Bannerghatta National Park lies about 20kms as the House Crow
flies south of central Bangalore in Karnataka State, India and takes about an hour or so by cab, providing that you set out before the city awakes. Once the city was up and running, it took an hour and 50 mins to return.
Bannerghatta Temple detail
From Google Earth, it looks like a beautiful wilderness of forest, lake and mountain. Sadly, Google Earth does not tell the whole story. Bannerghatta NP quite possibly is a beautiful wilderness, but it is only accessible in a packed, official bus with tiny barred windows which takes passengers through the park and includes the compounds which house the lions and tigers.
By the park boundary is a zoo with the surrounding stalls and paraphernalia associated with tourist attractions. We arrived here in time to see a flock of Chestnut-tailed Starlings passing through. The small party also included an Oriental Magpie Robin and a Black Drongo In the distance, the compounded lions were roaring to greet the day. We tried various ways to access the park, but no entry signs and dead ends frustrated our efforts. Eventually we ended up at the Butterfly Park and stopped to check out some action in a grove by the lake.
Small Minivets were chasing each other through the thick foliage of a mango tree. Purple Sunbirds vied for prime position on the protruding shoots while Purple-rumped Sunbirds seem to prefer lower growth. The bright green of the Golden-fronted Leafbirds showed up through the darker leaves, but nothing would sit still to have its picture taken.
Here I met a couple of locals who told me that private vehicles were not permitted in the park and that walking was prohibited on account of the wild elephants that migrate through. They informed me that the tourist bus ran from 10.00, but I couldn’t get excited about that prospect.
I resigned myself to mooching about on the peripheries of the park and trying to salvage something from the day. Opposite the Butterfly Park, a path cut between eucalyptus plantings on the right and more natural, indigenous second growth on the left. Grey-breasted Prinia were common in the low tangles with one Ashy Prinia while Black Drongo and White-bellied Drongo perched higher, looking for insects.The path led out onto some beds of rock that looked as if they commonly play host to parties. There was a lot of litter and signs of camp fires. I walked a little way on and realised that inadvertently (honest!), I had somehow strayed into the park. A pile of large droppings and a rustling in the nearby bushes brought back the warnings of wild elephants and added a frisson to a day that had been otherwise disappointing up ‘til now.
The dung was very dry and probably months old. The bushes were too low to conceal even a small elephant, so the excitement was short-lived. A fine view was to be had across a valley to a bald rock with a viewing platform on the top. The rock beds and low bushes gave me good sight lines so I was confident that I was unlikely to be surprised by any animals and in return, with the wind carrying my scent ahead of me and the noise caused by my natural clumsiness, the animals were unlikely to be surprised by my presence. The lions were still roaring and kept it going throughout the morning.
The Butterfly Park opened at 10.00 and I paid IR50 (@ IR66 = £1) to visit the surrounding gardens and domed exhibit. The garden offered the best bird watching of the day with some mammals thrown in to add some extra value. Oriental White-eye was very common here and a White-breasted Kingfisher flushed ahead of me. From a leaf-bare tree a Green Bee-eater hawked for insects.
A brown furry shape flashed across the road before stopping on a rock and looking back. It was a Common Mongoose. Shortly after this encounter, I found that I was being followed by a troupe of Bonnet Macaques. Often curious and eager to be fed, they were well behaved and passed me by without incident.
The butterfly exhibit is a large airy walk-through dome. It is well planted and maintained, but sadly lacking in butterflies. It brought the Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch to mind, uncontaminated as it was by des beaux papillons. Perhaps January is low season for butterflies, there were only a few plants carrying flowers and the interactive displays and pin-boards in the adjacent room were poorly lit as if visitors were not expected. I had only limited success with dragonflies later in the day despite the temperature reaching 25C and only a few flowers were blooming so a seasonal decrease in butterflies is quite possibly an explanation for the disappointing show today. I would bet that with a few butterflies and a 60W light bulb, this could be a great exhibit, even the pin-boards (dare I say it) were well presented.
