Monday, 18 May 2015

Bubo- My autobiography.

Hello, I am Bubo. I am two years old.  I have been called by many names, but I simply loved it, when I was christened Indian Eagle Owl.  A good dose of patriotism courses through my veins too. You see!!!
         A countless lore, myths and superstitions surround my family and me. We are perhaps the only birds that have captured the imagination of the humans throughout the centuries. Probably for all the wrong reasons, I wonder!!  Either we send a creepy shudder through the spine or make people open their eyes wide in wonder and marvel at our beauty and elegance.

         We live in a very beautiful rocky ravine. Our residence is made of many stone boulders on which we can lazily perch. A leisurely gurgling stream runs through our ravine and creates a mystic ambience. Gently sloping hills and a thick green forest complete my enchanting habitat. Many of our relatives live in grasslands, semi arid deserts and some even have learnt to live near human habitation.
         I prefer to laze out during the day and hunt during the night.
I’m a die-hard non-vegetarian and mice and other rodents are my most favorite delicacy. In fact, people are unaware that I am one of the best natural pest controllers, as rodents are major agricultural pests and damage a lot of crops.
         Do you know I have an ability to turn my head by 270 degrees? I bet you didn’t!!.  I have fourteen vertebrae in my neck while all other birds have  just seven!! While the neck vertebrae provide for the range of neck movement, many birds and animals would suffer traumatic arterial injuries and blood flow interruptions from such extreme motion.
We have special blood-pooling systems that collect blood to power our brains and eyes when neck movement cuts off ccirculation.      

My vision is too quite unconventional. I love my eyes, which are dark orange in colour. My eyes are extremely large and nearly touch the inside of the head. They are also completely immobile and cannot be considered true “eyeballs,” since they’re actually tube-shaped.

A large part of what makes us such effective hunters is our ability to hear exceptionally well, while remaining absolutely silent ourselves. Also the special structuring of our wings lets us fly without making a smallest amount of noise and catch the prey totally unawares.

However it pains me immensely to see that we are the most misunderstood birds. We are considered as the harbingers of ill omen and many of us are killed because of this superstition. Many forget that one of my revered ancestors serves as a vehicle for goddess Laxmi.

However the present is bringing a breath of fresh air. Humans who earlier used to shoo us or pelt us with stones are no longer the majority. Nowadays I am seeing people harmlessly watching me and marvel at my beauty. Some come armed with strange contraptions, which make a weird noise. Though I was alarmed in the beginning, I have realized that this group of people mean no harm to me. Good days are here to stay!!!!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

White-naped tit. A pride of Kutch!!

       White-naped Tit (Parus nuchalis) is a rare catch one would envisage to sight on the trip to Kutch.  As for as I was concerned, it was a 'do or die' situation. This was one of the rarities, without which I was not willing to go back. Fortunately, we were based in the village of Motivirani, adjoining the town of Nakhatrana in Kutch. Many sightings in Gujarat have come from this specific area. This is because, this bird is a dweller of a very singular and typical habitat. The typical terrain is a dense, scrub like vegetation and consists primarily of small, thorny trees. Main species are, Acacia catechu and Acacia nilotica, that shed their leaves seasonally. These trees typically do not exceed 10 metres in height. 

A typical thorny habitat      

      Endemic to the India subcontinent,the White-naped Tit occurs in two distinct and small populations. One in the northwest areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan and other in the eastern ghats in the  Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu  states. Even in the strong hold of Gujarat states it is very sparsely distributed and it is even rarer in the south. It presently qualifies as ""Vulnerable"" under IUCN red list. This tit favors acacia plants and in kutch Acacia trees are being cut at a rate of 100 per day to meet the local demand of homemade toothbrushes!!!

   For me, even a small glimpse of the bird would have been a blessing and my yearning was growing more and more with each passing moment. As I was hell bent to observe the prince of the thorny  forest,  we decided to give it an honest try and ventured out on the second day of our stay. There are many patches of thorn forests neighbhouring this place.  Though we explored these forests for three arduous hours, we just weren't fortunate that day. We couldn't see any activity and there was no calls of the species either. Then we decided to devote some serious time to this Globally threatened beauty and as such returned the next day with energy doubly recharged. The whole day was spent in the endless sequence of driving, locating a patch of scrub forest, getting down for a thorny trek and trying to percieve even a faint call of the bird. The call of this bird is very melodious, comprising of short series of thin whistles preceded by a higher pitched note. It typically moves in a small foraging group consisting of 3 to 4 individuals.

