Archive for the ‘Black Kite’ Tag

Western India part 2: Bikaner and Khichan, Rajasthan – 16th January 2016   Leave a comment

India is famous for its raptors, but in recent years many species have undergone a serious decline, none more so than the resident species of vulture. This alarming loss of natures garbage disposal has meant that dead animals (roadkill etc) now lie beside the road to rot where they would have been consumed within hours in the past.

The cause of this dreadful decline which has reached 99.9% in most areas is due to the veterinary use of the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac (known as Voltorol when used in humans). The drug given prophylactically to cattle will cause renal failure in most vulture species that feed on the carcass. The four large resident species, White-rumped, Slender-billed, Indian and Red-headed are threatened with imminent extinction. Only the smaller Egyptian Vulture seems to be surviving.

In 1986 vultures (mainly White-rumped) were everywhere. Although the two trips are not directly comparable, the former trip was mainly in the east of Rajasthan and also visited the Himalayan foothills, but both involved visits to the Jaisalmer area.

Sorry this table is not aligned properly – it was pre-posting!

                                                                             1986                                2016

Black Kite                                                              2500                                    160
Red-headed Vulture                                            54                                        0
Cinereous (Black) Vulture                                   7                                        4
Eurasian Griffon Vulture                                   67                                      20
Slender-billed/Indian Vulture                         36                                         4
White-rumped Vulture                                      5000                                         1
Egyptian Vulture                                                 2500                                     160
Slender-billed and Indian Vultures were not split in 1986 hence the two species could not be separated for this table. All the ones seen on this tour were Indian Vultures. The species that showed the least decline were Cinereous and Griffon Vultures which are winter visitors (and as such have not been exposed to diclofenac to the same extent). Most of the 160 Egyptian Vultures were at the one site shown below..



IMG_2384 Bikiner fog

Early morning mists had not cleared as we arrived at the tip outside of Bikaner. As cattle are not for human consumption in most of India any carcasses are left in certain areas for scavengers to dispose of.

IMG_2423 Gippos and feral dogs

Although there were no fresh carcasses the area was full of Egyptian Vultures and feral dogs.

IMG_2449 puppies

We found this litter of puppies in a shallow depression, proof that the dogs were living wild.

IMG_2424. Bikiner tip

Surrounding trees were covered with Steppe Eagles and Egyptian Vultures.

IMG_2440 Gippo imm

Immature Egyptian Vulture.

IMG_2434 Gippo

Adult Egyptian Vulture

IMG_2459 Steppe Eagle

Immature Steppe Eagle – a winter visitor from Central Asia

IMG_2445 Griffon & Gippo

Also in the area where small numbers of Eurasian Griffon Vultures, another winter visitor to the area, but our only White-rumped Vulture of the entire trip was one seen briefly in flight. What a change compared to my visit 30 years ago.

IMG_2473 Black Kite

Although not affected by the poisoning effect of veterinary drugs, Black Kites have also shown a marked decline compared to my last visit.

IMG_2461 Black Drongo

This Black Drongo chose a rather unattractive perch to pose for a portrait.

IMG_2469 Variable Wheatear

Variable Wheatears come in three forms, all from different areas to the north and west; the almost all-black opistholeuca, the white-capped capistrata and the common and widespread picata (above).

IMG_2481 Nilgai

The huge Nilgai (aka the Blue Bull) is the Indian equivalent of the African Eland

IMG_2501 cultivated desert

A mammal I really wanted to see was the elegant Blackbuck, but all the areas where they have been seen before on this itinerary have been irrigated and turned over to agriculture.

IMG_2496 Chinkara

We did see the delicate Chinkara though.

IMG_2507 Kichan village

Later we made our way to the little village of Khichan. On the surface it looked like any other small Indian village but it held a wonderful secret.

IMG_2505 Brown Rock Chat

The Brown Rock Chat is a bird that ‘does what it says on the tin’ – its brown, it’s a chat and it perches on rocks. Nice though it is, it wasn’t the reason why we had come all this way.

