Archive for the ‘bluethroat’ Tag

Northern India part 4: Keoladeo National Park at Bharatpur, Rajasthan: 24th-25th November 2019   Leave a comment

This is the fourth post on our trip to India in 2019. We wanted a mixture of watching wildlife and cultural sites, a combination that isn’t easy to find on most commercial tour. The trip arranged by Jo Thomas at Wild About Travel was to our specifications and perfectly combined India’s wonderful temples, ancient buildings and unique way of life with watching Tigers, Blackbucks and loads of birds.

This post covers one of the most famous wildlife reserves in the world, officially called the Keoladeo National Park but universally known by the name of the adjacent city – Bharatpur.

 

To save me typing it here is the description of the reserve from Wikipedia: Keoladeo National Park or Keoladeo Ghana National Park formerly known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, India is a famous avifauna sanctuary that hosts thousands of birds, especially during the winter season. Over 230 species of birds are known to be resident. It is also a major tourist centre with scores of ornithologists arriving here in the winter season. It was declared a protected sanctuary in 1971. It is also a World Heritage Site. Keoladeo Ghana National Park is a man-made and man-managed wetland and one of the national parks of India. The reserve protects Bharatpur from frequent floods, provides grazing grounds for village cattle, and earlier was primarily used as a waterfowl hunting ground. The 29 km2 reserve is locally known as Ghana, and is a mosaic of dry grasslands, woodlands, woodland swamps and wetlands. These diverse habitats are home to 366 bird species, 379 floral species, 50 species of fish, 13 species of snakes, 5 species of lizards, 7 amphibian species, 7 turtle species and a variety of other invertebrates.  Every year thousands of migratory waterfowl visit the park for wintering and breeding. The sanctuary is one of the richest bird areas in the world and is known for nesting of resident birds and visiting migratory birds including water birds. The rare Siberian cranes used to winter in this park but this central population is now extinct. According to founder of the World Wildlife Fund Peter Scott, Keoladeo National Park is one of the world’s best bird areas.

 

 

Again from Wikipedia: The sanctuary was created 250 years ago and is named after a Keoladeo (Shiva) temple within its boundaries. (see photo above). Initially, it was a natural depression; and was flooded after the Ajan Bund was constructed by Maharaja Suraj Mal, then the ruler of the princely state of Bharatpur, between 1726–1763. The bund was created at the confluence of two rivers, the Gambhir and Banganga. The park was a hunting ground for the Maharajas of Bharatpur, a tradition dating back to 1850, and duck shoots were organised yearly in honour of the British viceroys. In one shoot alone in 1938, over 4,273 birds such as mallards and teals were killed by Lord Linlithgow, then Viceroy of India.[citation needed] The park was established as a national park on 10 March 1982. Previously the private duck shooting preserve of the Maharaja of Bharatpur since the 1850s, the area was designated as a bird sanctuary on 13 March 1976 and a Ramsar site under the Wetland Convention in October 1981. The last big shoot was held in 1964 but the Maharajah retained shooting rights until 1972. In 1985, the Park was declared a World Heritage Site under the World Heritage Convention. It is a reserve forest under the Rajasthan Forest Act, 1953 and therefore, is the property of the State of Rajasthan of the Indian Union. In 1982, grazing was banned in the park, leading to violent clashes between local farmers and the government.

 

During the days of the Raj the site was renowned as a great place for shooting wildfowl. Looking at this tally board that’s still on display it was possible to shoot many thousands of birds in a single day. Of course due to the widespread destruction of breeding sites throughout Asia there are nowhere near as many birds visiting as in the past but a visit to ‘Bharaptpur’ still remains one of the world’s top birding experiences. I don’t like the shooting of wildfowl but it would be fair to say that the reserve probably wouldn’t be in its current state without the patronage of shooters in years gone by.

 

I visited Bharatpur before in 1986 and at that time it was one of the best birding experiences of my life. We were there for nearly three days compared to a day and a half this time and saw a truly awesome number of birds. By the time 2019 had come around it was highly unlikely that I would get any ‘life birds’ at the site but I wanted Margaret to experience it’s avian richness and of course enjoy it myself.

