Birdwatching around Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary

Dandeli WLS is situated in the state of Karnataka in District Uttar Kanada, at an altitude of over 500m in the higher Western Ghats. It borders Goa on the east and being just 140km. and only
 4hrs drive from Baga (the main accommodation/destination for birdwatchers in Goa) is an ideal place for birders who want to see more birds and more of India.

 The Western Ghats are a ridge of mountains along the west coast of India, with Goa is in the middle of this ridge. In Goa the Ghats start at Molem National Park and ascend into Karnataka. The highest peaks in this area are around 1000m. During monsoon, from June to October, they receive around 4000mm of rain. The forests are mostly moist deciduous with pockets of evergreen. A lot of the natural forests have been cleared, giving place to teak plantations.

 This area is the catchment of the Kali river basin. This river starts above Dudsagar waterfalls in Goa and
 flows east for about 40km. and then west. It joins the Arabian Sea at Karwar on the southern border of
 Goa. This is one of the biggest rivers that flow from India into the Arabian Sea and a large part of it flows through
 evergreen jungle, where one can see Malabar Pied hornbill, Grey-headed Fish eagle and Darter. The best way to experience the river is to join a rafting cruise or a local boat. Both can be organized at Jungle Lodge (see below). The river is dammed a few times and creates large artificial lakes which provide
 electricity to Goa. This may be bad for the environment, but not so for the birds. The lakes
 attract a lot of water birds including River terns, Little, Indian and Great cormorants,
 Black-headed ibis and Lesser Adjutant stork.

The best of Dandeli is however the forest. A short walk along any part of the forest will reveal a lot of
 forest birds which are rare over the border in Goa. I find it the best birding place in the Western Ghats as there is
 little birding done and a lot to discover in the area. I find the road from Kulgi to the entrance of
 the sanctuary very good; there I have seen Speckled Piculet, Rufous, Heart-spotted, Brown-caped Pigmy, White-bellied, Lesser Yellownape, Greater and Common Flameback woodpeckers all within 2 hours of
 birding. This is the best place in the world for Malabar Pied and Malabar Grey hornbills and one is
 much more likely to see Pied hornbill here than in Goa. The Wildlife Sanctuary itself is not of great interest. By the time you finish registering and paying the fees, it can be too late for early birding. Until recently entrance fees for Non-Indians were around 5 Euro per person, but as of January 2011 Karnataka State has raised prices and now in all sanctuaries in the state, entrance fee for foreigners is 1000 Rupees (currently 18 Euro). There is an additional fee for compulsory guide and vehicle. Many of the guides do not speak English. You should insist on parking the jeep and walk while you are in the sanctuary. The best place for birding is from a watchtower (machaan) by the large water hole in the middle of the sanctuary. White-rumped and Brown-backed needletails come to drink there in the evenings. The sanctuary is also home to tiger, leopard, wild dog, elephant, bison, wild boar and different kinds of deer. You may not see any of those, but a visit for the natural beauty of this sanctuary makes it worthwhile. Elephant rides are also available.

Birding on the road from the “nature camp” in Kulgi to the sanctuary entrance is free and you do not have to get permission. Kulgi IB (inspection bungalow) is on this road and around there you will see most of the birds. Mountain hawk eagle used to nest around here and once I saw a Sloth bear. Between Dandeli and Kulgi there is a water tank, which is very good for River terns, Black headed ibis and Grey-headed fish eagle. The road can be good at night with Grey nightjar and Brown fish owl.

Getting there. 
There is no direct public transportation to Dandeli from Goa. You have to get a bus to Londa Junction and another bus to Dandeli town, which will take about
 8 hrs. From there you will have to hire a jeep to take you around, as the sanctuary is 15 km from town. Your best deal is to rent a taxi from Goa for the entire trip. You will have to arrange accommodation and food for the driver. A car is not needed if you decide not to enter the sanctuary. Make sure to arrange the price and all the conditions with the driver before departure. I highly recommend a new vehicle. It is also possible to rent from Goa a motorbike or a jeep for self-drive. Take National Highway 4A from Goa, pass Molem, climb the Ghats and go straight for about 25km. At the first town you reach, the highway turns sharp left towards Belgaum and you turn right towards Dandeli. After about 20km you will see “Supa” reservoir on your right and after you will reach Ganesh-guddi. From here it is another 20km. to Dandeli town. Dandeli WLS is a further 15km.

