourful bird that caught my attention.
The noisiest bunch in the jungle was perhaps parakeets that hung around in small groups, squeaking loudly and making a ruckus wherever they are. Their green feathers merged so well with their surroundings that it was impossible to spot them until they flew out. Hill mynahs that lived deeper in the jungle probably made much more noise than the parakeets, but I never got a chance to see them during my visit.

There is such a dense population of birds here that I sometimes did not have to go looking for them; they came to where I was. Sitting over a cup of coffee one evening and occasionally glancing at the trees, I saw more than a dozen types of birds in less than half an hour, which included a greenish leaf warbler, goldmantled chloropsis, plum headed parakeets, a pair of jungle babblers and scarlet minivets.

Dandeli’s wilderness was not all about birds. Crocodiles lived in deeper parts of Kali River and came out of the water occasionally to bask in the sun.

They sat sunning on rocks jutting out from the water, displaying their sharp array of teeth. The forest of Dandeli is known for another creature that has stayed highly elusive. The black panthers are so rarely seen that even local naturalists who have spent years in the wilderness here have not even had a glimpse of this mysterious creature.

How to get there

Dandeli is approximately 475km from Bangalore and is connected by KSRTC buses departing every night. The nearest train station is at Alnavar.

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