 

Our journey from the hotel to the park and around the park itself was by bicycle rickshaw with our bird guide cycling along beside. In true Indian fashion we were taken the wrong way down a duel carriageway!

 

Once in the park you realise that you’re not the only one using a bicycle rickshaw. Most of the rest of this quite extensive post is a collection of bird and other wildlife photos interspersed with a few habitat shots and there is only a limited amount I can say about each.

 

One of the first species encountered is one I know well from home, indeed it even occurs in my garden. Originally confined to the Orient and Middle East Eurasian Collared Doves expanded its range rapidly in the 20th century spreading across Europe and reaching the UK in the late 50s. It soon became a common bird in towns and gardens. Soon afterwards some Collared Doves either escaped or were released in the Bahamas and rapidly spread to the USA where they are now common (I believe) from coast to coast.

 

Along the central track we saw these Grey Francolins.

 

I have shown a few photos of Jungle Babblers on earlier posts, here we saw their cousins Large Grey Babblers …

 

… which as you have probably realised are a bit larger and a bit greyer.

 

As with several other sites we visited Spotted Owlets were easy to see at their daytime roost.

 

They could be seen indulging in a bit of mutual preening, so-called allopreening.

 

There were several colonies of Indian Fruit Bats.

 

Between the various lagoons, known locally as jheels, were a series of paths were we could see …

 

… a variety of species such as Eurasian Hoopoe …

 

… here of the greyer Asian race saturatus

 

Also seen were Yellow-footed Green Pigeons and Bank Mynas …

 

… the inevitable Coppersmith Barbets …

 

… and the personata race of White Wagtail, sometimes known as Masked Wagtail. These breed in the Tien Shan of Kazakhstan unlike the race leucopsis that we saw on the Chambal River that breeds in China.

 

Also present were a few Citrine Wagtails, wintering from further north in Asia. This is probably an adult female as 1st winters lack the yellow tones.

 

Bharatpur is famous for its pythons and we found this individual in ditch along side the path, but it was nowhere a big as the one I saw on my 1986 visit which must have been 5m long.

 

Is this another snake or just a Purple Heron having a preen?

 

Other species included Pied Stonechat …

 

… White-cheeked Bulbul …

 

… Rufous Treepie …

 

… a roosting Dusky Eagle Owl …

 

… and a Greater Coucal.

 

Around the jheels we saw a wide range of waterbirds …

 

… from familiar ones like Common Kingfisher (the same species that occurs in the UK) …

 

… to the mush larger White-breasted Kingfisher which has a range from Turkey and the Levant through to SE Asia.. This species used to be known as Smyrna Kingfisher after the ancient city of the same name on the Turkish coast. More recently Symrna has been renamed Izmir.

 

The species once known as ‘purple gallinule’ has been renamed Swamphen to distinguish it from the bird known as Purple Gallinule in North America. Then it was split into six species with the ones in India becoming Grey-headed Swamphen.

 

Another inhabitant of these wet grassy meadows was Bronze-winged Jacana, which in spite of appearances is a species of shorebird/wader and not a rail! We only saw a single Pheasant-tailed Jacana which is surprising as they were as common as Bronze-winged on my last visit.

 

A female and two immature Knob-billed Geese …

 

… but only the male has the ‘knob bill’. This species has recently been split from the South American version which is now called Comb Duck.

 

Another species of duck that we saw regularly was the Indian Spot-bill.

 

We only saw a few Woolly-necked Storks, the Asian race is sometimes treated as a separate species from the one in Africa on the basis of bronze colouration on the wing coverts and paler face.

 

We only saw a single Black-necked Stork, this compares to a dozen or more that I saw in 1986. In general big wetland birds; cranes, storks and wetland breeding raptors are doing badly in Asia. In 1986 we saw 37 Siberian Cranes at Bhartapur; now the western population of this species, which used to winter here, is reduced to a single individual which winters in Iran. Pallas’ Fish Eagle is another species that used to occur and we saw regularly in 86 but has now vanished.

