Day 266: Dusky Eagle-Owls

Noah explores an area rarely visited by foreigners.

September 23, 2015: Tal Chappar, India — Rakesh met Ramit and me this morning at a village called Dighal to explore the surrounding wetlands for a few hours. Dighal, which is on India’s Great Northern Plains, was completely off the birding world’s radar until Rakesh, who is from this area, began monitoring the birds here a few years ago. Local birdwatchers have since begun frequenting the place, because you can see up to 200 species here in a day, but foreigners rarely visit. One of the main reasons we included Dighal on today’s itinerary was a pair of Dusky Eagle-Owls which Rakesh has staked out roosting in a grove of eucalyptus trees, and the owls were right where he said they’d be this morning. As always, nothing can replace local knowledge!

Rakesh said he has been following four pairs of these eagle-owls over the past several years and he shared some interesting facts about them. The owls don’t build their own nest; each pair uses a Wooly-necked Stork nest during part of the year when the storks aren’t breeding. Recently, the owlets from one of the nests fell out, and Rakesh figured out a way to climb up and put them back in the tree. “I’ve become the go-to guy for all wildlife questions in more than a dozen villages,” he said. “When a jackal attacked a woman with her bullock cart, I was the one they called.”

After seeing the eagle-owls, Ramit and I bid adieu to Rakesh and continued to Tal Chappar, a grassland sanctuary several hours farther west, where we’ll spend one night. We arrived in time to go birding this afternoon with Surat Singh Poonia, the wildlife officer at Tal Chappar, who packed some other visiting birders from India and the UAE into a Jeep and drove us all around for a fast-paced tour of the sanctuary. We saw a White-browed Bushchat— a bird whose entire breeding range remains unknown— and lucked into a family of Yellow-legged Buttonquail. As the sun set this evening, the group of us watched hundreds of harriers (Marsh, Pallid, and Montague’s) swirl around their roosting site. One by one, the harriers dropped into the grass and settled in for the night.

New birds today: 17

Year list: 4452

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