Oriental Darter

Keoladeo National Park – Part 1 – The Wetlands

The Keoladeo National Park is one of the largest birding sites in India and a must-see for any bird enthusiast. This UNESCO designated World Heritage Site which is also often referred to as Bharatpur National Park is known for the congregation of a large variety of birds including several migratory birds. This man-made wetland interspersed with woodlands and grasslands plays host to over 300 species of birds and other reptiles and amphibians. What also interested me was that the park had a wide network of narrow roads – mostly tarred due to which various parts of the park could be easily accessed on foot or on cycle rickshaws. This obviously allows bird lovers and photographers to get quite close to the birds. So here I was at the location with my camera gear, looking forward to create some interesting shots. The pics displayed are randomly posted and not in any chronological order.

Painted Stork

Among the various suggestions and recommendations that I received while planning my trip to Bharatpur was to look out for the Painted Stork and its rookery. That I did. And it was an amazing sight. At one particular location in the park, there was this colony…actually a very large colony of Painted Storks – both adults and juveniles. There were over a hundred pairs nesting at the site. All the trees around this place had several clumps of nests and while several of the juveniles could be spotted in the nests, there were several more on the ground below, looking for a meal, I guess.

Painted Stork
Painted Storks
Painted Stork
Juvenile Painted Storks
Painted Stork
Painted Stork

Among the wading birds at the park, we were able to spot several species of Herons – some of which are displayed below. Incidentally, I never knew that an Egret is actually a type of Heron.

Purple Heron

At first, I mistook it for a Grey Heron till my guide corrected me and explained the various differences between the two birds. The Purple Heron is smaller than the Grey Heron. It is shorter legged and has larger feet…OK, so I could not check that out as this bird was in water all the time. There are other differences too with respect to the head and the bills but that’s fine as the pics here will be labelled correctly.

Purple Heron
Purple Heron
Grey Heron

The Grey Heron in the pics here actually looks quite different from the Purple Heron. However, out there in the park, they all looked the same to me. This is one bird that I have always spotted during my trips to various wetlands. They all happen to give the same pose – always standing still either in the water or near it. And while doing so, they stand either with their neck stretched out or bent over their chest. I managed to get a shot each.

Grey Heron
Grey Heron

After all the confusion between the Purple and the Grey Heron, heres some more. Featured below is the the Pond Heron and the juvenile Night Heron. They looked quite identical. The adult Night Heron however looks very different. I spotted several of them on the trees but couldnt get close enough for a good shot.

Pond Heron
Pond Heron
Night Heron
Juvenile Night Heron

One of the closest species to the Herons are the Egrets. Most of us are familiar with the Cattle Egret that we often see near drains, marshy areas, open fields and even close to livestock. I am not sure if we did spot any in Bharatpur but even if we did, we would have ignored them…obviously. What we however did spot were the Snowy Egrets and the Greater Egrets. They all look the same when viewed from a distance but it is easy to tell the difference when one views the pictures.

Snowy Egret

Apparently, the Egrets are medium-sized Herons. However, they are not called the Herons as they have some key differences such as long thin legs and slender bills. Also, Egrets are mostly completely white and they have decorative plumes. The word “Egret” is derived from the french word “aigrette” meaning “plume feathers”. In fact, I have been told that Herons are known to retract their necks while in flight, something that an Egrets cannot do.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

The Greater Egret is also called as the Common Egret, the Large Egret and even the Greta White Heron. Phew! Now I am confused. So while the Egret is not a Heron, it is still sometimes referred to as a Heron. The Greater Egret has a S-curved neck and a sharp dagger-like bill. Also it can tuck its neck in while in flight! But that’s something only a Heron can do, right?

Greater Egret
Greater Egret
Greater Egret
Greater Egret

The Black-headed Ibis which is also called the Oriental White Ibis, Indian White Ibis (there goes India’s fixation for the colour white) or the Black-necked Ibis. It is a wading bird and belongs to Ibis family. So there is no more talk of Herons here. Surprisingly, I did not spot Ibises here in Bharatpur. But the lone one that came my way…well I got a shot of it after putting in some effort. The mid-day light was quite harsh and I wasn’t able to control the exposure. I however managed something though.

Black Necked Ibis
Black-headed Ibis

Next up is the Indian Darter or the Oriental Darter – also commonly referred to as the Snake Bird. During all of my previous trips to various wetlands, I had never spotted a Snake Bird. And so obviously, I was all charged up when I saw several of them at Bharatpur.

Oriental Darter

It has a long slender neck with a straight and pointed bill and hunts for fish while it is submerged under water. Here, they were either perched on tree branches or were skimming through the waters in search of food. There were enough opportunities to get some dramatic shots of this bird in action – while on the hunt. But that required patience and loads and loads of it, that which I did not possess…surely not loads of it. So All I got were some still shots to keep myself satisfied.

