Wednesday, January 07, 2009

India Holiday - Wednesday 31 December – New Years Eve - Kumarakom

One interesting design feature of our hut is the tin roof. It has the effect of enhancing the noise of falling timber, fruit and seed husks, etc., that bats or trees may drop, as we discovered during the course of the night. Still, the staff at reception and at the access point to the sanctuary had advised us that morning was the best time to visit the reserve, so a 05:30 alarm it was then! We were surprised to see large groups of people (without bins) heading into the sanctuary at the same time as us, and with the light still proving faint, we decided to put a gap between them and us and walk quickly to the end of the reserve before birding our way back. We could hear a number of birds, primarily Coucals and Koels but didn’t see many. At the second security checkpoint the guard ‘befriended’ us before advising us the best birding was in fact via one of the shallow boats that his friends just up yonder could take us out on for only a few hundred rupees. At the third security checkpoint this pattern repeated itself but this time with the security guard getting shouty, so I stomped off, shouting people make birding tricky. I must admit the birding did look better out on the water itself. Anyway we struck off down the second path before deciding that in all probability they were right and that we should take a boat out onto the water. Good decision!

This furthest boat had offered an hour for 200 Rupees (less than £3), versus the 300 offered at the second checkpoint, so we clambered aboard. In a tree by the water were perched a pair of Eurasian Golden Orioles. Out on the extensive ‘beds’ of floating Water Hyacinth we got close to a Bronze-winged Jacana:

Green Bee-eaters were perched on sticks, Indian Pond Herons were abundant, we spotted a few Great White Egrets and numerous Cattle Egrets, I caught this one in flight:

A number of Gull-billed Terns were also flying relatively closely, and bathed in the early-morning light (it now being 07:30) provided good photography opportunities:

A small group of Blue-tailed Bee-eaters perched waiting for a meal to fly past:

Zooming around the boat, close enough to touch were Barn Swallows and flying past in the distance were large skeins of Little Cormorants, heading out to feed. One individual had alreayd made it out this far and was perhced on a post:

The first new species of our trip was this Pheasant-tailed Jacana, though lacking the extensive tail feathering as this is pre-breeding season:

The second new species was the Purple Swamphen:

We encountered a number of White-bellied Kingfishers and the odd Purple Heron:

The third new species turned out to be the largest so far, this Asian Open-bill, a truly distinctive bird – I gather that as the bird ages the gap in the bill closes, so this one is quite mature:

It helpfully flew a short distance, which enabled me to get a decent flight shot too:

All the while the chap was propelling us along with a single oar and pointing out birds when he saw them. We already knew the trip had been a good idea but more was to come. Another post-perched bird in the early morning swan, a more familiar bird, the Barn Swallow:

Having passed the end of the large area of Water Hyacinth the boatman steered us for shore, to disembark on the edge of a paddy field. Perched in a tree on the shoreline was a Stork-billed Kingfisher, this time close enough and stationery enough for a record shot:

In the paddy field itself there were literally hundreds of Indian Pond Herons, fifty-plus Cattle Egrets together with a group of western birdwatchers all replete with pointy technology. As we approached their vantage point the boatman pointed to a bird in a tree that he said he’d never seen before. It was an Indian Roller:

Whilst we watched this bird, a pair of Black-winged Stilts flew past and stopped briefly in the water. Perched on electric wires was a big flock of Gull-billed Terns, all pointing the same way. Closer to us a small group of Ashy Woodswallows were perched on a cable silhouetted in the light. We did see a couple of waders fly past but too fast to identify and we couldn’t pick them where they’d landed either, so we headed back to the boat. Out on the water again and in the Water Hyacinth and reeds, as well as all of the birds we’d seen on the way out we spotted a perched Common Kingfisher and a pair of Pale-billed Flowerpeckers:

And perched on posts as we headed back to our original spot, a Brown-headed Gull, this time close enough to photograph:

By the time we got back to land our hour long trip had lasted nearly ninety minutes. We got dropped off at the top of the reserve again so we could walk back through it, and photographed both a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo:

and another female Asian Koel, remarkably patterened and plumaged birds:

As we approach our hotel we could see four Darters flying out over the lake but too far to photograph.

We were hoping for massala cheese on toast for brunch, but came across another Indian peculiarity – restaurants that are only open for strict meal-times and menus that don’t reflect reality! So a quiet wait for lunchtime on the balcony of the room ensued. After a hearty lunch and a healthy nap (well it was an early start) we waited in vain for another boatman who’d agreed to pick us up for an evening/sunset ride along the lake shore. After a while, it was clear he wasn’t coming so we decided to have a quick mooch around the grounds of our resort and were very surprised by what we saw which included Black-headed and Eurasian Orioles, plus a new species – White-rumped Munia:

Other now ‘regular’ birds included a White-cheeked Barbet, an Oriental Magpie Robin:

a Black-rumped Flameback:

Bronzed and Great Racket-tailed Drongos and a Purple-rumped Sunbird. A less frequently seen (certainly for the last few days) bird was this Red-vented Bulbul:

and a female Asian Paradise Flycatcher:

Followed by a second new species an Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, another bird that is thought to no longer be in this region, based on our field guide, so another interesting spot:

Having had a good bird on campus we resolved to do the same tomorrow, and assuming a reasonable night’s sleep to go on a backwater cruise tomorrow morning. We sat down on the veranda of our stilt-raised cabin to watch the sunset and the last of the birds head off to roost:

As the skies thinned of birds the number of bats exploded. The first hungry few landed on the surrounding fruit trees almost as soon as the sun had set, and are huge fruit bats (which no doubt explains the fruit stones being thrown noisily at our tin roof in the middle of the night!). We were over-flown by a couple, furry mammals with wings, soon joined by much smaller and faster cousins zooming around and over the cabin. Down below preparations for the evening DJ are advanced.....time for a beer, or two – Happy New Year!

The first band was a Hindi combo playing instruments into microphones, then the DJ gave us 20 minutes hard-core rave before the next live band played soft end-of-evening smooch music with the DJ butting in between tracks with teasers of his rave music. Having chased off the wholly inappropriate band the DJ then resorted to pap to fill the dance floor until around 10:30 then he switched to banging hard core again. So much so that various party boats from across the lake were attracted in, causing a security alert as they headed for the resort, banging drums and following the flashing lights and dance music, madness :)

A pause for security to be resolved, then more banging hard-core, top DJ!! Unfortunately, this didn’t go down well with the families with young children, and the other Westerners (of which there should have been plenty) were nowhere to be seen...... shame they missed a treat.

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