By Meera Bhardwaj:
Although Painted Sandgrouse, one of the most beautiful bird species can still be seen in stony grassland landscapes of the Deccan Plateau but they are on the decline due to habitat diversion and human disturbance.
The sandy and rocky landscapes of Hampi are not only home to the world famous ruins of exquisitely carved temples and monuments from the Vijaynagar period but also support a variety of dryland faunal species.
So, any visit to the World Heritage Site of Hampi is incomplete without the observation of Painted Sandgrouse in this unique rocky landscape.
Although the city of Hampi may have ruins of a great dynasty and it may have been abandoned after a glorious history of rule and fall, this landscape surrounded by Rocky Mountains hides a number of herbivores and carnivores.
Many of these rock faces at different levels are also an ideal habitat for grassland species that are not seen in other places across Karnataka state.
Bird Watching all along Tungabhadra canal is a treat and one should not miss this opportunity in this historic landscape that is home to the Indian Sloth Bear, leopards, foxes and many other species.
Unfortunately, with the cementing of the Tungabhadra high Level Canal, another bird species the Indian Eagle Owl that were frequently seen in the crevices of the canal wall, nesting and breeding, have almost vanished. All these years, this owl species could be seen all along the canal but now, one or two birds are visible after much search.
The high-level Tungabhadra canal that flows for kilometers all along Kamlapur (four kilometers from Hampi) amid reserve forests and the eco-sensitive zone of the Daroji sloth bear sanctuary hides another wonderful species that is rarely visible to bird lovers. The landscape around this canal has given shelter to the beautiful Painted Sandgrouse species.
With a keen eyesight and help from environmentalist and birder Pompayya Malemath, one can exactly track this elusive species which camouflages itself beautifully in the sandy brown rocky landscape. After a few minutes of traveling, I get my first sight of a pair of male and female Painted sandgrouse that are busy playing in the middle of a mud pathway hidden amid the scrublands.
Even as I fall silent and focus my camera, the beautiful male goes clucking all around while the female is a bit quiet and is settled around one corner.
Both the pair are busy eating seedlings from the ground which is strewn all over as this is a pathway frequently used by farmers for transportation of their farm produce.
The sighting of these birds even for a few minutes give me all satisfaction and I wonder at the beauty of this species that is presently, finding it difficult to flourish in many of these rocky landscapes due to developmental activities.
The female Painted Sandgrouse is beautifully camouflaged in the background that one hardly notices its presence.
On the other hand, the colorful male Painted Sandgrouse stands out even in the muddy landscape. A ground dwelling bird, the males are yellow to sandy brown with beautiful black and white stripes across its body. Very difficult to spot but once you sight it, the black-white and brown marking around the neck and chest gives it is a very striking appearance.
Found in the Indian subcontinent, it is a medium sized bird and one can see its short legs clearly. Compared to the female, the males have orange bills with a distinctive black bar across its white forehead. In this dry, dusty and rocky landscape, one could see how the male was courting the female even as it approached and then shied away.
I get only five minutes to focus on the antics of this pair as a pair of bullocks and a few people come that way. This in fact, drives away the happy pair of Painted Sandgrouse from our sight. Finally, they disappear into the busy outgrowths on the sides.
But my day is made as I have sighted these beautiful birds in my fifth visit to Hampi, the wonderful land of rocky outgrowths, caves and ruins for a variety of grassland and scrub species.