Travel: History, culture and values of empathy echo through the woods of Kabini

The sight of winged creatures chirping in the woods or hovering for food makes for an illuminating and rewarding experience of Mother Nature and its elements

By Maryam Aftab Kola

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Photo by Vivek Sunder
Photo by Vivek Sunder

Published: Thu 29 Sep 2022, 8:20 PM

Learning happens best when it takes place outside the four walls of the classroom. And what better place to learn than a forest? Nature is a powerful teacher. History, culture, flora and fauna, and values of respect, patience and empathy reverberate through the woods of Kabini. It sits at the southern end of the famed Nagarhole forest in Karnataka. Countless species thrive at this place that has emerged as a success story of how to treat animals and birds.

Birdwatching is one of the fastest-growing recreational activities around the world, and Kabini is a promising hotspot that offers a wide variety of winged beauties. Armed with binoculars and cameras, we started our emblematic jeep safari, hoping to catch a glimpse of the stars of Kabini. Our eyes moved all around as we entered the enticingly deciduous 55-acre Kabini forest. We were pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by a crested serpent eagle perched on a tree staring right into our souls! Our guide, Mahesh, helpfully informed us that the bird prefers to stay on the edges of the forest because it’s easier to hunt there. As the name suggests, crested serpent eagles prey on snakes and other small birds.

Majestic creatures all around

Moving further along the trails of the grey soil darkened by the monsoon rains, we spotted several raptors — diverse birds of prey with hooked bills and sharpened talons. Among them was the black kite, one of the most commonly found raptors in the world; the shikra, a brain fever bird better known as the common hawk-cuckoo; and the scary-looking brown fish owl whose humongous ear tufts appear like horns.

As we ventured deeper into the forest, our safari guide caught the sight of birds that my untrained eyes would not notice — purple sunbirds and oriental white-eye winged creatures dotting the sides of a narrow stretch. A bunch of other birds also waited to be introduced as we moved further: a streak-throated woodpecker with iridescent colours stood out in the mundane brown-thick branches of a tree. Just a few metres away, we saw peacocks and peahens picking on grains from the ground, and further ahead, an ethereal Tickell’s blue flycatcher, an insectivorous perching bird with a calming blue-coloured upper body and a contrasting reddish-brown and white lower body. A dreamy spectacle caught our attention as they took flight.

A boat safari along the Kabini River is an exciting way to see and learn more about the birds. Using a pair of binoculars, we spotted the rare osprey, a migratory bird from Scotland; the oriental darter, a migratory water bird that basked openly while spreading its charcoal black feathers to dry; and the magnificent egret, which with its long neck and legs and the sword-like yellow bill was hopping sideways through tree branches near a pond.

The boat ride yielded a bagful of diverse sightings: elephants swimming from one corner of the river to another; the beautiful Indian roller, the state bird of Karnataka, taking a flight by opening its wings shaded in hues of blue from a log near the riverbanks; a crocodile waiting for its prey near the bank of the river, and a white-throated kingfisher perched on the branches of a small plant. Kabini is truly a wildlife lover’s dream destination.

Winged creatures: Indicators of a healthy ecosystem

With sounds of life all around us and many species of avifauna flitting and showing their dazzling colours or hiding in bushes, you never know which feathered creature you will encounter, but that’s the thrill. The mystery unfolds as you get closer and closer to them. That’s the beauty and purpose of nature: to bind and connect us all despite the artificial borders and schisms.

One of the many joys of travel, birdwatching can be done whenever you visit Kabini, but November to mid-December is the most ideal period because that’s when migratory birds arrive in high numbers. This watery panorama is the first stop for avian visitors. This includes the green sandpiper, the lustrous barn swallow, the osprey, the common sandpiper and the slender grey wagtail, among others. In more ways than we could count, Kabini turned out to be the trip of a lifetime.

There is a reason why many people, including yours truly, have stopped visiting zoos. In the name of entertainment and tourism, the lives of animals and birds have been put at stake and confined to spaces that hamper their well-being. Due to this curse of captivity, these creatures have been forced to live away from their natural habitat. We must consider empathy-driven initiatives and activities. Sustainable ecotourism is the need of the hour, now more than ever, and Kabini shows the way.

The winged wonders are as charming as Kabini’s megafauna, but this colour palette of wildlife is less observed. Birding added so much charm and value to our outdoor adventure. If you want to enjoy an enchanting blend of culture, nature, and safari that is friendly to the environment, you now have a destination to look forward to!

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