Archive for the ‘Ashy Prinia’ Tag

Northern India part 8: Sultanpur Jheel and Delhi: 31st November – 2nd December 2019.   Leave a comment

This is the 8th and final post about our trip to Northern India in November 2019. In order to combine natural history with cultural sites we arranged a custom tour organised by Jo Thomas of Wild About Travel

On our final day we spent the morning at Sultanpur Jheel reserve, about an hour’s drive from Delhi and did some sightseeing in the city during the afternoon.

 

I had been to Sultanpur Jheel on my first visit to India in 1986, but the area held one bird that was a lifer for me, so a return was called for.

 

Much of the northern lowlands of India, especially the Ganges plain, is affected by smog and pollution in the winter, this is worst by far in Delhi where an acrid haze hangs over the city.

 

Sultanpur Jheel (jheel refers to a shallow lake or flood) is a small reserve compared to Bharatpur but still contains a wide range of waterbirds. Here Coots, Grey-headed Swamphens and various ducks can be seen.

 

In this photo a flock of Spoonbills and a Painted Stork are flying in …

 

… as well as the Coots and a single Moorhen plus Shoveler and Pochards.

 

This species was originally called Purple Gallinule, but this was also the name of a species in the New World, so the alternative name of Purple Swamphen was employed. Then the species was divided into six on morphological grounds and this one that occurs in South and South-east Asia is known as Grey-headed Swamphen, although this one doesn’t look all that ‘grey-headed’!

 

Other regular birds were Indian Pond Heron (which can be found in just about every puddle across the sub-continent) and Glossy Ibis.

 

In the dense vegetation we found a wide range of Phylloscopus warblers; Siberian Chiffchaff, Greenish Warbler, Tickell’s, Hume’s, Large-billed and Brook’s Leaf Warblers, none of which I got decent photos of, as well as this Ashy Prinia.,

 

There were also a few Nilgai, also known as Blue Bull, the largest antelope in India.

 

But most of our targets were in the dry scrub outside the reserve – Indian Thick-knee (or Indian Stone Curlew) …

 

… Yellow-wattled Lapwing (which is far rarer than its red-wattled cousin) …

 

… and the bird I most wanted to see, Sind Sparrow.

 

Smaller than a House Sparrow with a greyer crown and a broad rufous supercillium that extends behind the ear coverts, Sind Sparrow is restricted to north-western India, Pakistan and south-east Iran.

 

Any bird that only occurs west of India, south of Uzbekistan and east of the Levant can be most difficult to find in the current political climate. Fortunately I was able to catch up with this little gem, only the second life-bird of the trip, near to Sultanpur Jheel.

 

We headed back into Delhi, Indian roads are the source of endless wonder and amusement. We wondered what this strange contraption was …

 

… it proved to be just a man on his bike delivering a huge fridge!

 

We headed for Qutub Minar. The traffic in Delhi was just awful. India seems to have a unique set of road rules, but in spite of the constant blaring of horns, the rapid braking and dodging of stray animals, everything seems good natured. Delhi was different, drivers seemed mean and would cut you up to gain a six foot advantage. A typical three-lane road would become five lanes as drivers squeezed past each other with literally inches to spare and most cars were dented from the inevitable collisions. Fortunately our driver was calm and level headed.

 

Once at Qutub Minar we wandered around the ancient buildings.

 

From Wikipedia: Qutub Minar (or Qutab Minar), is a minaret and “victory tower” that forms part of the Qutb complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Mehrauli area of New Delhi, India. The height of Qutub Minar is 72.5 meters, making it the tallest minaret in the world built of bricks. The tower tapers, and has a 14.3 metres base diameter, reducing to 2.7 metres at the top of the peak. It contains a spiral staircase of 379 steps.

 

Again from Wikipedia: The Minar is surrounded by several historically significant monuments of the Qutb complex. Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, to the north-east of the Minar was built by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak in A.D. 1198. It is the earliest extant – mosque built by the Delhi Sultans.

 

We wandered around …

 

… marvelling at the architecture.

