Roads Across Odisha-5-
Debrigarh Wildlife Sanctuary
In our attempt to explore more of the wild yet less explored wildlife sanctuaries in Odisha, in this trip our we identified Debrigarh Wildlife sanctuary as our first stop.
We started early in the morning at 4 AM from industrial town of Jharsugda for the entrance of sanctuary at Dhodrokusum. Jharsugda has all the making of a perfect industrial town with lots of construction equipment parked near the roads and factory Chimneys vomiting out smoke all around the horizon and dust in the air. As soon as we left Jharsugda and reached Sambalpur the pollution eased out and as we passed through the last human settlement on the way by the name of Burla town, the pollution was all gone. The Dhodrokusum entrance is approximately 30 KMs from Burla town and throughout the way the magnanimous water body of Hirakud dam accompanied us to the entrance. It was around 5:30 AM in the morning and amidst the faint sunlight at the stroke of sunrise, we could hear loud calls of Owlets and Night Jars on the way.
As soon as we reached the entrance of the sanctuary we were greeted by a large picture of a male bison at the entrance of the park along with do’s and don’ts to be followed. The area was getting echoed by the calls of Grey hornbill and as Satya was busy in spotting the chowkidar for the entrance, I went ahead to spot the hornbills in the nearby tree and hornbill couple Grey Indian took off from the tree in to the adjoining green cluster of the forest. Hornbill sighting has always augured well for me right from my trip to Anshi Dandeli reserve to Rangna forests; I kept my fingers crossed for Debrigarh.
Debrigarh is situated next to the back waters of Hirakud Dam, in Baragarh District. Debrigarh Wildlife Sanctuary has dry deciduous vegetation and I must say it stands amongst one of the most well managed sanctuaries in Odisha. The infrastructure inside the sanctuary is perfect for wildlife enthusiasts.
Geography: The geography of Debrigarh wildlife sanctuary make it an extremely prime place for observing untamed wildlife at its best. Also in my perception it stands amongst one of the best managed Sanctuaries in Odisha, and the passion and zeal with which the sanctuary staff works made me believe that this sanctuary would feature amongst the best in the nation. Debrigarh is a gifted sanctuary in terms that it has a perennial source of water in the form of back waters of majestic Hirakud Dam, and it also has a good share of undulated mountains which provide shelter and peace to animals from Humans. The water body from one side and the mountains on the other 2 sides also provide the sanctuary a necessary natural protection from poachers and timber mafia (which are rampant in most of the other forests of Odisha). Debrigarh wildlife sanctuary has 2 ranges Parbati Tang (P-Tang) and Chaurasimal.
This trip was more made more special as we were also honoured to meet Mr. Manoj Nair (IFS), DFO of Sambalpur area, in the sanctuary. I say this as an honour as it was first time that I met up with a wild life official who is so through in his knowledge and in having a holistic view in understanding of complex issues pertaining to wildlife and its conservation. Manoj sir also happens to be an avid bird watcher and a wildlife enthusiast and one of the very few who has been able to convert their passion in to profession. He has done extensive work on wildlife conservation. He is also pursuing his PHD on dragon flies and dam’s flies. Even after being so knowledgeable, he meets with you with in such a humble manner that it makes novices like us be so comfortable in his company that even we start sharing our very commonplace wildlife experiences.
Although the trip to Debrigarh was meant to be a trip dedicated to bird watching, but when you are in wild only thing that needs to expect is “the unexpected”. Now I have started believing that not being able to have any wildlife sighting makes one learn more than sighting.
As our jeep moved forward slowly, along the serpentine trail leaving behind a cloud of dust. We inhaled the fresh, sharp scent of the soil that is characteristic of all the well protected forests, and the ting of green makes the air so fresh that my eyes gets closed even at the slightest breath of it. A gentle breeze blows bringing with it a flutter of Butterflies in the shady patches of dense bushes. We started making ourselves acquainted with the terrain of Debrigarh as it was going to be our place for next 3 days. We were accompanied by Mr. Sanjib a very close look alike of legendary cricketer Mohd. Azharuudin, so we affectionately started calling him “Azzu Bhai”. As soon as we left Parbati Tang beat office of the sanctuary, some movement of flock of Egrets was enough to give indication to Sanjib that there is a high possibility of having a Herd of Bisons ahead. Egrets feed on insects on the body Bisons as well as the earth worms which gets exposed by the hoofs of Bisons on the wet ground. Sanjib was dead right in his anticipation. I came across my first sighting of Bison herd and was just amused by the behavior of these gentle giants. As we went ahead we came across uprooted sign board and a big excretion full of saw dust like particles confirmed that the culprit behind uprooting of signboard is Elephants. Although Asian Elephants can also be considered as Gentle Giants, but when on song they can be at there menacing best. Debrigarh does not have its own native population of Elephants but around 4 years back a herd of Elephants from adjoining sanctuary has made Debrigarh home for themselves and since then the group has not moved out of the sanctuary and have become residents of the sanctuary.
