India is fantabulous, proffering a cornucopia of natural and cultural wonders that has left an indelible impression in my 2 weeks tour of Delhi, Ranthambhore, Bharatpur, Jaipur and Agra. I've got a journal written down in my computer somewhere, but I'm sure its too long for most to digest, so here instead, my trip speaks for itself in my photos and accompanying captions. Bird list at the end of all pictures. Enjoy!
Common Hoopoe. My dear sister Mabel, previously living in Dubai, saw it first before me, in her Hyatt - Galleria home garden. I finally caught up with it in Bharatpur, with the added pleasure of being able to creep close to it to observe its every move. Saw it again at the Taj and in Qtub Minar. Yes, it visits lawns and gardens too, so the next time you visit India (or any country up north), watch out for it. Even though it looks big in photos, it is only the size of the pigeon you always see, ie the Rock Pigeon.
Nilgai aka Blue Bull. This horse-like antelope is India's largest. Because it has the world 'bull' in its name, it is also sacred (and therefore left unharmed) in Hinduism (which honours the cow/bull beacuse of its life-giving milk). This particular juvenile male was such a darling - he marched right up to me and rubbed his head on my pants. I was afraid of him at first, because of his horns and his wild status, but was soon won over, sayanging him to bits.
Hanuman Langur. Big and bad black-faced monkey that has no qualms snatching food from humans and each other. This cutie was eating a flower garland with gusto, a probable left over from the Lord Ganesha temple ceremony at Ranthambhore Fort.
Ranthambhore Fort. If I'm not wrong, this is what is left of a public meeting hall when the fort was still functional. Right now, it has been largely been abandoned, save for the Lord Ganesha temple at the very top which still attracts pilgrims to make the long upward trek, espcially over the New Year period when we were there.
The Red-wattled Lapwing is hard to see in Singapore, but is readily found in water bodies as small as mere puddles all over India. I managed to get within 2 meters of this stunner at the rubbish dump beside my Safari Lodge in Ranthambhore to even see that its wings had tinges of pink and green, and was not just brownish as seen from afar. Its eyes also took on a luminous red that was almost mesmerizing to watch, especially through my binoculars.
Jalebi! Lovely sweet snack that dripped of honey. Had it at Old Delhi.
Black Storks, Indian Pond Herons, Common Moorhen, River Tern, Common Kingfisher etc awaited us at the river, which marked the end of the safari drive at Route 5 of Ranthambhore National Park. Ranthambhore is divided into 5 sectors (Route 1 to 5) and for each safari, open-top jeeps/canters are alloted their routes randomly. We ended up doing Route 5 three times. I actually hate this route because of the massive dust clouds that accompany the drive (due to the dry season), coating everything in brown and causing us to choke on our own breath. My poor beige jacket looked like it belonged to a construction worker at the end of the drive. Having said that, Route 5 was also very productive - we saw both the Leopard and Tiger here! In all we had 5 safari drives (2 a day, 3 hours each time) for our 2 1/2 days stay in Ranthambhore.
Mutton Briyani at Kasbah, an expensive diner in New Delhi. The meal came with Indian crackers, onions, pickles and mint sauce, and finished off with packets of sugary sweet spices that is supposed to clear one's breath. What was nice was the pseudo-garden setting with soft sunlight streaming through its wooden rafters.
Qtub Minar. I'm standing at one of the arches at the Tomb of Iltutmish. According to www.exploredelhi.com, the tomb has plain and stark exteriors, but its interiors are lavishly ornamented with geometrical and arabesque patterns in Saracenic tradition. Along with this, ancient Hindu motifs, such as wheel, bell-and-chain, tassel, lotus and diamond, can also be seen here. It was these carvings that led a pundit to remark that this tomb is 'one of the richest examples of Hindu art applied to Mohammedan purposes'. It's no wonder that Qtub Minar is my top-rated cultural destination.
We stayed at the ornate and luxurious Alsisar Haveli, a palatial mansion converted to heritage hotel, built by Rajput merchants who were sometimes richer than their rulers. Here, I'm resting after a bout of garden birding where I added lifers like the Laughing Dove, Little Green Bee-eater and Eurasian Collared Dove.