Bird in it's habitat
        Jugal Tiwariji who was guiding us that day, has done a monumental work on this species. He is also a joyful bundle of grit and enthusiasm. While we searched for this endemic beauty, we were being constantly regaled by his endless escapades of birding in Kutch. Finally, at around 3 PM, Jugal bhai became animated and gestured us to maintain silence. As we stationed ,we could hear a distinct call of this rare beauty and very soon three individuals flew into our vicinity.  They were expeditious in their movement from tree to tree and were exceedingly strenuous to capture in the frame. But it was a sensual bliss to observe these small wonders to my heart's extent.

White-naped tit
         However, the situation became tougher as we tried to take some shots. It was then that I realized why there weren't a lot of clean images of this bird. It is a very shy, agile and a rapidly moving bird and hardly accords any decent chance of shooting it. The thorny vegetation also compounds the problem of getting a clean shot. Our movements were also seriously hampered due to an omnipresent danger of getting injured by the thorns. We had to labour through a better part of four hours to record few pleasing images. I was a happy soul. At the end of the day, all the efforts, troubles and tiredness were blotted out from our memory, not to forget  a good number of thorn pricks!!!!!!!. 

©Megh Roy Choudhury.  All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without my prior written permission . 
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Monday, 5 January 2015

Greater Hoopoe Lark- A dream come true!!

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
                                                                       - Robert Frost

Greater Hoopoe Lark(Alaemon alaudipes) is one of the most coveted species for any serious birder. It is the phantom of the desert and can prove to be a very tough customer to even sight. Leading birders have had to make multiple visits to bag this beauty. This bird is found in extreme desert environments, and is capable of surviving in temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius. The Greater Hoopoe Lark is well adapted for its preferred desert conditions, and does not need to drink water to survive. During periods of intense heat, this species takes shelter in the burrows in the desert floor, in order to remain cool and prevent water lossThe population of the Greater Hoopoe Lark is of four subspecies, each of which differs slightly in size and colour, and Alaemon alaudipes doriae is what is found in India.

I sincerely never thought I stood a chance of coming across this bird, when I ventured into my Little Rann of Kutch trip. When I enquired  about this with the local guides all I got was a nod of the head and an understanding smile. They probably thought I was joking as it was my first ever trip there. I was told that I would be spending an entire safari if I wanted to see this species. Some even suggested that I better go for some other species.

However I finally made up my mind and we left at 6 30 AM. Temperatures were hovering around 3 to 4 degrees and cool gust of wind in the open safari jeep never helped the matters either. We travelled around an hour as gradually the landscape from urban area changed into a semiarid scrubland and finally into the Little Rann. Rann of Kutch is a huge salt marsh area alternating with a scrubland. It covers a gigantic area of around 10000 square kilometers. You can stand at any given point and just see an unending featureless landscape all around as far as the eyes can see. When my driver announced that we had finally arrived at our destination, I was shell shocked. In front of me was a flat dry terrain of land everywhere and not a remotest sign of life. All my hopes evaporated as I saw the mammoth task in front of me to sight and separate a small tiny being on this vast landmass. An old saying of trying to find a needle in the haystack sprung into my mind. However, this was not just a haystack and rather hay all over to the extent your eyes dared to roam around.

We slowly ventured around the desert hoping against hope that we might get lucky. As the hours dragged by, our position became more and more desolate. We even resorted to getting down from the jeep on the scorching desert floor and tried to get a ground level view. Finally I thought I saw a flicker of movement and for a moment I dismissed it as a trick desert was playing on my desperate senses. As I moved near, my heart started to flutter wildly. Then In a flash I knew finally I was about to attain my goal. As I set my sight on this avian wonder I was simply  in a trance and wonder at the amazing way in which it blended in it's habitat. The image below shows the level of camouflaging of the bird in it's habitat.

Then suddenly the bird disappeared and even with my utmost efforts I couldn't sight it. After a futile searching for around 15 min, I noticed a small speck in the vast landscape. and there it was, my elusive friend sitting very still in a small depression in the ground.

Much needed rest in a small burrow in the ground

It sat there for almost an hour as I waited patiently for it to come out. Then in a flash it was out of it's safe haven and started on a feeding frenzy. It ran continuously and relentlessly, as it digged out tiny morsels of the food available  on the desert floor. It eats mostly invertebrates such as termites, grasshoppers and snails, although it will occasionally consume seeds or even small reptiles. To break the shells of snails, the Greater Hoopoe Lark can be seen dropping them onto a hard surface from the air, or hammering them against a rock. It is typically a solitary forager, but is sometimes seen in pairs or small groups. 

