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My Odyssey in Odisha and Magical Mangalajodi


Chakra

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Chakra

Once I read about a place where one sat on a little canoe, floating in knee deep water in silence, watching the sunset, while all of a sudden the sky got covered by a cloud. Not real cloud but a flock of thousands of Godwits flying together.  Sounds interesting ?

I like watching mass movements. My social media friends know of my repeated failure to watch a Starling murmuration and then my excitement when I eventually saw one. Just mesmerising. So once I came to know of this place there was no way I was going to let the opportunity pass.

Welcome to my Magical Mangalajodi.

Chilka or Chilika in Odisha is probably the largest brackish water lagoon in Asia. Well known to nature lovers. In my childhood on my way to travel to Puri temple from Calcutta, one of the highlights was to watch the vast lagoon from the moving train. It has always attracted migratory birds and other creatures like dolphins etc. 
Much less known is the little hamlet of Mangalajodi, tucked in the North East corner of Chilka, surrounded by marshy reed beds, numerous temporary fresh water channels and salty lagoons . For millennia migratory birds have been using this rich wetland as their favourite wintering ground along with a number of residents.

Gradually human habitations started encroaching and the bane of an ever increasing human population which haunts Indian wildlife, stated taking its toll on the wetlands. I'm not trying to act "holier than thou" and I totally understand that when a man is desperate to provide two square meals for his family, then a duck is a piece of meat and not a thing of beauty. Just the way millions of Amur Falcons in Nagaland were easily trapped because of their predictable behaviour so here also bird poaching became a regular phenomenon. In winter months practically all the fishermen turned into poaching and selling meat, sometimes earning almost ten times of what they'd earn in summer months. The situation was dire, bird numbers were dwindling rapidly, the place looked doomed.

Then in 1997 came a visionary man named Sri Nanda Kishore Bhujbal. He was a local man and he could see the destruction of habitat and killing of birds werenot going to benefit anyone in the long run. Bhujbal set on an impossible mission : to change the mind-set of local people to get them into conservation rather than poaching.  I don't have to spell it out here how difficult his task was. Gradually he managed to motivate a handful of locals and formed a small organisation : "Mahavir Pakshi Suraksha Samiti ( Mahavir Avian Protection Society). Lord Mahavir was one of the most important prophets of Jainism, contemporary to Lord Buddha and he preached against the needless cruelty of Hinduism.
These people started patrolling and risked their lives. They had many skirmishes with local fishermen and in fact it is still going on. Happened in front of my own eyes, I'll come to that later.  Bhujbal sought help from the fledgling Birding societies of India in 1990s and gradually hard core Indian birders became aware of this place.  Villagers started seeing the economic benefits of taking tourists out to show birds rather than killing birds to sell meat. With lots of persuasion, cajoling, education camps, more and more villagers started taking real interest in eco-tourism.  Wildlife Odisha, which is an NGO started promoting Bhujbal's efforts and in 2012 Mangalajodi won an award of "Earth Hero" sponsored by Royal Bank of Scotland.  With the award came much needed money and awareness and after couple of years they became Runners Up in India for Biodiversity Challenge.

But still far far away from becoming  an eco-tourism hotspot and I had never heard of this place at that time.

Social media like Facebook has many pitfalls but it is undoubtedly a platform where one can find like minded people. In 2014 I came across an article written by Panchmi Manoo Ukil, well respected conservationist and a legendary birder from Odisha, which was published in Sanctuary Asia , the most read nature magazine in India with thousands of followers in Facebook.  That article titled "Magic of Mangalajodi" immediately put the place in the target list of many hard core birders and non-birders like me. Something akin to the Nat Geo article on Quetzals of Monteverde of Costa Rica.  

Birding is spreading like wildfire in India and this easily accessible place became a magnet soon. As usual the lethargic Government took some time to take note. This is supposedly a RAMSAR site but in India who gives a D*** about RAMSAR ? There was little infrastructure, roads were muddy, one "resort" and couple of Homestays : that's all.  But now Odisha government has  realised its potential and they are building a twenty bedded Forest Rest House, a proper bus terminus and widening the approach road.

Currently Mangalajodi is like what Bharatpur in Rajasthan used to be twenty years back till unrestricted development ruined that place.

