Having spent my childhood in Hyderabad, Bidar was a familiar place. The engineering colleges, the gurudwara, the fort – these would find a place in conversations often. But somehow, I never got a chance to visit the place until earlier this year, when I joined a friend who was driving to Bidar for a day from Hyderabad. I’d heard so much about the grassland birding and the blackbucks and I couldn’t let go of the opportunity.
The drive to Bidar was quite a breeze on great roads, with agricultural fields and small towns flying by. As we crossed from Telangana into Karnataka, we were in the historic city of Bidar. And very soon, we reached Jungle Lodges & Resorts’ Blackbuck Resort. Check-in and a sumptuous lunch later, we headed out for our first outing. As we drove out of the gate, a movement in the bushes brought our vehicle to a halt. Staring back at us was a Jungle Cat. A couple of seconds (that seemed like eternity) later, she was gone as suddenly as she’d appeared. What a start to the trip!
Our first outing was to a grassland ecosystem. The loud calls of Large Grey Babblers rang in the air. Grey Partridges joined in soon. As we drove around, we noticed a pair of colourful ‘boulders’-too perfect in shape-on the ground. Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse! A small movement in the car and they took off, their calls ringing in the air. And along with the pair, ten more sandgrouse joined them from the vicinity. How did we miss them? A Common Kestrel came in from nowhere and hovered over the grassland looking for prey. On our way back from the grassland, we heard the call of a different species of francolin. As we stopped our car, a pair of Painted Francolins emerged and crossed the road in front of us.
That night, back at the Blackbuck Resort, Indian Nightjars added to the chorus from the crickets all around.
The next morning, we headed to the famous Papnash Temple for birding. A huge Ficus tree near the temple got us started with some birding right away: Common Mynas, Red-vented Bulbuls, Asian Koels, Common Tailorbirds and Coppersmith Barbets were all around. A Rufous Treepie was trying hard to compete with the racket of its neighbouring Yellow-billed Babblers. A flash of golden yellow-an Indian Golden Oriole-landed on a nearby tree. A resident Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher stared at me, head cocked, as if wondering what I was doing there. Was this really Bidar?
Near the temple tank, a black and white bird walked around, wagging its tail all throughout – a migratory White Wagtail. We followed a small path that wound up to Papnash Lake. As we navigated the cows and their deep footprints in the wet mud, Ashy Prinias called from tall reeds. A Clamorous Reed Warbler joined them from the undergrowth.
Every part of the lake seemed to have been colonised by birds. On the shore, Common and Green Sandpipers were busy hunting insects. Bar-headed Geese grazed on the far side. In the shallows, Eurasian Moorhens swam around, and Black-winged Stilts seemed to show off the benefits of their long legs. In deeper waters, a flock of Northern Pintails fed in the waters, showing their pin-tails from time to time. The airspace was busy too, with Barn Swallows and Dusky Crag Martins busily hunting insects. A Pied Kingfisher gave a stunning display of its aerobatics. It was truly magical to see this diversity of birdlife.
The characteristic whistle of a Crested Serpent Eagle made me look up. The sun was quite high already. With all this action happening, I didn’t realise that I’d spent a fair share of the morning around the forest and the lake.
Back at the car, we chanced upon a wooded patch on the other side. A beautiful canopy led to a small shrine. As I walked in, a tiny bird led the way in front of me, wagging its tail from one side to another. When it sensed that I was gaining on it, the bird quickly flew to a nearby branch. It was a Forest Wagtail – a rare winter migrant! It wasn’t the only migrant around: Greenish Warblers chirped from the branches above. And the excitement peaked when a tiny blue and white bird with a white eyebrow did a sortie in front of us before returning to its perch. The last bird on the trip was definitely one I hadn’t expected to see – an Ultramarine Flycatcher.
As we began our 3-hour drive back to Hyderabad, we did the final bird count – an incredible 96 species across diverse habitats! A near century! My first birding experience in Bidar was certainly a fulfilling one.