Indian Pitta

It inhabits scrub jungle, deciduous and dense evergreen forest.

Nilgiri Flycatcher

An endemic resident in the Western Ghats of southern India.

Brown-winged Kingfisher

These kingfisher species excavate their nests in a river mud bank.


Tales from the Land of Mowgli


Feeds mostly on small birds, capturing them in mid-air in rapid pursuit.

Malabar Trogon

A resident of dense tropical forests.

Malabar Pied Hornbill

This species is omnivorous, taking fruit, fish and small mammals.

Crimson-backed Sunbird

Diet of sunbirds is based mostly on nectar

Golden-breasted Fulvetta

They prefer dense undergrowth, usually dominated by bamboo forest.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Birding in Deep Seas - Pelagic

Pelagic Birding - Sunrise to Sunset...

Off the Coast of Alibaug (Thal Jetty), near Mumbai, INDIA

Nutrients are lower here on the ocean surface than in the shallow seas and life can be scarce. Hence on open ocean or pelagic, predators have to travel really fast and far to find food to survive. During dawn and dusk, the prey travel closer to the surface of the ocean, making it a little easy for predators.

A pelagic birding trip had been on our agenda for a long time. But somehow, something or the other kept coming in the way, and the trip could never be made.

Finally, the day (Date: 17th October 2015) arrived and a team of eight birders gathered on Thal Jetty, situated near Alibaug.

GPS Location 
We boarded the boat which had no roof and no railings, by 6.15am. Our plan was to visit deep seas about 20-25 nautical miles from the shores. Our route passed through Khanderi and Undheri forts.
The Birders - Avinash Bhagat, Prathamesh Desai, Kiran Kadam, Pratik Prabhu, Swapnil Kulkarni,
Himanshu Thembekar, Myself and Yash Kothiala - (Front left to Rear Right)
Just along the island we saw a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles flying. As we moved closer we did sight the nest.
White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) - By Aseem Kothiala
A little later we saw a huge flock of Steppe Gulls, focusing on them through the lens wasn't easy. Initially, found it tough to see with all the pitching and rolling, pitching and rolling.

Mixed flock - Steppe Gull (Larus barabensis) - By Aseem Kothiala
Heuglin's Gull (Larus heuglini) - By Yash Kothiala
Along the sailing route we did see a loner Hoopoe, Wagtails, small flocks of  Pipits, Barn Swallows, who could be shuttling from / to the shores or the islands we had crossed. We did sight butterflies as well.

Lesser Crested Terns, Greater Crested Terns, Caspian Terns, Heuglin's Gulls were seen often. Birds seem to recognize fishing boats and follow, waiting for fish refuse to be thrown overboard. The moment they did not notice any such activity, flew away from us.
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) - By Yash Kothiala
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) - By Aseem Kothiala
A few miles in and we could see a unfamiliar bird fly parallel to us. Quickly, the fellow birders started to watch it through their binoculars and identified it as a Artic Skua (Jaeger). It is a migrant, wintering at sea in the tropical ocean.
Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus) - Parasitic Jaeger - By Aseem Kothiala
Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus) - Parasitic Jaeger - By Aseem Kothiala
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) - By Yash Kothiala
On sighting any bird that had perched itself either on thermocol waste, log of wood, Ashwin would switch the boat engine off and let the boat sail slowly over the waves. 

Soon we saw another specimen of Artic Skua,  harassing gulls, terns forcing them to drop any food they are carrying. This is termed as "kleptoparaistism", causing the bird under attack to fly in an erratic pattern.
Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus) - Parasitic Jaeger - By Aseem Kothiala
Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus) - Parasitic Jaeger - By Yash Kothiala
Within a couple of hours, we were in deep seas and there wasn't much activity. It did not take much time for us to stretch ourselves leaning to the backpacks we were carrying. Managed to catch some sleep. The breeze on the boat was refreshing, but I knew I had to lay down at some point. Personally after that, felt better.

We were woken up, when the Wilson’s Storm-Petrel showed up. It had short broad wings and extensive white flanks and off course-feet protruding beyond tail. It was flying very low over the sea. Typically, proving "Jo sowat hai, woh khowat hai" (The one who sleeps, often loses) - Missed taking a picture!

Seabirds in general are not colorful. They exhibit: black, brown, gray, and white color patterns.
Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) - By Aseem Kothiala
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis)  - By Aseem Kothiala
By around 12.30PM, Ashwin suggested we start our journey back towards the Island. It took us around an hour and half to reach there. After a small lunch break, started moving towards the shore. Some dolphins did show up and rode the bow wave of our boat. This made it easier to see them.
Humpback dolphins - By Aseem Kothiala
Lesser Crested Tern (Thalasseus bengalensis) - By Yash Kothiala
On this typical 12 hour pelagic trip glad we were greeted with beautiful sea conditions and low winds which made for a very pleasant day on the water.

Suggestion: Do not stand on boat to get a better view of a bird. Falling on a rocking boat can be very dangerous because as you go down, the boat may come up to meet you increasing the force of the impact. If you are injured, you are several hours away from any medical help.

Don't forget sunglasses, cap with visor and sunscreen. The glare of the sun can be brutal. Personally, i prefer my Hat!

The ocean is defiantly not a garbage can. So do not throw trash overboard. Be very careful to hold onto plastic wrappers. Plastic garbage is indeed a serious problem for marine mammals and birds who mistake it for food.

Happy Birding!

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