The accommodation options are limited.  Either the Ecotourism cottage or Godwit Eco cottage. I opted for Godwit as the manger was prompt and friendly. The room was not very clean, the pillow had stains, TV was broken, hot water ran out quickly, but what it lacked in facilities it made up in warmth and opportunities.  The freshly caught fish curry was delicious.  I loved my interaction with the staff.  About 80 % of the guests were my fellow Bengalis. And the Bengalis have only one thing in their mind, whether at home or travelling : FOOD !!  The staff were happy to meet one Bengali Babu who was not pestering them for cups of tea every hour or complained loudly about the quality of rice and lack of spices in the fish curry.  

The story of Mangalajodi is nothing short of miraculous.  Go there now while it still remains pristine.

Each boat ride of 3 -4 hours costs 800-900 rupees ( about 10 pounds). Guide gets 200, boatman gets 200, the society gets 200 and the owner of the boat gets 200. I'm telling you this is the cheapest and the best value bird watching I've ever done.  All the guides are ex-poachers. I can't praise highly enough my guide Shri Sanatan Behra, who was a guide par excellence. Knew all the English names, had an excellent sense of good light for photography and was willing to go the extra mile. He has never been to any school but because of the need to speak to tourists he had taken private tuition to learn some basic English.  A genuine Earth Hero. S
Sanatan took part in this year's bird census in January which estimated 893,300 birds of 147 different species. Mid December to mid- January is the best time to go, as when I was there some channels have already started drying up and birds have started returning to their summer homes.

Let me tell you something. I kept in touch with Debjit from Kila Dalijoda and he recently told me that he had unearthed a similar wetland very close to his residence which can rival Mangalajodi. He is also facing the similar obstacles in changing the mindset but I am hugely optimistic about his efforts and if he is successful then that'd be another jewel in the crown of India.

Enough words , now time for some photos. 

"When all at once I saw a crowd... "" 

 

Godwits and Godwits and more Godwits ... 

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Sun sets over the Godwits 

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One swallow does not make a summer I know, but how about eighteen swallows ? 

 

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I'll return with more. 

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"So, Dad, I hear you are leaving mum behind and going on a lone trip to India again", asked my budding lawyer daughter in her interrogatory voice, "Tell me where are you off to this time, huh ? "

Before I go into the actual report I just wanted to show how my India has changed over the last forty years and unless the government do some thing drastic it is going to suffocate the country. Not al

And here comes some birds at long last  One of the advantages of staying at Kila Dalijoda was to have a host who himself was a keen birder. I'm no birding expert, have an interest only, but I've

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Chakra

I like birds but I also like the sun, the moon, the sky and everything that Mother Earth offers me.  I was privileged to be at Mangalajodi on the World Wetlands day.

 

Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

 

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Sadly fishing is still ongoing although putting up nets is illegal 

 

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Heart of the habitat : the reed bed 

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Early morning activity 

 

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Guide par excellence Shri Sanatan Behra. He did not ask for a single rupee tip. My smile says it all. Government had given him a bird guidebook and a pair of cheap binoculars last year in recognition of his work. Thanks my friend.

 

 

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xelas

Indeed, Magical Mangalajodi portraited with magical photography and magical storytelling!!

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Galana

To use a much hackneyed and overused phrase. Awesome!

I have just put India back on my list for the third time.

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Chakra
On ‎23‎/‎04‎/‎2018 at 11:08 PM, Galana said:

To use a much hackneyed and overused phrase. Awesome!

I have just put India back on my list for the third time.

PM Modi is going to thank me for being instrumental in boosting India's foreign currency reserve. :D

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Galana
2 hours ago, Chakra said:

PM Modi is going to thank me for being instrumental in boosting India's foreign currency reserve. :D

As indeed he should. I don't think I am alone.

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Chakra

I've always been fascinated with Ibis, a bird shrouded in mysticism, steeped in mythology and I like nothing more than mythology and occult.
The "Sacred Ibis" was probably the only bird mummified by the Egyptians in reverence. Ibis was represented as the great god Thoth, the god who created the hieroglyphics, the god of knowledge and wisdom and most importantly the god of Mathematics, a very important knowledge for prosperity.
Mathematics was never my forte and in the curved slender beak of the Ibis I can see the stick held by my most respected maths teacher Mrityunjoy Sir and hear his voice,

" Come here , useless idiot. You couldn't even solve the simple equation of 4sin X - 3 = 0".

