One evening, as I attempted to photograph a shikra in an open patch of the forest, Ankosh, the guard I was accompanying, suddenly drove my attention to a drab grayish brown bird, perched high in a tree about 100 meters from where we stood. It was just another noisy jungle babbler, I thought. Why was he so exited about this particular babbler when the trees around us were full of them? “Alarm call”, he said. “There is a predator nearby.” Instantly forgetting the shikra, we silently inched forward in the direction of the tree. Crouch - stand - bend - crouch - was the pattern we followed till we stopped at the edge of the open patch. Directly ahead was thick vegetation, making it impossible for us to see what was troubling the bird. To avoid making any sound, we stayed in our crouched positions. The babbler had stopped calling by now, and after a few eerily quiet moments, Ankosh, having decided that the animal has slipped away, stood up. SNAP, the sound of a branch breaking startled us. We quickly scanned the trees ahead, but the leopard was gone.
|Morning light bathes the path frequented by a leopard|
|The narrow winding road that bridges Melghat to the outside world|
A stroll on the road that connects the villages alongside the reserve revealed some of Melghat’s avian citizens. I heard a company of loud alexandrine parakeets long before I saw them fly overhead. A crested serpent eagle, looking stoic and majestic as only eagles can, perched long enough for me to photograph it, before swooping away effortlessly. My time at the reserve was almost at an end, and in a land I hoped to glimpse the tiger, it was birds like the white naped woodpecker, rufous treepie, shikra, and white throated kingfisher that kept me fascinated.
|A jungle babbler eyeing me suspiciously|
|Crested serpent eagle|
The sun finally managed to break through the clouds on the morning of my departure. Seeing an opportunity, I made my way to the stream. To say that bathing in a cold water under a hot sun while listening to birdsong is relaxing would be a chronic understatement. After a leisure bath, just as I was getting ready to return to camp, I felt a drizzle on my face and shoulders. Fully expecting to see the sun disappear behind another set of rain clouds, I looked up. On the topmost branches of a tree I was standing under, squatted a troop of gray langurs, peering down at me with a bland expression on their coal black faces. I knew now what that drizzle was. I fondly try and think of it as their way of saying goodbye.