IMG_2523 Demoiselle Cranes

Just around the corner there were a coupe of lakes absolutely packed with Demoiselle Cranes.

IMG_2593 Demoiselle Cranes

A rough count between those on the two lakes and those in the air came to about 8000.

IMG_2589 Demoiselle Cranes

As with all large gatherings of cranes their bugling calls filled the air.

IMG_2529 Demoiselle Cranes

I have seen spectacular large gatherings of Common, White-naped, Hooded, Red-crowned and Sandhill Cranes but these must be the most beautiful cranes of all.

IMG_2533 Demoiselle Cranes

The birds seemed largely undisturbed by the passing villagers.

IMG_2536 Demoiselle Cranes

The smallest of the 15 species of crane, Demoiselles breed in Central Asia and migrate over the Himalayas to winter in India. Small numbers turn up elsewhere and I have seen single birds in far-eastern Russia and Japan plus good numbers on their breeding grounds in Kazakhstan

IMG_2548 Demoiselle Cranes

The villagers of Khichan have had a long love affair with this beautiful bird. Each winter grain is put out for the birds in an enclosure within the village. This tradition persists even though Khichan is no longer as prosperous as it once was (due to end of trans-desert camel trains) and is now supported by donations from clansmen from abroad.

IMG_2520 Demoiselle Cranes

We didn’t see the birds in the enclosure as we were too early for ‘feeding time’ and it seemed pointless hanging round for ages when we had such wonderful views around the lakes.

IMG_2595 Pond Heron

Here are a few other birds we saw around the lakes – Indian Pond Heron

IMG_2575 Green Sand

A wintering Green Sandpiper from Siberia

IMG_2538 personata White Wag

Another wintering bird, this time from Central Asia – the personata race of White Wagtail aka ‘Masked Wagtail’

IMG_2581 Yellow Wag

Yellow Wagtails can be difficult to assign to race when not in breeding plumage but this is probably of the race thunbergi from the boreal zone of northern Europe or Siberia

IMG_2601 Little Grebe

Little Grebes are a resident species ….

IMG_2571 Red Wattled Lapwing

…. as is the ubiquitous Red-wattled Lapwing.

IMG_2618 Demoiselles and Doves

As we left a flock of Rock Doves flew over, but high above them were more Demoiselle Cranes flying in for the afternoon feast.

IMG_2617 Demoiselle Cranes

With many miles to go to our next stop, we could only marvel at this wonderful sight as we headed south to the town of Jaisalmer. Definitely one of the highlights of the entire trip.

13th – 18th May 2015: Alps trip part 6 – Liechtenstein, Austria and Germany   Leave a comment

From Lucerne we headed for the principality of Liechtenstein before arriving in Dornbirn, Austria for a four night stay. The purpose of coming here was to attend Margaret’s nephew Marc’s wedding and to meet up with other members of the family. Photos dealing with the wedding and associated social events will be uploaded in the next post. This post concentrates on our sightseeing and birding in the three countries mentioned above.

IMG_7983 Vaduz

Before we arrived in Austria we spent a few hours looking around Vaduz, the capital of the tiny principality of Liechtenstein.

IMG_7985 Vaduz

I was last in Vaduz in 1975, a brief visit as part of a long coach trip around Europe. All I can recall from that visit is seeing the castle perched high above the town. Well that looks just the same ….

IMG_7997 Vaduz modern art

…. but the pedestrianised centre is now populated with examples of modern art ….

IMG_8001 Vaduz modern art

…. such as this representation of businessmen riding pigs.

IMG_8011 Vaduz modern art

I particularly liked this jet of water confined between two narrow, high walls. Not a drop fell on you as you stood below. By varying the shutter speed and your position with respect to the sun you could create modern art of your own.

IMG_8018 Vaduz modern art

After a tour around the various statues and pieces of art we drove to Dornbirn, the largest town in western Austria.

