It was past five and time to head back to Bangalore. We had spent the entire day at Adichunchanagiri Peacock Sanctuary, but hadn’t spotted a single peacock yet. Shashidar and his father, who work as forest guards at the sanctuary, had tried their best to spot one for us. In the end, they were both disappointed and surprised. They see them everyday in the sanctuary. They also see them in the neighbouring agricultural fields, in the coconut and eucalyptus plantations that surround the sanctuary, in the hills, and on the rocks – basically, all over the area. They claimed there were hundreds of them. We covered almost the entire sanctuary looking for them: came across bear scat, and even found fresh pugmarks of a leopard, but not a single peacock.

An aerial view of the Adichunchanagiri hills.

It was an exciting day, nevertheless. As we started driving back, we continued to scan the area hoping to spot at least one peacock. That was when something sitting on a boulder far away caught our attention. It could be an Indian Eagle Owl, we thought. We focused our binoculars on the boulder and couldn’t believe what we saw. A leopard was staring right back at us!

A lucky sighting of a leopard who seemed to be at ease with our presence.

“Most people go to a wildlife sanctuary looking for a leopard but end up seeing only a peacock. But you went looking for a peacock and saw a leopard!” a friend joked. Such was our adventure one gloomy Sunday at the Adichunchanagiri Peacock Sanctuary!

Karnataka has two sanctuaries dedicated to the protection of our national bird: one at Adichunchanagiri and the other at Bankapura. Situated in the Nagamangala taluk of Mandya district, Adichunchanagiri is just 110 km away from Bangalore. It is a hill township popular among pilgrims who visit the Mahasamsthana Math located there. The surrounding area was declared a sanctuary in 1976, and subsequently renamed as Adichunchanagiri Peacock Sanctuary in 1981. Spread over 217 acres, the sanctuary has a healthy population of peacocks, mainly attributed to the excellent protection accorded by the strong religious sentiments maintained and preached by the swamiji in the math.

A preliminary survey conducted way back in 1991 by Karthikeyan and co. indicated the presence of Yellow-throated Bulbuls along with 99 other species of birds, 32 species of butterflies, and several species of reptiles and amphibians. Being a very popular temple town, with festive occasions attracting more than 50,000 pilgrims per day, we anticipated a much degraded habitat now and didn’t expect to see a wide variety of wildlife. Gladly, we were in for a pleasant surprise.

Once inside the sanctuary, it’s hard not to be drawn to the giant heaps of boulders wrapped by thick vegetation.

A ficus making use of small hollows and crevices to spread its roots.

As always, the birds were most active in the mornings and evenings. One of the highlights of the trip was the sighting of Yellow-throated Bulbuls and a Sirkeer Malkoha. Extremely shy birds, they are mostly hidden in shrubs, and spotting them can often be a challenge. We were very lucky to see them out in the open.

A mixed hunting party of Yellow-throated Bulbuls (Pycnonotus xantholaemus) and Indian Robin (Copsychus fulicatus).

The Sirkeer Malkoha or the Sirkeer Cuckoo (Phaenicophaeus leschenaultii) with its striking red beak stands out in the sea of grass.

Oriental White-eyes feasted on fruiting Peacock Chaste trees (Vitex altissima). Laughing Doves, Green Bee-eaters, Indian and Magpie Robins were more commonly seen throughout the sanctuary.

A male Indian Robin (Copsychus fulicatus) looking for his meal.

A pair of courting Laughing Doves (Spilopelia senegalensis).

On our quest to spot a peacock, Shashidar took us on several trails, most of which were adorned by puffball fungi, and Striga lutea bushes in bloom. 

A puffball fungus, which uses rain droplets to disperse its spores.

On one of the trails, we came across fresh scat of a Sloth Bear. Shashidar has had several close encounters with bears in the past. We had to stay alert so that we didn’t startle one. Meanwhile, skinks, rock agamas and other lizards kept a watchful eye on our movements.  

A male agama shines on the rock.

We gleamed with joy when we spotted a cluster of Drosera (Drosera burmannii) a carnivorous plant. The flowers of these plants are held far above the leaves by a long stem, to avoid trapping potential pollinators. We lingered around hoping to see an insect getting trapped, but unfortunately, we didn’t have much time on hand.

Drosera burmannii, a carnivorous plant.

By the end of the day, we had seen an incredible array of wildlife, but we did not anticipate what we would see on our way out! Leopards are known to exist in the area, but are not seen often. It was a Sunday and several pilgrims thronged the temple. A road was being constructed in the vicinity. With so much human presence, it did not even occur to us to look for a leopard. This adaptability to human landscape is what makes the cat special!

It is incredible how leopards adapt to human-dominated landscapes. Can you spot the leopard and the people in the frame?

The best part of the sighting was that it snoozed for a good 30 minutes, even though it was fully aware of our presence, until rain prompted the leopard to scurry for shelter.

The last sighting and a fitting end to the day was a fleeting glimpse of a peacock!

The bird that eluded us the entire day, the Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus).