The plan was to set out from Noida at 7.30 am. We set out at 7.45 am, excellent by any standards. We took just 20 minutes to reach the Yamuna Biodiversity Park (YBP) as there was hardly any traffic. A note for others who go to YBP, when you see the first road sign proclaiming ‘Yamuna Biodiversity Park’ and see a bridge over the ‘nallah’ on your right, leave that one, and move ahead. Within 200-250 meters, you will see another small bridge across the ‘nallah’ and a similar road sign. This is the one you should take, and for that you need to go down the road for some distance and take a U-turn. Then go straight down the bridge and along the straight road till after about 200 meters you see YBP to your left. By the way, the first bridge takes you to the same Jagatpur area but you have to follow a very narrow and bumpy service road along the ‘nallah’ to reach the other bridge and then turn right, therefore better to take the second bridge after the U-turn.
Phew! Direction instructions over, now I can get down to the actual birding experience. Me and an office colleague Koushik had planned this trip for Saturday, but I wasn’t able to make it, so we went the next day, Sunday. When we reached YBP, Dr. A K Singh, with whom I had spoken to the previous evening, was at the gate. The first thing he said was, “Will you wait for the Big Bird Day group?”.
I literally jumped with joy as did my friend, because we had no clue that it was the Big Bird Day (the day every year, when a bird count happens all across Delhi’s main birding areas). Of course we waited, and soon met up with at least 20 birders, and amongst them a well known birder Dr. Oswal. However, at the helm of things was Dr. Faiyaz A. Khudsar, scientist in-charge of YBP. A very impressive person who quickly handed out bird-lists for YBP and started to mobilise the birding forces. He quickly and efficiently organised everyone into 3 groups. I and Koushik got attached to a group that would go through all the wooded areas, and would have three other birders and a guide from YBP, Mr. Mohan.
As we started to walk, I enthusiastically pointed out an Indian Koel hiding between the branches of a tree, and wondered who the three people with us were. Mohan, a wonderful naturalist and person, started to spot birds with great expertise, as we began our walk. A short , bespectacled slightly elderly gentleman with us, was making quite amusing remarks about the birds. He described one as wont to do a lot of make-up, especially with the lipstick. We were looking at the red-crested pochard which is found only in the YBP in the Delhi region. As I peered through the binocs I did notice that they looked like they had applied quite a bit of red lipstick.
|A Red Crested Pochard, this photo is from the|
FlevoBirdwatching site, specifically from this page -
At one point, to make some conversation, I asked one of the birders, a tall pepper haired person, if Dr. Oswal the well known birder was in the other group. He said, yes, and then he said, “There’s a famous birder amongst us too…”.
As I wondered who it was, he pointed at the short bespectacled gentleman and said, “That’s Ranjit Lal”.
I was awe-struck, I had not only seen his book on the birds of Delhi, I had read several of his beautiful fiction novels, which were centered around wildlife, birds, nature and people who loved nature. I especially liked his book ‘The small tigers of Shergarh’.
Suddenly we were doubly excited, and to add more excitement, a Zitting Cisticola came by – a lifer for me. The walk was in full swing and we had spotted upwards of 35 birds. There was an enthusiastic conversation on why a ‘Graceful Prinia’ was graceful and what was ‘oriental’ about the ‘Oriental Magpie Robin’. It was a delightful walk and at one point I demanded that Ranjit Lal allow me to take a photograph with him, and in his soft-spoken matter-of-fact way he said, “Oh okay”.
My friend Koushik was busy taking photographs, hanging back and then rushing back to the group, entering the bush and trying to get a better shot. At one point we saw a Shikra that sat on a branch and just as Koushik was about to take a photograph, it flew off, and another Shikra that we hadn’t noticed also joined it. We walked on. An hour into the walk, Koushik was trudging along wistfully beside me. I said, “Why the unhappiness?”.
“I want to take a photo of the Shikra, a good one, and I won’t leave without it…”, he said.
I wondered, till what time he would have to wait for that photo, and then forgot all about it. About half an hour later as we were walking along a slightly denser portion of the YBP, Mohan stopped us on our tracks to point at a bird sitting quietly in a small puddle of water, not five feet from the path. It was a Shikra.
Koushik had already rushed ahead and started to take photographs. Surprisingly the bird just kept sitting there calmly, as Koushik and Ranjit Lal both crept closer and closer trying to get better and better photos of the bird. At one point a lady birder with us, quipped, “Ranjit are you going to give the Shikra a hug”.
There were happy smiles all round as everyone got their fill of this beautiful bird. Koushik was beaming, someone up there had answered his prayers.
|A common site of Rose Ringed Parakeets, but what's|
uncommon is that they are a male and a female
and we can clearly see the differences between the two.
The male has a shinier green head, and
a much more distinct ring around its neck.
|Along the water body, just 2-3 feet from us sat a|
bunch of Red Avadavats, here are 3 females.
|The male Red Avadavat, which becomes|
completely red in the breeding season.
We headed back to the YBP office building, extremely happy with the two hours of birding (that was the official time allotted for the Big Bird Day birding session) we had done. As we stood around chatting about the variety of birds and other creatures in the YBP, and the fact that it hadn’t been opened to the general public, someone came by in a rush. He told Dr. Faiyaz that some workers were not being able to plant a tree, because they had found a small snake in the hole that had been dug up.
“Who is this person, who is not able to catch a small snake”, bellowed Dr. Faiyaz. I was a little surprised, and amazed by his ferocious energy and passion for all things wild and natural.
“Mohan go and catch that snake and bring it here”, he continued.
Mohan quickly took to his feet, but quicker were me, Koushik and the tall gentleman, all super eager to see how a snake would be captured.
It was a small snake, but a snake all the same. Mohan picked it up from inside the hole with unbelievable ease. The small snake was soon wound around his fingers.
“It’s a wolf snake, non-poisonous”, he said.
We crowded around it, as we walked back to the YBP office. Soon the snake was in Dr. Faiyaz’s hands. As he talked about it, the photographers clicked away merrily. My friend got some pretty nice shots.
|Tiny, but ready to strike, the Wolf snake in|
Dr. Faiyaz's hands.
|Dr. Faiyaz and the Wolf snake, taking centrestage.|
And with that we had to call it a day, and what a day it was - the surprise of the Big Bird Day, the added surprise of birding with Ranjit Lal and the final surprise of seeing a snake being caught by hand.