The Keoladeo National Park was a park full of surprises, maybe because of the different terrains that it encompassed within itself. While it is known to all as one of the best wetlands in India, this Ramsar Site with its woodlands and grasslands also plays host to a very large number of birds and animals including several reptiles – we were lucky to spot a large Indian Rock Python in the park. So while we were already overwhelmed with the sighting of so many water birds (read my blog on Keoladeo’s wetlands), we weren’t aware that our journey into the woods or the dry regions of the park had so much more in store for us.
Let’s start with our encounter with the Mynas – the Brahminy Myna and the Bank Myna – and the Jungle Babblers. It was day 2 and after having walked around the park for a couple of hours, we decided to take a break at a refreshment zone within the park. We got ourselves some tea and a couple of packs of Krackjack biscuit. No sooner had we opened the first pack, a large flock of little birdies descended around our bench…all out of nowhere.
While most of them were Brahminy Mynas, there were some Bank Mynas too. It appeared that they were used to being fed by our fellow humans and were therefore expecting us to do the same. They did not seem to be afraid of us instead, a couple of them hopped onto the table in an attempt to steal some of the biscuits. We realised that the only way to keep them from taking away our biscuits was to share some with them! So we tossed some pieces around and while they were busy squabbling over the crumbs, we took these pics.
While on the topic of Mynas and their aggressive behaviour, it may be interesting to note that their larger cousin, the Common Myna or the Indian Myna – found in urban locations and cities – has been declared as an invasive species by several countries including Australia where they were introduced in late 19 century to keep down the insects. Instead, they started breeding rather quickly and began evicting native birds from their hollows. Runs in the blood I guess.
Similar to the Mynas above, are a group of noisy birds called the Jungle Babblers. During our tea session, we noticed several of these birds hopping around on the ground and creating a nuisance in the shrubs nearby.
And giving company to the Mynas and the Jungle Babbler was the Pied Wagtail. This small, long-tailed and apparently over enthusiastic bird was dashing around the grass wagging its tail up and down while searching for food or the crumbs of Krackjack, I guess.
Next up is a rather colourful cousin of our dear Crow – the Rufous Treepie. The Treepie is a species within the Crovidae Family. Actually, it is hard to believe that this family which is made up of Crows and Ravens also has within it several coloured species like the Treepies, Jays and Magpies. While we had several sightings of the Rufous Treepie, in most cases the view was obscured with thick foliage depriving me of a clean shot. I finally found one perched on a branch and I knew that this shot wasn’t to be missed. So here it is.
Another bird family that features some colour beyond the standard black & white, actually ‘Gray’ is the Pigeon family, also called as Columbidae. We are all used to the common pigeon, found in abundance in our towns and cities especially at places earmarked as Kabutar Khanas.
These stout, plump gray birds have several cousins in various shades of gray…and I have seen a couple of them during my earlier trips to various parts of the country. But never one that was this colourful. So I was surprised when I spotted the Yellow footed Green Pigeon. A group of theses birds were perched high on a tree and was quite difficult to spot with its colour camouflaging itself with the foliage. An interesting fact is that the Yellow Footed Green Pigeon is the State bird of Maharashtra and is called Hariyal in marathi.
And here are the regulars that one cannot miss in any park. Of course, there were more than those displayed here, but I wasn’t quick enough to freeze the frame in most cases.
It seems that all Parrots found in India are actually Parakeets. But they are Parrots too. Confused? So here’s how it goes…all Parakeets are Parrots but all Parrots are not Parakeets. And if that is not enough, here’s one more – small to medium sized parrots are called Parakeets. OK, with that done, pictured here is the Rose-ringed Parakeet which is one of the 12 native species of Parakeets found in India. I have also been lucky to spot the Alexandrine and Plum-headed Parakeets at other locations before.
By the end of day 2 of our 3-day trip to Keoladeo National Park, we were quite satisfied with the sightings and some close encounters with birds like the Sarus Crane, Painted Storks and the Great White Pelicans. However there still some check-boxes that were left unchecked. We had yet to see the Indian Grey Hornbill and vultures in Bharatpur.
We had read and heard about the Indian Grey Hornbill and its several sightings in Keoladeo. On checking with our guide about the same, we were informed that he was aware about the location of these birds and we were was assured that it would be the first stop on day 3.
