Sunset on Bhigwan’s lake was a quiet time. Fishermen and farmers were on the way home from work. Herdsmen had brought their cattle to water for a last time in the day. Distant sounds of traffic had quietened. We’d heard calls of birds all day. That was completely gone as the light turned to gold. This was a good time for bird photography on the water. An Indian pond heron (Ardeola grayii) stopped looking for fish as soon as I’d clicked the featured photo and stalked to the hollow of the trunk and laid its head on its shoulder, preparing to sleep.
We’d been on open water most of the afternoon. Now, as we drifted close to the shore, I started noticing a completely different set of birds. There was a common redshank (Tringa totanus), its mottled and streaky feathers quite distinctive. I didn’t want the Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) in the photo, but the boat was drifting slowly and there was no quick way of getting it out of the way, except by changing focus.
There were reeds near the shore. I’d seen Garganeys (Spatula querquedula) all day, dabbling in the open waters. The white streaks on the head are quite distinctive. But none had come close enough for a photo. I took one now through the reeds. Behind it were Grey-headed swamphen (Porphyrio poliocephalus, formerly known as the Indian subspecies of Purple swamphens). I would get photos of them later.
At this time of the day, the colour of the water depends very strongly on which direction you look at. As I turned my gaze westwards I saw a Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) seated atop a mooring post sunk into the water. Behind it you can see one of the small villages dotted along the edge of the lake.
And finally, looking due west, on a sea of gold, a Brown-headed gull (Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus) had stopped its incessant daily flights, patrolling the water to keep it free of fish. Now it rested gently in the shallows. Later it would paddle closer to the shore and go to sleep on a sandbank. It was time for us to turn back too.
Science da kamaal! Posts appear automatically while I travel off net.
And she turn’d—her bosom shaken with a sudden storm of sighs— All the spirit deeply dawning in the dark of hazel eyes—
Saying, “I have hid my feelings, fearing they should do me wrong”; Saying, “Dost thou love me, cousin?” weeping, “I have loved thee long.”
Love took up the glass of Time, and turn’d it in his glowing hands; Every moment, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden sands.
Love took up the harp of Life, and smote on all the chords with might; Smote the chord of Self, that, trembling, pass’d in music out of sight.
Locksley Hall, Alfred, Lord Tennyson
In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast; In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;
In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish’d dove; In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.
Locksley Hall, Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The couple in the featured photo are Ruddy Shelducks (Tadorna ferruginea). This may be the most treacly sweet photo I have of them, but my most memorable sighting of these birds was in a Himalayan lake at an altitude of slightly more than 5 Kms above sea level. The oxygen levels are so low at that height that my brain stopped functioning, and I could not get the dust cap off my camera. They are thought to pair for life. The second photo shows a pair of Grey herons (Ardea cinerea) with the elegant long black crest feathers that they sport in spring. From their behaviour it didn’t look like they were a mated pair. I took both these photos from a boat on the backwaters of the Ujani dam near Bhigwan in Maharashtra.
A mere twenty years ago, I’d stood near Triveni Ghat in Rishikesh at dusk, enchanted by the lovely sight of diyas floated by devotees down the river on little boats made of leaves. As the twinkling flames floated into the dusk and disappeared, I watched and wished that I had a camera with me. They reminded me of a time in my childhood when the crowds were even smaller, and people sang their own hymns as they floated their offering to the river. When crowds increase you have to change your ways, but the orchestrated spectacle of the modern Ganga arti does not appeal to me.
The Family decided to join an arti arranged by the hotel. Six people joined in. I stood by the banks of the Ganga at this uncrowded spot outside the main town. Flowing water is hypnotic. I wished I’d brought a tripod with me to do some long-exposure photos of the water, but restrictions on baggage are killing. I’d happened on an interesting spot. A region of choppy flows merged into a smooth undisturbed sheet of water which broke into cascades as it passed through a series of rocks.
On a reef in the middle of the river I saw some birds. The Family had noticed them a while ago. “They haven’t moved at all for a while. They could be logs.” Photos are free; I zoomed and clicked. They were grey herons (Ardea cinerea). They remained perfectly still through the evening, as long as we were there.
The arti progressed. More diyas were lit as the evening grew darker. The two priests officiating had marvelous voices, and their hymns and chants filled up the silence. Then, with the offerings of a few petals to the river, the ceremony was over. There was still light enough in the sky to go back to the deck above the river, and have a quiet evening’s chai.
The late evening had suddenly brought tremendous colour to the forest covering the slopes across the river. We sipped our tea and watched the light fade, until mosquitos drove us indoor. It was a wonderful beginning to our holiday.
There was time when flamingos bred in the coastal flats of Gujarat and wintered around Mumbai. But like many such, some are now residents of the big city. The mud flats and tidal creeks of Mumbai are now their home. Their numbers increase with the usual winter influx. So this is a good time to take a boat through the creeks of Mumbai.
Part of Mumbai’s flamingo colony
Flamingos take off line planes: with a long run up
There’s always one going the wrong way
Flamingos with a flock of plovers
Flamingos in the backwaters of Mumbai
One greater flamingo in a crowd of lesser flamingos
Seven black shouldered kites with flamingos and a grey heron
Most of these birds are lesser flamingos. The few greater flamingos can be distinguished by the shape of their necks. The necks of lesser flamingos are like an inverted letter J, whereas the long necks of greater flamingos are in the shape of an S. Sizes and colour differences between these two species are confusing. The only other consistent difference I’ve noticed is that the lower bill of the greater flamingo is always yellow.
The rest of the colour of the flamingo comes from the crustaceans that it eats. So it is interesting to ask why the flamingos of Mumbai are less colourful than their country cousins. Could it be that these creeks are now so polluted that the crustaceans are dying out?