Dandeli, situated alongside the Western Ghats, is a small town in the Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka. Given its proximity to the Western Ghats, Dandeli has always fostered industries that depended on forest resources, be it timber, iron ore or paper. The Government Timber Depot & Saw Mills, run by the Karnataka Forest Department, is one such industry that is functional even to this day.
Less than a five-minute drive from the Kali Adventure & Wilderness Camp run by Jungle Lodges & Resorts (JLR) in Dandeli, the depot attracts a fair share of wildlife enthusiasts because of the many species of birds it is home to. It is a large wooded area with a number of trees including ficus, terminalia and teak. In winter, the depot attracts a number of forest birds from all around. The Kali Tiger Reserve borders Dandeli, thanks to which even Great Hornbills are often seen here on some fruiting ficus trees.
On a recent trip to Dandeli, I set aside a morning to visit the depot. Most winter mornings here are rather misty, and that morning was even more so. Though all I could see was silhouettes of trees in the mist, I got a sense of the bird activity. There were a number of calls with woodpeckers pecking on trees, and hornbills flying about.
While we waited for the mist to settle, Mr Dutta, my guide from JLR, educated me about logging and the work that is done at the depot. I came to understand that logging is a very regulated activity. Every year after the monsoon, the forest department staff mark dead trees to be logged. These are then numbered and logged sequentially. They are then brought to this depot, which is when Arjun and Kallu take over to do the heavy lifting, literally speaking. As curious as I was to find out more about Arjun and Kallu, Mr Dutta pointed me to their silhouette in the distance.
As Arjun and Kallu went about their business of segregating logs and carrying them to a designated area, the sun slowly made its way through the mist. The bird activity peaked too, with a number of birds now beginning to appear. The woodpecker that I could hear all along turned out to be the White-bellied Woodpecker, the largest in India. I was also able to see a Flameback Woodpecker shortly after. Other forest birds I saw that morning were Common Iora, Jungle Myna, Racket-tailed Drongo, Orange Minivet, Orange-headed Thrush and Blue-capped Rock Thrush. There was also a Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, that went up and down tree barks looking for insects to feed on. Though it was early in the day, some birds of prey showed up too, including a Shikra, Crested Serpent-eagle and a number of Black Kites.
Reptilian life began to emerge as it got warmer. We saw a number of skinks, geckos and garden lizards basking on the wooden logs for warmth. The large tree barks were also home to a number of ants, spiders and other bugs, but there was one beautiful signature spider that stood out.
It was interesting to see how every part of a tree was home to some form of life: be it the canopiy, barks, logs of felled trees, and even leaf litter on the ground. Apart from reptiles, the logs were used by birds like drongos, bee-eaters and wagtails to perch and hunt for food.
The leaf litter that was formed by leaves that the trees shed was an ecosystem in itself, hosting moths, butterflies, earthworms, centipedes and skinks. Some of the logs had orchids that were drying up, indicating how lush with life the depot may have been during the monsoon. Some of the logs even had plants growing out of them, bringing life to a full circle.
Even though it was winter, it did get pretty warm around 10 am. As I started to make my way back, making a mental note of everything I’d seen, I finally spotted the bird that was on top of my list for Dandeli. A flock of eight Malabar Pied Hornbills flew to a fruiting ficus tree nearby, and started feeding.
These hornbills are a flagship species for Dandeli. They are known to occur here in large numbers. They even nest here during the end of winter and the start of summer. I spent the next half hour watching hornbills go about their business of feeding fruits, preening and offering fruit to a mate, and ended my morning in the Timber Depot on a high.