There is a sense of excitement when one sets off on a safari: the nip in the air and the fragrance of a fresh forest waking up to the warm rays of the sun, all tingle the senses. What hidden treasures will the jungle reveal this time? This being our first visit to Bandipur National Park, the anticipation was even more! The jungle is an immersing experience of sights, sounds and smells; there is so much more to a forest than the big cats.
One early morning, our naturalist Basavanna brought the jeep to a sudden halt. “Eagle!” he said. All heads turned in the direction of his pointed finger. Perched on a low branch of a nearby tree, we spotted a Crested Serpent Eagle devouring breakfast. Held down by its talons was a snake still writhing to escape. The eagle was having none of it. Pressing down hard, the head of the snake was ripped apart by the eagle. Sympathy for the snake was tempered with the knowledge that the food chain is such an integral part of our ecosystem. We watched as nature ran its course.
Another interesting sighting was of the Crested Hawk Eagle, with what looked like an egret kill. The Crested Hawk Eagle has a beautiful contrasting white underside with streaks of brown and beautiful plumes to boot. It proudly showed off its crest, with a single-minded focus on finishing what remained of the egret.
It appears that nothing goes to waste in the jungle. Out in the grass was a pair of Stripe-necked Mongoose, busy digging with their forefeet into elephant dung mounds. The naturalist educated us on what these furry mammals were up to. They were aggressively looking for Dung Beetles. Dung Beetles, apart from feeding on animal dung, also need it to lay eggs on. So they cart away dung, push it into a hole, and lay eggs on it. This way, the larvae that hatch from the eggs don’t have to go looking for food and risk being eaten by predators. We managed to spot a few unfortunate beetles in the mouth of the younger mongoose.
Since long, human characteristics have been attributed to birds and animals. The unwavering, all-knowing stare of the owl is associated with wisdom. Early one morning, we chanced upon a Brown Fish Owl. Sitting still on a horizontal branch of a tree, it was looking straight at us with its wise, big, yellow eyes. Our day was made! A distinctive feature of this fish owl is the tufts protruding on either side of its head. Fish owls also have relatively long and clear legs, adapted to catch fish with ease. Following the awestruck gazes from the jeep travellers, the owl decided he’d had enough of us. With a quick turn, he took off to another tree. A collective sigh of satisfaction emanated from the jeep party.
Bandipur, being on the rain-shadow side, receives relatively less rainfall. This makes Bandipur— along with the other forests in the surrounding landscape—one of the best places to see Asian Elephants as they move about in search of water. We had come across a few on our safaris, but nothing could beat the sighting of this majestic herd that crossed the road ahead of us. Adults, with baby elephants in tow. While watching them, we noticed one break away and head towards the grass to our right. Elephants have a strong sense of smell: water hidden by the tall grass, which none of us could see, is what the elephant had reached out for. Mesmerised by the agile moves of their strong, muscular trunks, we watched them. I must admit that most eyes were glued to the antics of the baby elephants.
The feathered kind too kept us engaged on all our safaris. We managed to see a Black Eagle fighting off a smaller raptor. Bronze-winged Jacanas, Spot-billed Ducks, Lesser Whistling Ducks, Little Grebes, White-breasted Waterhens, coots and moorhens adorned Bandipur’s water bodies. Along the way, we spotted Barred Buttonquail, Greater-racket tailed Drongo, Paradise Flycatcher, Shikra, Blue-faced Malkoha, Greater Spotted Eagle, Chestnut-tailed Starlings, woodpeckers, shrikes, Indian Golden Oriole, and Black-hooded Oriole, to name a few.
There is always something new to learn from Nature. We observed that some Sambar Deer had a bright red patch—a ‘sore spot’—on the neck. There seem to be various views on the reason or purpose of this patch.
While the safaris rewarded us with plenty of bird-watching, sightings from our cottage at the Bandipur Safari Lodge were a bonus. Lounging at the patio, we managed to see the White-browed Wagtail, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Common Iora, Asian Brown Flycatcher, White-bellied Drongo, Great Tit, and the Common Tailorbird. I have never found the jungle to disappoint, and proving that right once again, there was nothing disappointing about our trip to Bandipur!