Shirley and I at Jantar Mantar, an amazing astronomical observatory in Jaipur built between 1727 and 1734 by Maharajah Jai Singh II. These architectural wonders are orientated and precisely constructed for astronomical measurements, accurately doing things like telling the time (down to 20 and even 2 seconds accuracy), indicating the position of the north star, calculating the destinies of kings based on their birth month, time etc etc. Our guide explained the functions of some of these strange geometrical constructions, demonstrating their accuracy with the time machine which required us to add 29 minutes to derive Indian Standard Time. We were awed.
Surprisingly, India is more environmentally conscious than Singapore. All its commercial vehicles (buses, autorickshaws etc) run on CNG (Compressed Natural Gas), with CNG refulleing stations everywhere (compared to Singapore which only has a paltry handful in remote locales). I can attest to the fact that CNG is cleaner - you don't see black smoke coming out of the exhaust - making breathing a breeze. Having said that, I found myself wheezing away still...because of constant nose bleed/coagulated blood in my left nostril due to the very dry winter air, I think the driest I've ever experienced (maybe because I was in Rajasthan where the Thar desert looms). My nose bleed resolved itself naturally when I returned home to humid Singapore.
India's National Emblem - a replica of the Lion of Sarnath. The Lion Capital was erected in the 3rd century BC by Emperor Ashoka to mark the spot where Lord Buddha first proclaimed his gospel of peace and emancipation. In the original, there are four lions, standing back to back, mounted on an abacus with a frieze carrying sculptures in high relief of the lion of the north, the elephant of the east, the horse of the south and the bull of the west, separated by intervening wheels over a bell-shaped lotus, and crowned by the Wheel of the Law (Dharma Chakra). The motto Satyameva Jayate inscribed below the emblem in Devanagari script means 'truth alone triumphs'. Photographed this at the Indira Gandhi Memorial in New Delhi.Anand Arya and I. My birding pal in Sultanpur National Park, who hosted me with utmost hospitality and found me 20 new birds! He's an acclaimed bird photographer and a very regular birder.
Pied Kingfisher - a desired bird that I watched fishing very accurately in its classic hovering fashion at Sultanpur.
Temminck's Stint standing in a roadside puddle which we photographed from the car. India is truly bird rich. I expected about 40-50 lifers, but got 101 instead. Shirley probably got much more lifers since this is her first 'serious' overseas birding trip. She only accompanied me for the first 8 days of the trip (Delhi, Jaipur, Ranthambhore, Baratphur & a bit of Agra). I was alone for the last six days in Agra and Delhi. So she missed out on the splendour of Sultanpur.
Common Cranes flying in classic V formation near Sultanpur National Park, Haryana.
Sunset at Bharatpur, Rajasthan. Sunsets are always stunning in Rajasthan, a golden orb made more beautiful by the clear desert skies.
Birding in Bharatpur (aka Keolado Ghana National Park) with our excellent bird guide Hari Singh and Shirley. Here, we are snacking on Pakora, which I also fed to a tame Nilgai.
Indian Rock Python (Python molurus molurus). Bharatpur is famous for Indian Rock Pythons, this is even mentioned in Lonely Planet. They live underground in hollows often shared with Porcupines and can be found sunning themselves at midday or curled up beneath a bush. It reaches a maximum of 6.4 m in length, and can weigh as much as 91 kg. We saw ours with a baby python. Pictured here is the adult, which remained stock still the entire time we were there. It had a visible bulge around its tummy, and was apparently happily digesting its last meal. Hari told us to keep absolutely silent in order not to provoke an attack.
Jungle Babbler. Its hooded eyes makes it look fierce. This is an aggressive bird, flying fearlessly up to us while we were having lunch, with demanding calls for a piece of bread. Hahaha, our guide at Ranthambhore said that it is also nicknamed 'Japanese Tourist' (no offence to my Japanese friends), for its incoherent and incessant babbles.
Rose-ringed Parakeet resting on an ancient monument. In Delhi, this parakeet is almost as common as the Rock Pigeons you see in the foreground, noisily winging overhead in bright flashes of green.
Dusky Eagle Owl - Papa. Usually these owls are seldom seen, but because of a known nesting, we were treated to their regal presence.
Dusky Eagle Owl - Chick in Nest. Compared to richly-plumaged papa, it is still in whitish down feathers. There were supposed to be 2 chicks and Mama in and around the nest, but I could only see this baby peering down at us.
Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris). According to Wikipedia, it is literally "crocodile of the marsh, found throughout the Indian subcontinent. The name Mugger is a corruption of the Hindi word magar which means "water monster". Photographed mine at the same river on Route 5, basking and keeping absolutely still.
