No, festivals do not excite me. The only use i see of them is the fact that you generally do not need to work on those days. But ever since I started working at a news channel, i had to say goodbye to those festival holidays as well. Because, you know, news just keeps on happening. So yes, I am not that big on festivals.
The last Christmas day was slightly different though. Everyone in my team was working and so I took advantage of the fact that that I am the boss and took some time off to join the good folks at Delhi Birds for an old fashioned bird walk. I am not big on group activities either, but the DelhiBird group is led by expert birders who know those secret little corners which I, on my own would never have known. This is how on a cold, foggy Christmas day, I landed up at Dankaur – a village in the middle of nowhere.
The map embedded above only shows you the location of the village. The spot, a now dry lake bed, was a few kms away from the village. The group met up at a designated spot in Noida before taking off towards the destination, around 50 kms away. I was looking forward to this trip for two reasons. Ever since I started working in the live news environment, i lost my weekends, a sense of time and personal life. So, unlike other years, this was to be my first day out birding this season! Secondly, I had finally managed to fix my trusty motorcycle (Dope, as I call him) and this trip out of the city would test my modifications .
For the first few miles we were on the Greater Noida Expressway. Turning off the Expressway at Greater Noida we kept turning into smaller (and increasingly more potholed) roads till we reached what looked like a massive grassland with a shallow pond at its center. This is supposed to be the fabled spot, where, on a good day over a 100 Sarus cranes congregate. Will this Christmas day be the proverbial ‘good day’?
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Ruffs spotted on a wetland on our way to the main destination
Hume’s Leaf Warbler
We reach our destination. A massive open grassland the likes of which I never thought existed so close to Delhi
A Great Cormorant flies past
Eurasian Spoonbills take to the air
A very handsome pintail with Northern Shovellers in the background
Eurasian Spoonbills landing
Eurasians Spoonbills won’t talk to the Intermediate Egret!
Bar headed geese
Bar headed geese
What a beauty! A Black Shouldered Kite, one of the rare birds that can hover midair before sweeping down for the kill
Female Siberian Stonechat
Birders and some cattle
A lonely Greylag Goose. Very unusual to see a solitary bird
Egyptian Vulture, also called the Pharaoh’s Chicken
The Pharaoh’s Chicken
An Egyptian Vulture flies low over the fields
Male Siberian Stonechat
Male Siberian Stonechat – back view
The Masked Bandit – A Longtail Shrike in the evening light
Aaah! What we actually came to see. A pair of Sarus Cranes
I can watch Sarus Cranes for hours. Such graceful birds
Dope, my partner in crime.
Just as the sun went down, i captured two of my vavourite birds in one frame. Black necked stork (L) and Sarus Crane (A juvenile, R)
Birders in the dying light
The area is an ideal habitat for sarus and in our vicinity were 20-40 pairs. Here’s a family returning home at sunset, just as we packed up from home
Living alone sure has its charms. Oh Yes. Especially when you live in a barsati (rooftop flat) in a leafy South Delhi colony. The laburnum tree grows so close to my balcony that I can just reach out and touch the branches.
This tree is also the favourite haunt to some of the tiniest birds in this part of the world – okay, maybe with the exception of the Fire Breasted flowerpecker – the Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus).
One lazy Sunday afternoon, my siesta was disturbed by a huge racket outside. I open to door to see at least half a dozen of these tiny beauties darting from branch to branch announcing their glee to the entire world. I have never had them come so close. After a frantic dash into the other room to get the camera, fix the right lens, I managed to get a few shots of the passerines.
On account of my poverty, my wildlife / birding lens is a Sigma 50-500. It is slower than an geriatric on a vintage stair-lift and lesser said about its auto-focussing prowess, the better. White eyes are notoriously darty, never settling on the same perch for more than a second or two. Imagine if you will, my woe. Half an hour later, however, I get few shots worth talking about.
Once I view them on the laptop I notice the noise. One quick look at the camera setting tells me that my ISO is set to 2000 from a night shoot I did few days back. F*** my life. Anyway, here’s what I got.
In the gaggle of white eyes, another tiny bird almost went unnoticed. Almost. My keen eyes (cue ‘Eye of the Tiger) spotted the imposter and the handy field guide identified it as a Hume’s Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus humei). Equally fidgety, shooting it was another task. But in the end, two images of some quality did emerge.
Bonus of the day:
A sneaky Yellow Footed Green Pigeon (Treron phoenicoptera) trying hard to be a leaf