Oriental Darter
Oriental Darter
Oriental Darter
Oriental Darter

Isn’t the picture above the classical cormorant pose? Of course yes. But what would you expect from two similar birds that belong to different families but the same order – the Suliformes.

Both, the Oriental Darter and the Cormorant species are great swimmers, they pursue and hunt their fish underwater and swallow them head-first. And yes, they both sit atop branches, rocks or floatsam and spread their wings wide to dry…and why do they do that? Well, unlike other birds, the feathers of the Cormorant and the Oriental Darter get wet and waterlogged when they are in water. This is to prevent the air bubbles from getting trapped beneath their wings thereby enabling them to dive deeper into the water.

Indian Cormorant
Indian Cormorant
Indian Cormorant
Indian Cormorant

The Great Cormorant is also known as the Great Black Cormorant or the Black Shag. In India it is simply called the Large Cormorant. Simple, isn’t it? Compared to the Indian Cormorant, the Great Cormorant has a larger angular head with a heavy beak, a stockier body and short tail.

Greater Cormorant
Great Cormorant

Keoladeo National Park is known for its large number of water birds, many of which are migratory and visit this place as its wintering ground. While I was aware of this from what I had heard and read, I wasn’t prepared for the visual treat that awaited me in Bharatpur. For once, I spent a good amount of time watching the ducks and geese and soaking in the experience before taking some shots for my blog.

Spot Billed Duck
Spot Billed Duck
Northern Shoveler
Northern Shoveler
Common Teal
Common Teal
Comb Duck
Comb Duck
Rudy Shelduck

The Ruddy Shelduck is a lovely looking duck. In fact, its one of my favorites. I have spotted this duck in almost all the wetlands that I have visited so far. This migratory bird, also called the Brahminy Duck uses the wetlands in India and other parts of the sub-continent for wintering before returning to South Eastern Europe and Central Asia. While its not too colourful, its orange-brown plumage somehow makes it standout in the pictures. Perhaps, that’s what I like about these birds.

Rudy Shelduck
Ruddy Shelduck
Rudy Shelduck
Ruddy Shelduck
Pin Tailed Duck

Here’s another migratory bird that travels all the way from norther Europe to winter at locations closer to the equator. The Northern Pintail is an elegant long-necked duck that derives its name from the male’s central tail feathers. The pictures here show the male and the female Northern Pintail. The drake is more striking with a thin white stripe running across the back of its chocolate coloured head while the hen has a dull and subdued plumage due to its drab brown feathers.

Pin Tailed Duck
Northern Pintail
Pin Tailed Duck
Northern Pintail
Pin Tailed Duck
Northern Pintail

Keoladeo National Park is also a wintering ground for large colonies of the Bar-headed Geese. These birds that breed in Central Asia migrate to South Asia during the winter period. While migrating southwards, the Bar-headed Geese are known to fly over the Himalayas, at heights of over 24000 feet! Isn’t that cool (literally)?

Bar Headed Goose

Actually, there are several other interesting facts and findings on these birds and their migrations on the internet. Just Google it. Talking of flying, I have seen these birds create beautiful aerial formations while in the air. And that’s a pic that I would have desired. However, this large colony of the Bar-headed Geese seemed to be grazing and therefore stayed put on the ground. And patience is not a virtue in my case so, I made do with these shots.

Bar Headed Goose
Bar-headed Geese
Bar Headed Goose
Bar-headed Geese

Displayed below are some more water birds (mainly from the Rail and Crake Family) that are generally found in swaps, marshes and water bodies with thick vegetation. These birds were found foraging through the vegetation and being people-shy, they kept moving away from me when ever I tried getting close to them for a cleaner shot.

Eurasian Coot
Eurasian Coot
Eurasian Coot
Eurasian Coot
Purple Moorhen
Purple Moorhen
Purple Moorhen
Purple Moorhen
Indian Moorhen
Common Moorhen
Indian Moorhen
Common Moorhen
Bronze Winged Jacana
Bronze Winged Jacana
Bronze Winged Jacana
Juvenile Bronze Winged Jacana

The Great White Pelican was one of the many highlights of our visit to Keoladeo National Park. While we had seen this bird during our trips to Nal Sarovar and Nava Talao, this one was different. There were hundreds of these birds – some were asleep while others were hunting in groups. Intermittently, some would take-off and some others would land in water, splashing it around. We took our time and shot some pics but I was unable to get pictures of the birds in action.

Great White Pelican

Later in the day, our guide insisted that we should go back to the pelican site just before sunset and shoot the birds as they took off in formations, against the back-drop of the Sun. He believed that the silhouettes of the pelicans in flight against the back-drop of the setting Sun would make for a wonderful shot. We weren’t that lucky though as the pelicans stayed put in the water and only began taking off after sunset.

Great White Pelican
Great White Pelican
Great White Pelican
Scoop of Pelicans
Great White Pelican
Great White Pelicans
Great White Pelican
Great White Pelican