This post would have been titled Shutter Therapy in Ranganathittu - 3 (for my third visit here) had not for the fact that we visited the place unknowingly on the 12th of Nov which happened to be the 121st birthday of the Birdman of India. As I was winding up for the day by sinking my teeth into a nice masala dosa in Mandya, I got a message from a dear cousin (Thanks Rishi) reminding me of the occasion. So, this post would fittingly be a dedication to the dapper bird man.
The cliche states the early bird gets the worm. But the poor photographer is up a lot before to get the damn birds while they have a go at their worms. A 5:30 a.m start from Bangalore is best to beat the traffic (does not always work if the route involves Mysore Road. Ahem), have breakfast and a pitstop for birds (of course) en route and be in time for the opening at 9 a.m. We found a lake as we drove through Channapatna and stopped to try our luck there. But, instead of birds, all we got was a sunrise on the other side of the lake. With a 200-500, you are kinda I'll fitted for a sunrise, foggy lake and joggers in burqas. And the position just sucked for shooting birds. "You need to get the sun behind you to make some spectacular images" they said. Yeah right. Nevertheless, we found some ducks, bitterns and a lone Brahminy kite (yay) to interest us before we were back on the road.
We arrived a little late and the sun was already beating down in all its mighty fury for a supposedly cool November. The approach roads at Ranganathittu had been fixed since our last visit and we took the less scenic view to reach the sanctuary.
I had my customary welcome again with the white-breasted kingfisher awaiting at the lotus pond and a female Koel ambling up a palm tree trying to get our ISOs warmed up. While we were making some images of the kingfisher, I spotted some movement to my right and the shape of the bill immediately had my bells ringing. It was a pair of Grey Hornbills. I am still relatively new to the birding circuit and seeing these birds for the first time got me all excited. They are not so easy to spot in the dry foliage without a 500mm, but once you do, you can click away to your heart's content as they seldom move beyond the occasional hop to a nearby branch or turn around to preen. As long as you don't come too close and you do not agitate them, they provide a great opportunity to observe and make some great photographs. They are beautiful in flight with their wings outstretched, but I was a tad too slow for that.
From there, we decided to hit the boats first thing for a change as it was not too late to blow the highlights. At the waterfront, it was a shock to not see the sea of white that would usually greet us. The resident Spot-Billed Pelicans and the Painted Storks were conspicuous with their absence. Instead, we were met with a wave of black - the Indian Cormorants. What was interesting is that the fledgling of the glossy black cormorants were a brilliant white.
Along with them, there were the Australian White Ibis, the Muggers, a Darter and one tiny Plover.
Overall, a disappointing outing on the boat. The only plus is that we paid the touristy price for the boat ride rather than the birder's price for an exclusive boat. Did I mention they have hiked the entry prices for visitors, boating and zoom lenses. A cool 500 bucks for anything upwards of 200mm!!! Any lesser, and all you can shoot are the signboards there. What were they thinking? Must have been the brainchild of some wise guy in a board meeting trying to up the earnings. For a change, I was thankful for being an Indian. I would have had to shell out five times to enter this place as a white man. Enough of the rants. Back to the birds then. Sigh.
With no birds on the lake, we had to make do with what were left hiding in the dark trees outlining the lake. Other than the trusty and bold Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, a twitchy White Throated Fantail and the elusive Asian Flycatcher, we had written off the outing as a complete washout.
So, just before winding up for the day, we paid (Rs. 2 per person) a visit to the restroom. That's when I heard the tap tap of little Woody. Again a first for me. A Flameback Woodpecker. But, this guy had a tuft of gold for a crown unlike the red crowns on the flamebacks you see in a typical Google search. My conclusion is that this guy must be a juvenile or female or a juvenile female, in which case, it was a gal. Yeah, that must be it.
A Bronzed Drango sat nearby as little Woody laboriously tapped away and helped itself to a feast of bugs. Talk about living off another. Altogether, not so disappointing in the wake of spotting the Grey Hornbills and the Flameback.
We drove out and walked a few kilometres around Ranganathittu trying to see if there any birds that had strayed outside the jurisdiction. No such luck. I won't mention the exact location lest I land myself in trouble. But I think I know where the Crocs of Ranganathittu go to when they are bored of sunning themselves up front. But apart from a ton of Bee-eaters, Munias, Swallows, a herd of cows and a group of tipsy locals who wanted to hit us and take our cameras (quiet knowledgeable chaps - they had a good ballpark estimate for a D750, D810, Nikkor 200-500 and a Sigma 150-600 put together).
Bee-Eaters and their antics. A 500mm is no match for these tiny F16s.
I heard that the 200-500 is a capable macro lens with a great working distance. Got to test this on a couple of dragon-flies for good measure. Not a 105 killer, but definitely not bad at all.
In all, an eventful day, even if it did not involve a ton of birds. A word of caution - do not plan on returning via Mysore Road on a Sunday evening if you don't like shifting between the first and second gears. More so, if you are being driven by a not so tolerant driver (Couldn't resist that jibe AT). Rounded the day with a kingfisher back home. A great birthday party indeed.