Watching ducks in Ihlara valley

We had a wonderful walk through the Ihlara valley. Confusingly, the river which flows through it is the Melendiz river, and the valley is really named after a nearby town. It was a lovely spring day. The valley was full of families out for a walk. We’d climbed down some steps to look at the murals in the rock-cut church called the Ağaç Altı Kilise before starting on the walk. This is a narrow valley, with the river taking up more than half the width of the valley. Trees straggle down the slopes on either side; we’d passed almond and pistachio trees on the way down. Between the trees and the tall cliffs, the path is well-shaded.

We’d been so busy seeing all the wonderful sights that Cappadocia offers, that we’d not managed to keep much time for simple joys like this. At the end of the trek, we saw a little group of locals who were just chilling. The river bank on our side was too steep to follow their lead and dip our feet into the cold water. The Family had been keeping an informal count of the number of the number of women who cover their heads. Although most Turks are Muslim, the country’s secular constitution has allowed people personal choice in matters of religion. The clearest sign of this is the very large fraction of women who can be seen with their heads uncovered.

Although we couldn’t dip our feet into the water, I could spend some of my time watching ducklings. Elsewhere, we would meet a dedicated group of birders who had seen Dalmatian Pelicans nesting. We had no such luck. But it was pleasant to sit in the cool breeze next to the river and watch the clearest sign of spring: a melee of Mallard ducklings. The adults were in their glossy breeding plumage, but it was the chicks which caught my eye.

The chicks of the Mallard have stripes of black across the eyes, and black on the top of the head and back. I don’t know the identification of this chick. Several of these were mixed in with a bunch of Mallards. Could it be that new hatchlings do not develop black colouration till later? Idle thoughts come to a relaxed and idle mind. That’s a nice state to reach on a holiday.

Zone of silence

After lunch we set off to a part of the Keoladeo National Park which we hadn’t seen before. There were few people here in the lazy afternoon. In these flooded fields nature was also at rest. A Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) rested in the shade of a tree. A Small Blue Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) sat on a branch above it. Around them was a tremendous variety of waterfowl.

At the end of a long branch overlooking a deeper part of this water world, an Indian Darter (Anhinga melanogaster) spread out its wings to dry.

In the water nearby the spectacular Red-crested Pochards (Netta rufina) made deep dives next to some very fashionably black Common Coots (Fulica atra),

Elsewhere in the shallows flocks of Greylag Geese (Anser anser) shared space with Mallard Ducks (Anas platyrhynchos). Males of ducks are usually more colourful than females. The female is the primary caregiver for chicks, and, since ducks mostly nest on the ground, her colour is meant as camouflage.

When I zoomed out a bit I could see that this was part of a larger mixed flock. The Family probably has a record of all the waterfowl in this larger bunch, but in this photo I can easily see the distinctive white stripe down the head and neck of Northern Pintails (Anas acuta).

Zooming back even more, I could see the edge of human activity, in the form of cows wandering in to browse at the edge of the waterworld. Cows can sometimes step unwittingly on nests of birds, crushing eggs. This level of human interference is unavoidable in India. Bharatpur’s Keoladeo NP has done wonders for conservation within these human constraints.