After what was an intense drive through traffic and narrow streets peppered with water buffalo, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, goats, cows, dogs, and plenty of honking, we arrived at our hotel in Bharatpur. We quickly dropped off our things and hopped back on the bus to go to the Keoladeo National Park, a world heritage site and bird sanctuary. It has a large lagoon in it's center, originally put in for hunting by Maharaja, which supports about 1000,000 birds per year, ~400 species. ~300 birds are resident and the other 100 are local migrants, from within india, or full migrants, from beyond India.
It is important to note that the water levels within the lagoon have been low the last few years because of water issues with the neighboring state. In fact, the water levels are so low right now that the park only has 5% of the usual density of birds. The park is working on rerouting a river to replenish the park's water supply, but until it does, many of the migrating birds will not stop. Many birds who used to migrate here no longer can because the place from which they are migrating are no longer intact. The example given to us by a park ranger Bholu-Abrar Khan is the Siberian Crane. The last sighting of it in this park was 2001.
Many of us took Rickshaws with driver's whose expertise went far beyond driving a rickshaw. Chris' and my guide spotted Antelope, Jackals, and yellow-footed doves within the first 200 meters of the ride!
Within two hours, Ken (my fellow biologist and birdlister buddy) and I saw 49 species of birds. It was fast and furious (and stunning). Large bodies of water often do this--we saw many water fowl, notably the White Breasted Kingfisher that has a white breast, rufous head and iridescent blue wings; the painted stork with it's black outline on white wings, and pink tail feathers and yellow bill. We saw tens of these birds nesting on the treetops feeding their young.
We also saw a spotted eagle. I have only mentioned 3 of the 49. Of further note were the Peacocks and Peahens we saw silhouetted while roosting. Chris' photos are a must see for the birds:
This morning five us us went back to the sanctuary for an early morning bike ride and walk looking at landbirds with our very knowledgeable guide, Sunil Gaur.
Again, within a few hundred meters of entering the trail, we saw beautiful birds. Our first was the Sirkeer Malkohar (cuckoo family)--an often difficult to see bird--posing for us. Ken's particular favorite was the Indian Treepie (crow family) with it's multiple colors and long tail. We saw three owls: Brown Hawk Owl, Indian Scops Owl, and one who I didn't write down. The grey hornbill was particularly spectacular because it flew overhead just as we were leaving.