 

More from Wikipedia: It consists of a rectangular courtyard enclosed by cloisters, erected with the carved columns and architectural members of 27 Hindu and Jaina temples, which were demolished by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak as recorded in his inscription on the main eastern entrance. Later, a lofty arched screen was erected and the mosque was enlarged, by Shams-ud- Din Itutmish (A.D. 1210-35) and Ala-ud-Din Khalji.

 

The cloisters can be seen here …

 

… and here.

 

Qutub Minar was begun after the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, which was started around 1192 by Qutb-ud-din Aibak, first ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. The mosque complex is one of the earliest that survives in the Indian subcontinent

 

Another view of the tower …

 

… and a close up of the intricate carving on the base.

 

Our intention was to visit Humayun’s Tomb, the tomb of the Mughal Emperor dating from 1558 but however we tried we just couldn’t get near due to the congestion. It was a Sunday and the roads around all tourist attractions were packed. Eventually we told our driver to abandon the attempt and just take us to India Gate.

 

… but of course the roads around were also heavily congested and there was nowhere to park.

 

Our driver dropped us off by the adjacent government buildings …

 

… where we admired the seat of government of the largest democracy in the world (India’s population is over 1,300,000,000!).

 

In one direction we could see the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Presidential palace (formerly the Viceroy’s palace during the days of the Raj) …

 

… and from the other all the way down to India Gate. From Wikipedia: The India Gate is a war memorial located astride the Rajpath, on the eastern edge of the “ceremonial axis” of New Delhi, formerly called Kingsway. It stands as a memorial to 70,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who died in between 1914 and 1921 in the First World War, in France, Flanders, Mesopotamia, Persia, East Africa, Gallipoli and elsewhere in the Near and the Far East, and the third Anglo-Afghan War. 13,300 servicemen’s names, including some soldiers and officers from the United Kingdom, are inscribed on the gate. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the gate evokes the architectural style of the triumphal arch such as the Arch of Constantine, in Rome, and is often compared to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and the Gateway of India in Mumbai.

 

Around the building we saw the ubiquitous Common Myna and …

 

… overhead large numbers of Black Kites. I have commented before about lack of vultures and kites in the skies above India compared to say my visit in 1986. However here at least Black Kites were numerous.

 

On the 2nd December, our final morning, we were dropped off at airport at 0800 in good time for our flight back home. Delhi now has a modern and easy to navigate airport, a far cry from my experience in 1986.

 

… and nine hours later the east coast of England came into view. Imagine my surprise when I realised that we were right above Margaret’s daughter’s house in Maldon, Essex. The Blackwater Estuary, the River Chelmer, Heybridge Basin and  lakes, the Chelmer-Blackwater Navigation Canal and Maldon itself can be seen in the photo. It’s almost possible to make out her house.

 

So I’ll conclude this account of a highly successful and most enjoyable trip to India with another view of Qutab Minar, a trip that encompassed wildlife, local culture and history. I can’t wait to get back, I have another India trip pending – just waiting to the Covid situation to improve!

 

 

Northern India part two: The Chambal River: 22nd – 23rd November 2019.   Leave a comment

This is the second post about our private trip to India in November 2019 which was organised by Jo Thomas of Wild About Travel

The previous post dealt with our time at Tadoba National Park and our overnight train journey from Nagpur to Agra. Arriving at Agra at 0500. We were met by our driver who took us to the Chambal River Lodge to the east of the city where we stayed for one night.

 

We arrived at dawn and after breakfast I decided to have a look around the grounds while it was still cool. Margaret, feeling very tired after our overnight train journey opted for a rest.

 

Indian Peacocks were ubiquitous and noisy …

 

… and garrulous groups of Jungle Babblers fed in the ornamental hedges and open areas.

 

Northern Palm Squirrels were easy to find …

 

… and Common Mynas lived up to their name. This omnivorous and adaptable species has a wide range in southern Asia but regrettably has been introduced to places like Australia, New Zealand, parts of the USA, South Africa and many islands across the Indian and Pacific Oceans where it has done untold damage to native species.

 

Also around the gardens were these Ashy Prinias …

 

… and in deep cover I came across a Golden Jackal.

 

Although of course you see more when accompanied by a local guide, it was fun to spend that morning finding my own birds, which included Greenish Warbler, Pied Starling and this Coppersmith Barbet.