I was not blessed by Thoth and that stick will follow inevitably !! Perhaps I should have had an Ibis photo in my pocket in my school days instead of praying to Goddess Saraswati.
Thoth also was the most powerful in the underworld giving Ibis an occult aura. The Ibis heralded the life giving floods of Nile. Egyptians also liked Ibis as it ate the snails which carried the dreaded schistosomiasis parasites. The Crescent Moon, an important symbol in many civilisation was also represented by the curved bill of the ibis.
Sadly the "Sacred Ibis" has now become extinct. Isn't it odd that in the pursuit of knowledge and prosperity the mankind had killed off the God of knowledge and prosperity !!
Miami has "Sebastian" the Ibis as its mascot. The Ibis was chosen for its bravery. It's the last creature to take shelter when a hurricane approaches and the first one to reappear. And I suggest you read the story "Scarlet Ibis" : a classic American gothic horror story where the boy died with its shirt stained in blood looking like the red Scarlett ibis which had died just before him.
I was watching a Black Headed Ibis, when all of a sudden it stood up tall and erect and started beating its wings. I never knew its skin underneath the white wings had red patches.
For a fraction of second it stood like an Angel spreading its wings. But with its black glossy head, razor sharp bill and the Blood-Red spots it did not look like Archangel Gabriel but somehow it reminded me of Lucifer : The Fallen Angel, the prince of Darkness.
The Ibis is a superb hunter and in no time Lucifer started raining death and destruction to all the fish and frogs of Mangalajodi.
Thankfully there was another variety of Ibis : the glossy one with its iridescent feathers and one of them gave me a proper salute as my canoe floated past it.
When one types "Ibis" into Google the first thing which comes up as auto suggestion is sadly not Ibis the Bird but Ibis The Hotel chain !
Thoth must be wondering where did he go wrong !

 

The Black Headed Guardian 

 

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And his crescentic razor sharp bill 

 

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Gottchha !! 

 

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The Dark Angel

 

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An Ibis with a Bad Hair Day 

 

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Attention !!!! Guard of Honour for me 

 

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Iridescence 

 

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Long legs !!

 

 

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xelas

These are just awesome photos of Ibises ... and what a lesson on history and ancient gods !!!

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Chakra

I am a bit partial towards ducks. No, not roasted Peking duck on my plate but the moving ones.
Why so ? Is it because of their calls and my profession ? I'm definitely not a quack ! I have certificates to prove. 
Is it because "duck" was often the number of runs I scored in my cricket playing days in school ?

No, but because of their places in the stories of humankind from time immemorial. From stories told by Lord Buddha to Ugly Duckling to Donald Duck.

And I'm a sucker for a good story.

So when guide par excellence Sanatan Behera said, " Sir, do you know why male and female Ruddy Shell ducks never stay together at night ? ", then I did not dishearten him by saying that was scientifically proven to be wrong.

Ruddy shell ducks are one of my most favourite ducks. Believe me these are no sitting ducks ! They actually fly over the mighty Himalayas to come and spend the winter with us. They are the symbols of Conjugate Fidelity in many cultures. Partners for life, no cheating !
The myth goes that they were two human lovers who disturbed the meditation of a sage by their lovey-dovey acts.
The sage got very angry with them ( what an idiot) and cursed them that they would turn into Ducks but they would never be able to stay together in night and do what lovers do in the night.
Modern studies have shown that Ruddy Shell Ducks give a one finger salute to the sage and spend the night in each other's cosy company, but that doesn’t sound so sad and romantic.
These Ruddy shell ducks , known as "Chakravak" in Hindu mythology are the ultimate lovers. Lord Buddha loved to adorn his stories with animals and birds. "Chakravak" plays a very important role in Buddhism where according to the legend, Buddha himself designed the Wheel of Life with two Chakravaks near the beginning. They represented mortal love, lust and the sense of incompleteness. To achieve Nirvana one had to go beyond the Chakravaks.
So went Sanatan reciting a tale from the epic Mahabharat : " When the evil demon king Ravan kidnapped Ma Sita and flew away on his private jet, some animals did see her crying and begging them to tell her hubby Ram ji about her plight.  When clueless Ram Ji was looking for his kidnapped wife, he asked many animals about Sita's whereabouts. Some told him the truth but out of fear of Ravan, the Chakravak couple lied and said they had never seen a damsel in distress. Ram ji later found the truth and he cursed them never to be together at night anymore."
Interesting addition to my already bursting collection.


