Most people visit Agra for the city’s rich legacy and heritage. But for a nature lover like me, my trip to Agra will always remain synonymous with the best birding experience I ever had. I also happen to run an online birders group which often meets up and goes for expeditions and discover new and exotic species of avifauna. So this February, some of the group members from Delhi decided to visit the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. It was the perfect season to spot some of the most exclusive migratory birds who stay around the area till the end of March before the summer sets in. Being an avid birder, I readily joined them. Many of you might not know that the sanctuary is now called the Keoladeo National Park and is the next best treasure of Agra after the Taj Mahal. It is the largest avian reserve in India and of the biggest in the subcontinent area.
After some online hunt, we found Savaari Car Rentals, who had bigger cars for our group of seven people and were quite reasonable in their rates. We availed a cheap AC car rental in Delhi for the journey and headed on our expedition on a fine February morning. Well-equipped with cameras, binoculars, and food supplies. It took us less than two hours to reach.
It was a two-day trip so we had to stay back. We booked ourselves at the Bharatpur Forest Lodge, which was not luxurious but cozy and convenient. The retreat was right inside the sanctuary, a couple of miles from the main safari zone. The forest department also offered a Jeep safari and Elephant safari. But since we wanted to catch the birds in action, we avoided the noisy vehicles and cumbersome elephants and chose to explore on foot.
About the sanctuary
I always do my research ahead before a trip so I know what to find in which part of the sanctuary. It is said that Bharatpur has more than 230 species of resident and migratory birds like open bill, painted stork, egret, cranes, grey herons, rosy pelicans, and more. Some of them fly down all the way from the colder latitudes of Siberia, Mongolia, Central Asia, and northern Europe. They live in the warmer Indian tropics throughout the winter and head back home when the temperatures start to rise again in April-May. However, over the years, the population of these migrators has reduced considerably, thanks to deforestation and lack of water in the region.
A day with birds
After we settled in at the lodge, we packed our birding gear and headed on the forest trail. We kept the car with us to places where we couldn’t walk or for touring around. We found a concrete road that ran throughout the sanctuary. This road was for jeep safaris and private cars like ours. The birding trails branched out on either side of the road. We divided our group, and the one that I was in took a path that passed through marshy lands and water pockets. This was where the water birds could be found. It was still early in the morning and the forests were quiet. With my binoculars, I spotted a group of painted storks wading through the reeds and feeding on the silt. They were the biggest family of birds in Bharatpur. Further ahead, after a 15-minute walk, we reached a big water pond where herons and moorhens were strutting around the muddy banks. On a nearby tree, a bunch of Kingfishers of myriad colors lay in wait for their prey.
Another few miles ahead the marshland ended and led into deeper interiors of the forests. Here I saw a peacock and a peahen dancing around in circles. I guessed it was their ‘spring dance’- something birds do to woo their mates. It was a unique and interesting thing to watch. There were also pintails and darters perched on the high branches of the trees. Once we heard their call, I would steady myself and position my binoculars. One could sit and watch these feathered beauties for hours and observe their behavior, hunting style, and how they protect themselves. I always find something to learn from this section of the animal society and from every birding trip I take home some important lesson.
To all my fellow bird-lovers, here are few tips from us for a great tour of Bharatpur:
• Stay closes to the sanctuary, so you can cut down on travel time and costs. Also, there are chances of finding birds around the retreats without having to explore much.
• If you want to do a safari, the better option is to take the Elephant safari, since vehicle sounds can distract the birds. Also, keep your mobile phones off.
• For reliable service and a convenient journey, book any of Savaari’s Delhi to Agra cabs.