BIRD QUEST (BIRDING) ON 11/02/2012 AND 12/02/2012 The morning started with the inviting whistle of the Malabar

Whistling thrush. It has a habit of demanding fruits from us. So every day, a small piece of banana and apple skin peels have become its breakfast from our house. The left outs were devoured by two beautiful Red Whiskered Bulbulls. A little later, descended a hoard of Jungle Babblers (15-20) on our house. This noisy daring birds somehow strongly believe in their throat powers and feel that they can scare humans too. Bread crumbs vanished in no time. They gave me the best opportunity till date to shoot any bird from close quarters. I was click-happy capturing them on my camera from within a feet distance as they completed their meal.

Afternoon, around 1500 hours, we left for Gauswada lake near Kherwadi. Enroute, we spotted the Little green bee eater (This little bird has become very common sighting these days). A not very common beauty awaited us just 15 minutes into our birding trip. The Crested Lark! Our first sighting from such close distance, He was seen perched on the transmission line. During our last outing, we had seen it on the paddy field on the ground. This time around, he was on the wire! Could snap about three photos before he decided that the photo shoot out was enough.

On the open field on the right side of the road were a fairly big gathering of Large Egrets and about 6-7 Black Drongos. Where there are egrets, there will be its faithful companion. Indeed, there were Pond Herons too. If our observation is correct, there will be atleast one Pond heron for every 3-4 egrets (approximately). At the same place, sitting on the transmission line were about 6 Spotted doves and there was one another bird which I believe is the small pranticole (needs confirmation) that was sitting between the doves. A couple of Indian Rollers were also spotted at the same place. Before we could alight from our car at our destination, we spotted the Asian Open bill perched on top of a tree as if on penance. Sitting on twigs right on tree top, wonder what it was waiting for. I believe it is the same Asian Openbill which we had spotted on our visit on 29/01/2012 also but could not photograph. This time though, since he was sitting still on the tree top and we could photograph it as much as we wanted. The distance we were at, ensured that it was not distracted. The limitations of our point and shoot camera was the only constraint in capturing the best photos of this beautiful bird. We did however manage to get at least one shot in which its open bill was clearly visible.

The lily pond on one side and the weed strewn pond on the other side had plenty of egrets (again) and lots of Little cormorants and Red wattled lapwings. We were disappointed by the behavior of the Red wattled lapwings as it was hell bent on spoiling our evening. In stark contrast to the beautiful body and graceful flight that it has, it has a shrill piercing alarming voice with which it keeps hooting on approach by any stranger thereby keeping other birds also away. It is as though, it has taken upon itself to provide the intruder alarm for all bird community. If only it had kept its mouth shut, we would have observed many birds from close quarters.

There were three Oriental white Ibis on the other side of the pond out of which one could be identified as a juvenile (from its fairly black head). They were waddling in the pond waters poking their mandibles in the soft mud in search of food.

There were three Little ringed plovers which were close by and we did manage to get some good pictures. However, being small birds, getting them in the camera frame was difficult. This was our first sighting of the little ringed plovers. They have white under body and what characterizes them are the golden yellow circular ring around their eyes and the sort of white cotton candy marking above their bills. Their head had black stripes (not many) and they looked gorgeous when zoomed in using the full digital zoom that our camera afforded.

We did spot one Oriole (Since it was fast on flight, we could not clearly identify if it was Indian Golden Oriole or it was Eurasian Golden Oriole – Even if it were sitting, I doubt if we could have clearly identified which one it was, due to lack of our knowledge) Two Wire tailed swallows flew past us. There were a couple of White breasted kingfishers too. But we missed the little blue kingfisher which we had spotted on 29/01/2012. A number of Cotton teals were waddling in the pond (We could count at least 9 in the photo that we took - But the clarity of the pictures were not good). Due to the distance, a proper count could not be had. There was at least one, which was nearby. But it dipped its head into the waters and vanished before we could approach it. Few other birds could not be properly identified: 1. One bird of the size of Indian Treepie – it did have some similarity – sort of orange/brown body but it had a characteristic red streak close to its eyes. We did take a snap but the bird was out of focus and hence was not clear. May be professional birders could identify. 2. We probably spotted two common sandpipers too – However, it cannot be confirmed due to the distance at which they were seen and could not be properly photographed too. 3. There was one eagle (or was it a kite?) – On 29/01/2012, we had seen a crested serpent eagle – probably, it was the same bird. Again, not confirmed. 4. One small bird was also spotted – The shape, size and colour of a reed warbler. Not properly identified. 5. One more small bird flew across us and sat on the transmission line. Probably an Iora or sunbird – Again not clearly identified. On 12/02/2012, we spotted a number of the same birds. We made the cardinal mistake of not carrying the camera. This time, the asian open bill flew out. We did approach the lake from the other side in the hope of coming near to the cotton teals so as to make a good count of them. But it was hopeless. They were on the middle of the pond which again was a good distance from the shore. Now to the prize sighting: in fact, the best of all. I was driving with half my mind on the road and half on the lookout for birds on either side. Only yesterday, we had a narrow miss as I had veered off course doing bird watching while driving and had narrowly missed falling into the ditch and I had promised to myself that I will not do bird watching again while driving. But, somehow, I was once again lost in the world of birds while driving on the right side in the wet marsh land, we spotted the Darter / The snake bird for the first time. We had seen many photos of this bird

but this was the first sighting in the field. Wings spread, neck craning towards top, it was perched on a pole in typical fashion. Wonderful. This one sighting made our day. But alas! No camera and hence no picture!! Curse me! Overall, a wonderful outing and a very rewarding time. PostScript: Compared to last winter season, I have been missing the following birds. No sightings so far in this region – at least by me: 1. Pompadour Green pigeon 2. Chestnut headed bee eater. 3. Plum head and Ash head parakeet. Anyone with any sightings of these beauties may please inform me too!

(We have finally taken the plunge and ordered the book by Salim Ali – The book of Indian birds. So hopefully, from next time, we will be able to identify better)

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