IMG_6162 Donbirn

Our first visit to the centre of Dornbirn on the morning before Marc and Elizabeth’s civil ceremony was in heavy rain but ….

IMG_8098 Donbirn market

…. the following morning the weather was much better and the local market was in full swing.

IMG_8128 Black Kite

The Dornbirn area was good for raptors and over the next three days we saw a number of Black Kites ….

IMG_8129 Red KIte

…. Red Kites ….

IMG_8196 male HB

…. and even a few Honey Buzzards.

IMG_8307 meadow

In surrounding meadows ….

IMG_8308 White Stork

…. we found a few White Storks.

IMG_8239 Fussach

We originally thought that some of Margaret’s relatives would still be around on the Sunday following the wedding but it transpired that most had to head for home. With a day mostly to ourselves we drove to Fußach on the shore of the Bodensee for some birding.

IMG_8214 Bodensee

The Bodensee itself was host to a number of Great Cormorants and Red-crested Pochards

IMG_8225 Great Reed Warbler

…. and in the reed beds Great Reed Warblers were quite numerous and their guttural kara-kara-gurk-gurk  song was a feature of the area.

IMG_8301 RFF

The highlight for me was views of five Red-footed Falcons, in particular this male which showed well. these birds are long-distance migrants and have just arrived from their wintering grounds in southern Africa and are pausing on route to their breeding grounds in easternmost Austria eastwards through the steppes of eastern Europe to central Asia.

IMG_8326 Anita & Margaret

We returned to Dornbirn and spent the afternoon with Anita and John, Margaret’s daughter and her husband. We visited the area of Rappenlochschlucht ….

IMG_8336 Rappenlochschlucht

…. a picturesque area with elevated walkways, narrow gorges ….

IMG_8340 Rappenlochschlucht

…. waterfalls ….

IMG_8343 Rappenlochschlucht

…. and lakes.

IMG_8199 Fussach

On our final evening we drove around the east end of the Bodensee and into Germany.

IMG_8379 Lindau

Our destination was the picturesque town of Lindau

IMG_8381 Lindau

We headed for the harbour, the entrance guarded by a lighthouse and an imposing statue of a lion.

IMG_8389 Lindau

From the lion statue we had a great view of the harbour and ….

IMG_8395 Mute Swan on nest

…. and could look directly down on an incubating Mute Swan.

IMG_8405 Lindau

So we concluded our trip with this lovely view of the harbour at Lindau. All that was remained was to drive back to Zürich and fly home. Over the last 17 days we covered 3000 km and visited seven countries and saw some of the best scenery in the world.

12th – 13th May 2015: The Alps part 5 – Interlaken, the Jungfraujoch and Lucerne, Switzerland   Leave a comment

Incidently this blog is four years old today. The first entry was on 17th June 2011, the day I retired. Since then I have uploaded 446 posts, which averages just over two a week and covered many subjects, but have concentrated, of course, on my main interests of birding and travel. In that time my blog has been viewed over 66,000 times.

IMG_7674 Interlaken lakes

Late on the 12th we arrived in Interlaken. As the name suggests the town is situated on land between two large lakes, Thunersee and Brienzersee. This is the view a short distance east of the town over the Brienzersee.

IMG_7679 on route to Jungfraujoch

The main tourist attraction in the area is taking the train all the way to Jungfraujoch, a view-point at 3475m between the Jungfrau and the Eiger. If you start at Interlaken West the almost 3000m climb involves three changes of train and takes about two and half hours.

IMG_7684 on route to Jungfraujoch

A mainline train took us to Interlaken East, where we changed for Lauterbrunnen. From here another train took us steeply through the alpine meadows and coniferous forest ….

IMG_7693 on route to Jungfraujoch

…. until, under the shadow of the Jungfrau, we were above the tree line.

IMG_7805 N face of Eiger from Kleine Scheidegg

At Kleine Scheidegg, with the north face of the Eiger dominating the view, we changed again to a rack and pinion railway

IMG_7699 Jungfraujoch train

…. which then climbed into a tunnel that went right under the Eiger. The terminal was still underground and we had to ascend several floors to reach the observation platforms.