I spent almost an hour with this beauty and returned back with a deep sense of bliss.I then decided that,at some future point, I would again walk on the coppery layer of The Rann and spend some endearing moment with my kind of Bird of Paradise.

©Megh Roy Choudhury.  All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without my prior written permission . 
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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Jewel of the Western Ghats - Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher

I wait!! I wait with a bated breath!!

I sit like a monk, in absolute silence, ensconced in a dream world. The sound of rain surrounds me with a harmonic drumming. Pearly droplets bounce off my skin, as sparkly and effervescent as champagne bubbles. Silver trickles of water fall and run down on the shiny leaves, before lazily cascading down to mother earth. A heavenly earthen aroma fills the air, permeating deep into my senses. A surging stream gurgles joyously over the rocks before plunging into a small gorge. The lush green of the evergreen trees completes the fairy tale ambiance. The scenario is picture perfect for my long awaited rendezvous with one of the Almighty's most breathtaking creations!!! 

As I pray for the heavenly out pour to show some mercy, the rain god relents and chords of soft light filters through the barely perceivable gaps in the dense canopy. A red and orange missile whizzes through the still air and drops anchor on a branch in front of me. For an infinitesimal moment my entire world freezes. Sitting right in front of me is the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. "The Jewel of the Western Ghats" and one of the birds I wanted to have a glimpse of, before I breathe my last !! It is without an iota of doubt, one of the most exquisite birds in the world. A rainbow would be deeply abashed to even compete with this jazzy bird. As my eyes hungrily feast on the kaleidoscopic beauty, I feel a profound sense of euphoria like never before. 

More drama is yet to unfold!! The proud parents have built up a nest on the sloping banks of the stream and have their young ones anticipating a luscious meal. Prey after prey is caught and dished out to the hatchlings, which have a truly humungous appetite. Skinks, spiders, crabs, frogs and other creatures run helter-skelter to escape the wrath of these highly proficient hunters. Periodically, like a clockwork, either of the parents arrive at the nest, always clutching the next course of the meal!! It always as a rule lands on the same perch and spends some time catching it's breath. Some acrobatic moves are on display on the branch and often it bobs it's head up and down like a Chinese doll. The next instant, it takes off and darts inside the nest. While the fledgelings devour their munchies, some heartfelt family moments are spent, some pearls of wisdom conveyed to the progeny. Then in a flurry of motion, the kingfisher flies out of the nest, relentless in the pursuit of it's next target. 

Almost as an afterthought, I start photographing these magnificent specimens of nature!! It is an utterly exhausting effort to wield a camera in such testing  circumstances. Light is almost nonexistent and rain, which can start pouring cruelly and incessantly, creates a gargantuan situation to any photographer. A poor umbrella spread over my head makes a valiant effort to keep the nature's fury in check, often failing miserably. Camera and lenses have been draped in a watertight fashion as a secondary line of defense. Unheard of ISO and shutter speeds come into play, as I strive to fashion a respectable image of this resplendent treasure. 

As I sit there underneath my makeshift accommodation and wait for the next foray of the kingfisher, I start reminiscing about my journey to this paradisiacal habitat. The awe-inspiring odyssey to this place weaves through the mystical Western Ghats, a magical land of verdant greenery. Torrential rain, innumerable waterfalls and dense green forest create an enchanting visual extravaganza. The beaten paths are encompassed by the colossal cerulean mountains, which appear to extend till the heaven. I feel I am on the top of the world as we saunter through the cloud covered soaring hills and abyssal valleys. One feels like stopping the vehicle and soak in the beauty of nature.
Western Ghats

Western Ghats. A panoramic view.

A pleasant intrusion to my dreamy reverie comes in, when the kingfisher disembarks again with a catch of a multicolored skink. Bewitched as ever, I go on a clicking spree. My eyes can't get enough of this tiny soul, which keeps me spellbound again and again. Two captivating, gleeful days in this cradle of nature just fly by. The whole escapade makes me blissfully buoyant and supremely confident as I come through some of the most grueling conditions known to man. The realization that I have successfully accomplished the photographic documentation of this elusive bird also fills me with fathomless joy. I thank God one more time for inculcating in me, this love for nature and the passion for the wild. Wholly content and sated I head home,  these unforgettable moments indelibly etched into my memory.

