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Friday, July 20, 2012

Signature Birds of Northern India. July 2012.

A family vacation to Delhi and Srinagar afforded some opportunity to break away to bird some signature species of the area. Starting in the vicinity of Delhi, the state of Haryana has surprisingly rich habitat for birding centered around the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary (Sultanpur National Park). Amusingly, the visitor's center has billboards publicizing some key species -- including among them Roseate Spoonbill and Scarlet Macaw! Were any of these to appear as a vagrant it would count as an ornithological miracle of biblical proportions! Having had my fill of Roseate Spoonbills in Florida, my focus was on the State bird (Black Francolin) and the quail that's not a qual -- the barred buttonquail. Given the paucity of time, I hired a local guide to expedite finding the target species.

The black francolin -- seen in this collage in the middle -- is a striking bird of the pheasant family. Only 5 of the 40 members of the francolin family are found in Asia [the rest are in Africa]. In the monsoon season the male is easily located by its loud calls. Seen with the francolin are barred buttonquail, greater coucal [lower right], red-vented bulbul [lower left] and crested lark.

 Barred Buttonqual

Black Francolin

The barred buttonquail exhibits reverse sexual dimporphism with the female [shown at the top with a black throat] more colorful and larger than the male [shown at the bottom]. The female is also polyandrous. DNA analysis would suggest that buttonquail are related to shorebirds rather than true quail.

Barred Buttonquail (female)

Traversing the fields in the vicinity of Sulanpur, a red-naped Ibis [top right] and a sarus crane were encountered. The sarus is the world's tallest flying bird and they are known to breed in Sultanpur. It is classified as "vulnerable" with decreasing population trends.

The striking Indian Courser

Next up were two endemics -- the yellow wattled lapwing [shown left] and the Indian Courser [shown right]. These are terrific shorebirds with the handsome courser taking the crown as the most photogenic.

Yellow-wattled Lapwing -- a signature endemic

The Lapwing was close to this ominous looking Monitor Lizard:

Back to the birds:

These shorebirds were joined in observation by the Eurasian Thick-knee [middle], the red-wattled lapwing [upper left], black-winged stilt [showing some resemblance to our own black-necked] as well as the odd Pond Heron. The thick-knee is a large shorebird with huge eyes and further exploration resulted in a wealth of cuckoos in addition to the sinister greater coucal seen earlier.

The grey-bellied cuckoo [left] and the common hawk-cuckoo [upper right] are both brood parasites. The common hawk-cuckoo is so called because it visually mimics the Shikra or Indian sparrowhawk. Also seen was a Hoopoe which is always a delight to photograph with its striking crest and downcurved bill.

Two more near-endemics awaited us: the ashy-crowned sparrow lark and the Indian bushlark. The former is a striking bird perhaps deserving a dedicated collage of its own:

 Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark

The bush lark [top left] is a plain bird, shown here with other common birds of the region: Baya Wearver, Ashy Wren-Warbler, and Paddyfield Pipit [as seen clockwise].

Talking of common birds, our next stop was the wetlands and en route, we encountered pied cuckoo [lower left], little ringed plover, Alexandrine Parakeet, Asian pied starling and pied kingfisher [listed in clockwise order].

Arriving at Bhindawas (Bhindawas Link) wetlands, other than the common rails and herons, are target species were the owls. The typical wetland birds seen were [in clockwise order]: Purple Swamphen [yes, the same ones now found in Florida!], Grey Heron, Lesser Whistling Duck, Purple Heron, and White-breasted Water Hen.

Owls are always unique and eccentric birds and target species around the wetlands were the Eurasian Eagle Owl and the Dusky Eagle Owl. The Spotted Owlet, a small common owl, was also seen.

The dusky eagle owl [middle] was the real star of the show. Quite large and majestic, they were however, difficult to photography being both distant and in conditions somewhat contrajour. The Eurasian Eagle Owl [right] were also quite a find and yielded some very good views.

The spotted owlet is related to our burrowing owl but is not terrestrial. They are inquisitive and not easily spooked. All in all, a very productive couple of days in the area.

Useful resources:
Birding Book: A Birdwatcher's Guide to India
Map of Sultanpur National Park: Sultanpur Map
Map of Bhindawas: Bhindawas Map
Sanjay Sharma: 09812470521 [a highly recommended birding guide; very knowledgeable about the area]

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