Birdwatchers must be among the most patient people on earth. I discovered this years ago, on my first trip to Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. They will spend hours trailing a bird into a remote place, wait for it to swoop down, cease to breathe when it settles on a branch near them, and breathe again only when it flies off.

I was reminded of this once again when I visited Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary with a group of avid birders.

I have to stare for several minutes at a picture of a bird to be able to identify it — something they do in a mere half-second as it flies past. So, as we weaved through the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary — famed for its rewarding birdwatching — they identified Malabar Pied Hornbills, eagles, parakeets blue and green, kingfishers, lapwings…I've lost count. There were plenty of peacocks and eagles too.

I learnt from the Forest Department handout that this region hosts about 300 species of birds, including the endemic Southern Tree Pie, Malabar Trogon, Quaker Babbler, Black-naped Blue Flycatcher and Yellow Bulbul besides endangered raptors such as the Rufous-Bellied Hawk Eagle and Shaheen Falcon.

Then, there is the River Tern — thousands nest here in the islands dotting the Bhadra reservoir during the late-summer and monsoon months and fly away before the reservoir's rising waters inundate the islands. Their din drowned our words as our boat circled the islands, their breeding grounds. Early morning and evening are the best time for these boat-rides.

It all sort of made up, for not being able to see the tiger. We had been expecting to see one at least, considering Bhadra is the 25th tiger reserve of India, brought under Project Tiger in 1998. B.K. Singh, Principal CCF (Wildlife), told us the State's tiger population, according to the latest available statistics (2007 census), is 290.” This is heartening news, considering the region's tiger population was only seven during 1974.

Formerly called Jagara Valley Game Reserve, this wildlife area was reconstituted as Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary in 1974, covering nearly 500 sq km. The reserve is in Chikmagalur and Shimoga districts of Karnataka and surrounded by the hill ranges of Mallainagiri, Hebbegiri, Gangegiri, and Bababudangiri.

The Bhadra river and its tributaries Tadabehalla, Odirayanahalla and Somavahini flow through these forests. The vegetation ranges from dry deciduous and moist deciduous to semi-evergreen — with about 120 tree species.

Flora spotting

We saw lots of teak and rosewood trees, including lush-green bamboo that are ideal support for herbivores such as the elephant — accounting for the large number of elephant sightings. These and spotted deer were among the most frequently sighted animals on our visit. There were gaur too, besides giant flying squirrels, langurs, parakeets, kingfisher, barking deer (a fleeting glimpse), sambar, mongoose and crocodiles.

We watched a snake slither away from the roadside into the undergrowth, and were told by the naturalist that the park's reptiles include about 32 species of snakes, the marsh crocodile, monitor and flying lizard, common garden lizard, monitor lizard, forest calotes, southern green calotes, Indian chameleon, skinks and geckos. Butterflies flitted about as the ranger alighted from the jeep to pick up a few chocolate wrappers, thrown carelessly by some earlier visitors, from the bushes. There are an amazing 99 species of butterflies and 10 species of frogs and toads recorded here so far. If you are a hardcore bird-lover, you can drive down from Chikmagalur to Muthodi, and walk the last two km from Honnalla Checkpost to Muthodi rest house for the best bird-watching. And, the Forest Department provides details about this trek.

How to get there

Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary is 285 km (approx) by road from Bengaluru via Tumkur. The nearest airports are Bengaluru and Mangalore. Shimoga is the nearest railway station.

Best Season

March to August for river terns. Late summer, monsoon and winter for wildlife-viewing.

Where to stay

River Tern Lodge, Jungle Lodges and Resorts, Lakkavalli, Chikmagalur District. Call 92439-11327 or 94495-99778 for details.

Things to do

Visit the coffee plantations in picturesque Chikamagalur; the Shivappa Nayak Palace in Shimoga; the Jog Falls; the village of Mathur where Sanskrit is still alive; the Sakrabyle elephant camp; the Tyavarekoppa lion and tiger safari; and the Narasimha temple with Hoysala architecture in Amruthapura.