27 Jan 2014

27 Jan 14 - Birding At A Posh Shooting Lake

Don't worry I've not gone soft on my views about hunting & shooting of birds. Instead I've just arrived at one of the most well known shooting lakes in India in the 19th century, which is now a World Heritage Site: Bharatpur (Keoladeo) National Park. Originally, Bharatpur was a Maharaja shooting site, but this was a tradition that continued into the colonial days.
Bharatpur: A subtle entrance gate
Bharatpur is a fairly large reserve with a long road (about 3 miles long) inside the reserve to a small temple. Cars are limited within the park & only allowed to an inner checkpost & a small park lodge on a side road. But you are not expected to walk if you don't want to as there are large numbers of rickshaw drivers, allowing you to travel slowly through the park. The rickshaw drivers are worth considering as they do know a number of stakeouts for Owls & Nightjars (unfortunately none along the main track this time) as well as the commoner mammals & birds.
This shows the extend of the shooting in colonial days: There are another 5 panels
The only food in the park is a small drinks stall by the temple. I was very impressed by this drinks stall as the only food they had were crisps & nuts, but they served them in paper bags, so they were biodegradable if the customers threw them away. The first time in India I had seen real care for the environment over rubbish (especially as it was costing the stall for extra paper bags).
Map of Bharatpur
Initially, the road leads through dry, arid bush & areas of small trees. There is an inner checkpost and soon the track continues into seasonally flooded wet forest. Continuing further this opens up into shallow lakes on both sides, with trees on raised ground. These trees host large nesting colonies of breeding waterbirds. There are also a few areas of taller trees which are worth exploring on side tracks. There are a few raised paths leading across these lakes. Around the temple area are a couple of tower hides (they weren't here on my first visit in 91), which give good views over the wet areas. The reserve continues with a couple of raised tracks radiating out on either side of the temple.
Looking back towards the entrance & the drier part of the reserve
The first part of the raised track after the inner checkpost runs through wet forest
The open marshes from one of the tower hides
An interesting take on conservation: We saw 3 Siberian White Cranes in 91, but sadly, there have been no sightings at Bharatpur for over a decade 
Local villagers seem to be allowed to gather some produce from the reserve on the far side of the temple
Any birder visiting Bharatpur should really allow 3 or 4 days to explore the area fully, including a day of cycling into the reserve to allow you to get to the far end. This is a day, when a guide will get you some bonus species. But having done all that on my 91 trip, then this trip was more focused on potential ticks, Nightbirds & general photography. At the entrance gate, I was briefly hassled by a local bird guide who wanted me to hire him. Tried him on a couple of tricky NW Indian species Red-headed Bunting & Mottled Wood Owl on the vague hope there might be one on the reserve. But with a no on these species, I declined hiring him as a guide, despite his pointing out he had a telescope. Given the time I had just spent in Gujarat & Rajasthan, I didn't think I needed anybody to point out the waterbirds & besides I also had my own telescope. There was a potential tick for me at Bharatput, Brooks's Warbler, which is a subtle Phyllos Warbler, but I knew where to look for that. I also didn't think he would know where it was or how to identify it. I wanted to give myself more photography opportunities & also declined the rickshaw drivers offers. I'll leave the photos to give you an overview of the birding & photographic potential for the site.
Indian Cormorant
Oriental Darter
Grey Heron
Intermediate Egret: This is the nominate intermedia subspecies. Separated from Great White Egret by the shorter, thicker bill, gape line to mid eye (not the rear of the eye, more rounded head & black legs & feet). Great White Egrets also have a distinctively kinked neck (a Great White Egret photo is in the A Weak Excuse To Get Back To An Old Stomping Ground post)
Night Heron: This is the nominate nycticorax subspecies which occurs throughout the species Old World range
Night Heron
Painted Stork: Adult
Painted Stork: Juveniles waiting for food
Painted Stork: Juvenile
Asian Openbill
Bar-headed Goose
Cotton Pgymy-goose
Gadwall: Male
Indian Spot-billed Duck: Those bill markings are excellent
Egyptian Vulture: A high adult bird with its diagnostic black & white wing pattern & diamond shaped tail
Marsh Harrier: Subadult. This is the nominate aeruginosus subspecies which is the same one I see locally in Dorset
White-breasted Waterhen: This is the phoenicurus subspecies which occurs throughout the Indian Subcontinent, except for the Andamans & Nicobars where it is replaced by insularis & midnicobarica on the central Nicobars
Purple Swamphen: This is the poliocephalus subspecies
Moorhen: This is the nominate chloropus subspecies which also occurs in Dorset
Coot: This is the nominate atra subspecies which also occurs in Dorset
Laughing Dove: This is also known as Palm Dove
Yellow-legged Green Pigeon: Showing the distinctive yellow feet
Smyrna Kingfisher: This is the nominate smyrnensis subspecies which as far West as Israel. It is replaced in Southern India & Sri Lanka by the fusca subspecies & the Andamans by the saturatior subspecies
Red-breasted Flycatcher
Jungle Babbler: This species has several subspecies within India. This is the sindiana subspecies which was also seen in Gujarat. Earlier in the trip, the Jungle Babblers around Clacutta were the striata subspecies
Jungle Crow: This is the culminatus subspecies (also known as Indian Jungle Crow) which ranges through most of lowland India & Sri Lanka. Earlier in the trip, I saw the levaillantii subspecies (sometimes split off as Eastern Jungle Crow) on the Andamans
Nilgai: Male checking out a small temple. Males are bluish-grey & have small horns
Nilgai: Females & immatures are this tawny brown & do not have horns
Nilgai: They are well suited for feeding in wet areas with their large size & long legs
Chital Deer: Male
Chital Deer: A tamer female
Rhesus Macaque: This species is replaced in Southern India by Bonnet Macaques