From the exit door, it was possible to look through a gate into the park. The line of eucalyptus trees on the horizon is where I had strayed earlier in the day. I retraced my steps towards the entrance gate and was stopped by a small brown warbler in the bushes by the path. I was not able to identify it straight away, so tried to get a picture for perusal later on.
A bird that I assumed to be a Red-flanked Blue-tail flew into a tree in front of me, pumping its tail as it sat on the branch, but I didn’t pay it much attention as I was concentrating on the warbler. As I wrote up my list later in the day, I realised that the blue-tail should not have been within a thousand miles, leaving my sighting in serious doubt. Luckily, I had had the camera in my hand at the time and had taken a photo which would not normally grace a post, but which gave me the ID for a Tickell’s Flycatcher.
I settled for Blyth’s Reed Warbler on the little brown job (if your thoughts are different, please let me know). A second warbler, the Common Tailorbird came out to see what the pishing was all about, but a third, a phylloscopus sp. escaped me.
I rounded out the day with a bit of dragonfly spotting. The afternoon had turned hot and I was hoping for some new and exciting species from southern India.
Only a very few specimens of common and widespread species were found before I was interrupted in the most unexpected of ways. Often people will stomp up behind me to ask what I am up to. Some throw sticks into the water for their dogs to retrieve. Herons and coots have eaten my dragonfly subjects before now while I have been trying to photograph them, but I have never been interrupted by an elephant.
It was a domesticated elephant I hasten to add and may well have been responsible for the droppings that I had seen earlier. Her mahout had brought her to the lake for a drink and a bathe. She took the opportunity to eat some of the lilies while she was in the water. It was a charming sight and I even got a warm wave as they left, but it was not enough to entice me back to Bannerghatta NP.
My driver stayed with me for the day and we had just decided to call it a day when A couple of larks flushed from the nearby brush up onto the overhead wires. Larks and pipits scare me along with immature gulls and brown warblers, but I managed to get a decent picture. After hours of poring over field guides and trawling the internet for images, I have decided that my first lifer of the year should be a Rufous-winged Bushlark.
My purpose in writing the blog is to give people ideas of how best to use their time during a quick visit to a city. When time is precious, there are better places to go than Bannerghatta NP. I spent the day on the peripheries, not keen to be crowded into a bus with poor viewing opportunities to see caged animals. However, if you do choose to go, a private cab from the centre of Bangalore will cost up to IR2000 and will take between one and two hours, depending on the traffic. Please let me know about the Butterfly Park in a different season and let me know if you see any wild elephants.
To be fair and to put the bird watching into perspective, the list below of 39 birds was seen in a very small area from the lakeside (at Google Earth ref; 12 47' 54"N 77 34' 37E) about 300m to the west along the track opposite and in the gardens of the Butterfly Park. If decent access could be gained into the forest beyond, I am convinced that the list would be much longer and more exciting. Looking back over my records of trips, this is actually the best bag of birds that I have seen in the environs of Bangalore. So if I could find a way to access the park in a way that would be conducive to bird watching, I would return. I look forward to suggestions on a post card please.
Bird species; 39
Little Grebe 1, Little Cormorant 1, Little Egret 1, Cattle Egret 7, Indian Pond Heron 1, Black Kite 100, Brahminy Kite 1, Red-wattled Lapwing 3, Spotted Dove 12, Rose-ringed Parakeet 15, Greater Coucal 1, White-throated Kingfisher 2, Little Green Bee-eater 6, Grey Wagtail 1, Rufous-winged Bushlark 2, Small Minivet 6, Red-whiskered Bulbul 15, Red-vented Bulbul 1, Golden-fronted Leafbird 3, Oriental Magpie Robin 4, Indian Robin 3, Grey-breasted Prinia 4, Ashy Prinia 1, Blyth’s Reed Warbler 2, Common Tailorbird 3, Tickell’s Blue-flycatcher 1, Asian Paradise Flycatcher 1, Great Tit 1, Purple-rumped Sunbird 6, Purple Sunbird 15, Oriental White-eye 40, Brown Shrike 1, Black Drongo 8, White-bellied Drongo 3, Rufous Tree-pie 3, House Crow 300, Large-billed Crow 80, Common Myna 4, Chestnut-tailed Starling 25.