Anyway, enough stories.
Mangalajodi is indeed a duck paradise. Thank God, the Red Army from China have not arrived yet with Soy sauce, otherwise not one duck will be left. In February I was a little late to arrive at the party but it was still going on in full swing with everyone having a go at "mooning."
And they all greeted me by saying, "Quack Quack !"

 

"Never seen a girl like you before" : 

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A typical scene. Pintails' Batchelor party. I believe in December there are more ducks than blades of grass. 

 

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Four Musketeers

 

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Mooning !!! 

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Effortless take off like a Dreamliner and perfect flying machine 

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Spot billed duck : a resident who gets along well with the illegal immigrants 

 

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I was looking for a bigger comb but I guess with my thinning hair this much will do ! 

 

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" Angel" Duck 

 

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Northern Shoveler 

 

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And of course the sun is always there for me.

 

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Botswanadreams

@Chakra Thanks so much for your beautiful pics and the stories behind. It's always fun to read your posts. And of course we can learn a lot of your spiritual world.  

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Galana

Excellent stuff and very entertaining to read.

Ducks, especially Shelducks, are said to mate for life so maybe there is some basis for the Mythology?

Indeed, jumping continents, Egyptian Geese (Alopochen aegyptiacus) are often called "Love ducks" due to the pairing habit.

Beautiful photographs. The final solo Pintail is a worthy competition winner.

Is there perhaps a connection between your Forum name and your love of Shelducks?

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Chakra
12 hours ago, Botswanadreams said:

@Chakra Thanks so much for your beautiful pics and the stories behind. It's always fun to read your posts. And of course we can learn a lot of your spiritual world.  

I'm honoured. My spiritual world :o:o  I'm planning to open a Tantric Yoga resort at Black Forest soon. You are welcome :D

 

10 hours ago, Galana said:

Excellent stuff and very entertaining to read.

Ducks, especially Shelducks, are said to mate for life so maybe there is some basis for the Mythology?

Indeed, jumping continents, Egyptian Geese (Alopochen aegyptiacus) are often called "Love ducks" due to the pairing habit.

Beautiful photographs. The final solo Pintail is a worthy competition winner.

Is there perhaps a connection between your Forum name and your love of Shelducks?

A very interesting observation indeed, which I had completely missed ! The screen name is an abbreviation of my given name but I like the connection you suggested. 

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Chakra

Ok, now time for some random shots. 

Let's focus on purple herons first. I had seen a stunning shot in Sanctuary Asia Facebook page of a purple heron trying to eat a water snake and the snake fighting back by wrapping itself around the heron's beak. I was really hoping to capture something similar but no luck. There were professional photographers  who had literally parked their boats next to purple herons in hunting mode  hoping to catch some action. But I did not have so much time, I was there for only four boat rides. So although I did spend some time watching the big hunters but I had to move on after ten/fifteen minutes. But even then I did catch some action. Sanatan was mortified that he missed the key moments of a fight between two herons. That'd have been a really good shot but after his genuine profuse apology I could not criticise him as it was not easy to predict. 

 

In full hunting mode 

 

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Dinner is served 

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Struggling to swallow 

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Take it out again 

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Use gravity 

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Yes, it has slipped down 

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Perfect take off and then airborne 

 

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Gentle Landing 

 

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Purple heron fight 

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Chakra

After herons , now it's time for some egret action.

I did get my snake and bird shots though, but a little too late to arrive ( the snake was dead) and the bird was genuinely struggling to eat the snake. It was an intermediate egret and a water snake. 

 

Standing tall, scanning the horizon 

 

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I'd love to have that fish fry

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A big fat black noodle 

 

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I did not get good shots but it was a fierce fight. Both trying to out-jump each other 

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Galana

Excellent action shots.