Rufous Treepie. A photogenic bird that is also very tame. I hand-fed one of them with crackers! I've seen quarrelsome flocks of R Treepies and Jungle Babblers as they fought amongst themselves for food hand-outs.
Tiger (top right hand corner)!!! We were in the 3rd jeep trailing the male beauty as he sauntered on the dirt track barely 15 meters ahead. We were freakin' lucky, with 2 tiger sightings in 5 safaris, plus one bonus leopard sighting (which is even more difficult to see!!). During the 2nd tiger sighting on our final safari, my prayers were amazingly answered with the tiger at just 5 meters from Shirley and I. Truly intense! Ranthambhore National Park is about 400 plus sqkm, with about 200 plus sqkm allocated to limited human activity (collection of firewood, grazing of cattle), and only about 200 plus sqkm that is entirely off-limits to humans. This protected portion (200 plus sqkm) is about 1/3 the size of Singapore, with an estimated 32 tigers roaming the area, according to the forestry department. Tiger census is via plaster casts made of pug marks (tiger pawprints). Males have rounded, bigger pugs, while females have pointy toes because they use nail polish!
Sarus Cranes! My top trip bird. It was an especially emotional moment when one of the cranes threw up its head to assume its iconic stance and let out an ethereal evening call. What a way to end our birding day at Bharatpur, aka Keoladeo Ghana National Park.
Jungle Cat! A seldom seen super bonus at Bharatpur, and even more amazing that I managed to capture it on camera. This ferocious feline is about 20% bigger than the domestic cat. Hari spotted it across the river, wandering in the tall grass amidst grazing cattle.
Indian Scops Owl. A doting pair with inverted smiley eyes, especially the female on the right. My favourite bird picture! Being able to finally photograph my birds with decent results, thanks to my recent purchase of a 12x zoom Canon S5 IS, has pleased me immensely. On top of that, I don't have to lug around a big camera on a tripod. This nifty camera is simply slung across my shoulders.
Spotted Owlet. The owl has always held a special place in my heart. And the Spotted Owlet marks my 13th owl on my global life list. The funny thing was that I kept running into it - 3 times in all - and twice in the same day at Sultanpur (both times spotted by me at different locales, one of them a known stake-out). Its difficult enough to see owls at night when they are active, but to spot them in the day, when they are roosting in complete stillness is truly a blessing from God.
India Bird List - Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Ranthambhore, Bharatpur
28 Dec to 11 January 2008
by Gloria Seow
1 Okhla Bird Sanctuary - O
2 Ranthambhore National Park - R
3 Jaipur - J
4 Bharatpur (Keoladeo National Park) - B
5 Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary - S
6 Agra (Yamuna River) - A
This list is copied directly from Excel, so the order is as follows:
R, B, S
Happy to see it, first francolin. Like to move about in numbers. In B, we counted 8 scampering through the thorny bushes together. V cute.
All over India, even in villages, perched on roofs etc. Seen feeding in a large group, with huge chicks, together with wild boar in R.
B, A, S
Found in pairs. Quite common along the river Yamuna.
Another non-descript duck. Usually I'd rather leave the ID of such dull birds to the experts.
Possibly in Okhla - ducks were too far off to ID reliably.
Common. Very pretty.
R, B, S
First saw in R, although I didn't know it then. There were ducks in R that I didn't even attempt to ID.
Quite estactic to finally locate a buttonquail. Really cute and tiny, only the size of chicks - 15cm. 3 of them crept through the thorny scrub about 3 meters from Shirley and I. We alerted Hari to their presence. They then rotated themselves round and round as if bedding down / making a nest. This action was repeated several times as they walked along. Filmed them. As I approached to get a better pix, a stupid cat suddenly appeared. It had seen the birds and vice versa. Instead of running away, the terrified quails simply sat down and hoped to blend in with the brown earth. I was frantic and roared as well as stamped my feet to scare away the cat. At first it ignored me and I had yell real loudly before he took flight. I felt like a bird hero! Happy!
Was super excited when Anand shouted 'Wryneck'. I couldn't believe that I was looking at a much desired bird - since Japan. Beautiful. I love its cryptic coloration and unique ability to whip its head around.
While in the jeep, 1st safari, Shirley and guide yelled out the bird. I caught a quick glimpse only.
BROWN-HEADED BARBET (H)
INDIAN GREY HORNBILL
Only one specimen early in the morning in S. At the Taj Nature Walk, after only seeing common birds the entire evening, I was walking out when the guard told me how worried the ticket guy was that I had disappeared into the out of bounds forest. I felt bad. They asked to use my bins and I obliged. Within 1 minute I saw 2 hornbills fly-by. I snatched back my bins, apolgised, and was off chasing hornbills. God led me to this tree where about 7-8 of them were perched. Photographed one of them. Poor light.
B, Taj, Qtub Minar
Finally, very good views. Crept to within 3 meters of the bird at B for photos. Filmed in Taj. Smaller than the pictures looked - 33cm only.
2 birds performing just outside our Ranthambhore Safari Lodge, perched on roadside wire.
Saw 2 vividly coloured birds at the river. Beautiful. Dunno why colours are a lot more brilliant than those in Singapore.
Happy! A wished-for bird (I told Shirley I wanted to see one), and was delighted to watch it fishing in its classic hovering fashion. Very accurate, always landing a fish.
GREEN BEE EATER
Alisisar Haveli - 3 birds sallying - photos.
CHESTNUT HEADED BEE EATER
Saw chestnut on head. Birded the streets outside our Lodge.
COMMON HAWK CUCKOO
In dense portion of tree, towards the end of our birdwalk. About size of koel.
O, R, A
Saw it finally at Taj.
O, B, S, A
Surprisingly common. Walking around much more boldy than those in Singapore.
Much bigger than ubiquitious RRP.
Appears as often as Rock Pigeons…even on ancient monuments
Saw its red face. Appeared in flocks.
ASIAN PALM SWIFT
INDIAN SCOPS OWL
Cute pair sleeping in tree. All guides/rickshaw riders seem to know where they roost.
DUSKY EAGLE OWL
Nesting - papa and chick in nest. No thrill seeing a known nesting, but still happy that we were privileged to.
At first Hari couldn't locate it. Then suddenly he knew which tree it had gone to. It sat in deep shadows, and we could only see one eye. Cute. Then it got spooked and flew off. Saw it 2 more times - once at a known stake-out before S, and 2nd time at S itself - sitting on an open bare branch winking at us.
Hari knew exactly which side path to take, and which tree to look into for this bird - not much thrill…almost no different from a zoo exhibit.
ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE
We saw about 3 birds, beautiful scalloping on brown wings, at a tree near our hotel. Luckily we walked down this dirt path to investigate this tree.
J, R, S
Photographed it as it walked across our Haveli's rooftop.
Ruffling its feathers at tree just outside our lodge's restaurant.
RED COLLARED DOVE
J onwards, everywhere
EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE
J onwards, everywhere
YELLOW-FOOTED GREEN PIGEON
R, A (?)
Something must have given the alarm call, because suddenly, about 30 pigeons and other birds flew out of the tree we were watching, en messe. Very funny looking. Later, put two and two together. It was because of the tiger - that's why all birds vacated the area. Taj - not sure if the tree full of pigeons were this bird?
Jubilant to see 2 birds only in the evening. Raised its head in its iconic stance to give out an amazing call. Very evocative, almost spiritual. Saw 3 calling and flying at S.
2 huge flocks of cranes flying in classic V formation. Saw it while we were driving back to Delhi. Anand had to yell stop - we jumped out of the car. I had already kept my bins - so I borrowed Anand's. Took photo too.
O, R, B, S
Funny, but this bird is rare in B and R. Okhla barrage - there were at least 15-20 birds feeding together on the floating vegetation.
O, R, B, S
Embarassing - mistook it for the Nordman's Greenshank. Stupid Hari called it the Spotted Greenshank (and I immediately thought it had to be rare, mixing it up with the Spotted Redshank. But it looks different - scalings on wings.
Saw it while waiting for Tiger on 1st safari.
Roadside puddle. Photographed from car at 1m distance.
O, R, B, S
Surprisingly common. Elegant
Saw only 1 bird.
Common, even found in mere puddles - seen on our long drives. Photographed closeup in the rubbish dump next to Lodge.
Flying by, black dot on cheeks.
Photographed a v handsome juvenile.
Everywhere except R, B
Funny, but it was absent down south of Delhi. If not, there could be 20-30 BK soaring on the same thermal - quite gross to see.
Suddenly, in the space of 20 minutes - very majestic raptors soared in the same heavens - Great-spotted Eagle, Imperial Eagle, White-eyed Buzzard, Bonelli's Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and Red-headed Vulture.
Soared beautifully. Looked amazing against the cliff where it landed. My first vulture - a momentous feeling.
Saw its bare red head - knew instinctively it had to be a vulture. Happy!
WESTERN MARSH HARRIER
Chasing ducks all over S. Bulky and majestic.
Saw twice in B. Could approach it down to 2 meters for photography, but poor lighting.
Bird soaring with missing feathers. Landed also.
GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE
Soaring - v big.
Soaring - v big.
Grasslands near S. V close perched views. Handsome. Chased it around in the car for Anand to take his pix. Unsuccessful in capturing a shot.
O, B, S
Thought it was a purple heron at first. But immediately knew it was a Darter - a joy to see.
O, B, S
O, B, S
INDIAN POND HERON
O, B, R, S
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON
Juvenile pair feeding. Pink bills.
GREAT WHITE PELICAN
Spotted by Shirley - very far away.
Lifer at Yamuna. Tonnes filling the whole tree at S, over 100 birds.
Amazed to see at River in R - 2nd safari drive on Route 5 - super dusty - but good reward for having endured the dust.
BLACK- NECKED STORK
It flew in after the Sarus Cranes - last minute.
Lifer near our Lodge.
SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE
Amazing number of different shrikes around S.
R, B, S
Was shocked that such a beautiful bird could be so tame. Feeding from ground, from hand. Landing on our jeeps.
LARGE- BILLED CROW
Viewed from far.
Saw the yellow female.
Lifer opposite our Lodge.
Sitting on grazing sambar even.
WHITE BELLIED DRONGO
Strange with white-belly.
Only bird that got Hari excited.
Hari said Red-throated and Red-breasted. Ding says both are the same bird aka as the Taiga FC, which I saw in Doi Chiang Dao, Inthanon.
GREY-HEADED CANARY FLYCATCHER
Tree outside our Lodge.
Female - in bush on the banks of B. Flew across river. Dwelled near the ground.
ORIENTAL MAGPIE ROBIN
R, B, S
O, R, B, S
V common. Even on roads. Toilet stop.
R, B, S
Surprisingly common for such a beauty.
COMMON STONE CHAT
Saw only 2 birds.
PIED BUSH CHAT
BROWN ROCK CHAT
Common at Ranthambhore fort and nowhere else. Photos. Likes to sit on old structures and stare out at the crowds. Ided by Hari from photos.
Nice bird - associated with Bank and Common Myna.
ASIAN PIED STARLING
O, B, S
Photographed/filmed it as it opened up the close-cropped grass at the Taj. Pretty.
Close-up shot at Qtub Minar.
Ided by Hari.
DUSKY CRAG MARTIN
Thought it was Great Tit at first.
IDEd by CV (Ding's driver, who remembers him as the one who likes to eat chocolate). My last sighting of it was a v good closeup view at Lotus - Bahai House of Worship while waiting 1/2 hour for my idiot Nepalese driver.
Thought it resembled the Rufescent Prinia.
ORIENTAL WHITE EYE
Outside Lodge. Sultanpur - at lunch.
LESSER WHITE THROAT
R, B, S
Common - makes sound like flowerpecker.
J, R, B, S
In a low, dense bush by water edge.
BROOK'S LEAF WARBLER
Tree outside our Lodge.
Photos - mystery bird Ided by Ding and Anand.
Photos - on ground in leaf litter. Ided by Ding.
From Okhla to Taj to Delhi. Even in the city.
ASHY-CROWNED SPARROW LARK
IN the grasslands, on the ground.
IN the grasslands, on the ground.
By the river, drinking water. On Route 4 Safari.
Ranthambhore fort lifer. Also at Agra - outside my garden room at Hotel.
First noticed it in Jaipur - on a tree in Jantar Mantar. Female looks v different from male.
Fatehpur Sikri, S
Lifer at Fatehpur Sikri, through photos! Resembles the White Wagtail.
Saw 2-3 birds at marsh - happy, desired bird.
Plenty of its nest on palm tree.
Juvenile. Flock flew in. Pink bill base.
Lifer at Ranthambhore Fort. 1st lifer ever where I took picture first, then looked thru the bins.
Mammals / Reptiles Seen
Spotted Deer (Chital)
Blue Bull (Nilgai)
Indian Gazelle (Chinkara)
Indian Rock Python
Indian Softshell Turtle