Kolkata is full of little gems which visitors don’t quite know about. My friend, the Sun King, has always been a very good photographer, and has recently turned to bird watching. He invited me to visit the Chintamani Kar Bird Sanctuary early in the morning day before yesterday. It is named after the noted sculptor who led a movement to turn an old abandoned orchard into a protected area. This sanctuary dates from 1982.
We left soon after sunrise. It was cloudy and there was an unseasonal drizzle as I stepped out on the road to wait for the Sun King’s chariot. It took about half an hour to reach the gates of the sanctuary (photo alongside). Tickets were Rs. 50 each. As soon as we stepped in the drizzle turned into rain. We stowed our gear in bags and waited under a large tree to wait the rain out. The gloomy light was less than ideal for photography, and I was taken aback at the dense vegetation. I’m not good at spotting; I usually leave that to The Family, and this was almost my first birding trip without her. Moreover, there was almost no bird activity because of the rain.
Eventually the moisture-heavy clouds passed. We took out our cameras and started walking again. The overgrown paths clearly once belonged to a garden: small ornamental plants had escaped their borders. In many spots wilds plants had taken over. Large trees loomed over the undergrowth. Birds are patient. Even after we had started walking, they were still in hiding, making sure that they would not be caught out in another shower. The Sun King declares that he was going to take macro shots. He took out his macro lenses, and a ring flash which made me go green with envy.
There was a lot of material for macros and close-ups. The warm and moist surroundings encouraged the growth of fungi and mold. Some of them were enormous. There were mushrooms poking out from the litter of tree leaves on the ground. We saw huge dark bracket fungi growing on tree-trunks. I spotted a bank of fungi growing on a high branch of a tree (photo above).
Eventually the sun came out, and it became very warm immediately. Around the paths there were vines twisting around each other: the strands of braided ropes that they formed were strong and sturdy bridges spanning trees. Fallen leaves rotted in wonderful colours. In early March only a couple of plants were in flower. Many trees had orchids growing on them. Right now the orchid leaves were mostly dry (photo above). I would love to be back during the season when they flower.
We saw many spiders. These are active creatures: continually scurrying around. In the bad light I could not get a good picture. It was also easy to spot damselflies. As for mosquitos, swarms of them found us. It is hard to keep a steady hand while these bloodsuckers are hanging on to them and poking through your skin. Neither of us had remembered to bring mosquito repellant. We saw a few butterflies after the sum came out. A bushbrown posed for us very obligingly in a spray of buds (photo above).
The birds started becoming active as we left. A greater coucal fluttered away into the undergrowth. Herons flew far overhead. Bands of babblers began quarrelling. Parakeets screeched in the canopy. A couple of fantails flitted inside a bush, not giving us a sighting long enough for identification. There was a bright blue flash of a kingfisher’s plumage. There were several black-headed orioles. It was time to leave, and we had barely seen a sixth of the bird list posted at the entrance. We need to go back, better prepared.