Monday, 9 March 2009

Northern India and the Himalayan Foothills Day Four

Monday 19th January 2009

Day four was Bharatpur day, or to be precise Keoladeo-Ghana National Park, formerly the Bharatpur Bird Reserve and before that, a hunting ground for the maharajahs. 380 species of bird have been recorded here so it was going to be on helluva day.

The day started over the road from the park entrance at first light, checking out a brown hawk owl the guide had staked-out. It was bit lighter when we ventured into the sandy fields behind the hotel, dodging human-eggs on our quest for indian courser and it wasn't long before we saw our first one through the gloom, we counted eight in all before leaving the fields to the 'white-rumped sharma's ' to continue laying their eggs in peace.

One more site to visit before entering the National Park, a stream (or large open sewer) in the market area of Bharatpur. 'Where there is shit there is birds' - this place stunk! but it was home to three painted snipe, our target bird here, as well as 8 ruff, 15 wood sands, 10 green sands, temmincks stint, bluethroat, white-breasted waterhens and a citrine wag.

By 0825, our noses recovered, we were in 'Bharatpur'. The plan being to explore the park on foot and rickshaw for the rest of the day.
The enormity of the wetlands soon struck us and unlike reserves in the UK, there were no bunded paths and pokey hides, you were close to the birds and they didn't fly off - something for RSPB to learn. There were plenty of bushes and trees too so jungle babbler, red-vented bulbul, parakeets, jungle crows and black drongos were numerous. We also came across this huge monitor lizard.
We soon added indian grey hornbill, brown-headed and coppersmith barbet and long-tailed minivet to our lists. Next on the list was grey nightjar, perched up in a tree then a dusky eagle owl - all we could see of this brute was the top of it's head poking out of the huge nest.

Common waterbirds here include black-headed ibis, indian pond heron, little and great cormorant, egrets, purple and grey herons, moorhen and oriental darter and painted stork
Common ducks included shoveler, teal, gadwall, red-crested pochard, lesser-whistling duck, spot-billed and comb duck .
Also added to the list were black bittern, brown crake and orphean warbler.

A picnic lunch stop was nice opportunity to photograph some of the over-looked, but nonetheless stunning birds and mammals including this fantastic brahminy starling, hoopoe and three-striped squirrel.

After lunch it was time to head off around the park in search of one of our main target birds of the trip - sarus crane! A good scan from a high observation didn't produce results but a smoky warbler flicking through the bushes at its base was a bonus.

A ride along another track brought us asian openbill, collared scops owls, wire-tailed swallows, bronzed-winged jacanas and two pied kingfishers.

Then we came across our target species - sarus crane...and it didn't disappoint, the birds were a little way off but as they are so huge it didn't matter they were still a stunning site.

In the same area was out only white-tailed lapwing and black-tailed godwit of the day and raptors overhead included numerous marsh harriers, a few steppe eagles and spotted eagles.

Further along the track our guide disappeared in to the bushes and soon summoned us, he had found this amazing large-tailed nightjar perfectly camouflaged among the undergrowth
I hope that I have captured the magic of this fantastic place, there are of course, too many amazing birds to list here. It will certainly be a place all of us on the trip will remember for the rest of our lives - one of the world's true birding Mecca's!