 

The male of this species has a black eye whilst the female has a nice golden colour. In spite of losses in India this species has a wide range and its stronghold is probably the wetlands of northern Australia.

 

Many waterbirds breed on the jheels but at this time of year most are using the trees as roosting sites. In this photo mainly Great Cormorants, Painted Storks and Black-headed Ibis.

 

A closer view of a pair of Painted Storks with a couple of immatures and two Black-headed Ibis.

 

And an even closer view of one of the adults.

 

Of the most obvious feature of the site was the herons, as well as the expected Great, Little and Cattle Egrets there were good numbers of Purple Herons …

 

… Black-crowned Night Herons …

 

… and even (after a bit of searching) rarer species like Yellow Bittern …

 

… and Black Bittern.

 

Little and Large: The saw three species of cormorant, here are the eponymous Great Cormorant and Little Cormorant. The third one (not shown) breaks the naming convention and goes by the name of Indian Cormorant.

 

This is not a cormorant but a darter, a different Family comprising of just four species, sometimes known as ‘snake birds’, with one occurring in each of the Australasian, Afrotropical and Oriental regions and another in the Americas. This is, perhaps unsurprisingly, named Oriental Darter.

 

This darter has got some fishing net caught around its bill, presumably obtained outside the park as no fishing occurs within. The staff were attempting to capture it to remove the netting, I hope they succeeded.

 

I mentioned in the last post how vulture numbers in India have dropped to <1% of their former numbers due to poisoning with the vetinary drug that we know as Volterol or Diclofenac. One species that has survived better than the others is Egyptian Vulture, whether this is because it can metabolise the drug or feeds less on the poisoned cattle carcasses, I don’t know. This was the only vulture species we saw on the trip.

 

There were many raptors around the site such as this Western Marsh Harrier, a bird we are familiar with from the UK (you have to go a lot further east than India before you encounter Eastern Marsh Harrier).

 

Less familiar to us was Crested Serpent Eagle, this bird with the pale forehead and supercillium is an immature …

 

… whilst this is an adult.

 

We also saw Greater Spotted Eagle (seen here with two Black Drongos) and an Indian Spotted Eagle. Indian Spotted Eagle has been split from the more westerly Lesser Spotted Eagle and as my recollection of seeing it in 1986 is somewhat vague I was very pleased to catch up with it.

 

Greater Spotted Eagle can be identified in flight by the larger number of ‘fingers’ in the outer wing but is a bit trickier when perched, the shaggy nape and the gape extending up to but not beyond the centre of the eye are key features. All these large Palearctic eagles used to go by the scientific name of as Aquila clanga. Now for reasons I don’t understand it has been transferred to the new genus Clanga, so its now Clanga clanga! If anyone would ever reverse this decision they would be dropping a clanger!!

 

We were very pleased to come across a group of five Grey-headed Lapwing (three of which are pictured here), a species I’ve several times before in Asia but never as far west as this.

 

‘All the Birds of the World’ the single volume from Lynx Edicions which illustrates every bird in the world shows 24 species of Vanellus plover of which Grey-headed of course is one. One of the 24 is almost certainly extinct but I’m glad to say I’ve seen all but one of the others (Brown-chested, which I missed in Uganda).

 

Another Vanellus plover, Red-wattled Lapwing in the background and a Common Moorhen to the left but the star of this photo is the impressively named Indian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle.

 

On our last morning we sort out some birds that skulked in the vegetation that fringed the jheels, these Pied Mynas were easy enough to see …

 

… as were Black Redstarts (here a female of one of the red-breasted Central Asia races).

