Drive to the Sahyadris
19 Feb 2017: Day 50 (Pune – Tansa – Jalgaon, 574 km, 14 Hrs)
We were on a mission today and armed with credible intelligence from our friend Ronit on the area where he had spotted a Forest Owlet a few weeks ago, we set out towards the Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary at 0545 Hrs.
Little did we know that we would end up with a marathon drive today!!
The Pune-Mumbai expressway was a breeze as always, however, by the time we reached Mumbai, we were hit with the notorious Mumbai air pollution. The air quality was so poor that we could not even breathe properly inside our car. The slums, the dust and the filth just made the situation even more worse.
The air quality gradually improved as we drove further away from Mumbai and just a few kilometers before the Arjunali Toll Plaza, we stopped at the Shivsagar Hotel for breakfast, but found the food to be uninspiring.
Anyway, we continued our drive to Tansa and followed Ronit’s directions till we reached a small forest groove that looked like a perfect habitat for the Owlet and scanned the area to whatever extent we could under extremely hot conditions. Unfortunately, even after all our attempts, we simply could not find the owlet.
We were surely disappointed, but were not done yet and decided to drive down to Melghat, the most reliable site for the Forest Owlet, but our progress was pretty slow due to the poor road conditions and managed to reach Jalgaon only by 1930 Hrs where we decided to halt for the night at the Royal Palace, a decent hotel for a city like Jalgaon.
20 Feb 2017: Day 51 (Jalgaon – Semadoh, 227 km, 4 Hrs)
On our quest for the Forest Owlet, we commenced our drive to the small village of Semadoh at 0730 Hrs and reached there by 1130 Hrs. Semadoh is the gateway to the Melghat Tiger Reserve and upon reaching there, we inquired about the Forest Owlet from the locals and everyone suggested us to meet Bhola.
We tracked down Bhola at a tea stall and he turned out to be a very nice person and gave us a ton of information on the Forest Owlet including its known locations. We requested him to accompany us on our search, but he was busy campaigning for his friend, and offered to take us down to the Forest Owlet site only the next day. We agreed and fixed up to meet him at 0500 Hrs the net day.
Since we had to meet Bhola early morning next day, we opted to stay at the Semadoh Forest Rest House and found the rooms to be surprisingly clean and maintained. The caretaker happily changed the bed sheets, mopped the already clean room and washed the bathroom for us.
Since we had nothing much to do after lunch, we decided to check out the Forest Owlet site that Bhola had mentioned by ourselves and drove towards Harisal from where we took a right turn and drove till we hit the Maloor forest signboard where we parked our car and hiked from there on.
After an easy 10-15 minute hike, we were absolutely ecstatic when we heard the calls of the Forest Owlet and while Rishi was already jumping with joy, we still had to see the bird. We contained ourselves and cautiously started walking towards the call and pretty soon spotted the Forest Owlet perched on an open branch, seemingly enjoying its time and calling merrily. We spent a few minutes watching the bird and when we tried getting a little closer, the bird flew away, but thankfully settled down on a nearby branch. We took the opportunity to appreciate the beautiful owlet while documenting its behavior and habitat.
Completely satisfied, we returned to the FRH and relaxed for a while before going to the canteen for dinner. While having dinner, Anjana sensed something move around the trees and on inquiring, the caretaker casually told us that it must be the Flying Squirrel. We could not believe this and leaving our dinner midway, ran to our room to get the camera. The Indian Giant Flying Squirrel was still around and we managed to take a few pictures.
We then continued our dinner while the Squirrel kept amusing us gliding from one tree to another.
21 Feb 2017: Day 52 (Semadoh – Sagar, 551 km, 10 Hrs)
As committed, we met Bhola at 0500 Hrs outside the FRH and after getting some fuel filled up at the nearby tea shop, we proceeded to the Maloor forest in Bhola’s Gypsy. Bhola drove through the dirt track on which we had hiked yesterday when Anjana exclaimed: Hyena!!!
For a second, Bhola could not even understand what happened, on realizing, he immediately stopped the vehicle and looked in wonder at the Hyena while the Hyena also looked curiously towards us. Bhola and Anjana quickly started taking pictures while the Hyena gradually moved deeper into the forest. After the Hyena was gone, Bhola told us that in his 10 years of experience, this was the first time that he had seen a Hyena at Maloor.
We then continued our drive before hiking a little deeper into the forest. There were no calls today, but Bhola quickly spotted a Forest Owlet and based on his experience, took us as close as possible to the Owlet from where we took a few pictures of the bird.
During our return, we also spotted a White-eyed Buzzard on the way.
Bhola also knew the roosting site of a couple of Mottled Wood Owls and drove us to the Sipani forest range from where we hiked a bit before arriving at the roosting site. A brief search yielded three Mottled Wood Owls and while one Owl was roosting in the shade of a tree, the other two Owls were still active and were spotted perched on open branches.
We then headed back to the FRH, thanked Bhola for all his support, settled the FRH bill and commenced our drive north. By 2050 Hrs, we reached Sagar where we halted for the night.
22 Feb 2017: Day 53 (Sagar – Noida, 652 km, 9 Hrs)
We commenced our final leg of this trip at 0815 Hrs and kept driving till we reached home at 1743 Hrs, completing a wonderful roller coaster drive across some of the amazing Indian forests.
Bhola Mawaskar is a walking encyclopedia on the Forest Owlet and has a detailed understanding on the Owlet behavior and habitat. While we went to only one Forest Owlet site, Bhola knows many more sites where these Owlets can be spotted, thus making him indispensable in the search for the Owlet.
Contact: +91 922 555 32 58, +91 92 7288 3258