A Male Bison
The soft rays of the setting sun filtered through the green canopy of sal trees. Vines and creepers wound themselves around the great trees as they reach out to exploit the most of the Sun’s offering. In the brown undergrowth, an elusive Jackal scampered across the path. We watch a woodpecker flit across from tree to tree, while a screeching nasal sound tells us that a Grey Hornbill is about to settle on its perch after having his evening meal. While heading towards Chaurasimal beat office, we observed that a strong stench of rotting meat was very predominant in a particular patch of forest. We stopped and inspected around that foul smell site, we also inspected nearby trees for any carcass left by a leopard but failed to gather any visual evidence.
As we headed to Chaurasimal beat office the sun started to set in, Sanjib informed us that Chaurasimal range is a habitat of horned antelope and spotted Deer’s. Information provided by Sanjib again proved to be correct as we spotted a herd of around 6 spotted Deers. The herd of spotted deer’s grazed peacefully while keeping an eye us considering us a grave threat before losing patience and jumping and running far away in the meadows beyond our sight. I went behind the Chaurasimal beat office to watch the sunset and boy it was a treat to watch sunset in the clear sky with backdrop of thick green covered mountains with crystal blue waters leading the way.. After the mesmerizing sunset we started our journey back to the Eco complex.
As the light began to fade, the colours of the jungle disappeared to leave only silhouettes. We were greeted with our first sighting of Indian Night Jars on the way back on the forest road; we also came across stone curlew. It was pitch dark but the night was alive. The sounds of nocturnal life in the forest are unbelievable. From the beautiful to the bizarre, I could hear hundreds of species! The mating calls of frogs, the high-pitched sounds of insects, and the distinctly audible jungle owlet.
Indian Night Jar
Elated by recording of 2 new birds in our bird count we were going down the Ghat section, discussing more about the forest and keeping a keen vigil on both the sides of roads for any glittering eyes. All of a sudden brakes of the jeep screeched and we all looked forward, and to my amusement it was a Mama Bear, with 2 Cubs right in front of the jeep. It first stepped back, then crouched forward and dashed straight in to the thick bushes. The 2 pairs of glittering eyes in the shrubs nearby re confirmed the presence of 2 Cubs. This all happened too fast for me to comprehend. It was a moment of joy and elation for us. As we came to Debrigarh primarily for birds and on the very first day we came across so many mammals. As we proceeded ahead, Satya spotted something crossing the road and in a very serious tone asked driver to move the Jeep ahead quickly, the serious tone made me understand that we could be in for another surprise. Right there in the bushes some 40 feet away was the Ghost of the Jungle. We could not believe our lucks that we actually spotted a leopard. The big cat was moving carelessly in the thick bushes and all of a sudden vanished in the thin air; we waited for some time to get another Glimpse of the cat but failed to do so. What we witnessed in few hours of first ride in Debrigarh was like watching a condensed wild life documentary film, which we have strived forever but failed to get even a glimpse of it. This was the moment when we decided to elongate our stay at Debrigarh for 1 more day. The day ended with an amazing dinner of freshly cooked fish and Dal.
Early morning departure and as we were passing through forest road adjoining the reservoir, we saw an enormous activity of egrets in the meadows near the bank of reservoir. It was a signal of possibility of herd of Bisons in that area, and we un-boarded our jeep and walked in crouched position through dew drenched grass field, listening to the multitude of sounds of Jungle folk. But in wild out of sight doesn’t necessary mean out of notice, the wind was blowing from our back towards Bisons and one alert male picked it up and spotted us. The neck became stiff and the tail started lifting up, giving us signal that proceeding ahead may result in something terrible and as the Bisons started to retrieve from meadows we also started trudging back in grass. As the Bisons started moving towards the bushes we proceeded with our drive on Jungle road and just ahead we saw a big male Bison about to cross the Jungle road. We stopped our jeep and went down and lay down in crouched position. The Bison came to the middle of the road and almost on cue stopped in the middle of the road and stayed for around 2 minutes to give us perfect Bison poster shots. Day 2 started with as much flare as the day 1 ended with.
Bison the perfect Shot
Again that particular patch of forest was full of stench of rotten meat and again we missed to spot the rotting carcass. As we moved ahead we spotted an area full of avian activity and we saw an Oriole sitting pretty on bare tree arm. Just a tree ahead were a pair of Alexandrine parakeet busy in storing dry leaves in tree hole for nesting. And we moved ahead on road so often, quails waddled across the road and vanished in the heavy undergrowth.