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Chakra

Birds, birds and more birds... . 

 

DSC_3818.thumb.jpg.84b3a518c52009d4e92018b371678017.jpg  Whiskered Tern has spotted a fish 

 

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The hunting party 

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Long legs, slender neck, perfectly lined up : what a beauty 

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I am going to come down upon you like a ton of brick 

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Bittern ?

 

DSC_3457.thumb.jpg.0c0686c3931f842cdad9c7392774a510.jpg

 

pacific golden plover 

DSC_3499.thumb.jpg.af337ff9d9c6b733db07aa192b3ec7d0.jpg

 

Red wattle Lapwing 

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Stint ?

 

DSC_3529.thumb.jpg.9aff22d8f815c112efd53cf7ce7a1ef8.jpg

 

Spotted Redshank I believe 

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Another bittern ? 

 

DSC_3635.thumb.jpg.466d884ea54c0ea558061038276f82d8.jpg

 

Ruddy Breasted crake ?

 

DSC_3611.thumb.jpg.6aa59bea165a975d13580490739dc062.jpg

 

Chilka Chicken : swamp hen

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Open bill 

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DSC_3866.thumb.jpg.d854745d19b1f4d3a68f56919e20746a.jpg

 

Sandpiper ?

 

DSC_3858dsc_3858.thumb.jpg.ffa4f2771554b948858303d00db66517.jpg

 

Cormorant 

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Yellow wagtail 

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Chilka chicken with lunch 

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More fight 

 

DSC_5191.thumb.jpg.32058a8054194569180327649d6f1958.jpgDSC_5192.thumb.jpg.3e2c288eec845f094330a36025e75031.jpgDSC_5201.thumb.jpg.20b389c9e798a55551a3be8660c9a0a8.jpg

 

? pond heron

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Ruff I believe 

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Pheasant tailed jacana 

 

DSC_4177.thumb.jpg.57748e07450fcd68bfc22b2e0621b168.jpg

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Galana

Steady on old chap! Hard to keep up. Some excellent records there. We might make a birder of you yet despite your protestations.:D

To deal with your ?? (and, er, accidental miss calls:huh:) in the order they appear...

Bittern? Is actually our good friend the ubiquitous Indian Pond Heron.

Stint? Yes! But which one?  Temminck's. See leg colour.

Spotted Redshank?  Nope. Terek Sandpiper.

Another Bittern? Not literally as the first one wasn't but I would say that is a juv. Cinnamon Bittern.

Ruddy-breasted Crake? Correct. Nice one. You are making this place so very attractive to me.

Sandpiper? Several you could choose but this one is Wood Sandpiper.

Cormorant? Yup! The short square head makes it Little Cormorant.

No ? for your 'Yellow Wagtail' but I believe it is a juv or female "Citrine".

The rest are correct. (If you preface Pond Heron with Indian and not Chinese although the book says 'probably not separable from Indian Pond in that plumage'. So who really knows apart from the PH him/herself?

Phew! The clock says it is that time of day and I have a lemon to slice!

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Kitsafari
On 22/04/2018 at 11:12 PM, Chakra said:

@Kitsafari. Thanks friend and I'm genuinely pleased to hear that my rambling has generated some curiosity in your mind. So what's stopping you ? Book the plane tickets to India tonight :P

 

A challenge from @Chakra  One that I can meet!

 

I already have. Booked for december to Rajasthan. :) I certainly hope I can see it through your eyes. 

Edited by Kitsafari
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Chakra

@Galana O Master Yoda : Young Skywalker has a long way to go. :rolleyes:

@Kitsafari excellent news. I wish you a sensory feast in Rajasthan. 

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Chakra

Just a few more of our feathery friends and that's it for Magical Mangalajodi. I honestly cannot recommend this place enough, not only for the richness of biodiversity but a huge salute to the conservation effort. I still have some hopes for India. 

 

DSC_4501a.thumb.jpg.2b2a7bdbc0676faa087dfd6a2669765c.jpg Our ubiquitous Pond heron? 

 

Looks pretty big to me. Greater Cormorant? 

