February was not quite a successful one but I explored many new places which later on proved out to be gifting.
This month birding began on 9th with a visit to the nearby cultivations. I saw only some common species like the Spotted Owlet, Red-naped Ibis and White-tailed Stonechat. But, I could not manage any good photograph.
Phillaur has a lot of forests and cultivation and is also gifted with the mighty Sutlej which separates Phillaur from Ludhiana. There are more than a hundred species that I have recorded in and around Phillaur including the Eurasian Eagle Owl, Yellow-bellied Prinia and Temminick’s Stint.
Kites are medium to large sized birds of prey in the family Accipitridae. They have sharp and strong talons with sharp and hooked beaks which help them tear the meat from their prey.
There are two types of Kites found in India – Elanus Kites and Milvine Kites. The Elanus Kites are much smaller than the Milvine Kites. Also, The Elanus Kites are the ‘Hovering Kites’ and Milvine Kites are ‘Soaring Kites’.
There are several species of Kites found across the country. Out of the four species found in India, here, I will talk about 3 of them:-
The Black Kite is the most common among them and is found everywhere in cities, towns, forests, gardens etc. People in towns and cities call it the Eagle which is totally wrong. The Eagles are much bigger than Kites, also, the Black Kite has a forked tail which is not seen in an Eagle.
The Black-Shouldered Kite is a medium-sized Kite which prefers more open and silent suburbs of a city. They are rarely spotted in cities and overcrowded neighborhoods and mostly seen sitting at the overhead wires at the edge of open fields.
The Brahminy Kite is quite common in S India, especially Goa, but is a rare sighting in N India.
Size(80-95cm): Purple Heron is a large wader, slightly smaller and slimmer than the Grey Heron.
Habitat: It is quite evasive and prefers heavy vegetation near water where they could fish.
Area: All India except Himalayas.
(adult with its prey which it has pierced in the middle using its sharp, pointed bill)
My two words: Purple Heron is slaty-purple bird. The forehead and the crown are black which continue to become a thin crest. The iris is yellow. The head and neck are chestnut with a dark-purplish stripe running down on the either sides of the neck. The breast is chestnut brown.
They have long toes which help him walk over floating Flora.
Mostly solitary. The level of patience displayed by a Purple Heron bird is unparalleled. It usually stands still for hours at a stretch in wait of the right opportunity to pounce on its prey which it literally Enjoys.
They lay 5-6 blue-green eggs in their reed bed nest. The incubation work is carried out by both the birds. The take 4 weeks to hatch and give rise to another fantastic Purple Heron.
The flight is slow with the neck curled to form ans S-shape and the legs outstretched.
The call is a harsh “fraaa” or “craa” ( or whatever which surely we can’t guess) croak.
The diet is the usual Heron diet – fish, molluscs, crustaceans.
(Ardea cinerea)(Adult in Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur)
Size(80-100cm): It is a pretty large and handsome wader.
(adult with crest visible)
Habitat: Lakes, ponds, jheels, marshes, river banks.
Area: All India till about 3900m in Ladakh.
(adult in Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur)
My two words: Grey heron is ash grey above with long, white neck. There is a black stripe over the eye which continues to become a large crest. The crown and underparts are all white. The iris is yellow.
(Grey Heron with its long black crest)
They are generally solitary until the breeding time.
The nests are build on high trees where 3-5 bluish green eggs are laid. Both the parents taken to incubate the eggs for about 25-30 days.
One problem is that the juveniles die during their first winter and only a few are able to survive.
(immature in Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur)
The diet mainly comprises of fish, crustaceans and other molluscs.
They are long-legged waders that are found in wetlands. The Ardeidae family with Herons also includes Bitterns and Egrets but here I am going to talk solely about Herons.
The main characteristics common in any species of Herons is that they have long legs and a long beak. They share many similarities with storks and cranes. The distinctive character that separates them from storks and cranes is that they fly with their necks drawn back instead of outstretched like it is in the case of storks and cranes.
They show very little sexual dimorphism in size as well as characters. They also have powder down which is seen in very less groups of birds. They can also curl their necks to form an S shape which they usually do during flight.
They are carnivorous and feed mainly on crustaceans, molluscs, fish and other insects. Before swallowing their prey, they usually manipulate it.
The largest member of this family is the Goliath Heron.
The other members which I am going to talk about in this section are as follows:
(pair calling at Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur)
Size(160-180cm): Widely regarded as the tallest flying bird in the world.
Area: The Sarus is more common in Northern and Central India than th Southern and Eastern.
Habitat: It generally prefers watered fields, marshes, ponds and lakes.
My two words: Sarus crane has a grey plumage with a bare red neck and head. The juvenile is brown where he adults are red. They have a narrow region of black behind their necks.
Their common foraging sites are marshes and wetlands. They are considered as the symbols of marital fidelity. If one of the bird dies, then the other is believed to starve to death.
Usually in pairs or small parties.
(Small party of Sarus near Aligarh. 4 adults with a sub-adult on the extreme left)
They breed during the monsoons. The nest is a circular island of grass and mud. Eggs are white and usually 2-3 in number. They hatch within 25-35 days of incubation.
The number of Sarus Cranes in India have decreased over the years and I fear that what happened to the Siberian Crane does not happen to our lovely Sarus (Siberian Cranes are now extinct in India. The last recording of Siberian Crane was in 2002 at Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur).