Raganathittu Bird Sanctuary is famous not only for its multitude of water fowl – but also for its bats. It has a huge population of flying foxes, Dracula-esque beasts that fly around eerily in the sky but are really just red fluffy adorable things. (I LIKE BATS, OK.)
When at Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, we got scarily close to this appropriately-named mugger crocodile. Believe it or not, its open mouth was not a gesture of defiance or defense but rather the position it was in the entire time. These crocodiles tend to be frighteningly still for long periods, before a sudden flash of movement signals their descent into the water or their attack. Trust me, you don’t want to be on the wrong end of those teeth.
So yesterday I gave a TED talk. But that isn’t what I’m talking about now. Wait till Sunday.
What I’m going to talk about now is something completely unrelated: kingfishers.
It’s probably pretty obvious by now I freaking love them. Big ones. Ones that don’t fit the standard definition (or color range). Heck, even watching them is enough for me.
So when a flash of blue appeared in front of us in an isolated islet in Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, I was… a little bit disbelieving. Especially considering the white-throated kingfisher that had just made an appearance literally fifteen meters away. This was… too good to be true.
But it was true. True enough that the lighting was so bad + my hands shaking so much from the excitement only one photograph actually turned out semidecent, with its head actually facing us. One word: gem. Seriously, is it even legal for birds to be that beautiful?
No. No is the answer. And considering how it manages to be so pretty while simultaneously being so awesome (fish. RIVERS. BEAKS.), I think it’s pretty deserving of the title ‘king’. (Though queen would have worked too. Ah well.)
Pied kingfishers, while not as sexually dimorphic as the butterfly I posted day before yesterday, are nevertheless distinugishable. While the color scheme – done in the creative shades of black, black, white, and white – does not offer any clue, looking at their chests is the vital key. Males have an unbroken double black band covering their manly breast, whereas females – as you can see above – are unbroken.
We spotted this kingfisher in Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Karnataka. It was my mother’s goal: after seeing its picture in the bird guides provided, she had set her heart on it. While I had seen one previously in Kenya, it had been a brief sighting. The boatman was fairly confident he could find it. I was skeptical. Every time we asked where it was, he said, “Just around the corner! Behind, behind!”
We smiled and nodded. Of course. How could we have been so stupid.
Finally, ‘just around the corner’ arrived and there was no kingfisher. We made a pass along the bank, and were just turning away when a black-and-white chattering object flew out of a small dip in the bushes. We all groaned and cursed ourselves: how could we have been so stupid, we asked. How.
It had settled itself neatly on a branch. Quite fine, only the branch was almost three quarters of a kilometer away. We started to paddle away, disappointed.
And then it came back.
Birds always surprise.
On our recent trip to Coorg, we stopped at a place known as Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary on the way back. Which was amazing. We saw so many new birds that even now I’ve not gotten over it.
This bird in particular was the first one I’ve seen in its genus. It’s the Indian River Tern, otherwise known as 40 centimetres of pure awesome.
It’s found only in freshwater – i.e., rivers – unlike most terns of its genus. So it’s an outlier. It breeds in sandbanks in rivers. Being pretty lazy, it scrapes a small hollow in the ground and lays its eggs, rather than going for the full nest-hog most birds trouble with. Outlier and efficient.
Plus, it also looks like something out of a Mickey Mouse cartoon. What’s not to love?
But there’s a but. Here, it’s the fact pollution is driving it out of its habitat and that it’s currently listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. The population in India forms the majority of its worldwide range, which is estimated at 50,000-100,000 individuals.
This bird is just one of those 50 to a 100 thousand individuals. But hopefully it will charm the hearts of birdwatchers for many years to come.