DSC_4680.thumb.jpg.48046d5c0a151a00c3b06bdb8888acce.jpg

 

DSC_4591.thumb.jpg.18aa8f74b1dbbf01e303af1833b0dfb1.jpgI was trying to pass this one as Wilson's plover !!! But then saw the tail
I'd love to return to see them in breeding plumage.

 

 

 

This one has completely flummoxed me. Is it a crake ? 

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Beautiful Bronze wings shimmering 

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DSC_4532.thumb.jpg.c86d055aae34e63019ae39e112522a0d.jpg

 

DSC_4554.thumb.jpg.cdb9fa67ae0bb94a2c12b3dd98d782aa.jpg Lovely shining backside as well 

 

 

 

Reed warbler 

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Black winged stilt 

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Godwit Eco cottage was basic but adequate. Yes, the cleanliness will not pass my wife's scrutiny but I just looked the other way. Nice staff and delicious food. Surrounded by greenery. 

 

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Murals on the wall depicting the life of Lord Krishna 

 

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Fried Bitter Gourd 

5ae5a76d63c63_IMG_20180202_1304230912.thumb.jpg.140aa160a6cb2509d41ac2aa87d2f59e.jpg

 

Freshly caught fish 

5ae5a7ba68949_IMG_20180202_1304054312.thumb.jpg.6328ddd79c2f29a03e65724790b83f8e.jpg

 

 

My room 

IMG_20180201_133957006.thumb.jpg.6970b0cee670c963344c8aab03867a74.jpg

 

Bucket is the best option 

IMG_20180201_134025203.thumb.jpg.96ca20f8d01628e3688bd3dddfeda0b4.jpg

 

Small hot water geyser 

IMG_20180201_134033332.thumb.jpg.f675d3b8f06002c5d44c681a67bc5dbc.jpg

 IMG_20180201_134049942.thumb.jpg.dafb2f2ab18930883e5d0fd9a5926e19.jpg

IMG_20180201_134010182.thumb.jpg.a39d36570df2da80abc33d8062ef37c2.jpg

 I hope these were just sweat stains on my pillow 

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Adios Mangalajodi !!!! 

 

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DSC_4381.jpg

Edited by Chakra
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Galana

I don't mind the conditions of Godwit Eco Cottage (as long as the pillow stains are eco friendly!!) and the bathroom electrics not frayed.

To your birds, some of which are quite taxing and I am more than happy for others to share their views.

I feel your Pond Heron is actually a female Cinnamon Bittern.. Not enough streaks for juv Pond Heron or Striated Heron and there is a hint of the brown cap of f Bittern.

The rhomboid head and forehead 'stop' tells me this is another Little Cormorant.

2 hours ago, Chakra said:

This one has completely flummoxed me. Is it a crake ? 

I am not surprised. It is a Crake and using the Holmes' methodology we can rule out:- Slaty-legged, Brown, Ruddy-breasted and Black-tailed straight away.

That leaves Little, Spotted and Baillon's. Spotted is 'unrecorded in East India but I was sorely tempted to ignore the book at first.

Of the remaining two, Little, despite being bigger than Baillon's, gets binned on probability and length of primaries among other things so that leaves Baillon's Crake.

The bill is green/grey and the undertail barring extends further to the legs, wings are shorter than Little and the back has white flecks. Juv. Baillon's Crake.

The only other mystery bird in your collection is the Reed Warbler which for various reasons I think is Blythe's Reed Warbler.

 

Looking forward to the next part of your odyssey.

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xelas

A fantastic set of fantastic bird shots, @Chakra! It looks like the Sigma (??) worked well for you this time. 

And who needs to invest in bird books when there is Master Yoda (= @Galana ) to help us all ;). BTW we might be also enchanted by your India stories ...

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Chakra

"Mr and Mrs Iyer" is one of the very few recent movies from Bollywood which is worth watching. Not the usual song and dance routine which you go to see in the hall leaving your cerebral cortex at home. While surviving a bloody riot ( which sadly is becoming more frequent) between Hindus and Muslims of eastern India ,when a young Hindu housewife Mrs Iyer and a Muslim photographer Raja Chowdhury protected each other, initially reluctantly, pretending to be husband and wife, a friendship gradually develops between them.  At the end Mrs Iyer asks Raja, "Where are you going next ?"
"To a place called Lobangi. "
"Tell me about that."
"Well, it's situated in a gorge in Orissa, Satkosia gorge. Actually one of the deepest gorges in India. By the river Mahanadi in Odisha. Full of animals and crocodiles. I've never photographed crocodiles. I'll stay at a forest rest house at Puranakot, on the top of the hills. You can see the morning mist slowly rising from Mahanadi. "
Hmm !! Sounds interesting. If it's good for Raja then it's good enough for me.