 

We spent the afternoon on the Chambal River, the reason for our visit with local guide Gajendra, photos of which are shown below. On the second morning he took us around the gardens again and also outside the lodge into the surrounding countryside. Here we came across a wider range of species including – Verditer Flycatcher …

 

… a roost of Indian Flying Foxes (or Indian Fruit Bats) …

 

… Common Tailorbird, so called because it sews leaves together to make a nest …

 

… roosting Spotted Owlets …

 

… and Indian Scops Owl.

 

More species awaited us outside the walled gardens …

 

Here we saw a new range of open country species like Black-breasted and Baya Weavers, Red-headed Buntings from Central Asia and good numbers of Brahminy Mynas (pictured above).

 

Other species included Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, one of the easiest to see of the 30 species in the genus Treron which occur from Africa east to to Wallacea.

 

Also seen were Brown-headed Barbet …

 

… Indian Rollers …

 

… and the distinctive Siberian race tristis of Common Chiffchaff which surely deserves specific status.

 

At Tadoba langurs had been the common monkey species, here Rhesus Macaques abounded.

 

Wet areas held White-breasted Waterhens …

 

… whilst Red-wattled Lapwings …

 

… and Greater Coucals (a species of cuckoo) could be found at the field edges.

 

In general I approve of most taxonomic splits, the insights provided by genetic and acoustic research has shown that there are more ‘good species’ than examination of museum specimens alone ever could. However there is one recent split that I feel uncomfortable with, the apparently arbitrary division of Cattle Egret into Eastern and Western. This non-breeding Eastern Cattle Egret looks the same as the Western ones we see in Europe. Colour of the plumage in breeding plumage is supposed to be the clincher but I have seen breeding Westerns in the Caribbean as orange-tinged as breeding Easterns are supposed to be. It is claimed that there is a difference in vocalisations but others have disputed this and said that the comparison has been made between non-homologous calls.

 

We spent the afternoon of the first day on the nearby Chambal River. A bridge is being built across the river …

 

… but until it is complete locals will have to depend on overcrowded ferries.

 

We set off in a boat like this, initially it was quite overcast but as the afternoon progressed the murk cleared. The Chambal is a tributary of the Yamuna River, which itself is a tributary of the Ganges.

 

Among the many species we saw from the boat were River Lapwings …

 

… wintering Desert Wheatear …

 

… here showing the diagnostic all black tail.

 

Ruddy Shelducks here for the wintering from their north Asian breeding grounds …

 

Joined by Mongolian/Tibetan Bar-headed Geese which fly over the high Himalayan peaks to reach their wintering grounds.

 

A couple of imposing Great Thick-knees, a species of stone-curlew, were seen on the bank …

 

… as were Sand Lark, a species closely related to Lesser Short-toed Lark (which has recently been renamed Mediterranean ST Lark following the splitting off of Turkestan ST Lark). Note that some primary tips can be seen beyond the tertials, an important feature to distinguish members of this group from Greater ST Lark.

 

The black-and-white wagtails are a confusing group, White Wagtail, here of the race leucopsis which breeds in mainly in China, can be seen along with race personata from central Asia and possibly other Asian races as well. All these races are of the same species as our familiar yarrelli Pied Wagtails in Britain. Add to that the marked variation between 1st winters/adults and and males/females and the situation gets most complex.

 

On the other hand the resident White-browed Wagtail are considered a separate species …

 

… and we had close up views of several along the river.

 

Non-avian highlights included this large and comparatively aggressive crocodilian – the Muggar …

 

… and the bizarre yet benign Gharial …

 

… this crocodilian is exclusively a fish eater and its long snout and 110 pairs of interlocking teeth are adaptions to enable this. Now occurring in only 2% of its historic range and is now considered critically endangered.

 

Another reptile we saw was the Indian Roofed Turtle.

 

Asian ‘big river’ birds are in trouble, the enigmatic White-eyed River Martin of Thailand apparently went extinct as soon as it was discovered, Indian Skimmers and Black-bellied Terns are seldom seen and we didn’t encounter them on this trip. Pollution, mineral extraction and disturbance have taken their toll. Fortunately this section of the Chambal River is a reserve and lets hope it will protect these birds for future generations.

 

The next post will cover our visit to the tourist hotspots of the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri in Agra.