A rare find

I’d found a description of interesting geological features called welded tuff just behind the walls of Mehrangarh in Jodhpur. The simplest way to get there is to drive out to the road to Mehran fort, and take the fork away from it just before you get to the parking lot. The visitor’s center for the Rao Jodha Geological Park is well marked. A young man sat there with a ticket book. He explained the layout of the park and suggested a trail which would take us half an hour to walk. When we said that we were interested in birds as well, he livened up.

We introduced ourselves. He was Denzel, a local bird enthusiast. It turned out that we had common acquaintances. The bird-watcher’s community in India is still small enough that two degrees of separation connects most enthusiasts. Denzel told us that the area we were in was not the best for bird watching. We thanked him and left.

On our way back from the walk to Ranisar pond, we heard someone calling our names. We looked around, and found Denzel peering out from behind the thick bushes near the path. He asked “Want to see an Eurasian Scops owl?” Didn’t we? I’m always game for owls, although I didn’t know then how rare this species was in India. I found later that there is a population of this migratory owl which winters in Pakistan. Occasionally some stray briefly off course and are seen in India, although most reports (this, for example) of Otus scops in India probably confuse them with the similar Pallid Scops owl, Otus brucei.

Denzel pointed to a small gap in the foliage of a tree. The Family spotted it immediately. After some searching and fumbling, I managed to take the photo which you see above. Taking a good photo was difficult, since the gap was small and the sun lit the front of the owl. We did not hear the owl’s call, nor did it move at all, to shown other features. Denzel was very excited, and said that he’d spotted a pair here first on 22 September, and expected them to leave soon. Now, on 16 December the pair was still around (one was mobile and did not appear until we left).

We mentioned this to a group of bird enthusiasts the next day, and one of them had heard about this pair. He said that several enthusiasts from Delhi had been to Jodhpur to look at them. Vinod, whom we met later, had recorded this bird on 9 October. My photo did not remove all doubts in Mandar’s mind, but Adesh seemed persuaded. He argued, “If they have looked at this pair for months, then they must have checked and eliminated the alternatives.” That’s a good way of saying Occam;s razor. Nothing is certain, but some things become more and more likely.

After many conversations in the last week, I will mark this sighting down as a lifer, but continue to watch announcements. The long stay 500 kms away from the normal wintering ground of this pair is especially rare.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


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