Backyard Birding in Sangla
Updated: Apr 29
I woke up to a gray, nondescript dawn. The sky was overcast and hazy, the hills were shrouded in mist, and the easterly portion of the horizon emitted a faint glow. Despite the gloomy lighting for photos, I still decided to go outside and look for birds. Plus, it could only get better, I thought to myself. But my area has never disappointed me, and today was no exception.
The cloudy skies had not discouraged birds from singing their morning chorus. Asian Koels, Common Tailorbirds, Common Cuckoos, Oriental Magpie-Robins, White-throated Kingfishers, Spotted Doves, Great Barbets, Blue-throated Barbets, and Oriental Turtle Doves all sang loudly. I heard the fluty “pheer-pheer-pheer” from one of the local bee-eaters, and the curt “churt” of a Chestnut-tailed Starling. The mournful “lee-lee-lee-lee-leee” call of a Gray-headed Woodpecker did not escape me either. Like the Red-billed Blue-Magpies I had seen the week before, Gray-headed Woodpeckers (and the Himalayan Black-lored Tit I saw half an hour later) are frequent enough to my area during the winter, but retreat to the hills and other wooded areas in summer to nest.
Spring migration seemed to be in full swing. I found a Taiga Flycatcher, a Thick-billed Warbler, and five Blythe’s Reed Warblers, all on their journey north. The Blythe’s Reed Warblers were particularly noisy, and a pair chased each other around calling, “Chuck, chuck, chuck!” loudly, a different sort of chuck call than Dusky Warbler. The Thick-billed Warbler was silent and shy.
“Keek-keek” shrieked a female koel as she was chased over a field by a House Crow. The crow was soon worse off than the koel, however: in his haste he had accidently flown too close to the Ashy Drongo’s favorite perch. As the crow alighted triumphantly on top of a tree, he looked up in a mixture of annoyance and dismay to see the Ashy Drongo barreling toward him. Drongos are the feistiest birds around, and I watched in satisfaction as it made several runs back and forth, harassing the crow. Every time the drongo passed the crow’s head, it would emit a an ugly-sounding hiss. No wonder even the Steppe Eagles take care not to offend the drongos.
I heard a resonant “Oop-oop-oop” call coming from a grove of trees nearby. It was the pair of Greater Coucals that had come to my area several days ago. They always seemed happy enough to sing away until I got within photographing distance, and then they would sit in silence until I would hear their calls over on the other side of the fields. How they get across between the groves of trees and bamboo is beyond me. They are large, bulky birds with all black bodies, long, thick tails, and chestnut-colored wings. An alternate name for the species for the crow pheasant if that explains anything. I followed the pair around on and off for most of the morning, but with no luck. Finally, I was able to get reasonably close to them when the pair flew out of a thick clump of bamboo, and the smaller of the two, probably the female, landed on an open perch and let me get three photos before she ducked back into cover.
Another species I’ve been chasing around is Indian Golden Orioles that lives in the area. The males are a stunning combination of black and yellow, and the females are a duller yellow with gray. The male was obviously the one that I wanted to get the photo of, but after a half hour of chasing the pair, I wasn’t too picky. When I looked up, the male was sitting in front of me, perched in perfect lighting, on an open branch. I raised my camera slowly, so as not to scare him, and looked through my viewfinder. He wasn’t there, and I looked up just in time to see his bright yellow form flying away across fields. I had to satisfy myself with a mediocre photo of a Blue-throated Barbet instead.
The highlight of the morning was the Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters. I’m very glad that the pair seems to have made this area their breeding sight. I enjoy their “pheer-pheer” calls and like to see them sailing on the winds, almost like swallows. During the afternoon they mostly hunt from treetops, which makes it hard to get good photos, but during the morning they favor lower perches. I was happy to see one land right in front of me while I was waiting for the coucals, and the bird always returned to the same perch after flying out for insects. I was able to get several photos and some video, too. After a while I was able to work closer for a better angle, but I only got a few shots before an Ashy Drongo scared it away. The drongos consider the bee-eaters a sort of rival, as they both hunt the same food with similar techniques. I hope I’ll get a better shot of the bee-eater soon that shows its blue rump and tail, but for right now I’m happy with these.