 

Wintering birds from Siberia included Bluethroat …

 

… but best of all was this superb Siberian Rubythroat that entertained us for some time, recalling seeing that one at Osmington Mills in Dorset in 1997, (a sighting so remarkable that some still claim it was an escape from captivity)

 

Unlike Tadoba, the previous national park we visited, Bharatpur doesn’t have any dangerous wildlife (hence all the tourists travelling around on bikes or rickshaws) but we did hear there was a Leopard in one (closed off) area. However we did see a few mammals such Rhesus Macaque …

 

… which scanned the tourists carefully for any sign of a free meal …

 

… several Golden Jackals were seen …

 

… a female Nilgai (with Purple Heron) …

 

… Indian Grey Mongoose …

 

… the inevitable Palm Squirrel …

 

… and Wild Boar.

 

I’m sure if we had spent more time at Bharatpur we could have seen more species in this wonderful park but we had to move on this time to the city of Jaipur. There was a site on route where the rare Indian Spotted Creeper, a life bird for me, could be found. Wild About Travel had arranged for our guide Gaj to accompany us and see if he could find the creeper. Unfortunately the creeper wasn’t at home but we did see a few other quality birds.

 

The next post will be about our visit to the historic city of Jaipur.

Mid to late August 2015: The Bird Fair, lots of ringing and a Bird Race.   Leave a comment

This post covers our visit to the Birdfair and some ringing at Lytchett Bay and Durlston plus a postscipt about a late August Poole Harbour big day.

The annual British Birding Fair, normally just refered to as the Birdfair  is held at Rutland Water near Oakham in Rutland, Britain’s smallest county. Over the three days an estimated 20,000 visitors visits hundreds of stands and go to hundreds of talks and other events. All profits go to Birdlife International and during its lifespan the event has raised 2.5 million for bird conservation.

Now in its 27th year, the Fair seems to just keep growing and growing. There are so many marquees, stands, exhibits and talks to go to that it is impossible to do it justice in one day. What I enjoy more than anything is meeting up with loads of friends from previous trips abroad, old twitches in the UK or fellow birders from back home.

IMG_6402 Royal George hotel

On the 21st and 22nd of August we paid our annual visit to the British Bird Fair at Rutland Water. We stayed overnight some 12 miles away at this pleasant hotel at Cottingham but unfortunately they didn’t do breakfast (which we had already paid for) until after 9 am, far too late as we wanted to be at the Fair by then.

Book signing at the Wild Sounds stand

This photo of book signing on the Wildsounds stand was taken at a previous Bird Fair and shows a typical view of the Birdfair – large numbers of birders perusing books, trying out optics, planning future birding holidays etc.

IMG_6373 WEO

One of the unusual thing about the Birdfair is that ‘wildlife celebrities’ wander around from event to event with all the rest of us and you can find that the bloke in the row in front of you at a talk is none other than Bill Oddie.

IMG_6376 Swifts need you too

Stands selling or promoting wildlife tours and various countries, outdoor clothing, books, optics and wildlife art are joined by numerous conservation organisations such as the RSPB, Birdlife International and Swift Conservation (above).

One talk I especially wanted to go to was by Magnus Robb of the Sound Approach. After his discovery of the Omani Owl in March 2013, which he described as a new species at the time, it has been shown by others that the old type specimen of the closely related Hume’s Owl is a different species from all the other Hume’s Owls (ie those that that are regularly seen in the Levant and Arabia). It has been speculated that the type specimen of ‘Hume’s Owl’, which was collected in Pakistan 135 years ago, is in fact an Omani Owl. Magnus confirmed that their DNA analysis of feathers from a recently trapped Omani Owl proved this to be the case and in addition an owl found trapped on someone’s balcony in north-east Iran also proved to be an Omani Owl. So instead of discovering a new species, the Sound Approach rediscovered one that hadn’t been seen for 135 years and extended it’s range from two narrow wadis in Oman’s Al Hajar mountains to an area that covers NE Iran and southern Pakistan, although of course not all areas in this vast range will actually hold Omani Owls.

