A crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela) sat in a branch of a tree which arched over the track our jeep was on. We stopped a distance away and examined the bird. S. cheela is widespread and not uncommon, but one always stops to pay our respect to this hunter. The black crest gives it a hooded appearance, and the streaked and spotted feathers look good in sunlight.
It was midmorning, so it must have fed already, but it was on the lookout for some tidbits. It perches on trees until it sees prey, then swoops down to pick it up. It looked at us, and decided that we were neither food nor a threat. It ignored us completely after that. Our jeep could then creep forward until we were directly below it, and I could take the odd angled photo that you see here. I’ve never seen one eating a snake, although that is their main prey. Occasionally I’ve seen one with a large lizard.
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.