A trip to Maidenahalli Blackbuck Sanctuary (or Jayamangali Blackbuck Reserve)
I took a look at the photographs and re-read the article. My mind made up, I picked up the phone and dialed the husband at work. “We are going to Maidenahalli Blackbuck Sanctuary this Saturday”, I announced. The husband’s confused voice came through after a long pause. “Wait, what did you say? Which place? How come I was never consulted?” In reply, I sent him the link to the photographs and the article, which was actually a trip report by a fellow INW member. That was all it took to convince the husband - he was in.
Thus, we woke up at 3.30 am on 29th December (2012) and by 4.45 am the entire lot (husband, baby, in-laws and I) were on our way to Maidenahalli. Of late, Maidenahalli has come to be known as Jayamangali Blackbuck Reserve. It is one of the only two blackbuck reserves in Karanataka and is located around 145 km from Bangalore.
We took the Bangalore – Tumkur - Dabbaspet – Madhugiri – Puravara – Maidenahalli route. The moon accompanied us for most of the journey and we passed through some interesting patches that would have looked fantastic in daylight, I am sure. We were lucky to reach Madhugiri at day break as the famous Madhugiri Hill, which is the second largest monolith in Asia, came into view. It arose unannounced suddenly in front of us, nestling the Madhugiri Fort atop. I regret the fact that we did not take a picture of it, then. At that moment, we were just too preoccupied with the road, a niggling doubt in the back of our minds if we were following the correct directions.
The roads were not in good condition Madhugiri onwards and we were also hindered by a number of trucks plying on the narrow width road. Besides, farmers had spread out their crops on the roads so that the impact of the passing cars would separate out the grains. One good thing that came about by this slow driving was that we were able to catch quite a few birds on the way. At Madhugiri a group of Rosy Starlings passed us by, as well as several Brahminy Starlings who had started out to catch the ‘early worms’. There were agricultural fields on both sides of the road and we caught some greater short-toed larks amidst the millet.
Greater Short-toed Lark
On reaching Puravara we enquired about the sanctuary with the locals. The husband had tried to do some research on his own and had learnt the Kannada word for blackbuck. He rolled down the car window and asked a local person with all the confidence in the world, “Krishna Mruga?” The person stared back at us with a total blank look. Déjà vu all over.
Thankfully, an English-speaking person was able to guide us. Basically, one just needs to turn left at Puravara and continue driving till one comes upon a sign board announcing a distance of 2.5 km to the sanctuary at its right side. The moment you take the right turn, you enter blackbuck country. Open grasslands on both sides of the clay road meet the eyes, interspersed with thorny bushes and thickset shrubs.
The watch showed 8.30 am, which meant that we were late by at least an hour as per our plan, thanks to the bad road and trucks. While we took in the rolling grasslands, set with a golden hue in the morning sun rays, a bird suddenly caught our attention. There, sitting on an ant-hill, was our first ever sighting of a Montagu’s Harrier, a raptor we had heard of frequently in the Hessarghatta birding circles. It was a beautiful male species and we clicked its pictures to our heart’s content, making us almost forget that we were there for the blackbucks.
Montagu's Harrier (male)
We had not reached the gates of the sanctuary yet, but we were encouraged by the sighting of the harrier and kept our eyes peeled out, just in case. We were right to do so, because in a few minutes we caught sight of the marvelous creature – the Blackbuck. The male was in charge of around 3 females (doe?) and he glared at us, striking a lovely pose. Some way further off, we saw more blackbucks grazing in the grasslands. Definitely a great start to the day!
We returned to the watch tower to have our rustic lunch of rice and chicken curry as it was mid-day and all the animals and birds has disappeared out of view. The in-laws rested a while after lunch while the husband and I started out on foot to explore the area near the tower. The sun was blazing hot and we could not keep up this little jaunt for a long time. While returning to the watch tower something moved in front of us and we were startled to see a wild hare jumping, covering a distance of almost 10 feet per jump! In three long hops, the ‘Jumping Jack’ disappeared from our view.
Our rustic lunch
By 3.30 pm we decided to start the last leg of our tour. The guard stationed at the office (or guest house?) approached us and hesitantly told us that we have to pay him Rs.100 as entrance fees. It was highly suspicious but we decided to pay him anyway. In a manner of gratitude, he told us to take the road going right after crossing the reserve gate if we wanted to see more blackbucks. We did as told as came upon a meadow. While we were expecting blackbucks we discovered that the place was actually a roosting ground for the harriers. We saw at least four pairs of Montagu’s harrier circling about the area and they provided us ample opportunities to click their pictures. The female seemed to be much shyer than the male and we had some trouble keeping up with it.
Montagu's Harrier (female)
The light was falling fast with the oncoming dusk and we decided to call it a day at Maidenahalli. Just as we were exiting the reserve, around 30 blackbucks sprinted across the road. We stopped the car and let the group cross to the other side of the road, the view taking our breaths away. What a fitting goodbye to an eventful day!
And now, some areas of concern:
2. Every road we took ended up in a village. There was no reserve boundary. Human proliferation was everywhere. The grasslands were taken up for agriculture as well as for grazing cattle, goats and sheep. Hardly the characteristics of a reserve for an endangered species.
Some words of advice:
- Be sure to take your food and water as there is no provision for food there. But, please, please do clean up after having your meals. I am deeply pained to see the callousness of educated people littering pristine natural surroundings.
- It can be very hot in the afternoon. So, once again, do not forget to stock up on your water.
- There is a guest house with 2 bedrooms but we did not avail of it as electricity and water availability seems to be erratic. In order to book the guest house, you have to approach the forest office at Bangalore, Tumkur or Madhugiri. Unfortunately, I do not have the contact numbers.
- I was advised to reach the area at around 6.30 am and leave by 6.30 pm. I would advise you to do the same. Mornings and evenings are the best times for seeing both birds and animals.
- The roads inside the reserve are not too good. Do some careful driving. Monsoons would be hazardous for small cars, I guess.
- The grasses look deceptively soft. They have thorny tips which can get into your socks and shoes. Both the husband and I have our painful feet as evidence.
- Winter seems to be the best season to visit this area due to the presence of migratory birds.
Although we did not see more animals, such as foxes or wolves, or birds like sand grouses, I feel satisfied. Who knows how long these reserves would exist? I believe in enjoying every moment spent amidst nature and treasure every sighting of a bird or animal. I hope to visit more such places in future and write about them in the new year 2013. Wish all of you a great year ahead with tons of beautiful experiences to share!
Complete list of birds sighted (could not identify some):
Black Drongo, Long-tailed Shrike, Red-vented Bulbul, Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Barn Swallow, Montagu’s Harrier, White-eyed Buzzard, Spotted Dove, Laughing Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Rosy Starling, Brahminy Starling, Jungle Mynah, Indian Roller, Coppersmith Barbet, White-throated Kingfisher, Purple Sunbird, Indian Robin, Pied Bushchat, Grey Francolin, Common Kestrel
List of animals sighted:
Blackbuck, Wild Hare
Also – Cows, Goats, Sheep, Donkeys, Dogs