Monday, 28 March 2016

Behaviour: Jerdon's Leafbird

Any birder will swear by the attraction that termite holds for the birds. I have myself - in the days as a child - to catch Quails and Francolins gone in the country side probing semi dried cow dungs to check them for termites and used those picks to attract birds. Well in the bird world they are juice, full of proteins and sort after during the breeding season especially when high protein diet is in high demand.

That being said, we had gone for birding to a lake near Hyderabad where there were huge trees infested by termites. There we saw these Leafbird breaking off the mud cakes of termites covering these trees and eating termites. It was interesting in the sense that this is the first time I had observed this bird doing so. For that matter - I do not recall any other bird doing so other than the woodpeckers.

The bird was clearing the termite mud cakes and enjoying a great snack.
In the hind sight I feel I should have also clicked a small video of the act - was interesting to say the least.

An unrelated photograph to this writeup - but just wanted to put in a close up of the bird

One more picture of the bird caught in the act...

Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Lesser Goldenback

I have seen this bird (Lesser Goldenback) virtually all over the country where ever I have gone expect when I recently went to Sikkim for birding and I saw the Greater Goldenback there. A beautiful bird with the Golden back that justifies its name. This bird is a common one and often seen in and near the city parks, trees and plantations. Today we saw the birds in what seemed a pre-mating ritual (breeding season being Feb to Jul). The birds were seemed to be chasing each other and two places that I saw them today there were three in the group. How they were interacting with each other was great observing. One surprising thing was that in this group of three two were males and one female... Ummm...

A very very common pose of this beautiful bird: Lesser Goldenback

One bird used to fly off to a branch and the other two used to follow. One of the birds, generally the one that had flown to the branch used to peck it like woodpeckers do and then another one of the three used to fly off to the next branch - a different one, with other two following. This was repeated three times over that I witnessed. 

The birds have two subspecies seen with one having white underparts (Central Indian Plains) and the another sub species have pale yellow underparts (North Western Indian subcontinent). 

Same bird as above - the one that took the lead this time over in flying to this branch and pecking.
Though I have observed these birds nesting always in nest excavated in the trees but it has been reported that they have been noted nesting in Mud Embankments too.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Birding dangerously... Collared Kingfisher !

People think that birding is - well just a man walking and looking at birds here and there - cannot be any more exciting that this ? Well you cannot be more wrong. Birding most of the time is pursuing birds here, there and virtually everywhere. That one step while peering through the binoculars or a camera can be such a mistake... It reminds me of a recent article I read that talked about 'Selfie deaths' . It is just as dangerous when that urge to get a better view/better picture of the birds make you do crazy things. Crazy as think back - at that moment the decision was perhaps the most obvious one...

I am talking about 2012 - um ! that's three and a half years back when I had gone to Havelock in Andamans and Nicobar Islands. Like always, I was the first one to get up and be at the beach side enjoying the sunrise. Ofcourse the camera for the birding was around my neck (I did not have a side sling at that time). Walking to the beach I noticed one Collared Kingfisher having breakfast sitting on a tree. The birder in me kicked in, I clicked some pictures from an odd angle I must add wherein only the Bumpies of the bird were filling the frame.  I carried out a quick review of the situation and considered - Ummm - 'if I could climb that fallen tree - I can just attempt to reach the eye level of the bird'. Looking back the decision had its perils - though the trunk was huge - it was covered by moss and I did consider slipping and falling. Anyway - a birder and his instincts soon shrugged aside the misgivings and climbed up - Vola - I was so proud of myself as I reached almost level with the bird - I  clicked, slipped and the Humpty Dumpty had a great fall...

At 110 odd Kg I must have fell like a sack full of potatoes I believe. The camera hit the trunk, bounced and fell on top of me. I was stunned but gathered my wits, the first thing was to look around if someone had witnessed this fall and was giggling ! There was no one around, next I did an inspection of all my body parts - they too seemed to have survived the fall - how? I have absolutely no bloody idea ! Moving on to the camera - the flash shoe was uselessly bent, Lens (100-400L) had a dent. With a numbing pain in my right arm I raised the camera - the camera fired, I reviewed the pictures - Oh it was working...

I limped back to the room, wife was still in a slumber, I slid back into the bed as quietly as I could and closed my eyes. The swollen body parts screamed and soon I was dreaming about the beautiful Kingfisher laughing at me...

Almost reached the eye level - Collared Kingfisher
The last picture before the fall...

Sunday, 6 March 2016

A day hunting Nightjars...

Well when I was offered by Mr Phani and Mr Sriram of Hyderabad Bird Pals to spend a day with them hunting Nightjars - I thought to myself - it does not make sense - Nightjars are 'NIGHTJARS' because of some reason that is that they are active at night and it all seemed like an Oxymoron really. 'Hunting Nightjars by day - Uh! But at the end of it everything does not happen with the LOGIC that you thought to be logical - after all everyone has his strengths. Phani for example was boasting of 3 Nightjars in a single camera frame a week back - after all who can argue to that logic ?

