Every New Year, I go on road trips to wonderful destinations across India with my family. This New Year 2021, that wonderful destination was Great Rann of Kutch, Gujarat! The initial plan was a 14-day road trip covering Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Dholavira and Bhuj. But, since we had to be back by 13th for Lohri, we left Jaisalmer for another trip.
Our planning was rather spontaneous throughout the trip. Most of the days we didn’t know which city we were going to spend the night in until about 8 pm. Then at 9 we began the search for a hotel. In almost all the hotels we had late night check-in and early morning checkout.
Size (48-52 cm): It is the smallest of all the Egrets found in India
Area: Most of India except the Himalayas
Habitat: Lakes, village ponds, cultivations, river-banks
Description: Non-Breeding birds are white all over and the iris, lores and the bill are yellow. The legs are also yellow but are much paler than the bill.
Breeding adults develop buffy-orange plumes over their head, neck, throat and the lower back. The bill and legs also develop a reddish-orange hue.
It is a very common and very friendly bird, which is good for those who want to photograph it. If you approach it slowly without much movement, it won’t bother you coming too close.
Cattle Egrets are named so because they are often found near cattle herds, sitting on the backs of cows and buffaloes. They are one of the best friends of the cattle, they eat insects and parasites that stick to the cattle’s body, thus keeping them clean and also safe from infections. If you want to find them, the best place I would suggest would be a paddy cultivation where there is standing water.
Food: Insects, frogs, snails, grasshoppers and even lizards.
After yet another birding-break and with the winter slowly drawing to a close and the birds reverse migrating to Europe, Russia etc. to their breeding grounds, I went to Sutlej again.
Just like before, I left before sunrise, but, this time it was intentional because I wanted to shoot some pre-sunrise and sunrise photos.
On reaching the bank, there was no one there, no people, no wildlife, just me, which was perfect for what I had in mind then – Pre-Sunrise Blue Hour photographs. The road there always fascinated me and every time went to the river, I had at least 50 shots of just the road. Now, with Blue Hour slowly ending, and orangey clouds shining above the blue sky and with some low hanging fog, the landscape seemed twice as pretty.
After spending some time experimenting with different kinds of compositions, I went ahead because the Sun was just starting to rise and I had to reach the riverbed before the sunrise because I was planning to make a timelapse of the Sun rising. But unfortunately, by the time I reached there, the Sun was up, so, I just took a few shots of the sun and changed my lens and got ready to shoot some birds.
I had noticed some movements in the reeds behind me while shooting the sun. And thus, I went straight into the hard-to-find-anything-in reeds. There were numerous tiny birds jumping here and there and I got the first clear look at them after about half an hour, when one of them decided to rest on a leaf blade out in the open and shake off the morning dew. It was a Yellow-Bellied Prinia! Slowly, as the Sun started climbing higher, the birds became less restless, or maybe they became used to me and started giving me fantastic poses. Some even came 3-4 feet close. I remember one of them was so close that if I had pointed the camera at him, he could have touched my lens. Of course, like all others, he stayed there for only a few seconds before taking off to another perch.
While I was shooting these fellas, I heard a loud liquid rattle coming from the reeds, it took me some minutes to find where the bird was of course, and when I finally found it, I was thrilled. I had never seen anything like that before. I didn’t know what it was then, but, I knew it was one of those bigger Prinias which, now, are also called Grass-Babblers. It was a Rufous-Vented Grass Babbler, I found out. The bird was perched in shade and I didn’t get fantastic shots but still they were decent. He left very early and I could still hear for the next 1 hour I was there, but I was not able to find him again.
I also saw a very common Ashy Prinia there, but I was not able to get any good shots of it.
Other birds that I shot there were Rufous Treepie, Black-Rumped Flameback, Cattle Egret. Common Tailorbird, Bluethroat male and also a couple of Leaf Warblers.
After spending some more time there, I thought of going back because I was not able to find anything to shoot then. But, as always, I was not satisfied, So I decided to go to Mao Sahib as well.
On the way to Mao Sahib, I saw a Common Rosefinch female, which was not at all interested in giving me a good shot, but, somehow managed a decent one.
Close to the Highway, there was a little pool formed by a nallah in which I saw a pair of Indian Spot-Billed Ducks. The pool was small and the birds were pretty close to me and before then, I had not managed a single decent shot of this very common duck. The opportunity of too good to be missed.
So, I positioned myself at the edge of that rather smelly pool and soon gained the trust of the couple which they showed by coming and feeding very close to me.
After that, I went to Mao Sahib, where unfortunately I found nothing. But on the way there, I had a little bit of an adventure. My car got stuck in the mud and it took us (me and the driver) half an hour to get it out of there. After which, our beautiful white car was almost completely brown. There were solid layers of mud on all the windows, which, we had to clean of course.
Apart from that, nothing particularly interesting happened and that was basically it and after seeing Nothing at Mao Sahib, I went back home.
After taking a long break from birding, on 24 January, 2020, it was time for me to go out and shoot some birds. So, I packed my stuff and left for the Sutlej River. This time I didn’t go to Mao Sahib though. Instead, I went to a different location on the Sutlej River which I had visited once last year. I didn’t get anything exciting there last year, so, I just wanted to try my luck once more.
Egrets are medium to large sized birds, closely related to the Herons (see here) and belong to Ardea or Egretta genera. Similar to their (very) close relatives – Herons – they also have long legs and a long beak.
Prinias are small passerine, insectivorous birds which sometimes referred to as Wren-Warblers. Like most Warblers these birds prefer dense bushes and long scrubs due to which they are a nightmare to locate. Like Warblers, they are heard heard more often seen.