Birder’s Day Out – Birding at Pong Lake

Birder’s Day Out – Birding at Pong Lake

It was on 29th December, 2019 that I, finally, got the chance to spend a Day Out Birding at one of my Favourite Birding Locations – Pong Lake. I first visited this place in 2015 and till then it has remained in my ‘Favourites List’.

There were 4-5 places which Me and Dad planned to visit. The first one was the famous 52 Gate Barrage. Just a few kilometres from the barrage we saw a mighty Steppe Eagle perched on top of a tree (What a Lucky Start to the Day!!). As it was only 8 in the morning, the light was pretty dim and diffused and there was a lot of fog. Although I couldn’t manage a great shot, I was not sad as it was just the beginning.

We tried a short-cut route to reach the Barrage which spiraled through dense vegetation. But, the road was overgrown and we decided to turn back and follow the normal road. As dad was turning the car around, a White-Capped Redstart landed near our car for a moment and flew away the next moment. We tried for about half an hour to get a decent shot of the bird but in vain.

Our next stoppage was at the Barrage where we saw Red-Rumped Swallow sitting very silently on a wall (which is totally unusual for a bird with an over active lifestyle). I clicked hundreds of photographs of the bird and then realised that the poor fellow was injured. During this session I also photographed a Paddyfield Pipit and a Common Chiffchaff.

Red-Rumped Swallow
Paddyfield Pipit
Common Chiffchaff
White Wagtail

For the next half an hour, there were no exciting sightings. Next we encountered a fifty strong group of Eurasian Wigeons at a very close range. So many sightings and poor photographs later, today was the day that I finally made decent shots of these beauties.

Eurasian Wigeon male
Gadwall female

As I was photographing the Wigeons, the Sun finally showed up and all of a sudden, the silence of lake was overcome by the chirping and calling of birds. Soon, a Booted Eagle (dark morph) came flying towards us and just a moment later, a Brown-Headed Gull landed just a few feet away from me.

Brown-Headed Gull
Striated Babbler

Soon the earlier Sleepy Birds became Active and the reason for that was the Fear of Not Falling Prey to the Eurasian Marsh Marrier couple that were patrolling the area.

As the Sun was spreading its beautiful colours across the Landscape, a family of Scaly-Breasted Munias landed just about 10 feet from me and were cooperative enough to lend me some amazing shots.

Scaly-Breasted Munia juveniles

By then, we had had enough of the barrage and we proceeded towards the Water Sports Complex where I had completed my Basic Training in Water Sports a few years back. On the way there, we met a friendly Female Grey Bushchat. She didn’t mind getting as close as 6 feet from me. This was, by far, our best sighting as we didn’t have to chase the bird and it kept coming close to us on its own.

Grey Bushchat female

We reached the Water Sports Complex by 10:30 and were welcomed by a White-Capped Redstart who gave me some mesmerising shots. We spent about an hour inside the Campus and didn’t get even a single shot. But, outside the Campus, the scenario was a bit different, as a male Grey Bushchat and group of Oriental White-Eyes gave us some shots that we would never forget.

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White-Capped Redstart
Grey Bushchat male
Oriental White-Eye

The next stoppage was at Chatta Watch Tower. There were a large number of Bar-Headed Geese sitting right near the foot of the tower. The opportunity was too good to be missed, so, I started to silently move towards them in a zigzag fashion, in order to not disturb them, and get them at a good photographic range.

Bar-Headed Goose
A poor fellow with a broken piece of bird trap stuck in its feet

I spent roughly two hours at Chatta and got to witness some amazing bird species which included 3 Lifers!! These included hundreds of Common Pochards, a Kentish Plover and an unexpected surprise – Great Crested Grebe (non-breeding plumage). Though I couldn’t get a good / great shot of any of these three, still I was happy because atleast I got to see them.

Common Pochard males
Great Crested Grebe (non breeding) towards the centre

Other birds that I saw there included Common Teal, Northern Pintail, Temminick’s Stint, Caspian Gull (1st Winter plumage), Black-Headed Gull, Brown-Headed Gull, Pallas Gull, River Tern, Tawny Pipit and Barn Swallow.

Tawny Pipit
Northern Pintail females
Brown-Headed Gull

While we were leaving for Dhameta, A River Lapwing (another amazing bird which I had been trying to photograph since a long time) landed right near our car. Finally I got some amazing photograph of this beauty!!

River Lapwing

The next and final stoppage was at Dhameta. By then only one target species was left and that was a Little Ringed Plover and as soon as we reached there, the first bird that I saw was the Plover.

Little Ringed Plover

While I was photographing the Plover, a Water Pipit (Another Lifer!), landed right next to the Plover. That was the time when I got totally confused as to which one to photograph first and which one the second. Since I wanted to photograph both of them, I took five shots of the Pipit and then five of Plover and continued in the same fashion until the Pipit flew away.

Water Pipit

We stayed there till sunset and soon, the Bar-Headed Geese started leaving the area but all of them were against the Sun and I didn’t photograph them at first as I thought I would not get any good photograph and would only waste energy. After controlling myself for a few minutes, I lifted up the camera and started experimenting with shooting against the Sun and of all the shots that I clicked, 1 won my heart!!

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Backlit Bar-Headed Goose
Backlit Pallas Gull

After the flights had gone, I saw a strange bird flying away towards the other end of the Lake. I took a few shots of the bird reflexly (That’s the Keyword here – ‘Reflexly’). When I looked at the photographs afterwards, I was overjoyed to see that it was a Great Thick-Knee (Another New One for me) and with this sighting I summed up the trip there only as the Sun had already set and there was no sense staying back.

Great Thick-Knee

~Arjun Basandrai

3 thoughts on “Birder’s Day Out – Birding at Pong Lake

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