Common Coot

The Latin name of this bird is Fulica atra. The name literally translates to a shining black coot. Fulica also denotes the lobed feet and the pied coloration (the bird has a white frontal shield).

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These are very common birds found frequently in fresh water lakes and ponds. Common but difficult approach. Found in large flocks, they fly away at the slightest of disturbance. I have seen these birds plenty of times during my trips but have nver managed to get a close up. The picture above is as close as I could ever get (and considering  I was using a 500 mm lens, it’s not really close).

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There are a couple of things about this bird I think are worth mentioning. For a small bird, they seem to unusually reluctant to fly. Mistake me not, like I mentioned above, they are shy and will fly away as you approach them but they are not nearly as shy as you find some ducks. While ducks fly way at the slightest hint of human presence, these guys might hang around a little longer. And when it is really time for take off, they dont just take off – they run! It’s similar to a large bird (like the Sarus) take off on land – they make a mad dash across the water and then take to the air. They then make a lazy turn across the water and splash back at a distance. Here are some shots I got at Nalsarovar in Ahmedabad. They are blurred but still godd enough to make the point.

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Back in the day when hunting ducks was a common sport (especially among the British in India), this exact trait of the coots worked against them. An novice hunter who couldn’t tell the differnce beetween a coot and a duck took advantage of their lazy take off and shot them as they sailed back into water. Many ended up on dinner tables of the British hunter.

The other thing I find a little stange about these birds are its feet. They are not webbed like the duck but the coot has partial webbing across its toes. The overall effect is what I find strange – they look as if someone glued on old fashioned snow shoes on the bird. Take a look at this Wikipedia link for pictures of its feet.

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Pied Kingfisher

The latin name of thie bird is Ceryle rudis. This literally translates to “a  kingfisher with a dagger” – owing to its dagger like beak.

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The curious thing about this bird is the way it hunts for fish. The pied kingfisher never dives straight from it’s perch. It always flies to the area of interest, hovers over the water, aims and dives nose first. Jerdon mentions he has never seen one emerge out of the water without a fish in its mouth. I have seen the bird ditch its attempt mid air. But I guess I agree with Jerdon, I have never seen one emerge without a fish either.

Old literature suggests that the pied kingfisher is always found in pairs. This I differ with. Except for one instance (of which I have posted pictures), I have always seen this bird hunt alone.

 

 

Osprey

Osprey 1 The Osprey lives on fish and is known to snatch fish of monstrous proportions out of the water. However, what is remarkable about this bird is that it’s primary weapon for hunting is its talons and not the beak. Diving and dissappearing into water at breakneck speeds and catching fish is one thing, but doing this not head first but feet first is remarkable. Most of us imagine birds diving head first into water while hunting, but the Osprey is known to do it feet down. For a bird of this size, that’s easier said than done.

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Called the Pandion heliaetus, it is named after a Greek figure. It’s name literally translates to “Pandion’s sea eagle”. But its not as straight forward. While researching online I found a page on Ospreys by the author Thisbe Nissen (who among other books, has authored “The Osprey Island”). I thought its better to quote her verbatim than to re-write what she says on Ospreys. Here is what she says. “… the scientist who named it thus—one Marie Jules-Cesar Lelorgne de Savigny—was somewhat confused. You see, Pandion was the king of Athens in Greek mythology. Pandion had two daughters, Philomela and Procne. Procne married Tereus. Theirs is a lengthy and bloody story, but suffice it to say that in the end Philomela, Procne and Tereus are changed—as was the convention of Greek mythology—into, respectively, a nightingale, a swallow, and a hawk. If anything, the osprey should have been named after Tereus, as he was the only raptor among them. The osprey should, in all honesty, have been named in its genus, for King Nisus of Alcathous, whose daughter, Scylla, sacrifices him to his attacking enemy, Minos, whom Scylla loves. But Minos rebukes her, disgusted by her betrayal of her father, and he quits the land she offers him. Scylla, mad with despair, jumps into the ocean to follow Minos’ retreating ship, and is followed by her father—now turned into an osprey—who plucks her from the water as such a bird of prey is wont to do.”
Dont you find that interesting? Or did you loose your way in the middle? I did the first two times I tried reading it. Suffice it to say that the bird is not named right.

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Also, the common name “Osprey” also seems to be a misnomer. It comes from the Latin word Ossifraga which means bone breaker (another misconception).

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Cattle Egret

 

The Latin name of this bird is Bubulcus ibis which literally translates to “cow herding Ibis”.

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One almost cannot believe the transformation this bird goes through. From a dull, steely, white to all the colors of the rainbow. Wow! I took the picture below in Bharatpur. I had not seen a cattle egret in breeding plumage before. This was my first. And I could not believe my eyes. I took a couple of record shots and spent the rest of the time just watching this little beauty until it flew away.

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And then I went to Ranganathittu to see a very different side of the bird. I’m not saying that the same is not true for other birds – a lot of birds go through the same transformation. But in this case, I was not aware of this transformation. I was so used to seeing them lazily standing around cattle that when I saw the “other side” of its life, I could not help but feel awestruck.