Eurasian Golden Oriole
Sulphur Bellied Warbler
On the way ahead, near the Elephant excretion was a congregation of Butterlies of various species and size.
Butterflies of Debrigarh
We reached Parbati Tang beat office and sent some time there and then went ahead to a Rocky River bed that we have indentified during our first trip as a good place for birds in day time. As we approached the banks of river bed, it was filled with silence and the eerie silence was only to be perturbed by our voice. We saw some birds, some lizards and a few spiders webbing their net, and as we went ahead we saw a tickles Blue flycatcher sitting, but after taking some shots and zooming them in we found out that it was not a Tickle’s Blue Flycatcher, but a Blue throated flycatcher. The flycatcher stayed for some time and then moved ahead. Thrush were busy in collecting dry leaves for making nest and white bellied Drongo saw us from a distant perch of a low lying tree. After spending patient 1 hour at that river bed we came back drove towards P Tang beat office. Day 2 finished with a prized photograph of a Bison and discovery of Blue Throated flycatcher.
A Water Skimmer
Black Caped Monarch
On the last day at the break of dawn, we left on our jeep to the Charasilaml zone, the start of the day could not have been better as just after leaving the eco campus, we were greeted with sighting of a solitary fully grown Sambhar Deer. The deer eloped in to the forest cover quickly. As were moving ahead we observed a pair of green birds, which in all probability we thought to be of Cloropsis, moving and fighting on the trees on the road side. We got down from Jeep to capture photographs of this magnificently camouflaged bird , the bird maintaining its alertness flew away after realizing us in there vicinity. A soothing calm enveloped the forest, hushing even the chattering langurs. Just as we were about to board the jeep we heard a screaming call followed by an alert call coming from woods. The alert call was coming from tree tops and made us guess that it’s a Langur call, but the first call remained a mystery for us. The sudden and piercing call of an unknown animal in a Jungle where a moment before all has been silent is terrifying to hear and quite impossible to describe. We waited silently in that location to see some action but as the sun increased its presence the calls started reducing and finally went dead. We left the site with question marks in our head regarding those calls.
After some time we realized that noise of Jeep is making many birds near the forest road disturbed and fly away, we decided to leave our jeep and walk ahead of it, with our driver shutting down the jeep engine and awaiting our hand signal to come to us. This strategy paid off, as we approached over to a slightly steep, curvy path following a call of a peacock. As we inched closer, we saw a peacock spreading its colourful wings and alluring the peahens around him with his Colourful wings repertoire. His brilliant colour filled spread out wings added a dash of coloured brilliance to the dull brown dried mud behind it. We strained our eyes for other birds and in a short while were rewarded by sighting of a yellow footed pigeon resting atop on a bare tree.
On our way back I was focusing on the Jungles on the right side and Satya was focusing on the meadows on the left side. All of a sudden Satya made the jeep stop and said to me to look at left for a bison, I in my usual anticipation looked at the meadows, and said I cant, Satya in his typical scratchy tone which he gets when I cant see the obvious said to me “Look at the window”… and the as soon as I enabled my myopic view, I found myself looking directly in to eyes of a fully grown Male bison. I was never prepared for such a close encounter and I was so much in Aw that it took me some time to remove my lens cap and put on my camera.
Bison- Too Close, too Dangerous
The Bison looked at us in usual disdain and opted to move to Jungles on the other side of the road from the front of our jeep. I mustered all my courage and got out of the jeep sitting in crouched position awaiting Bison to cross he Jeep so that I can get some good close ups of the Bison. I don not know what went in to my mind, that even after being so close to this Bison, I ventured out of Jeep that too with my injured Knee. Being maverick for that short while paid off rich dividends as I was awarded with some great pictures of a Bison up, close and personal. While going back after experiencing a Bison so close to me, a thought came across my mind that when wild animals and Humans are in close company with each other, both are subjected to common danger of being attacked or killed, each infuses other with a measure of courage and confidence which the one possesses and the other lacks.
Thankfully that day the Bison moved away unconcernedly and resumed cropping the grass.
An unbelievable trip to Debrigarh was coming to an end was giving us lessons that why wildlife exploration is one of the most unpredictable things in the world. I look back at approximately 80 odd cumulative days of wildlife explorations done previous to Debrigarh and found that two and half days spent at Debrigarh being more rewarding than those 80 days. We left Debrigarh, but with a promise of of coming back in the month of June next year…
The entire wildlife staff posted at Debrigarh made the experience more enriching and everlasting.