Keoladeo National Park, a paradise also for Western Palearctic birds

White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)Is it possible to combine business and birding in India? The country is large, the distance too and most business is performed in a metropolitan area – New Delhi. Although supposedly in the area of New Delhi only 250,000 people live after the Indian census of 2011, but there are at least several million in the greater Delhi area . Nature must stand back there. Nearby , however, is Keoladeo . According to wikipedia is a national park in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Keoladeo is also known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary or Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary. The National Park is located about 50 km west of Agra near the town of Bharatpur and not too far south of the city of New Delhi, the capital of India. As a business trip to New Delhi allowed for a few days off for birding, I opted for the Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary.

From Germany first the trip went to New Delhi. I stayed in the city, had four grueling days in business meetings with constantly running air conditioning in darkened rooms and then went on a weekend to my well-deserved relaxation destination, the Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur. But before the bird’s enjoyment there are more exhausting times to cope with. Although there are only about 200 km to the Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary. But they are strenuous. At least 3 hours – rather 4 hours – you are traveling on dusty, crowded highways in almost constant traffic jam. But then you’re on your final destination: in Keoladeo, India´s paradise for water birds. It is for India which for Botswana is the Okavango and the Everglades mean for America. The local population knows Keoladeo as “Ghana” . In their language the word means “forest” or “jungle”. Keoladeo was originally the private duck hunting ground of the Maharajas of Bharatpur. In the swamps many water birds from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, China and Siberia are wintering. Supposedly over 364 bird species. The city of Bharatpur was earlier regularly inundated during the monsoon season. When work on the dike called Ajan Dam created a pond by the removal of the soil used for the dam the increase in water created the Keoladeo lake. By 1900 the Keoladeo lake was prepared as a hunting ground. The shallow lake was divided by dams. Using locks, the water level could be set at the desired level . Shooting ranges, hiding places and routes were created. Keoladeo was one of the best duck hunting areas in the world. With a changed attitude to animals and hunting the ground for the duck hunting was converted to a reserve that was established as such in 1956. The park was declared a national park in 1982.

In the monsoon season from July to September breeding season is everywhere in this vast wetland. Soon there will be everywhere to see the variety of young birds, of Ibis and Storks, Herons, Cormorants, and Purple Swamphens. But the most famous and highly expected visitor to the Keoladeo only comes when winter is forcing them out of the northern regions to southern climes. It is the rare Siberian Crane (Grus leucogeranus), whose presence has shrunk down to only six individuals. Unfortunately I have not seen him, for only a few days before our arrival, the cranes have made their way back north.
Of course I was disappointed, but the sight of many other species of birds gave an excellent off-set. I rented a boat. We moved quietly through the shallow waters and came very close to Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster) and Cormorants like Little Cormorant (Phalacrocorax niger), Indian Cormorant (Phalacrocorax fuscicollis) and Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus) and White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) and Indian Pond-Heron (Ardeola grayii) and Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) . Once we met a male Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), who jumped wildly through the swamp. But most of the time we drove by absolute silence. As the boat glided through this timeless swampland, we felt far back in a prehistoric era.

The other way to see the wildlife in Keoladeo, is to go on foot or by rickshaw to ride through the wide paths that connect the many dams on wetlands. After the first ride on a rickshaw was clear to me that this type of locomotion for photographic purposes was more suitable than driving the boat . Although I still took another boat trip, I stayed the longest time during our stay on the trails. While a knowledgeable local indian guide pedaled while watching for birds, I was looking for attractive photo opportunities. Another advantage of this type of locomotion was that I did not have to carry all my gear on the shoulders. Instead, I put my gear on the seat and so had the right equipment for every situation at hand. I saw and photographed two of the small Brahmin (or Spotted) Owlet (Athene brama), Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) that were as loud as they are colorful, a Monitor Lizard sunning on a dead tree stump and a large Indian python in the same area under bushes hiding its camouflaged nursery. Green pigeon (Treran spec.) such as the Yellow-footed Green-Pigeon (Treron phoenicoptera) and Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus) with their long, peacock -like tail feathers made me hope for many good motives on the next trip on the rickshaw. Once I had more than sixty iridescent shining Swamphens (Porphyrio porphyria) in my viewfinder. What a fantastic sight. The departure of migratory birds back to their breeding quarters had taken place already a week before my arrival. Therefore the number of bird species did not meet my expectations. But I liked the Keoladeo NP very much in spite of this. I would love to come back, but in a different season. A friend of mine who was about in the area during Christmas. He did observe Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), masses of Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia), many species of ducks (including Gadwall (Anas strepera), Wigeon (Anas penelope) , Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) , Pintail (Anas acuta), Garganey (Anas querquedula)), surprisingly many raptors like Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), Crested Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus) , Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus), Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus), Schikra (Accipiter badius), Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus), Greater Spotted Eagles (Aquila clanga), Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis), Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca), Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) and of course lots of waders such as Greater Painted-snipe (Rostratula benghalensis), Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus), Common Redshank (Tringa totanus), Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis), Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola), Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus), Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Ruff (Philo pugnax) and Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) and many other songbirds wintering ranging from Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) to the Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva) and the Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica).

As is clear from the brief description above, the best season for a visit is winter. For someone who carries himself with consideration of a visit, the case should now go out of the basement and booking should start now. The best time in winter is between November and February, when the overwintering migratory birds are in the park and it is also not so hot and humid.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic, Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the Western Palearctic. Trips to remote places or to common but far abroad places to capture images of rare birds of Western Palearctic were very successful. Nice images you find not only in the gallery but also in the “Pictures Shop”. Just give a message, if could serve you with an image needed.
If you are interested to see a report of the friend who travelled Keoladeo in wintertime and see his birdlist of not only of Western Palearctic species just leave a message in the reply – section under this blog….

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