Tuesday, March 14, 2017

#invismig kind of night

Last night was pretty special here in Norwich. Land-locked Norwich does not experience much active migration. But somehow, moon and weather conditions last night (and in the night ebfore too) were just right, and lead to active nocturnal migration over the city.

After dark I was at home busy with routine family duties. But when messages on Twitter and on our local Whatsapp group started pouring in, I deserted my parental roles and headed out to listen.

I immediately started picking stuff out of the dark. At first I was joined by my son Uri, then he moved in and I stayed out. I also communicated with Dougal that lives across the road from my house, so we helped each other out increase our garden year lists. We whatsapped or tweeted out everything we heard, to help others in our friendly little competiton - Norwich Garden Bird List. Most dominant call of the night was Redwing. They were calling almost constantly. During the two hours I listened last night, I must have heard more than 50 calls. One can only guess (or use a radar...) how many birds actually passed over central Norwich last night. It is very cool to imagine these Redwings over the coast 30 minutes later, and then arrive in Norway the next morning after a night of migration over the North Sea. The Magic of Migration.
Especially in the earlier part of the evening there was very active movement of ducks. It is cool how vocal they are on the wing! Wigeons were especially vocal, but last night I also heard Teal and Mallard. I am not sure whether these birds were true migrants, or just local birds moving between forgaing and roost sites. 
Later on at night, myself and other observers (listeners) had nice shorebird movement. I had four shorebird species last night (!), three of them new to the garden list: singles of Ringed Plover, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Snipe. Over UEA there were also Green Sand and Curlew. Again, I am not sure if these are active migrants or just birds moving around between wetlands. The nearest wetland to my home that might hold these species (Earlham Marshes) is about two miles away, so I was really happy to get these.

Other birds calling last night were several Grey Herons, a Moorhen - another garden tick (check their funny calls on xeno-canto), and the local Tawny Owl singing from a park about 300 m away from my park.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ranthambhore cleanup - mammals

Probably my last blogpost about India. Here are some images of mammals from Ranthambhore I had no time to process earlier. Ranthambhore is fantastic for mammals. The abundance of deer, wild boar and other types of tiger food explains why there are so many predators there. Driving around the park, you do see many hundreds of deer every day. Commonest species is Spotted Deer:

Sambar is tiger's favourite prey. Their eyesight is poor and they're not very fast runners like Spotted Deer. They often are seen wading in lakes.

Nilgai is an impressive beast, reminded me of the African Eland antelope

Wild Boar

Black-faced Langurs are very common in the park

They often adopt the contemplative posture

Not easy to photograph with their extremely long tail and a 500mm...

 Black-tailed Mongoose

Interesting shape to their pupils

Indian Palm Squirrel

And of course there was this mammal too, our main target in India. Arrowhead.

Check this great video by Amir:

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ranthambhore cleanup - birds

As I had limited wifi and time in Ranthambhore, my 'real-time' blogposts from there were rather brief. I did photograph a lot, so here is a collation of some photos taken during the 2.5 days of safari there, mainly of common birds.

Asian Openbill

Grey Francolin - very common

Great Thick-knee. Great indeed

Plum-headed Parakeets came in to drink by the park gate

Black-rumped Flameback

Common Woodshrike

Indian Robin - female. The smart male wouldn't pose

Red-vented Bulbul. Abundant but very neat

Large Grey Babblers doing their thing 

One of many Red-breasted Flycatchers

One of fewer Taiga Flycatchers

Chestnut-shouldered Petronia - huge numbers of them

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Existential thoughts on birding in rubbish dumps

After two brilliant days, birding on our last day in Kaziranga (21 Feb) was hampered by the torrential rain that had started the previous afternoon. We left late in the morning after the rain had paused. We headed over to Diring Tea Estate, the main haunt for Blue-naped Pitta and a few more 'hill' species. We were hoping for good activity after the rain, but in fact it was pretty slow and birds didn't play ball - quite many species were 'heard-only'. Check our eBird checklist here. We heard one pitta right at the start of the trail, but couldn't locate it. No other birds were vocal in the degraded forest. Same for Oriental Scops Owl - three singing birds but we couldn't find any of them. We did add some species but nothing out of the ordinary. And it was nice to bird on foot after sitting in a jeep for so long.

Diring Tea Estate

Nest stop was Kaziranga Beel, a small wetland outside the reserve. Due to the heavy rain access to the wetland itself was flooded, and we didn't see too much there either. At least I could get down to ground level to photograph the small goose flock, in bad light. Good hirundine activity is evident by the photobombing birds.

Ruddy Shelducks and Bar-headed Geese (and Barn Swallow)

Bar-headed Geese are very pretty, aren't they? (and Sand Martin)

We had a couple of Bengal Bushlarks that were new to the trip:

A pair of Oriental Pied Hornbills entertained us by the main road:

In the afternoon we returned to the eastern range of Kaziranga NP. It was somewhat slower than previous days, and we really did not add too much. Two-barred Warbler and Black-throated Thrush were new trip birds. This White-fronted Goose was a good local record:

Indian Pond Heron on a mobile rock

On Feb 22 I started the long journey back home. Before flying out of Guwahati I had time to check the rubbish dump that holds the world's largest concentration of the Globally Endangered Greater Adjutant, the Asian Marabou counterpart. We had scoped them on the rubbish dump from a huge distance after landing in Guwahati a few days earlier, but I was hoping for better views. So I asked my driver to make a quick detour towards the rubbish dump. I thought I'd get views from outside the dump, but suddenly I found myself in the epicentre of disgust and misery. We were surrounded by hundreds of people rummaging through the rubbish, including young children. 


And I was there to watch and photograph birds. Globally Endangered birds. I have birded in many rubbish dumps and sewage ponds before, but this was something else. My brain was swinging between operation as a wildlife photographer, and feelings of a distressed western tourist just wanting to get away from these horrible scenes. In India one cannot escape from extreme poverty, but this type of extreme poverty is normally witnessed out of a passing train window. I was not expecting a close encounter with those miserable people. In the back of my brain I knew they exist, but my western brain normally avoids thinking about them. In this case, I was walking between those miserable people, carrying optics that cost much more than these people will ever earn, trying not to get my clothes dirty before boarding a flight. I felt so disgusting, and even much more now while I sit in front of my desk in the UK. 

I felt a sense of 'duty' to document the adjutants when I was there, that's why I went there, no? So I fired off some shots in bad light conditions, and asked the driver to get me the hell out of there.

This is the general scenery where the adjutants hang around:

I found it horrible to see people, cows and birds 'working' together on the same pile of rubbish:

Here are my photo objects. Not many birds can be described as ugly. In this particular setting, to my eyes these Greater Adjutants are genuinely ugly.


With Black-eared Kites - many on the rubbish too

After this distressing and surreal experience, I wanted to cleanse my brain a bit, so returned to Deepor Beel for an hour of quieter birding. Again it was good with large numbers of waterfowl, but nothing too exciting there. 

Lesser Whistling-Ducks

Bronze-winged Jacana

The last new trip bird - my only Brown-headed Gull of the trip: