Wade in the Water – Birding at Phillaur – Part 6
Local birding is much more exciting to me compared to going to far off places to witness a complete new set of wildlife. So, I began this season’s birding adventures by visiting the place that I consider as ‘One of the Finest Spots for Birding around Phillaur’ – Sutlej.
I began exploring this area Last Winter only and fell in love with it on my first visit because of my sighting of the exceptionally rare Hen Harrier on the first ever visit. Read the report of that trip here. And after that I have visited this area multiple times and it has never failed to surprise me with one or the other exceptional sightings.
The first trip of the season was full of sadness, madness, surprise and joy.
The first stop I had to make was near Shani Gaon. There was a Spotted Owlet sitting just in the perfect setting and more importantly at eye level. But just as I lifted the camera – Boom!! It flew away! Not a good start to a trip anyways.
A bit disappointed, I sat back into the car, and moved on. A few minutes later I had to stop again near a field for a group of Ultra-Fast flying Red-rumped Swallows. Photographing these Speedsters is heck of job. By the time you are able to focus properly, they are no longer in your range for a good photograph.
But this time, I was lucky enough to manage a few shots maybe because I was so disappointed by the Owlet that I didn’t want to miss these as well. Soon after the group left, I also began further on with my ‘now’ very exciting journey.
Only a few minutes had passed when a Black-rumped Flameback female came and sat on a tree just in front of my car window. After spending quality time with her and creating a couple of good images, I moved on.
For the next half an hour there were no bird sightings. Then I stopped at my first fixed stoppage where I usually went down to the river but after the floods, the complete landscape had changed and now there was a 10 feet straight drop to go down to the river.
There I had the sightings of about 2-3 different species of Martins namely – Pale Sand Martin, Plain Martin (Dark and Pale Races) and an exceptionally rare Sand Martin which must have occurred as a Vagrant here because these are only found in Sri Lanka and that too only in Winter.
Now for those who don’t know, Martins are also Ultra-Fast fliers just like the Swallows I mentioned above and finding them grabbing a perch (which they don’t often do) was great thing to witness for me because at least I could make Records of them now.
Though I didn’t make the best shots but still I managed passable Record Shots of all the 3.
After clicking the Martins as I was returning I saw a Bulbul sitting on tree top. While observing the Bulbul I noticed a large raptor gliding in the air. It was a Booted Eagle – dark morph, probably, the first ever record from the region.
And when it passed, I took again to finding the Bulbul on the same tree and as I was about to give up – Bam!! There was a big Indian Eagle Owl staring right into my face. How did I not see it the first time!?
Excited I took about 10 shots till it flew away. Then I checked the photographs in the camera and all of them were absolutely dark. In the excitement of such a close encounter, I forgot to check whether the exposure was correct or not and missed a great photograph. The disappointment I felt then is unexplainable.
I threw the Tripod hard on the ground (Thank God it was sand else it would have been my last trip) and began cursing myself. I lost interest in all other birds and all my thoughts were dominated by the loss of the extraordinary image that I could have created if I had not been that foolish.
But, Thanks to Adobe Lightroom that I could recover a lot of lost detail and create a nice image.
Next I saw a group of Bar-headed Geese and Ruddy Shelducks and many other species like Black-winged Stilt and Gadwall but I didn’t want to photograph them because I was so disappointed at that time.
The next major stoppage was at the Mau Sahib Chhappar – My Ever Favourite Location from where I always return with a big smile of satisfaction on my face. It is basically just a village pond on the edge of a busy road but for some unknown reason, all the Waterfowl love this place a lot. The number and type of rarities it has to offer is unbelievable. Last Winter I saw Black-winged Stilt, Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Ruff, Northern Shoveller, Garganey, Gadwall, and a group of incredibly rare – Eurasian Wigeon. It felt like being in a mini version of Keoladeo National Park.
This time again I saw hundreds of Ruff and Black-winged Stilts. Other Common Species include Spotted Redshank, Common Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper.
The much rarer ones were 3-4 Temminick’s Stint, Marsh Sandpiper, super-rare White-tailed Lapwing and Common Snipe.
While I was clicking a Green Sandpiper, the camera misfocused on a small bird sitting on the ground. It was a Common Snipe. These Snipes are masters of camouflage and I was surprised by this sighting. It was only because of my camera that I was able to spot it otherwise I would never have spotted it with naked eye. I removed by eye from the camera’s viewfinder and tried to spot it but failed to do so. I could see it there because I knew it was there else I could not make out the detail of the bird. These Snipes are easily missed by birders all over the world because of their superb colouration.
This sighting along with the sighting of Temminick’s Stint and White-tailed Lapwing totally covered my loss of the photograph of the Indian Eagle Owl.
All over, the trip went very well and at the end of the day, I was Very Satisfied.