Ever since I saw the first hornbill in my life from my balcony, I developed a strange affinity towards this bird. Even its shrieking call sounds musical to me. I can recognise the call and immediately start looking for it in the foliage. I search for Hornbills when I travel to places known for their presence. Just before the onset of the monsoon, we drove to Dandeli in search of the endemic species – The Malabar Grey Hornbill and the Malabar Pied Hornbill. Who does not know the abundance of these birds in the Dandeli timber depot? Thanks to my fellow bloggers and the social media for all the information. 🙂
The Hornbills are the family of birds characterized by long beaks, with or without the casque on the upper mandible. The bill resembles the shape of cow horn and thus the name. The hornbill family has 55 living species which broadly varies in size and colour. The Indian subcontinent has 10 species of hornbills among which the Indian Grey Hornbill is the most commonly found species across India.
The Indian Grey Hornbill is endemic to India, while the Malabar Grey Hornbill is endemic to the Western Ghats in India. The Malabar Pied Hornbill is endemic to the South-western parts of India and Sri Lanka. The endangered Great Hornbill is widely distributed in India and the neighbouring countries while the Narcondam Hornbill is only found in the Narcondam Island in the Andaman archipelago.
The plumage of these birds is mostly dull varying from different shades of grey to black with patches of white. The beaks are generally coloured with the variety of shades that varies in different species and sex. Some species even displays the bare colour skin on the face and body. Hornbills are omnivorous and feed mostly on fruits and sometimes on small insects or reptiles.
The family is known to be monogamous breeders. They nest within the natural crevices of trees and rocks. They also use the abandoned nest cavities of other birds. The nesting sites are used for the consecutive nesting season by the same pair. A fascinating fact in the nesting habit of the hornbill is the way they keep their nest protected.
During incubation period the female closes the mouth of the nest cavity with mud and their dropping with a little opening left for the female to enter. After the female enters, the mouth is tightly sealed with a tiny opening for the food to be passed on to the mouth of the female and the chicks by the male bird. When the chicks grow in size and it becomes difficult to fit in the small cavity the mother breaks open the wall and now both the parents share the responsibility of feeding the chicks.
Since the inception of interest in hornbill, I became more curious to know more about these magnificent birds and to see as many species as possible. So why not start with the endemic species? I have already seen the most common Indian grey hornbill from my balcony, now it was time to see the Malabar grey and the Malabar pied hornbill, endemic to the Western Ghats. Read about my bird watching experience from my balcony.
Travelling to many destinations known for their presence did not fetch any fruitful result. Undeterred I kept on my search. This is when I came to know about the abundance of the birds in Dandeli, Karnataka. My planning to visit the place followed. Plan, cancel and repeat – the chain continued for a long. And finally this time I planned, executed but did not repeat yet. 🙂 Read about my search for hornbill in Andamans.
The added perk to Dandeli was OMH. OMG! What is OMH? No, this is no typo. OMH is Old Magazine House, a bird watching camp under the Jungle Lodge and Resort chain in Ganeshgudi which is very close to Dandeli. This was our home for a couple of days. I shall cover the bird watching experience in OMH in my next post.
The distance from Pune to Dandeli is approximately 430 km. One fine afternoon we started from Pune and drove through NH4 and rested in Kolhapur at night. Next morning again through the beautiful roads we continued for Dandeli.
The Belagavi fort also known as the Belgaum fort was very close and on the way. But the scorching heat of the summer sun in the peak of morning kept us from visiting the fort. As we drove towards the forested area much ahead of Belgaum, gradually the foliage cover shaded us from the harsh summer sun and it was more of a pleasant drive.
I had great hope to see hornbills in Dandeli. After reading the blog posts and seeing the pictures of Dandeli, I had an impression that Dandeli timber depot is also Malabar Hornbill depot and they are found like common crows in every tree around.
Dandeli timber depot is a Government Timber Depot at an approximate distance of 22 km from Ganeshgudi. These few kilometres of the drive was even more exciting with frequent sharp bends and thick tree lining on either side.
Dandeli is like any other small town in India, with small educational and religious institutions seen within the residential buildings and shops. The town gave an impression of hassle-free, laidback lifestyle of the locals.