However the following morning a thick fog had enveloped the park preventing the Sun’s light from reaching the ground. As a result the temperatures had fallen to 10 degrees within the park. Obviously, there was no way any bird would venture out in this weather. However, we were already at the location hoping and waiting for a miracle sighting.
An hour passed by and we were beginning to lose hope of the sighting. Just at that very moment, a pair of Indian Grey Hornbills flew in and settled down on a large tree. They kept moving from one branch to another making it very difficult for us to get a clear view for a photograph. We took several pictures however, only a couple were decent enough to be featured here. But that apart, we were finally glad and excited to have spotted the hornbill in Bharatpur, just like the few others who had seen the birds here in Keoladeo.
While waiting for the hornbills, we took some time out to go looking for a couple of Spotted Owlets. Since it was very cold, some of these little birds stayed put in their burrows. A pair however had ventured out and had set themselves up on a branch. None seemed to be interested in us and appeared to be dozing…what else would one do in such weather? I attempted some shots which are featured below.
Somewhere in the woods, close to a swamp we spotted a swoop of swallows. They are small birds with narrow pointed wings that spend most of their time in air. Here too, they were flying around while a couple of them would settle down intermittently on the dry tree stumps that stood half-submerged in the water. It is quite difficult to photograph the Swallows while in air due to their short and random flights. In fact they are easier to photograph when stationary. Pictured here is a kind-hearted Barn Swallow that posed for a couple of pics for me.
Similar to any swamp and its usual inhabitants, we spotted the White Throated Kingfisher and the Common Kingfisher.
We had reached one corner of the park when I noticed a colony of the Great Indian Fruit Bats. It was a secluded section of the park and there were no other birds to disturb them while they hung upside down from a coconut tree. I did not know this but apparently, the Great Indian Fruit Bats which are also called as the Indian Flying Foxes are one of the largest bats in the world. They are nocturnal and feed on ripe fruits and nectar…if that is true, what were they all doing on a coconut tree?
The Keoladeo National Park also has its fair share of birds of prey or Raptors as they are called. While we noticed several birds of prey, we could successfully get close to only some of them and identify even fewer. Most of them could easily be found near the wetlands where there was an abundance of food in the form of fishes, reptiles and water birds.
Our first day at the park was also the first time that I had spotted an owl that was more than a foot and a half tall. It was the Indian Eagle Owl. The Indian Eagle Owl which is also called as the Rock Eagle Owl is one of the largest owls from the Indian Subcontinent.
It was dusk and we began hearing the deep resonating booming call of the Indian Eagle Owl. Our guide followed the path of the call and successfully spotted this large bird of prey. A little later, we realised that there were two of them and one even had its chicks near it! Both owls were perched on two separate trees that were a couple of meters apart from each other. They were also reasonably well hidden in the foliage. Even though the owls were 500 meters away from us, I managed to get some clear shots of these birds, all thanks to my Tamron 150-600 lens.
And finally my last pic from Bharatpur is that of the Egyptian Vulture. So here’s the story on this large carrion-eater. While approaching Bharatpur on day 1 of our trip, we had noticed several birds that appeared to be vultures circling overhead near the park. When we asked our guide about them, he informed us that they were indeed vultures but were also accompanied by other birds of prey like the eagles and kites. Their location too was known to him but apparently there wasn’t any approach road to the location. So we took it on ourselves to try and get there. On nearing the spot, we noticed a lone Egyptian Vulture perched on a dry (and possibly dead) tree. It appeared to be so still that I thought it was a mummy…OK, I am just trying to be funny! We scaled a half-broken wall and walked through some vegetation to get close to this large bird. We took our time with the shots. The Sun was against us but we managed a couple of good pics – one of which is featured below.
The Egyptian Vulture which is also referred to as the White Scavenger Vulture is distinctive with its bright yellow bill and face. Apparently it is an endangered bird as its population has been decreasing due to various reasons including poisoning and human disturbances.
In the end, all I can say is that Keoladeo National Park stayed true to its promise. My expectations were high about this park as I had heard and read a lot about it. And it didn’t let me down. I can confidently state that this park is one of the best wetlands in India, maybe the best actually…at least till I visit another one that surpasses what I experienced here.