For more details see http://www.rarebirdalert.co.uk/v2/Content/Sound_Approach_Unravelling_the_mystery_of_the_Omani_Owl.aspx?s_id=519400636

For an interview of Magnus Robb by Martin Garner go to https://soundcloud.com/birdingfrontiers

For my account of my trip to Oman to see Omani Owl see https://gryllosblog.com/2014/02/15/1st-9th-february-2014-the-omani-owl-twitch/

IMG_6390 Omani Owl resolved

Magnus shows a photo of the Iranian example of Omani Owl.

IMG_6398 DIMW talk

Perhaps the most entertaining talk was in the evening of the 21st was an account of ‘best days birding in Britain’ from Bill Oddie, Adam Rowlands, Lucy McRobert and Ian Wallace. Each gave a short account of their most outstanding day in the UK. All but one account was about a day full of migrants and rarities but Lucy told of the day she saw all four species of grouse in Scotland. Her best line was when she described a male Capercaillie as the ‘most magnificent cock I’ve ever seen’.

IMG_6399 Killian and DIMW

DIM (Ian) Wallace, here talking to another birding legend Killian Mullarney, is a true legend of the birding scene. Now in his eighties he is known for his eccentric manner, evocative paintings, editorship of the groundbreaking BWP handbooks, his many pioneering identification articles and his indefatigable rarity finding. Some of his discoveries have been mocked by a later generation of rarity experts but we can say that without doubt that many of the field criteria that are routinely used today were first established by DIMW.

The BTO were holding a ringing demonstration and nearby they had a poster showing all foreign UK ringing recoveries accrued over the 100+ years of the ringing scheme. Of course they can’t label every dot to species, so it is interesting to speculate which species are involved in the far-flung recoveries. Without doing any additional research I guess that the concentration off Labrador/Newfoundland would refer to seabirds like Kittiwake, Fulmars and Great Skuas, the coastal South American ones would almost entirely be Manx Shearwaters, coastal southern Africa are various tern species, the Cape and Natal are Barn Swallows, the Australian and southern oceans are Artcic Terns. Presumably most recoveries from the Levant are Lesser Whitethroats but what species were recovered in Canada just east of the Rockies, in interior South America, in Pakistan, Iran, Mongolia and far eastern Russia on the northern shores of the Sea of Okhotsk? Note the paucity of recoveries from north-east Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, showing that with the exception of Lesser Whitethroats few if any British birds enter African via this flyway.

IMG_6403 Ring recoveries map

A map of all BTO ringing recoveries.

The above map leads on nicely to my bird ringing which has kept me pretty busy during this month. Early (0430) starts, the need to keep up to date with uploading the data collected and in addition, my attempts to collate a lot of the data and other articles into a long-awaited ringing group report has meant that I have had little time to work on this blog. But there again its better to be busy in retirement than to sit around watching day-time TV as many retirees do!

I have been trying to get to Durlston as often as I can during the month, hindered though by the unseasonal weather we have been experiencing. Unlike some ringing stations where the ringers live on site and can quickly respond to changes in the weather, Durlston is a 30 minute drive away, so we don’t usually visit on days that start wet then clear later, or are characterised by intermittent rain. That said this ‘autumn’ we have made nine visits in August and three in July, ringed 658 birds of 28 species with a further 127 birds ringed in the spring.

IMG_6362 adult gropper

This time of year is the most interesting both in terms of the variety of species we ring and also in the range of age classes that we see. Freshly fledged juveniles, birds in the middle of the partial post-juvenile moult, freshly moulted first years, juveniles of species like Long-tailed Tit that have a full wing moult soon after fledging, adults in active wing moult, adults that have completed their moult and abraded adults that defer moulting until they reach their winter quarters (like this adult Grasshopper Warbler) can all be seen during the same ringing session.

IMG_6370 Common Redstart - better

One of the most attractive migrants that we see at Durlston is the Common Redstart, this first year was ringed on  18th August ….

IMG_6369 Black Redstart juv

…. on the same day we also trapped this juvenile Black Redstart, a much rarer species that we have only ringed once before. In view of the scarcity of this species and that this bird is a recently fledged juvenile, it is possible that this bird is the offspring of the adult female we ringed on 23rd April this year. Incidently we also trapped a Common Redstart on 23rd April meaning we have had two double-redstart days this year. Photos of the adult birds in April can be seen on an earlier post on this blog.