Accommodation and food
. There are a few hotels in Dandeli town near the bus stand. They have reasonable conditions and prices, but being located in the noisiest and dirtiest part of town, may put you off the wilderness experience! 
The “Nature Camp” is a tented camp set up by the Forest Department. It is located at the best place for
 birding in Kulgi, 15 km. from Dandeli town near the entrance to the sanctuary. The price is
 reasonable at 12 Euro for a tent, but facilities are basic and the food is poor. Please note that prices for Indians are cheaper in government establishments. To book this camp you have to book at the Forest Department compound in Dandeli town. (The compound itself has very big trees and there is a good chance to photograph hornbills, Spangled drongo and other birds). 
“Kali River Lodge”, a private establishment in a beautiful location on the river, has probably the best
 facilities. They are also the most expensive, with food, accommodation and safari on offer at around 80 Euro per person. It is located near Ganesh-Guddi, 20km. before Dandeli on the road from Goa. From Ganesh-Guddi follow the road to Karwar and the lodge is on the left side just after the bridge.
 Next to it is “Hornbill Camp”, which has similar facilities to Kali River Lodge. If you are lucky you may see Grey-headed fish eagle on a tree next to the river. “
Jungle Lodge” is situated just after the bridge out of Dandeli town on the way to the sanctuary. They have rooms, but I recommend staying in a tent facing the river. The lodge runs canoe and
 white-water rafting trips, which are the best ways to see the river. They also take people in a round local boat (‘coracle’) downstream to see birds and crocodiles. The rafting trip shows you the most beautiful part of the river and gives the best chance for Grey-headed fish eagle. It costs 5 Euro per person and you can join even if you don’t stay in the lodge. Jungle Lodge is also the best place to eat if you stay in town. The lodge belong to the Karnataka State Tourism and would be ideal place to stay if it was not overpriced at 32 Euro per person, for food and accommodation in tents and 60 Euro including jungle safari. If you do stay in this camp, ask the guide to show you flying squirrels at night.
Jungle Lodge also has a camp near Ganesh-Guddi. It is right after town on your left. It is called “Old Magazine House” (so named because they used it to store dynamite when building the Supa dam). The dam creates a huge reservoir. This camp was established in 2005 as a rafter’s camp, from where the white water rafting run by Jungle Lodge operates. It has only five small bungalows and is located in a beautiful natural forest. Early morning you can enjoy an orchestra of bird sound and within the camp I had a record count of 165 birds in one visit. I established a network of bird baths near the camp office, which was looked after by the staff. With the years the place became very popular with bird photographers and now they are the best customers of this lodge. White-bellied blue flycatcher, Yellow-browed and Black-crested bulbuls, Brown-cheeked fulvetta, Black-naped monarch, Dark-fronted babbler and Blue-capped rock thrush are regular on the waterplates and can easily be photographed. This camp is also good for Hill myna and Malabar trogon. Birding will be best between the road and the camp. There is also a trail that goes up the hill with great view over the reservoir. The top of the hill is open forest and it is good for raptor watch. During my first years of birding in this camp, I used to attract night birds with tape and torch. Oriental and Collared scops, Brown hawk and Spot-bellied eagle owls all came and sat on a branch above my head. Sri-Lanka frogmouths were everywhere, but never landed. Today however, with the exception of frogmouth, none of these birds respond anymore and I learned the destructive force of owling. Ask the guides in the camp for any bird news. On my last visit they showed me a nesting site of Blue-bearded bee-eater. Staying costs 32euro for food and accommodation. As this is a government establishment, Indians pay 30% less.

At the same area 60 km. from Dandeli is Anshy National Park, which borders Catigao sanctuary in South Goa. The type of forest in this park is evergreen and semi evergreen and is very different to Dandeli area. White-bellied tree-pie and Wynaad laughingthrush reach their furthest north distribution here. The forest department has established a nature camp similar to the one in Kulgi, which you also have to book in Dandeli. There is talk of privatizing this camp.

Note: I had no background information about the sites and birds above and I had to find out all the information I have given by myself. Further exploration of the area will surely reveal a lot more birds and probably better sites. I first visited in December 2001 and since have come two to three times a year, usually in the hot season April and May, when it is very humid down in Goa, and very pleasant up on the hills. If you come in winter, be prepared for cool nights.

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