Wild antilope in 2 hours!

Location: Jayamangali or Maidenahalli Blackbuck Reserve
Date: Jan 26th 2015
To get there: [Click here for Google Map].
From Bangalore take the Tumkur Road
Distance: About 115 kms from Bangalore and 60 Kms from Tumkur
Trail type: Flat scrub jungle. Can be very hot in summer.
Facilities: Forest bungalow with skeletal staff. I believe overnight stay is possible with reservation done at Tumkur. Closet food places are at Madhugiri (20kms) so you need to pack a picnic and carry potable water. Many watch towers are spread out on the sanctuary. Couple near the Forest bungalow are large ones where once can do some relaxed nature watch. Many mud trails crisscross the reserve, most leading to a smaller watch tower.
Misc Links:

Few people are aware that we have a sanctuary within a couple of hours drive from Bangalore primarily for the conservation of near threatened Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) which is the sole surviving species of the genus Antilope. And then there are some like us who knew about it but never got around to visiting! Well, that changed last week. :)

Republic day happened to be that magical day when we were all free, kids did not have any "must finish" homework and our friend and "guide" in Tumkur was also not tied up. We were up around 6 am, packed our sandwich lunch and were on the road by 7 am. About an hour later than what we had hoped. Thankfully, traffic was not too bad and we were at Pavithra Idli place, about 5 kms before Tumkur to rendezvous with and pick up our friend. After indulging on their famous "Thatte Idli" we were on our way towards the reserve by 9.30am which is quite late for birding. But as our birding focus was on raptors, specifically harriers on this trip, which stay active at high noon, it was acceptable.
Short-toed Snake Eagle

The drive which should have taken us around 90 mins instead took about an hour longer because of road construction activity and our own indulgence on birding along the way. The highlight was a large raptor perched on a boulder about 50 mtrs away from the road sometime before Madhugiri. We stopped and enjoyed its presence for almost 30 mins as it sat regally surveying the land around it constantly. Later, we were able to identify it as most likely a Short-toed Snake Eagle.
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

We reached Jayamangali around 12 and as soon as we turned onto the mud road leading to the sanctuary, a peacefully resting Blackbuck under a tree gave us a fantastic visual treat. As we pulled away from there, my friend investigating what he thought was an odd shaped rock at some distance realized that it was a Sandgrouse later identified as Chestnut-bellied. A wonderful sighting and a lifer for me. This elusive bird is hard to spot when at rest and we were indeed very lucky.
Southern Grey Shrike

Driving on, we saw many active shrikes including the rare Southern Grey Shrike found here which is a striking grey, black and white bird. Inside the Sanctuary we drove onto a nice area with couple of pavilions, one at a height made for resting as well as bird or Blackbuck spotting. A binoculars is required as the area is vast and patience to let the animals show themselves. We had good views of Blackbucks ambling along or chasing each other. Harrier activity was a bit less and our only luck was what we think was a Montagu's Harrier flying low on the ground quite far away to make any image.

Male ambling along
Male Blackbuck
We started back around 2.30pm and reached Tumkur abut 5pm with some stops along the way.

Female Blackbuck
The sanctuary itself is a scrub jungle and grassland. Some areas sadly have been destroyed in a ill-fated attempt at afforestation by planting trees destroying the habitat conducive to Blackbuck and Harriers. Many watch towers and muddy tracks exists for those who wish to exert themselves a bit and walk around and get up close encounters with the Blackbucks hopefully without disturbing them.

As always if you do visit, remember, Leave only Footprints, Kill only Time and Take only Photographs!

Male Surveying the visitors!

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