The location ::

 Chiplun, a tiny hamlet situated deep in the heart of the Konkan, is around 240 kms from Pune.  Nishikant Tambe [fondly known as Nandu] is a true conservationist at heart. To him ODKF is the prime priority and it is treated like a royalty. Any compromises which can harm the bird are not at all tolerated. Nests are not disturbed at any cost and a strict code of does and don'ts are conveyed to every photographer. Nominal amount collected by him wouldn't even cover the cost of two days of home stay and the delicious food served by his family members. You always end up admiring his intense fondness and dedication towards ODKF, which appear to relish the attention showered on it and is  thriving in large numbers. I'm sincerely happy that these birds ultimately have found a safe haven in this tiny spot amidst the widely spread Western Ghats.

©Megh Roy Choudhury.  All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without my prior written permission . 
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Saturday, 1 November 2014

Call of the Crested Bunting

Every birder has a wish list or a "must-see in a lifetime" list. 
Crested bunting is one bird which has caught my fancy and remained high on my list. This beautiful bird has it's famous abode at Sinhgad Fort, which is around 30 kms from Pune. It is imperative that you go to Sinhgad on a weekday, as it is a very scenic destination and hence is crowded during the weekends.

Call of the Crested Bunting Male

I don’t get good sleep whenever I know I will be birding the next morning. 
I’m simply too excited. With the plans in place and all gears packed, I left my place at 5 30 AM. As we sped past a sleeping Pune city, Khadakvasla dam with it’s breathtaking and scenic beauty, beckoned us. As we drove through the meandering path along this huge water body, I just couldn't help but fill myself with breaths of pure and pristine air. Soon we could see the azure hills in front of us with the tops capped with soaring clouds. As Pune had received a fair bit of monsoon rains, the entire surrounding was densely carpeted with green.

The drive up the Sinhgad ghat is simply an enchanting one and it is worth visiting this place for the ecstatic drive itself. As we climbed up, musical chirping and tweeting of birds gradually replaced the silence of the dawn. We could hear the Red-vented Bulbuls and Sunbirds calling,  which created a mesmerizing ambiance. The winding roads and the panoramic beauty was simply breathtaking and nature’s wondrous gifts were in abundant display. As we ascended higher, we could listen the mellifluous call of the Malabar Whistling Thrush.

We parked our vehicle in the parking lot on the top of Sinhgad and started climbing the steps of the fort.  Immediately after fifty steps or so, my heart skipped a beat, when I heard a call, which I desperately wanted to hear that day. It sure was the signature species of Sinhgad, the Crested Bunting (Melophus lathami). As the copper and black beauty whizzed past, I simply couldn’t control my exhilaration.  
Crested Bunting male

When I could sight it for the first time, I was enthralled by it’s sheer beauty and elegance. The next few hours passed by as though they were fleeting seconds. I spent them in the lovely company of the charismatic male and the gorgeous female Crested Buntings. Call of the male Crested Bunting is very soothing and melodious. Due to a lot of human activity on the hills, these birds are very bold. Sometime they came so close to me that I had to resist the temptation to hold and cuddle them. 

Crested Bunting Female

This ethereal experience provoked a profound thought in me. Often one feels spellbound by the way these amazing jewels are sculpted by nature. Normally the birds are wary of human presence and fly away if we try to approach them. Here these birds were oblivious of the surrounding and were roaming around with gay abandon. It resulted in a very unique and golden opportunity to observe their wonderful plumage from a very close quarters. I left the place contented to see these feathered beauties accept human presence and wished for a peaceful co-existence.

©Megh Roy Choudhury.  All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without my prior written permission . 
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Friday, 31 October 2014

Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary Pune

I know not where the white road runs, nor what the blue hills are;
But a man can have the sun for a friend, and for his guide a star;
And there's no end of voyaging when once the voice is heard,
For the rivers call, and the roads call, and oh! the Call of the Bird!


Yes, this very call of the birds made me decide to venture into a scrub land habitat in Pune. My birding friends came up with a suggestion to visit  Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, a little known avian paradise about 70 Kms east of Pune on the Solapur Highway. 

 Little did I know that this deciduous forest, interspersed with grasslands, would unveil a world of 'dream come true' with its varied biodiversity. For many years this was a barren land devoid of any vegetation. Systematic plantations were then undertaken by the forest department. Many trees and various types of grasses were sown. It has now metamorphosed into an excellent scrub land due to excellent vegetation cover and enrichment of biomass.
Showing a cold shoulder to the iring eyes of the murky sky, we left Pune at 6 AM and reached the sanctuary at around 7 AM. After making an entry in the forest office we made our move towards the sanctuary. No wonder it sprung a lovely surprise at the very outset itself. We sighted a group of Indian Thick-knees [Burhinus (oedicnemus) indicus], which were reposing in their typical monk like posture. My eyes struggled to paint them in their utmost grace with my lens but so exemplary was their camouflage that I took some time before I could finally accomplish my mission. As it was drizzling a bit and the shining face of heaven was yet to show up, these feathered beauties just refused to budge. 
My happiness knew no bound once I photographed the Thick-knees with the back drop of the vivid and verdant grassland. 
Indian Thick-knee
Wonderful trails throughout the sanctuary allure one to  just drive through and do watching and photography from the car. There are also three watch towers scattered around which provide a sublime view of the sanctuary. The landscape shifts seamlessly between a forest and a grassland. You can always expect a surprise lurking around every corner you turn and every new trail you follow.

There is a very healthy population of Chinkaras [Indian Gazelle, Gazella bennettii] in the sanctuary. These are the smallest of all Asiatic antelopes. Though these are known to be very shy animals, they appear very bold and are not perturbed due to the Homo sapiens. This is exactly the place if you want to sip in their beauty from a convenient distance. We espied their playful behaviour and two of them even obliged us by putting up a fight. We even sighted an Indian Fox, which rapidly darted across the road and disappeared. Other species commonly seen here include Indian Grey Wolf, Striped Hyena and occasionally Blackbucks.
Chinkara Male
The sanctuary provides an excellent opportunity to sight and photograph birds of scrub land habitat like Indian Courser, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Indian Bushlark, Sykes's Lark and Rufous-tailed lark. Common Hoopoe, Bay-backed Shrike, Southern Grey Shrike and Eurasian Collared Doves. Other sightings included Jacobin Cuckoo, Blue Rock Thrush and Lesser Whitethroat.
Sykes's Lark
Eurasian Collared Dove
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse Male
Indian Eagle Owl
However,the royal resident of the sanctuary is 
the majestic Indian Eagle Owl 
[Bubo bengalensis]. How is the trip complete without paying a visit to His Royal Highness. It is a magnificent bird and is a sight to revere to see it elegantly perched on a tree. When it took off, I was simply captivated by it's lazy but mighty flight. The reverberating sound of it's flight and the colors hidden in it's wings will go down as some of the best memories mother nature has bestowed on me. Other raptors that blessed us with their charms were the Pallid Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier and Common Kestrel. Peregrine Falcon and Red-necked Falcon are sometimes sighted in the terrain.
Orphean Warbler Male
Every trip has one defining moment, the moment which you will forever fondly reminisce .The sighting of the Eastern Orphean Warbler[Sylvia crassirostris], made my heartbeats go haywire. We actually were following a Grey-necked Bunting when we chanced upon it. This is a very uncommon passage migrant and winter visitor. We spotted only one male of the species, which granted us some exclusive images and instantaneously disappeared. 

White-bellied Minivet Male
Rains!!! it makes you hurry to pack and cover your gears.It makes you pray to God to let the smiling visage of the sun to peep through the haze. But of late I have realized that some of the best moments can be created even when we are in the most adverse situations. They have their own charismatic beauty and appeal. It was all the more evident when we sighted another highlight of the trip - a pair of White-bellied Minivets [pericrocotus erytropygius]. I was desirous to catch a glimpse of this species for a very long time. An image of the handsome male in the subtle drizzle, calmed my thirsty soul. 

We rounded the trip off with a sumptuous lunch at Diamond hotel near the sanctuary and went back with loads of 'close to heart' images, pleasing memories and absolute contentment. Any birding visit to Pune I feel, would be woefully incomplete without a trip to this serene creation of Nature. 

How to get there: 

Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary is actually about 70 Kms east of Pune on the Pune- Solapur Highway. After traveling about 55 KMs on the highway, turn right

(south) on to SH 62 at the village called Chaufula and then drive 15 kms to Supe or Supa, a small village that is on the edge of the Sanctuary. 
You can either drive around the side of this village until a faded sign displays the entrance or ask at the village for directions.

©Megh Roy Choudhury.  All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without my prior written permission . 

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