Karnataka has a paradise for bird-watchers, photographers and nature lovers – a ‘pakshi kaashi’ (bird paradise, in Kannada). It is in a beautiful location, blessed by the lifeline that is River Cauvery, along every tourist’s favourite route – the drive from Bangalore to the heritage city of Mysore. I am talking about the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary. A unique habitat in itself, the sanctuary is a riparian biome, a terrestrial zone that falls in the interfacing area between a river and land. Each time I visit Ranganathittu, I can’t help but thank Dr. Salim Ali, the Birdman of India, who noted Ranganathittu’s rich bird-life, and the islands being important nesting grounds for birds. He persuaded the Wodeyar Kings of Mysore to declare the area a sanctuary, which was done in 1940. The sanctuary has six islets, with an area of 40 acres.

Spot-billed Pelican

The habitat of Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary.

One cloudy morning, my visit to Ranganathittu was fruitful right from the entrance arch, while driving next to the canal. In a fantastic start to the day, the first sighting was of a Stork-billed Kingfisher that had just caught fish. I decided to walk along the canal till the entrance gate of the sanctuary, and was rewarded with sightings of the Common Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Indian Robin, wagtails, parakeets, munias, orioles, prinias, and magpie robins. Soon, the clouds cleared a bit, and the sun cast a golden hue on Brahminy Kites and Crested Serpent-eagles. 

At the entry gate, after the formalities of the entry and parking fees, I reached the parking area where the space near the Singapore Cherry (Muntingia calabura) trees are home to flower peckers, sunbirds, leaf birds and beautiful butterflies. From this parking lot, there are two paths into the sanctuary.

The main entrance takes you through the Interpretation Center, where I have often spotted Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, robins and fantails. This path eventually leads you to the boating point.

Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher

The second path is what I chose this time around; it starts from the canteen area, where a beautiful lotus pond provides a great opportunity to photograph kingfishers on their perches, looking for fish to hunt. I spent some time in this area, photographing water lilies, lotuses, and dragonflies, before moving towards the boating area.

Pied Kingfisher

At the boating point, I suggest choosing an open row-boat instead of a motorboat, since it minimises the disturbance to the birds, proving ideal for photography. The Karnataka Forest Department’s well-trained staff and naturalists make the boat ride an informative one, by sharing their knowledge about the habitat and the birds; they also encourage visitors to spend enough time watching and observing the birds’ behaviour.

The open row-boat.

As we rowed along, my boat’s guide excitedly pointed at a huge, sun-basking Mugger, which was over five feet long! We found almost 3-4 individuals during our ride, and the guide said that 80-100 muggers have made these islands their home. The other prominent mammals found here are the Flying Fox, Indian Grey Mongoose, Common Palm Civet, Monitor Lizard and Bonnet Macaque.

Flying Fox

Mugger

On rock beds, I could spot a few River Terns which seem to nest there, and a variety of large and small birds; over 170 species of birds are known to call Ranganathittu home. The Painted Stork, Asian Openbill, Eurasian Spoonbill, Woolly-necked Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Lesser Whistling Duck, Oriental Darter, egrets, cormorants, and herons breed here regularly. The major attraction however are the Spot-billed Pelicans – the way they dive into the water and take a large gulp in their pouch-like beaks, and fly with their large wing-spans, is a treat to watch.

Asian Openbill

Eurasian Spoonbill

The wingspan of a Spot-billed Pelican.

My guide took me along another water channel where I spotted a large flock of Streak-throated Swallows building their nests. I happily also added Stone Curlews, Pied Kingfishers, Indian Peafowl, Spotted Owlets, Indian Grey Hornbills, Indian Paradise Flycatchers, Ospreys, sandpipers, and barbets to my check-list.

Great Stone Curlew (Great Thick-knee).

As a regular visitor here, across seasons, I feel that the best time to visit is between November and April/May. During winter, which is the breeding season, one can spot migrant birds as well as birds in full plumage and with chicks. The resident birds are found throughout the year. Visits to Ranganathittu are made more enjoyable by its cool evenings, and the golden morning and evening light while watching the behaviour of birds, butterflies, and mammals.

Egret feeding its chick.

Almost all bird-watchers from the Mysore and Bangalore regions will testify that Ranganathittu has been their classroom, where they began their journey as a bird-watcher or a photographer. My trips to Ranganathittu have been with groups of enthusiatic kids, budding bird-watchers, and photography enthusiasts who are now hooked to bird-watching; hopefully, meaningful holidays in Ranganathittu will ensure that visiting the sanctuary becomes their regular weekend activity. So go ahead – take your binoculars and get started!