IMG_7748 Jungfraujoch

The view from the top was magnificent. This shot gives a panoramic view of the valley below.

IMG_7735 Jungfraujoch

This is the same view zoomed in.

IMG_7753 Interlaken from Jungfraujoch

To the right Interlaken was visible in the distance.

IMG_7707 Jungfraujoch

In other directions an endless vista of ice and snow was revealed ….

IMG_7741 Jungfraujoch

…. including this wonderful view over the Grosser Aletschgletscher, at 23 Km long, the biggest glacier in the Alps.

IMG_7764 my Taiwanese friend

I had been chatting to some Taiwanese tourists on the way up, and this nice Taiwanese girl wanted to be photographed with me.

IMG_7785 ice eagles

As well as being a viewpoint, the site has been developed into a bit of a theme park with a restaurant, these ice sculptures ….

IMG_7777 ice tunnel

…. and tunnels cut in the ice that you can slip and slide along to your heart’s content.

IMG_7837 Jungfrau

On the way back we changed trains at Klein Scheidegg and then returned via Grindelwald to the east. This gave a different perspective on the mountains ….

IMG_7828 meadows from train

…. and also gave great views of the flower filled Alpine meadows.

IMG_7840 from train

I would highly recommend this journey, it’s not cheap, about 200 Euros pp from Interlaken, but it takes you through a complete cross-section of the Alpine habitats, from lowland valleys to flower filled meadows, coniferous forest, open areas above the tree-line to the land of permanent ice and snow at the top. If you want to see Switzerland and have only a short time available then here it is in a nutshell.

IMG_7865 Lucerne church

We spent the evening in Lucerne. First we visited the impressive church ….

IMG_7873 Lucerne Church

…. arriving in the nick of time just as it was being locked up, there was only the opportunity for this one photo.

IMG_7884 Alpine Swift 2

Apart from Les Alpilles in southern France, Lucerne was the only place we saw the somewhat inappropriately named Alpine Swift.

IMG_7942 Lucerne

The Chapel Bridge and Water Tower were built in the 14th century and are Lucerne’s best known tourist attraction. The bridge served as a rampart and part of the town’s fortification. The Water Tower served as a dungeon, archive and treasury vault.

IMG_7924 medeval paintings

In the 17th century the bridge was adorned with a set of paintings depicting the development of the town and the Republic of Lucerne and the life of two patron saints.

IMG_7919 photo of Lucerne fire

Tragically on the night of 17th August 1993 a fire broke out on the bridge, burning 81 of the 111 bridge paintings, only those at the two ends escaped. The bridge structure was quickly renovated (at a cost of about £1.5 million) and some of the paintings removed in the 19th century (when the bridge was shortened to make way for a new quay) have been hung in the place of those destroyed. Photo taken from an information board by the bridge.

IMG_7960 RC Pochard

The surrounding waters held a healthy population of Red-crested Pochards, some of which were quite tame ….

IMG_7906 GC Grebe

…. as were the Great Crested Grebes.

IMG_7965 pub Lucerne

We ended up in an ‘English Pub’ for dinner. It sounds a bit corny but it must have been ok as it was patronised by many locals.

IMG_7973 Lake at Lucerne

We headed back along the shore of the lake, getting our last view of the high mountains as Lucerne is at the northernmost edge of the Alps.

IMG_7982 river at Root

As hotels were so expensive in the centre of Lucerne we drove to one at Root, some way to the north. The following morning we took a walk along the bank of the nearby river.  We came across some species more typical of the lowlands like Garden Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher. After all the mountain torrents we had checked for Dippers with limited success it was a surprise to see a pair flying over this lowland river.

IMG_7978 Black Kite

We had seen lots of Black Kites in southern France but there had been none in Italy or the mountains of Switzerland so it was nice to start encountering them again. From here we drove to the tiny Principality of Liechtenstein before meeting up with the family in Austria. More of that in the next post.