Ask most of the people and they will tell you that there are few experiences more stimulating and humbling than the sight of a wild tiger padding its way through sandy tributaries in Corbett Tiger Reserve. But, I would disagree. My idea for the original wilderness experience is to forget about the well-trodden tiger trail to discover paradise in the beauty of the forest. The pure essence and memory of Jim Corbett National Park’s Chaurs (unique large meadows of this park), streams, Sal trees have stayed with me.
At half past six in the morning, the air was chilly and wet. Dew covered the grasslands and the morning fog battled for supremacy with the rising Sun. The birds, barking deer, Jackals and other assorted jungle inhabitants had already commenced their daily chores. Tall silk cotton trees with their huge buttress roots provided a perfect perch for the winged visitors. The world seemed at peace and we were slowly moving in our jeeps, watching Himalayan Bulbul, jackal, spotted deer roaming around in perfect harmony, under the gaze of Rhesus monkeys and a few birds that twittered above from tree to tree – wildlife community foraging session!
While others scoped the landscapes for signs of a tiger, Jim Corbett’s main attraction and underlining importance of this park; I was hoping to see an owl, or even a mere glimpse would be satisfying for me. As the breeze was blowing the grassy expanses, and brushing past my hair, our jeep with a sudden jolt descended into a gully. After crossing this wet rocky patch, in a blink of an eye we were amidst a deep Sal forest! I was thrilled for the sheer diversity of this picturesque jungle; hills, grasslands, marshy depressions, riverine belts, khair-sissoo forests; it would be difficult to find a landmass with anything more to offer.
“Meenaz! Look, two owlets!” And with that our jeep halted under a dry Teak tree. We had reached there in time to spot a pair of the intriguing round-headed Jungle Owlets, basking in the morning sun. On having a proper look through the binoculars, we observed, actually three of these crepuscular birds were cozily hanging out together. It was a real treat to see a legendary Owlets trio perched in one spot of the tall majestic deciduous tree branch. This was my closest view of this captivating bird.
Being stationed vertically beneath them, we could clearly see their clean white barred tail and black barred under-parts. I must say, these naive birds – clueless of the harm we humans could inflict on them – were quite cool about being in our proximity, as they didn’t flinch at all. However, ‘the three stooges’ grew curious on seeing us, probably they had never seen jeeps and funny-looking humans so closely before. An intimate trio of these little birds produced a scene that was mesmerising and dramatic at the same time. One of the owlets was swiveling its head in almost 270 degrees. The rotating head gesture and the twinkle in their yellow eyes were to die for. This specie that inhabits pristine forests with invigorating climatic conditions is never seen in degraded habitats. They reside only in the biodiversity hotspot of India, the Himalayas. It was the uncommon sight of these non-nocturnal birds that turned this wildlife expedition into an enthralling experience.