The plan was simple, five of us (Self, Phani, Sriram, Naresh and Vinay) - we drive to Anantgiri hills - a drive of around 80 odd km. Go to the point where he had sited the Nightjars earlier last month (near the temple) - click some good pictures and come back.

Well there turned out to be some holes in the planning. We reached the place alright - but we walked past the temple and continued. Continued for say one odd km beyond - trekking through dry - but fairly thick forests along a stream with no visible track. See what I meant when I said that there were gaps in planning - this understanding that the spot is near the temple - made me keep the rations and the water in the car and the heat soon started making me de-hyderated. We reached the spot - where Phani stopped and pointed that here is the first spot where Nightjars are expected - well - there seemed to have been a recent forest fire and the place was all soot and ash. He said nonchalantly - let's continue - there is another place ahead, and continue we did - the next place - not too far ahead - a bare 500 m or so. It too was dry, no signs of recent fire - but no nightjars either. By this time we had split into two - Vinay and Naresh trailing behind and three of us ahead. As we continued ahead - another place perhaps a km or so ahead - I almost stepped on a bird - it flew - dropped a bare 10 m ahead and disappeared - like a dead leaf from the trees around. We stopped and stared at the spot - there was nothing - I mean how can a bird fly a few feet from me - drop and disappear ? 

I blindly focused my camera at the area and let go a couple of shot at rapid fire. Previewed the photograph and - bloody nothing at all.

This is one of the frames that I just mentioned - can you spot the bird ? - Mind you the bird is there in the frame and fairly focused upon... If you cannot find it - leave a comment - will point out that to you.
We stood frozen there - all looking for this bird when Sriram took a step forward and the whole thing was repeated - a bird flew virtually two or so feet away from him - went hardly 5/6 m ahead and dropped to the ground - well this time over atleast I saw and appreciated the wing pattern and the flight pattern of the bird well. All this time Phani was saying - there would be five six birds - look around. Anyway all three of us were fairly like blind men - before we could sight the bird - another one would fly and settle down and we were no wiser.

Finally a bird flew - I tried hard to follow it and I saw it land and settled down - my happiness knew no bounds - I quickly put the camera to my eyes - and like hell - it was not there. I asked Phani - did it fly off ? he said no. And there I was back to the start - but I was sure that I will see if if I try hard enough - and sight I did. I now carefully placed the camera back to the sights - focused and let go a couple of shots. Sriram was on my shoulder and asking - where? I tried to point out with my 'Fauji' skills but it was useless. I finally showed the picture in the camera - so did Phani and finally he too could home on to the bird.

Okay - this bird is fairly straight forward to find - can you spot it here?
We spent next 15 min or so to click choicest of pictures of these birds. In the meanwhile Naresh and Vinay approached the spot - blissfully unaware of the birds and we were frantically signalling them to stop where they were - lest the birds fly off and we lynch both of them ;-). They got the message loud and clear and approached us as silently as possible - unfortunately by the time they reached, the birds had all gone barring the one we were photographing - and it was time for Naresh and Vinay to now try their luck. We called off the hunt for these birds - the Savannah Nightjars and turned our attention to the other variety expected here.

The beautiful Savannah Nightjar
Another bird - another Savannah Nightjar
This time over again we divided into two teams and each one following either bank along a small dry Nallah (stream). We walked and walked and there was no bird in sight - suddenly my eyes caught a movement and like a good man of Civi street, with no sense of discipline - I broke formation and started following the bird - that bird was Indian Pitta - a common, elusive and a prized bird to see. The bird of course did not let me close and soon I lost it and also the group looking for the Nightjars. I reached the end of the stream and saw only Phani there - I asked him - where are the others? He said they spotted a Large-tailed Nightjar and are photographing that. I went back and saw all of them sitting one side of the stream and them clicking something invisible to me. If you thought that it would have been so easy to walk over and spot Nightjar - you would have been so very wrong. I moved from that edge to where they were and was pointed out the bird sitting near a tree trunk. I let go some pictures. Finally since the bird seemed unperturbed - Sriram crossed over the stream and clicked some pictures from 3 feet or so. I too followed the suite - I moved close and the bird filled the whole frame. After a few pictures I sat staring the bird - it was so magnificent. It is rare that you see a wild bird so bloody close. 

A cropped picture of Large-tailed Nightjar clicked from 15 feet approximately 
An un-cropped picture of Large-tailed Nightjar from three feet (minimum distance to focus 100-400L mark ii)
After taking these pictures we called off the hunt for the nightjars and headed back to the temple. A great day with great company and great birds.

Tree of life - Just opposite of the temple road - we counted 21 species of birds before entering the birding area around this tree itself.

Outside the gate of the temple - a God standing guard - when men will not...
Other than the Nightjars - we counted a total of 118 species of birds. What a great birding day it turned out to be. I was in my room by evening and gulping down bottles of water to recover from that hot birding day...