This is a one off post describing a great morning spent with friends at a birding hide at the outskirts of the Karnala bird sanctuary in Maharashtra in October 2022 with the aim to see and take decent photos of the brightly coloured Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. The Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher or ODKF to birders ( Also called the three toed / black backed kingfisher), is a small but brightly coloured bird that breeds in the forests along the Konkan Coast in Maharashtra in the monsoon months of July to September. This is the best time to spot this otherwise difficult to see species as they stay within a certain radius of the nest and bring food for the hatchlings which makes for great photos.
Birding hides are one of the most controversial things in birding. While it’s true that you always get better photos at a hide, some hides attract birds by placing food which is not the natural diet of the bird and hence according to experts detrimental to the bird(Sattal, Part 1 – First time birding in the forests of the Himalayas ). Other hides like the one at the Old Magazine House keep no food but only water baths and attract a wide range of birds making it very popular with birders ( Old Magazine House , Part 2 – The Hide and the Hornbills ). Those are static hides that have not changed position for years and even decades now in case of the OMH. The hide for the ODKF is not a constant thing. Birders in the region use locals who have fields in the region to locate the nest of these birds and then build a temporary hide at a safe distance. I think it has become a symbiotic relation now, as presence of the hide might detract predators which would otherwise prey on the eggs / hatchlings and the birds seem to be used to it now.
Karnala bird sanctuary and the dense forests around it are a hotspot for breeding of the ODKF & various hides have started popping up in the fields and forests around the sanctuary which function only in the monsoon months from June end to October first week. A friend who is a much more enthusiastic birder than I was raving about a hide near Rasayani & asked me if I wanted to join in. I refused the first time as it was in the peak of the monsoon season and rains in the Konkan are not your pleasant drizzle but a downpour that is not my idea of fun. So when he mentioned that another nest had been located in early October when the rains had slowed down, I jumped at the opportunity. I asked my other friend who had travelled with us to Mangaon ( Mangaon Road trip with friends – In search of the Great Indian Hornbill ) if he was interested. He agreed and so now we were a merry trio driving to Rasayani early in the morning before dawn.
Luckily for us it was a dry morning & we had a smooth drive to Rasayani. We reached the location that the person who runs the hide had given us & soon we were joined by a few other birders who had booked a spot for that morning. The show runner soon arrived with a helper in tow and a small cavalcade of vehicles now set off towards the location of the hide on small village roads. We disembarked at a point in the forest and went down the forest towards a small stream near which the hide was built.
Pops walking through the forest to get to the hide
We reached the hide which was a bamboo and tarpaulin structure with wooden benches placed inside. We took up spots that we felt would be best for photography and set up our tripods. After that it was just a waiting game. We knew that there was a nest out of sight low down in the forest and the parents would come with food for the young ones. These birds have a habit of perching just before the nest and this habit is used by bird photographers to get photos of this otherwise very fast bird.
The 3 of us take up our spots at the hide
As we set up I noticed river crabs scurrying around near the stream. I am not a choosy photographer and we were waiting anyway, so I spent the time taking photos of these crabs scurrying on the forest floor.
Crabs of various colours and sizes near the hide
The guy who runs the hide and his son who was helping him out knew the path the birds usually take and when they would spot the bird farther away in the forest they would tell us to get ready and we would shift our focus to the perch. Soon enough this colourful little thing would land on the perch with a catch in its beak. Finally I would have decent photos of this beautiful bird.
What I didn’t realise is that I would get photos of the kingfisher with so many diverse catch in it’s beak in just one morning.The catch ranged from a small crab to a slightly larger mantis and as large as frogs and lizards. I’m sure the kids of this particular pair were well fed. In intervals of few minutes between catches to a maximum of 15-20 mins between catches it was a memorable morning.
The First catch of the morning – A plump frog
The largest catch of the morning – A gecko
A relatively smaller catch – A mantis
The catch with the most poses – A slimmer frog
The smallest catch of the day – A small crab
We didn’t realise when minutes had passed into hours. We had a smile on our face the whole time. Soon the morning gave way to early afternoon and the birds were done feeding their kids and flew away into the forest.
We ooh-ed and aah-ed looking at the photos the other had captured while eating the delicious poha and hot tea that the show runner had organised for us as a late breakfast. It was good to see that all the waste paper plates and cups were collected and taken back with us as we ascended up the slope after a satisfying morning’s birding.
The happy trio after a morning with the ODKF
We returned to our parked vehicle and returned to Mumbai. Such mornings are a great break from our professional life & when you get such great photos it becomes a cherry on top of a fully loaded sundae.
We hope to go on more such birding trips whenever opportunity arises and our profession allows us the time. But till then we will always have the great memories of our morning with the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher on that clear October morning near Karnala.
Beautiful clicks. I never knew that so many birders were there that it is profitable for the locals to set up hides
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It’s a lucrative side business… thanks for the appreciation ma’am