Wings meet the lens at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan

The grey clouds hung low with an early morning rain threatened to douse the meeting that lay ahead with our feathered friends. The morning chill cut through the window as we steered the Swift towards the gate of the biggest bird sanctuary of India. The sun had already spread its muffled light over the horizon.

We were equipped with a pair of binoculars, a twelve-year-old Nikon D90 with only one sensor working, attached to a 70-300 mm lens, and a hired monoscope. The excitement was palpable.

Spotted owl in a dead tree at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A spotted owlet snugly sleeping the day off within a dead tree

After parking, we headed to get the entry tickets. We found a couple of modes of transport that were on offer – cycle rickshaw, bicycle, or a horse-drawn two-wheeled carriage. In extreme cases, an electric vehicle. All chosen carefully, not to create sound and scare the birds away.

Braving the cold air, we entered the sanctuary with many tourists with one objective – to see the birds.

Entrance to the Keoladeo National Park at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
Entrance to the Keoladeo National Park

Learning about the birds, the night before by browsing books on Indian and migratory birds would be put to the ultimate test when we see the winged visitors.

Can we identify them? We headed deep into the swamps.

A singular fifteen feet wide road stretched in front of us, with trees and water bodies, on either side. It was eleven kilometers long. We hoped to cover as much of the twenty-nine square kilometers of swampy grasslands.

The pathway inside the Bharatpur National Bird Sanctuary at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
Our rickshaw chauffeur and guide waited as we hopped and walked along the road

A penetrating cry rang out and our first bird was sighted, a full-grown peacock atop an administrative building.  Rajasthan has them like you see cawing crows in Kolkata.

Peacock sitting on a building at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A majestic Indian Peacock on top of a building trying to attract every passer-by

Luckily the sun started to emerge with its golden hues dispersing the grey clouds that overcast the sky.

Bharatpur National Park sunrise at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
The streaks of gold light dispelled the gloom of the brooding clouds

We looked around and saw a tree, devoid of foliage stood over the bushes around us. Usually, these dry high branches attract birds of prey and we were able to see a big, black visitor. It was menacing and the hooked beak spoke about the power of its owner.

We ran with soft feet and aimed the camera at the blackish grey tree yonder.

An Egyptian vulture on a dry branch at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
An Egyptian vulture perched on a thick branch of a massive tree

Chirping sounds which were quite mixed surrounded us. Small undergrowth which ran all along the road, with trees and plants not more than three to four feet from the ground seemed to be the home for very small birds.

Few of them even landed on the rain-washed road.

A green bee eater among the branches at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A Green Bee Eater just landed and made plans to catch a roving insect

Suddenly, it seemed we were amidst a huge cauldron of small to medium-sized birds as the day progressed, with the rain cooling the heat off to a certain extent.

Indian Ring Necked Parakeet at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
The noisiest and naughty, a pair of Indian Ring-Necked Parakeet

Everyone looked up as we trained our lens and heard a cacophony of sound coming down entwined branches. All of them vying for attention from their mates to have a field day of their own.

We had landed right in the middle of a mating season.

Rufous Treepie on a branch at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A Rufous Treepie couple deeply engaged within the entwined branches

We had a visual treat of most boisterous to perfect calm natured birds. The variety seemed endless.

A couple of Rufous Treepie almost lost among the tree branches
southern laughing dove at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A Southern laughing Dove had a glint of sunlight in its eyes as it looks around

A light breeze brought with it, the mixed smell of flowers and we saw tiny birds, and they moved so much from leaves to the flowers, aiming and taking a shot became difficult.

Oriental Magpie Robin on a dried branch

Nevertheless, we pressed on.

oriental magpie robin at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
An Oriental Magpie Robin bounced from treetops and was static for I guess two seconds

Catching the small birds on the picture posed a huge challenge for the bulky cameras. So, we stepped back to get a better shot. Few were quite friendly and patiently stood for us.

Oriental Magpie Robin at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A Clay-colored Robin loitered on the ground with an inquisitive look

With legs apart, doing all acrobatics, we got few shots of these tiny birds. They were a whirlwind of flying.

Purple sunbird at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
Purple Sunbird sucking honey from the numerous flowers that bloomed

We moved along the road, once on the rickshaw and sometimes walking. Ears peeled to catch bird chirping.

Keoladeo National Park road at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
The road was fairly empty in the morning as the day drew on and the sun became brighter, giving more form to the large sanctuary

Birds of all shapes and started pouring in. Far away we could see the broken edges of the landmass that had got encroached by the lake water.

Brahminy starling or myna at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A full-grown Brahminy starling or myna hopped across the branches and presented itself

The birds were accustomed to the visitors and few sprinkled biscuit bits and that attracted few of them. Loads of tiny bird bumped in.

