The Family and I were new birdwatchers a decade back when we visited Patna one October. We were told that just east of the city, in a place called Danapur, one can see trees full of birds. Just the previous year The Family had bought a field guide to birds by Salim Ali, and I had bought my first digital camera. We drove out along the Khagaul-Danapur road, turned right near the Ganges, and almost immediately saw several trees full of storks. Today we know that such a group of trees is called a heronry. Year after year, generation after generation, herons and storks will come back to their heronry to breed.
We were amazed. My five-year old niece, who was with us, was stunned. I took photos. When we came back home, The Family brought out her field guide, and patiently leafed through it, with my niece at her shoulder, trying to identify the bird. It turned out to be the Asian open billed stork. This was what bird watchers call a lifer: the first sighting of a species. We never forgot that it is called "open billed" because there’s always a gap between its bills. We saw it many times later, but this was the only heronry of this species that we ever saw.
Any place in north India is full of migratory birds at this time of the year, and a forest with lakes is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Unfortunately, in Ranthambore most tourists, and every guide, spend most of their time driving around at high speed looking for tigers. As a result, you tend to miss the birds.
The Family, who is a much better birder than me, threw up her hands and refused to look at birds. I was left on my own. I’m a terrible spotter, and certainly from a speeding jeep I could not see any of the little warblers I could hear. The only small bird I saw was very distinctive, and I could later identify it as a common chiffchaff. This was a lifer. Everything else I identified was something I’d already seen before.
The one bit of birdwatching where local expertise is really helpful is in spotting owls. Typically, these nest in the same place over years. You could spend a long time looking for the nest, or ask a local. One of our guides knew where to find spotted owlets (above) and a oriental Scops owl. That was handy.
One sighting that momentarily energized The Family was of a black headed Ibis. She sat up, looked around and spotted a lump on a tree. We looked closer, and it turned out to be the woolly necked stork which you see in the photo below.
From our speeding car we saw a mass of small birds flitting above a field next to the Jaipur-Indore road. They were probably Dusky crag martins, but it was hard to be sure. In far corners of some of my photos there are two more birds: perhaps the Eurasian wigeon and the Northern pintail, but they can be barely made out. I won’t count them in the list.