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And then there is also the thing that the bird teaches us about our own history. While researching on this bird, I came across an interesting fact. There is a good possibility that our “elders” consumed this bird for food. I dont have direct evidence for this. Its only by implication. EHA, while describing the bird, mentions in his book that “…the habits are not quite respectable (here he is referring to the bird’s habit of feeding on insects stirred by the grazing cattle) on which account Mohamedans will not eat it.” This one sentence gives us a glimpse not only in to the food habits of an earlier people, but also offers insights into forgotten beliefs and customs.

Bar Headed Goose

Simply called Anser indicus, the name literally translates as the “Indian goose” .

sultanpur nov 23Well, most would know that the Bar headed geese are amongst the highest flying birds in the world (can reach up to an impressive 19000 feet) and have to routinely cross the Himalaya’s during migration. This is an impressive feat no doubt – oxygen levels are severely depleted at these altitudes.
But what impressed me more was this – a recent study where scientists studied tagged birds showed that these pied beauties cross the Himalayan range within just 7 hours reaching speeds of up to 54 km/h! This is seriously impressive considering that at such high altitudes, though the drag is lesser, the power required to produce lift and thrust is much higher – minimum speeds required to sustain horizontal flights is higher and therefore require much more energy.

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This is very gregarious bird and can be found in big flocks. I have seen flocks of up to 500 of these. They look beautiful. I read a couple of curious facts in Finn’s account on them. He mentions how large flocks of the birds often destroy crops and other “herbage” with “late rice” being their favourite. He also goes on to mention that the birds feed most of the night sometimes up to 9 AM! This came as a surprise to me. I should probably verify this fact from other sources. But then again, he is probably right too. I came across this huge flock of Bar Headed Geese in the Basai wetlands and most of them were resting with their heads in their feathers (well…at least that’s what I think they are doing).

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Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

The Latin name of this bird is Pterocles exustus literally translating to a “bird with well endowed wings and a scorched belly”! Mom and Me

The setting was perfect. I was out birding on a sunny afternoon and on that day had decided to take my wife and son along. I called up a well known bird watcher from Sultanpur and we headed into the open fields around Gurgaon. I had told my wife that if we were lucky we could spot the sandgrouse along with its young ones as we had heard some reports by other birders.

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We were driving slowly trying to spot anything moving along the ground when we spotted a samll flock. I manoeuvred the car to get a better angle and killed the engine. To my pleasant surprise, there they were, a complete family along with the chick.

Read what Jerdon has to say in his account of the bird:
“…sometimes they can be approached with ease near enough to get a good shot, at other times, especially in larger flocks, they are shy and wary.  A small flock or single birds can often be approached very close by walking rapidly, not straight, but gradually edging towards them; and in this way, I have often walked up to within two or three yards of them”
I have used this tactic of walking up slowly and gradually up to a bird with pipits and other small birds. But all my attempts to do so with the Sandgrouse have failed so far. Perhaps they have been sensitized by hunters who successfully employed such tactics to hunt them for food.
Speaking of hunting, the sandgrouse was one of the most popular game birds back in the day. By Jerdon’s own account, the sandgrouse tasted excellent when aged appropriately.The Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse seems to be a very punctual bird too! Many of the earlier writers note how they always visit nearby watering holes by 8 AM every morning and by 4 PM in summer months.

Egrets

The first time I saw an Egret in its breeding plumage, I was blown away. They went from boring to super exotic. The delicate feathers floating in the wind made them look like fairies. Unfortunately, I found out that I was not the only one to think this way. Turns out, Egret plumes are indeed considered exotic collectors items by many. Because of this, they were (EHA’s account published in 1947 also mentions Goanese hunters killing Egrets for their plumes) and still are being hunted down just so that their feathers can be used to make a groom’s turban or some other fancy fashion accessory. No kidding. Check this link – http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/egret-feathers.html#cr. The model is flaunting a turban fashioned with Egret feathers!
So, this is my tribute to these beautiful birds. Considered boring no more, I hold them equal to any exotic beauty out there.

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An intermediate egret preening. Shot in Ranganathittu, near Mysore. Such shots are possible here as you can get fairly close to the birds when you take a boat ride.
The Latin name of the intermediate egret is Mesophoyx intermedia. This translates to (literally) “the intermediate middle heron”.

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The shy girl – shot this in Sultanpur on a very bright and hot day. I had decided to shoot the entire trip in black and white and was rewarded fittingly by this black and white beauty. intermediate egret again.

The most rewarding picture I have made so far of an egret is the one below. It’s a little egret in breeding plumage. A little king. Notice the long plumes on its nape. Its the most elegant a bird can look. Truly wonderful. I shot this in Sultanpur like many other pictures here. I was walking back from a rather tiring trip with the camera gear hanging on my shoulder. It was close to sunset and was rapidly getting dark. Nearing the main gate of the park, I noticed this fellow – standing proudly on a fallen branch, surveying his surroundings.I managed a few pictures. The light was not favourable, but I’m satisfied with what I got. A little delight, indeed.little egret

The other pictures here were either made in Sultanpur or Ranganathittu, near Mysore. Notice the red iris of the egret in the bottom right picture? I didnt know egrets can have red eyes! Still cannot explain it.