White eared bulbul at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
The biscuits brought in few White-eared bulbul and came very close to us

Not far away we saw a pair of Raven in courtship act. The black coat of its feather was glossy and they looked quite calm, given their size.

Two Raven together at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
Morsels of food attracted a pair of Raven

Camera angled up, we trundled along the asphalted road when a white-breasted water hen emerged over the algae-covered swamp water and hurriedly crossed our path.

White breasted water hen at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
The swamp around was filled with few White-breasted water hen

After about three kilometers of travel, we came across a check post where the road bifurcated. We kept our direction straight as the national park deepened.

Bharatpur national park road at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
The road inside the national park got divided into one going straight and the other turning right

The road came closer to the marshy land and we figured out that more water birds could be seen. Surprises were plenty. From a distance, all water birds look almost the same. It takes good practice and knowledge to differentiate.

The land on the left was a perfect hiding place for numerous organisms. Tree roots, branches, dead tree trunks had all formed a knot and few narrow branches shot from the water body presenting more species.

swampy land of Bharatpur sanctuary at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
Little fishes bobbed up and down and predators were more than we could think

Kingfishers were plenty and darted so quick that their prey had no chance at all. The quick movement on our part was the call of the day.

Smyrna kingfisher or White-throated kingfisher at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A Smyrna kingfisher or a White-throated kingfisher swooped in, caught a fish or an insect at a lightning speed

Kingfishers were terribly fast, its focus and attack, and catching the prey all took place within a fraction of a second. Interestingly, they came back to the same spot from where they made the dive. Very unique.

Crested Coot at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A large number of Crested Coot waddled through the undergrowth and the light flowing water
Common Coot and Moor hen gather in a pool of water, busy foraging

A large area covered with tall trees unrolled itself in front. Birds of every description swam.

Northern Pintail at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A great number of Northern pintail moved the water bodies

The western sun flashing vivid colors as the birds jostled about to stash up as much food they could grab for the night ahead.

Northern shoveler at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
Along with Pintails, the Northern Shoveler with its glistening green head stood from the crowd
Northern shoveler scouring the swamp for food morsels

We seemed to have completed our catch as far as small birds were concerned as we could see a change coming our way. About fifty meters away on either side of the road, the water body and large ground met. Few uneven mounds of algae-covered patches were distinctly visible.

As we focused hard, we saw a variety of big birds pushing through the undergrowth.

Indian Small Blue Kingfisher at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
An extremely agile Indian small Blue Kingfisher sat. It did not move a millimetre as its beak and intense eyes were all aligned on the swamp, to detect slightest of the movement

The branches had broken off at places, they had fallen at will. Grayish green plants of all descriptions grew on them. Millions of organisms thrived and attracted all these birds across the globe.

Eurasian Teal duck, Mallard, Spot Billed duck at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
We saw Mallard, Indian Spot-billed, Gadwall, and Eurasian Teal ducks bobbing up and down in the water and changing directions in their own watery world

Now came the most elegant, and big water birds. They looked beautiful, both in flight and while swimming. Riotous color could be seen everywhere.

Purple Heron at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A Purple Heron, angling its neck for a swift strike

The flatter ground gave way to undulations with pockets of water with shrubs covering. More dabbling ducks rushed into them as they shrugged off excess water with a vigorous jerk.

Bar headed geese at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
Two Bar-headed geese in the shallow water, quite social and always remained in a big bunch
A large group of Bar-headed geese scanning the swamp grass for fishes

Behind us, we heard a patting sound in the water and turned to see a big white bird with a flattened long beak wanted to dislodge perhaps snails, or small snakes.

A Eurasian Spoon-bill at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
Eurasian Spoonbill hitting the shallow swamp bed and raising its head before it struck

The watch showed high noon or perhaps a bit late. Had it been summer, we would have been toasted but being winter, it was very cool and pleasant.

Glossy Ibis, or Egyptian Ibis at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
We saw an Egyptian Ibis, also known as Glossy Ibis, searching for fishes and snails 

It was time to take a break so we descended on a nearby stone bench and ordered coffee as we were on our feet for now close to three hours and forty-five minutes.

A painted stork comes to land and immediately starts its search for food

Regaining strength, we made our journey further south into the park.

Juvenile Painted Stork at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
Two juvenile Painted Stork tried to communicate were basking in the sun

The water was made stagnant by earthen dikes which held the water for long enough for the algae and other organisms to grow.

A mother painted stork extremely busy with its chicks

The freshwater was made to rush into the low lands from the nearby Ajan Bund, Goverdhan drain and Chambal-Dholpur drinking water project.