IMG_6417 Lytchett Heath

We have also been ringing at Lytchett Bay. As well as our usual site in the reeds near the River Sherford we have also been using a new site at Lytchett Heath which has been very productive both in terms of the number of birds ringed but also in the number of controls (birds previously ringed by others) we have encountered. I hope to post a summary of recent recoveries/controls in a future post.

IMG_6414 Lytchett Heath

On a cold morning the dew on the cobwebs is most photogenic …

IMG_6416 Lytchett Heath dawn

…. even more so when the sun rises.

IMG_6365 juv Beardie

This recently fledged Bearded Tit, a species that has recently been placed in its own family, was one of the highlights of a recent ringing session.

P1180532 Bluethroat TE LB

But the real highlight of our recent ringing was this first year male Bluethroat that was trapped on 29th August. We had a public ringing demonstration for the sites owners, Dorset Wildlife Trust, at Lytchett Heath and most of the group were there to help. Some opted to ring near the River Sherford where this bird was trapped. There was just enough time before the demo for those interested to rush over from the heath to the Sherford (leaving the heath site well manned of course) to see it before it was released. Photo by Terry Elborn.

Bluethroat 3 Lyt bay 29.08

The eponymous blue on the throat shows that this bird is a male. At least two populations occur in Europe, white-spotted birds in southern/central Europe and red-spotted ones in Scandinavia but the ‘spot’ within the blue of the throat can only be seen on spring males. At this time of year it is most likely that this bird is of the red-spotted race. Photo by Bob Gifford.

And finally on 30th August sixteen, mainly local, birders took part in a Poole Harbour bird race, that means keeping within the geographic boundaries shown in the Sound Approach’s ‘Catching the Bug’. I have always been keen on doing a January bird race as it seems a great way of kicking off the New Year and it is a good way to meet up with friends that you haven’t seen since before Christmas. During my working years I was always busy when the idea of an August Poole Harbour race, with just two per team, was first mooted. Initially I wasn’t too keen this time either, but when Margaret said she would like to join me we formed a team.

Unlike the keenest we weren’t up at 0430 to try for owls and nightjars but started birding in the Studland area at 0700. We had a stroke of luck when we bumped into Mike Gould and Tom Carly just after they had found a Wryneck, but after that most of the rest of the day was predictable. After birding around Studland we visited the southern edge of Poole Harbour, Middlebere, Arne, Swineham and Lytchett Bay (where the wader bonanza really boosted the list) Having reached the ‘ton’ and with Margaret having hurt her leg getting out of the car we decided to quit but after freshening up we headed for the post-race gathering and managed to pick up two more species, Yellow-legged Gull in Holes Bay and Jay in Poole Park giving us a final score of 102.

With Margaret being the least experienced of the twelve participants and with us taking a fairly relaxed approach it was clear from the onset that we weren’t going to win, but we didn’t come last. The winners, the Sound Approach’s Paul Morton and Nick Hopper, set a new record for birds seen/heard in one day in Poole Harbour with a score of 130, smashing the previous best of 123.

The following pictures show most or all of the participants plus Marie and Mo who came along for the evening. Out usual pub was packed solid with a ‘sausage festival’, the next had run out of beer(!), a third was  closed, so we settled with the ‘Slug and Lettuce’ with a very nice curry at nearby Tandori Nights.

IMG_6418 post race drinks1

L-R: Marie Smith, Mo Constantine, Jackie Hull, Mark Constantine, Mike Gould, Tom Carley, Paul Morton (straight from the race still with his wellies on) Nick Hopper and Shaun Robson.

IMG_6422 bird race drinks2

In addition this photo shows: Steve W Smith (standing far left – his position not his politics), Peter Moore, James Phillips, Steve F Smith, Terry Elborn, Margaret and in bottom right Nick Hull.