19 Dec 2013

19 Dec 13 - Winter Sun?

Decided to escape the Christmas thing this year & have headed off to the Indian Andman Islands & the Western Ghats (SW India) with Brian Field. I've been on a few foreign trips with Brian in the old days, but this is the first time we've teamed up in recent years. As I had more free time on my hands that Brian, I headed out a few days early to acclimatise to the chaos of India & to allow me to get over the jet lag before Brian arrived. Flew into Calcutta with Qatar Airlines, via a short change of planes in Doha, Qatar. A remarkably straight-forward flight, with a mere 30 minutes from arriving at Heathrow T4 to being at the boarding gate. With some Asian airlines in the past, it's taken that long to just check the main bag in.

After all I've heard of India having changed massively in the last decade, it doesn't appear to have changed that much on the ground. Still the noisy, poor, chaotic country that I remember. Standards of driving remain unchanged, but more modern cars on the road now.
The Ambassador taxi: They seem to have been on the road since the days of the British Morris Minor (except the latter disappeared off the UK roads decades ago)
The Ambassador taxi: The inside decor isn't plush
There are some basic rules of the road when driving in Indian cities. To prove your car is roadworthy, you only need to beep your horn at least once a minute. Leaving any gap no matter how small is a sign of personal weakness. Taxi drivers are expected to disprove the laws of nature & try to fit their cars into any gap that's about half a car wide: again beeping the horn helps to bend the space-time continuum to allow this to happen. Stephen Hawking has yet to adjust the latest theories to explain this rule.
It's important not to leave a gap: to avoid another taxi squeezing in
There was little chance of seeing any ticks around Calcutta, given I've already spent 6 weeks birding in Northern India in 91 as well as a couple of Nepalese trips. Therefore, birding was planned to be a couple of laid back trips to local sites with the camera. First site was to Joka Marshes. This is a set of marshes, flooded fish ponds & scattered trees on the edge of the city in a semi rural area where there were plenty of small basic homes. Didn't manage to find the better area of marshes as the directions to the best patch of marsh are patchy on the internet. I explored the fish ponds until the track I was on just gave up as I reached the last of the houses. The people were friendly & surprisingly unfazed by seeing a tourist wandering around taking photos of the birds.
Indian Pond Heron: A common resident species in the local wetlands
Yellow Bittern: This species replaces Little Bittern in most of the Indian Subcontinent
Yellow Bittern: Males are separated from Little Bittern by the pale brownish not black, mantle
Little Green Bee-eater: A species many British birders will be familiar with from Israel trips
Ashy Minivet: Surprisingly this isn't on the Calcutta checklist. I'm sure it's just an oversight on their part as I can't believe my party of 3 birds are a city first
Ashy Minivet: They spent a lot of time just inside the canopy
Jungle Babbler: They often seem to have a hunchbacked appearance
Jungle Babbler: I do like Turdoides Babblers: they are generally obvious, noisy & full of character
Asian Pied Myna: Starling species are well represented in India
Purple-rumped Sunbird: I had forgotten how bright the females can get
As for the Winter sun, that was missing. Throughout my visit, there was a hazy smog over the city
which I'm assuming was a pollution problem, but the BBC news had mentioned it was foggy over large parts of the Subcontinent, so may be a mixture of reasons. Still it kept the temperatures down to a more pleasant t-shirt & shirt weather.