Bronze winged jacana walking at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A bronze winged Jacana pushed through the swamp and algae knots
Almost knee deep in the swamp, a Jacana looks for snails and small fishes

We did see a few sluice gates which controlled the water flow when we were driving to the Bharatpur town.

The water present in this park will slowly dry up when the summer heat soared leaving the flora parched.

Two sarus cranes walking on the grass land at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
Two Sarus cranes elegantly walked over the grasslands far way. The sun catching the redheads
Extremely rare now a days, a pair of Saras cranes busy scanning the dry grasses for their ever quest for food

The floral diversity that we saw came from the Punjab plains biotic province of the semi-arid biogeographical zone, part of the Indus-Yamuna watershed. Large stretches of land were covered with Paspalum distichum (also known as knot grass) and Paspalum punctatum (commonly known as, dallisgrass) grasses that formed a dark green velvet texture.

Far away we spotted deer and chital along with Nilgai grazing the shrubs and littered grass covers. Too far away and indistinct for a shot.

Black winged Pied stilts walking in the water at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
Black-winged Pied Stilts always remain in pairs and darted around to catch small fishes

We pushed on to see more birds.

Black necked Stork at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A Black-necked Stork rummaging the grassland for its food. It is said that these birds are fierce eaters and can kill other birds if the fish population dwindles
With its huge beak, black-necked storks are formidable birds for the smaller birds around

Ibis could be seen flying around and few sitting high on the tall tree barren branches.

Black headed Ibis on the branches at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A Black-headed Ibis against the backdrop of the dull sky

We came to a mound that kept the water beyond at bay. A line of very striking birds with its high neck pointed at us trying to figure out what we were doing.

Lesser Whistling ducks on the grassy ledge at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A line of Lesser Whistling ducks standing tall trying to make sense of us

Unfortunately, the Siberian Cranes are not to be seen now. The last of them was seen in 2002.   Suraj Mal, the ruler who was the head of the princely state of Bharatpur made a valiant effort to create today’s national park between 1726 and 1763.

We were blessed.

Rudy Shelduck or Brahminy duck on the grassland at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A Ruddy Shelduck or popularly known as Brahminy duck kept on grooming itself on the far grassland

Plenty of birds kept pouring in from the south known as the roosting site of Harriers.

Jovy's Grey heron in a striking pose at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A Jovy’s Grey Heron in a striking pose as it homes in on a prey

A flat area with relatively calm water was seen. Trees with leaves shed off stood like skinny dancers against the grey sky. A very evil-looking bird grasped the branches. It was quite big.

Purple Swamphen kept a vigil on the food at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
Purple Swamphen ducked underneath the water at a great pace fishing out snails and fishes as it moved about

Large numbers of Purple Swamphen scudded across the swamp and was busy dabbling its feathers and beak to search food.

North Atlantic Great Cormorant atop a heavy branch at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A North Atlantic Great Cormorant perched upon a branch with its evil-looking smile

The park was seriously very big and had potentially everything to attract birds and animals of all kinds.

Swampy grasslands and lake meet at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
The swampy grassland met the lake

Few raptors or birds of prey flew low and scared the dabbling ducks away. They made a smooth arch through the air and landed on one of the many tall trees that were present.

Steppe Eagle, sitting on a high branch at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A Steppe Eagle from the Hawk family is a migratory bird from Africa and South Asia comes during the winter

A huge beehive was hanging attracting hordes of green bee-eaters. We kept a distance from it as we passed along.

Beehive hanging from a tree at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A huge beehive hanging from a branch attracted Green bee-eaters

Our eyes also caught sight of a large Gangetic softshell turtle, trying to eat the morsels left by the birds.

A Gangetic softshell Turtle moved along the lake bank at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
A large Gangetic softshell Turtle moved very slowly along the lake bank

Finally, after five hours of park tread, we thought of turning back as both physically and in spirits, we had touched the world of birds and thought of leaving the rest of the park for a second visit.

Picking up a book on birds, from the souvenir shop, we headed back to our good old Swift motor car to come back to Gurgaon.

Suzuki Swift at the parking area at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan taken by Gautam Lahiri
Tired, and excited, we made our way towards our silver Swift as she welcomed us at the parking area

I hope you enjoyed the birds that we saw along with you here. Thanking you for coming till this point. Bharatpur cannot be covered in one visit as time flies and the birds are so beautiful that you tend to gaze with no stops on the watch.

Until next time…

4 thoughts on “Wings meet the lens at Keoladeo Sanctuary, Bharatpur Rajasthan

  1. Thanks for the wonderful trip through this beautiful photography and expressive content. You made me to plan a trip to visit this awesome place and feel it Live.

    Like

  2. Didn’t know you have so much knowledge of bird species too.
    Very well written 👌

    You can visit the New Town, Kolkata marshy lands during winter to get view of migratory birds.

    Like

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