On the Sea Eagle’s trail
Devbagh which literally means ‘Celestial Garden’ was the destination we picked for a stop-over during our Coastal Karnataka trip. I had heard about the pristine beauty of the Devbagh Resort from earlier visitors.
Karwar, a small town near the Karnataka-Goa border looks very rustic. It is known to have been a part of the vibrant trade network during the colonial era. Karwar raised the waves of creativity in the mind of a young Tagore inspiring him to put pen on paper and author Prakritir Pratishodha – story of a Sanayasi and a young girl.
Kali river which originates in the Western Ghats quietly merges with the Arabian Sea, at Karwar. Close to the estuary of river Kali, there is a long and lovely bridge across it. JLR office is by the side of the bridge and that’s where visitors to Devbagh Resort report. A short boat ride from the jetty close to the office would take you to the island resort. The boat ride itself is a pleasant experience.
After getting down at the jetty one has to pass through the porous curtain of casuarinas trees to reach the accommodation. The huts are nicely laid out in the grove allowing privacy and maintaining closeness to the shores. We stayed in the one at the end of the row; farthest from the jetty.
After a quick nap following lunch, we explored the walkway leading to a small fishing village, a couple of kilometres away. This walkway has through the thicket of trees and shrubs, which prevented the rays of hot afternoon sun from touching the sands. There were butterflies and black kites all around. After this walk, we waited for the sun to turn down its temperature and move closer to the horizon. Setting sun was an enchanting sight to watch. Colours were brilliant and the wind was pleasant. Surprisingly there were not many guests on the beach enjoying the sun-set. But we had the company of two local residents – a pair of brahminy kites. The early hours of darkness were spent around the campfire on the beach, tasting JLR delicacies.
I was keenly looking forward to the birding trip next morning. The White-Bellied Sea Eagle (WBSE) was one that I did not want to miss on this trip. Next morning, we had a decent crowd for birding. The group moved to the jetty and then got into the water. I guess the level of water may vary based on tide. When we were walking, the water level was upto the waist for most adults – something which none of us were told in advance. Many guests, especially women were annoyed with water drenching their dress making walking inconvenient. Those wearing jeans had to carry much more weight than what they were anticipating! Wading through the water was fun, but I could not enjoy it in full with my camera hanging an inch above water. A trip and fall in water may not do much harm to the body, but it could hurt the purse badly. That meant, my eyes were more on where I was stepping than on the sandpipers which were closeby or the beautiful Eurasian Golden Oriole sitting on a branch near the shore. A Black-Rumped Flameback was chipping away furiously. The camera angle was good, but I did not dare risk my camera with a waist-deep salt water position.
After a 20 minute ‘water walk’ we got back on to hard ground and into the bushes. The birds were very active and called continuously. None of us were very good with bird calls and hence could identify only those which gave us the pleasure of sighting. The thorny bushes were particularly harsh on skin rendered soft by salt water exposure. The less enthused walkers were put off by the dull burning sensation and the more focused ones braved the irritation without complaint. I kept asking our guide about WBSE and his reply was the same disappointing response all the guides all around the world give – “It depends on your luck” !
But the eagle showed significantly more kindness than the guide in comforting me, by calling out from fairly close quarters to let us know that the opportunity was around the corner. The call was like loud laughter and had decibel levels in line with the size of the bird. We soon located it on top a tree partly hidden by the branches. I watched it for about ten seconds and reached out for my camera. It would have taken me five seconds to bring my eyes back to the same spot. The branch was empty ! The large bird measuring about two-thirds of a metre had noiselessly flown away. I was happy that I could see it, but alas, not long enough! A little ahead we were shown the nest of the eagle atop a tall tree. It was a large sized nest and according to the guide had been around for sometime. There was a bit of a hurry in the last part of the walk, as the time for the boat ride to watch dolphins was fast approaching. When we came out of the bushes, near the jetty, some were relieved and the others disappointed for the same reason – the birding walk was over.
I wanted to go back and look for the WBSE. The price to pay was missing the opportunity to watch dolphins. But I decided that a bird in hand is worth more than many dolphins in the sea. The guide took me back into the wooded area. We kept searching, but without luck. After about twenty minutes suddenly the calls started again. Ten minutes walk took us to another part of the island. A short search later, we located the majestic bird. We were worried whether we would disturb the shy bird. After watching it for a while through the bushes, we moved a bit forward to take a few shots. There were still braches blocking the view. That is when I decided to break cover to have a clear view and possibly a clear shot. But the bird was quick to spot us and took off in a flash. We walked back and the bonus on the way was that we could watch a pair of WBSE in the nest this time – the same nest which was empty when we passed it twice earlier. A good ten minutes later both the birds flew away. I had a good look at WBSE – the top item on my agenda for the Devbagh visit.