As the long weekend of Dasara was approaching the call from within was to visit the wilderness. We friends (Venky, Suresh and self) decided to head to Bandipur National Park so we booked Jungle Lodges (JLR) and Resorts at Bandipur and started early at 3.30AM sharp from Bangalore. Our plan was to head to BR Hills and do a slow drive along the road up to KGudi and then head back to Bandipur. After a 4 hour journey we entered BR Hills in the early morning, the best time to bird out there.
The pristine forests were very calm on this particular day and had nothing to offer to us for photography than a few Bay-backed Shrikes, a few Green bee-eaters and Drongos. Not a single mammal was sighted here even though we roamed about for more than 2 hours, hence made the decision to head to Bandipur and landed at JLR at around 11AM. On our arrival here we were immediately greeted by a typical harsh warbler and upon investigation we found a single Lesser White-throat. This was my first sighting of this bird at Bandipur in my many many visits. The bird kept itself always under cover inside a Lantana bush where it hunted for insects. We tried hard to take a picture but could not manage a single one and the warbler flew away. We were happy that we saw this rare warbler to our region.
After a great lunch and a lazy afternoon siesta we headed for safari at around 4PM. Due to the festival holidays Bandipur was brimming with tourists. Our jeep was shared by a family of five from Mysore who were also nature enthusiasts. For Venky my friend desperation was creeping in to spot his first tiger in the wild. He kept on telling us that even though he had made many trips in to the jungles of Karnataka he was never lucky enough to spot the great cat. When all the talk was going on the Jeep driver Kiran told us that the sighting of wildlife (game animals) was very low for the past 3-4 weeks. After almost 90minutes of drive where we spotted only a few spotted deers and wild boars we spotted a perched and fairly relaxed Changeable hawk Eagle. The light was going down by this time and the dark clouds were gathering very fast and we even had few drops of rain falling. Suresh with his huge 500mm lens was able to take some pictures of the eagle even in the bad light which he wanted to photograph so desperately. Amidst all this our jeep got a radio message on the wireless from another JLR safari jeep that across the road a few Gaurs were seen grazing, so Kiran our jeep driver started to head in that direction and we reached that spot after few minutes and watched the Gaur walk past us in to the thick bamboo growth.
As we were moving along the jeep track Kiran and I could spot a huge tiger crossing the jeep track around 100 feet from us and moving into the thick Lantana cover. Kiran screamed “Tiger Saar” but before my jeep-mates could see, the great cat had vanished. Kiran gave us the idea of going to the other side of the bushes and waiting there for the tiger to come out. After around 15mins of wait, the Tiger did come out and by now it was pretty dark and photography opportunities never existed. But all of us were able to see this magnificent big cat walk past the jeep track and vanish right in front of our eyes. The tiger was very dark coated and was a huge male in its prime. The belly skin was almost touching the ground and its legs were like pillars. Venky was overjoyed to see his first wild tiger. For me it was a great feeling that this great beast is still roaming our jungles and has a chance to survive and keep going for many more years. It will be such a shame for every Indian if the tiger disappears from our jungles due to human greed and if we Indians are not able to protect it from going towards extinction.
With high spirits after the tiger sighting we headed back to Camp (JLR). On our arrival the message had spread about the tiger sighting that we had and all the visitors to the park greeted us kept questioning us on the sighting. Kiran our driver had radioed the message immediately after the sighting to all the JLR folks. The day ended with great dinner, camp fire and even better sleep. We eagerly waited for the early morning safari.
We left for the safari drive at 6AM and headed strait to a location where we spotted a huge flock of Pompadour Green Pigeons roosting the previous evening. We asked Kiran to take a chance to investigate that area for the roosting green pigeons and upon our arrival there the birds were found huddled together and perched on open dried branches of a dead tree. It was an awesome sight and even though it was overcast we did manage to click some good pictures of this canopy bird. From the experiences that I had with this bird in these many years, I have never seen them in the open like this before. They are always seen among the foliage and this was a great photo opportunity that we never wanted to forego.
There was lots of bird activity during this safari drive, the Woodpeckers, Minivets, Shrikes and winter migrants like Grey Wagtails and Greenish Leaf Warblers were seen in good numbers. The sun came out now and then in small bursts and illuminated the great forests brilliantly. We found this very friendly Crested Serpent Eagle which posed very well and was always a photographer’s delight. We even found a few juveniles of this species and also Changeable Hawk Eagle frequently calling near a waterhole.
A very fruitful safari drive with a small herd of Elephants with around 7 females and a single male and also a new born calf. The females were particularly very protective about the baby and one of the females (may be the matriarch of the group) also made a mock charge at the jeep. They kept walking on the jeep track allowing us to click some pictures. The wild boars too were having the young and were grazing without any disturbances peacefully on the freshly grown nutritious grass shoots.
A great experience again to visit our Indian Jungle and as the saying goes “THE JUNGLE NEVER DISAPPOINTS”.