So started my research and subsequent frustration. Satkosia means Seven ( Sat) Miles ( kosh) long. Actually it is ten miles as kosh and miles are not equal in measurements. 
My main goal was to photograph the morning mists rising from the Mahanadi, pierced by the morning sun. The best place to do that was a temporary nature camp called Tikarpada, which was put up every year in winter months on the dry riverbed. But sadly government had decided to move that camp away from the sand bar as it was falling within the core area of the Satkosia Tiger Reserve.
My research suggested the relocated tents at Tikarpada were dilapidated, dirty and the whole camp was moved to the middle of a village and the local villagers had little understanding of eco tourism.
For an intrepid traveller like me dirty tents were no obstacles. So I arranged a stay at Tikarpada nature camp for one night. But sadly the descriptions were true. Dirty was an understatement, but I could cope with that.
In the morning the peace was rudely punctured by loudspeaker playing religious songs from local Shiva temple. The "guide" conned me to pay 1200 rupees for a boat trip which lasted less than an hour and we saw couple of ducks. The villagers openly defecated by the river in the morning and I had to be careful not to include them in my pano shots and most of them who approached me for a chat, promptly started begging for ten rupees. There was no one to take me to the middle of the river at sunrise. There was a group of tourists who was more interested in drinking alcohol. The camp manager even had the cheek to sit outside my tent in the morning waiting for a tip.
I was truly upset and cursing Raja Chowdhury. 
But I was well compensated when I stayed at Satkosia Sands resort and I hugely regret not staying there for longer. This is a fantastic new venture by Odisga government and I congratulate Odisha Ecotourism for setting it up. This is a combination of couple of permanent buildings and temporary tents. 
The permanent buildings were up on the hill, but if you love nature you have got to stay in the tents which are set up every winter on the vast expanse of dried riverbed.
It's surreal to think that in a few months' time this place will be under thirty feet of water.
Ecotour Odisha has made life very easy by allowing booking through online portal only. I had a bit of trouble of booking from UK because of my useless travel agent and decided to book it directly. The online portal was clearly not built to deal with someone from UK and my foreign credit card was not accepted.
But when I contacted them directly I was very impressed with their fast response , specially from Mr Swadesh Biswal, who was always there to rescue me : my knight in shining armour. He should be made tourism minister. 
This place is a sign that eco tourism in Odisha is heading in the right direction. It's very well signposted and with Google map I had no problem in finding it.
The staff were mostly local villagers, great for the local community. They had not gone to study hotel management in a college, but they were warm, cordial, served with a smile and not one of them hovered around me looking for tips. The manager actually tried to ring me the day before to give me proper direction to the place.
My favourite was Basanta who took me for a hike in the morning and showed me a gorgeous giant squirrel. Basanta's aunty and I also had a good chat at dinner time.
What I genuinely liked was that the staff had little tolerance for some of the loud tourists and when the guys from the next tent tried to play Justin Bieber's Despacito by camp-fire, the staff quickly snuffed them off. I wish all the nature parks in India had taken similar approach and thrown the unruly tourists to Tigers. 
In Tikarpada my neighbours became louder and louder with more consumption of alcohol and the staff there encouraged that, hoping to get some free alcohol in return, but here absolutely no alcohol was allowed.
Alcohol and nature do not go hand in hand.
The tents were spacious, clean, sturdy and can easily pass off as some of the more expensive camps I've stayed in Africa. The toilet and the main tent was separated by a fence partly made of hay and I was worried that a cow or a goat might eat that up and expose my modesty. But thankfully my modesty was intact and no cow was seen in the vicinity. Solar power was more than adequate.
I think Ecotour Odisha is trying their best to strike a balance between nature lovers like me and the usual family crowd. It is difficult.
Hopefully the crowd will understand that one comes here to immerse in the sound of silence, to look up in the pitch black night sky and see the Milky way and Andromeda galaxy on the shoulder of Orion , watch the golden hue of setting sun and the silhouette of the mountains, walk in the mellow light of dusk to see the reflections of tall mountains on the mirror like still water of Mahanadi, the silence broken by the fluttering of wings of river terns and occasional splash of a big fish. Take a morning walk watching the butterflies mating and hear the shrill call of the crested eagle and then end the walk with a piping hot cup of typical Indian tea.
This is not a place to come and complain about lack of "Aloo Paratha" in the morning and fighting over omelettes. I found the food delicious.
They do provide a boat tour as well, which helped me to tick my big box of Indian skimmer, but I was saddened by the lack of enthusiasm for nature from the other boat riders.
The boatman Ananda would have been an excellent guide who spotted a fishing owl in dense foliage far far away and I was very impressed when he decided to stop the boat at a healthy distance from the Skimmer colony not to disturb the birds. My photos suffered but I liked his respect for nature.

