This is the second of a two-part series. Read Part 1 here.
Our Christmas-New Year birding tour in Dec 2020 had started from Bengaluru, with pit-stops along the way at Bhadra, Jog Falls, Dandeli, and Ganeshgudi, before reaching Hampi on the sixth day. We arrived at Jungle Lodges’ Hampi Heritage & Wilderness Resort just as the golden ball of fire was setting behind rocky hills. From green forests, we had moved to a relatively dry landscape for the last leg of our trip.
Hampi is situated on the banks of River Tungabhadra, and an elaborate system of canals provides water for irrigation to the surrounding areas. The next morning, we drove to one such canal, which cuts through rocky hills. These rock ledges are a suitable habitat for owls, and as expected, we had soon spotted both the Indian Eagle Owl and Brown Fish Owl.
We walked on the dirt track alongside the canal for a while, exploring the shrubs that line the slope. We first spotted a Blue-faced Malkoha, and as if determined to not be outdone, a Sirkeer Malkoha flew towards a boulder. Perched on top of a tree canopy nearby was a male Common Rose-finch. Yellow-eyed Babblers with eye-catching orange eye rings were prancing about, a Common Iora in tow. An Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark performed its typical nose-dive, with sound effects. A flock of Red Avadavats was constantly moving, giving us a hard time trying to photograph them. Purple Sunbirds, with their hard-to-capture iridescent colours, were busy collecting nectar.
One visit to the canal just wasn’t enough. On the next one, we saw a flock of Red-necked Buntings. I also saw a largish, white bird flying above the water and away from us. My first impression pegged it as a tern, but it looked bigger, so I decided to put my camera to work. The bird circled away and we lost it behind some trees before it reappeared – it was a male Pallid Harrier! We were thrilled. There were also two other birds in flight – a female Pallid Harrier and a Shikra.
Where there is water, a kingfisher cannot be too far. Two Pied Kingfishers hovered over the water that had collected on the side of the canal. Later in the evening, when we were admiring the sun, which was a surprising, dark shade of pink, a Common Kingfisher plonked itself on the edge of the canal.
At the lodge, we were informed that a hide had recently been created, so post breakfast the next morning, binoculars, camera and book in hand, we made ourselves comfortable. After about ten minutes of quiet solitude, a cooing sound interspersed with the rustling of twigs started emanating from around us. We peeped outside the hide, searching for the source, only to be surprised out of our skins when the source scrambled past us inside the hide! A few Jungle Bush Quails were on the move, and no hide could come in their way! It was a delight to watch them feeding on seeds meticulously, yet with a frenzied hurry. Soon, Common Babblers, Silverbills, and Grey Francolins too joined in.
In the afternoon, we drove to Daroji Bear Sanctuary. The drive is through rugged terrain of jagged-edged boulders dotted with thorny shrubs and some trees at higher elevations. Plenty of Bay-backed Shrikes were enticing us to stop and photograph them, and we also noticed a Kestrel circling above. Our guide, Muthappa, mentioned that if we were fortunate, we might be able to see a fox. And we were! Sitting still, with its large ears popping out from behind a boulder, was a Bengal Fox, checking our movements. When we stopped our jeep, he took off, stopping briefly to turn around, and then demonstrating how his black-tipped, bushy tail and brown body camouflage beautifully with the landscape.
The drive also rewarded us with a wonderful sighting of a Blue Rock Thrush, which couldn’t decide whether it wanted to perch on a stone wall or a low shrub. There were also plenty of munias on low plants covering small water ponds. We still hadn’t spotted the much-anticipated Painted Sandgrouse, but the return drive changed that – a pair was sitting right next to the road, looking akin to just another rock by the wayside. It was at such close quarters that I had difficulty focusing my camera.
At Daroji Bear Sanctuary, jaggery is left for Sloth Bears on a specific rocky outcrop. Before the bears arrived, we had plenty of time to watch a Ruddy Mongoose pair chase each other. A couple of beautiful peafowl strutted about, but the birds that got our cameras clicking were the Painted Spurfowls. True to their name, these spurfowls have myriad shades of feathers. While we were admiring the spurfowls, three bears arrived to satiate themselves under the glorious afternoon sun. In deference to the bears, the others made a quick retreat. The snorting sounds a bear makes while eating ripe bananas and sucking jaggery molasses can be heard some distance away.
Before our trip, we had seen a documentary on River Otters, which are seen at Hampi. In the hope of sighting a few, we drove to one of the bridges of the Tungabhadra. It was a long shot, but if nothing, at least the view from the bridge was very pretty. On the way, we also saw a Barred Buttonquail hiding in the grass by the road and some Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. We scanned the banks of the river, but drew a blank. We had almost given up when Muthappa thought that he saw some movement near a boulder on the river-bank, some distance away. A quick look revealed a lone otter!
A much-sought-after bird in Hampi is the Yellow-throated Bulbul. Like many other birds, it prefers specific locations in specific habitats. Early in the morning on the day of our departure, we set off to a hillock where this bird is usually seen. It was a cloudy, damp morning with very poor light. However, our wait was worth it, as two Yellow-throated Bulbuls flew to the top of a boulder. We had barely taken a few images before they disappeared into a cranny. Even though we didn’t get much time with them, we were satisfied that we had at least spotted them.
The drive from Hampi to Bangalore was one of the smoothest drives we have ever done. Five locations, eight nights, nine days, 200 bird species, and 1400 km later, we marvelled at how it had been the perfect holiday.