As we entered the main entrance of the timber depot, it was all piles of wood gathered yet spread in a vast expanse with the main road continuing in between. Here we parked our vehicle and continued our hunt for hornbill on foot.
Fruits and seeds comprise the main diet of the hornbills as well as many other birds and here you have ample of fig and other fruiting trees. So when fruits are here can the bird be far away? Thus in quest of our search for these biggies, we started spotting the little ones.
The coppersmith barbet and brown-headed barbet were seen foraging on these ripe figs followed by a slaty headed parakeet. No sooner did a female Asian Koel joined the tree the male followed. This tree was the hub of all activity. Although this tree was the prime attraction for birds our main attraction was not yet there.
We ventured through the piles of the log to a small enclosure of one part of the timber depot. Looking at the branches of large to extra large, aged trees yielded no result. Suddenly there was the pecking sound of the woodpecker followed by the drumming sound that echoed through the woodland. Our search shifted from the hornbill to woodpecker.
The birders around us identified the call to be of the white-bellied woodpecker. Neither this species which was new for me was in sight. The early morning sun was behind the trees and spotting birds was becoming difficult. Then again my personal spotter for birds – my husband, spotted a Black-rumped flame back woodpecker, but the white-bellied was nowhere seen only heard.
Then there was the arrival of a male Indian Grey Hornbill. It was perched on a high branch of a tall tree. Even though I was interested in seeing hornbill here I was not excited by the presence of this familiar species. It was like – “Hey buddy! I see you daily from my balcony. Why should I travel so far to see you.”
Much later a Malabar grey hornbill arrived. I instantly got charged up and it was like a lifelong wait was over and our prize has arrived. After clicking a few shots we traversed to the other larger part of the timber depot.
Again through the tall trees and the pile of woods we carefully moved ahead. The drumming sound of the woodpecker was echoing through this part of the woodland too. But none were in sight. Here another group of birder was hunting for the birds and definitely for Malabar hornbills.
There were the Malabar grey hornbills with their squeaking call announcing their presence. The active, bright and furry creatures were jumping from branches to branches. There was just no moment of calm for them. Like the naughty little kids, the Malabar Giant Squirrel were hyperactive within these forests.
These adorable fur balls were comparatively smaller in size than the ones I saw in Chorla Ghat near Goa. They kept us playfully entertained for some time when I decided to go deep into the woodland in search of the magnificent Malabar Pied Hornbill as the long wait was not giving any result.
There was a Shikra looking around for a protein breakfast. The slaty headed and the plum headed parakeet couple were seen relishing the fresh ripe fruits of a tree. The hawk-cuckoo was probably unperturbed by any movement happening around. It was quietly posing on the lower branch as we took multiple shots before moving ahead.
This is when I saw the most desired bird flying at a distance. I quickly ran to follow his direction. It was a Malabar Pied Hornbill- the large and beautiful black bird with patches of white in its lower body. The bids have mainly a black casque on its yellowish beak. Females have a white orbital skin but the males lack the same.
Since then I kept tracking the bird and tried to capture various moments in my camera. It was a wish-fulfilling moment and I was extremely happy to have made it to Dandeli. I had the ultimate realisation that Dandeli is a peaceful haven for the hornbills. I was so thankful to my fellow bloggers whose blogs lead me to this beautiful destination.
I was extremely happy by the morning show at the timber depot. I was so tempted to see them again so we ventured to the timber depot again the next morning. It was a Sunday and it seemed to be a dull day and also a holiday for the birds. No birds were seen in the twigs neither they were heard.
After a lot of loitering, we were finally disheartened and were on our way back when a Malabar grey hornbill with a ripe fruit in its beak flew towards us to a branch of a nearby tree. The tree had a cavity which was its nest and probably had its partner and chicks within. It was carrying a fruit from a distant tree to feed its growing family.
It was the prize of the day and we were overwhelmed by the scene. We could also capture a few shots of this scene. Highly satisfied we were returning to OMH when we saw a Malabar pied hornbill flying around. The trip to Dandeli was so fulfilling and rewarding that we wish to return here again and again in different seasons to see the changes in the bird life in this region.