A lone tusker came down for a drink, while twenty feet long crocs swam lazily. Ananda was genuinely happy to show someone who came to enjoy the nature, not just a box tick boat ride to see one lazy croc.
The price was very reasonable for the facilities they provided. It becomes freezing cold in the night and in the day time the inside of the tent is boiling hot. One more sweet memory of tents in Africa !! No A/C, but I'll happily give up A/C for a fishing owl. This place has huge potential and I sincerely hope it goes from strength to strength as this is the future of sustainable eco tourism in Odisha.

If you love nature photography like me you'll drool over endless opportunities here.  Sadly the blight of littering and the bane of "picnic" has not spared this pristine place. 
So my fellow Indians, give Maya of Tadoba and other tigers a break and put it in your "to-do" list for next winter.  If you go there then show your love for mother nature. Look after her. She needs it and she has nothing but unconditional love for you.
Raja Chowdhury  : thanks mate.

 

First impression is good ! 

IMG_9009.thumb.jpg.837f120ca07e8ba8cd033a2256de34a9.jpg

 

 

My very comfortable tent 

IMG_9018.thumb.jpg.a95768a01e2e241d34e6c644b895cc60.jpg

 

 

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Thankfully there was no cow in the vicinity to eat my bio curtain 

IMG_8969.thumb.jpg.4d0972bf9db4457a0055268f41f98af6.jpg

IMG_8971.thumb.jpg.58c51e4f767f786f8cdd3e33a49cf867.jpg

 

 

The two permanent buildings and the tents 

 

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Miles and miles of sandbar 

 

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His and Hers changing areas 

 

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Swimming area. Fenced for protection against crocs. I was not brave enough to try that. 

 

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Signboard in case one is not sure which way to look for the sun 

 

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IMG_9061.thumb.jpg.db6e0e011f469b20d5f3dd01267ad948.jpg

 

 

Cormorant colony across the river

DSC_6183.thumb.jpg.3f0f72f216a8236b1ec64775206a05b4.jpg

 

 

The two sides of Mother India.
A peaceful stroll on the banks of Mahanadi, listening to the call of lapwings, occasional splash of big fish breaking the mirror like still water, watching the sky turn pink : just soaking it in.  Soul cleansing.
Then I came across a large patch of sand, littered with plastic bottles, Styrofoam plates and cheap alcohol bottles : molestation of mother India in the name of picnic.
This must stop.

IMG_9064.thumb.jpg.cfa77f3ed437357cfbc2e4b13540b220.jpg

 

 

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A local tribal artist 

 

IMG_9087.thumb.jpg.0d49e5fd7e310acd6a05a4846d4fded9.jpg

 

 

 

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Galana

Welcome back Chak. So they let you out of Dartmoor?

A great collection. Shame about Tikarpada and sadly T.I.I. these days. Perhaps the drinking tourists were trying to take away the pain of the place?

Satkosia Sands on the other hand looks very tempting apart from the picnic area.

More please! I am salivating!

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Chakra
11 minutes ago, Galana said:

 So they let you out of Dartmoor? 

 

I had to be dragged out of Dartmoor !!! 

 

More please! I am salivating!

 

Hmm, let me get my Indian skimmer photos ready for you then. 

 

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