The author shoots birds and reptiles in their element, at the Ranganthittu bird sanctuary.
The nesting and breeding season is over. Some of the pelican hatchlings are already sub-adults two feet tall, sporting enormous beaks, which prompted poet Ogden Nash to write, A strange bird is the pelican/its beak can hold more than its belly can/I wonder how the helican.
As our boatman rows us among the little islets on this tributary of the Cauvery near Srirangapatna, some painted storks appear agitated. I peer through my binoculars and find that the ruckus is to thwart some aggressive black crows that want stork eggs for breakfast. The crows hover above the nests. Some sit at a vantage position, ready to raid.
Pelicans support the painted storks’ noisy crusade. The warning croaks fill the air but the crows remain undaunted. Even the little pelicans’ gular pouches vibrate as they bob their heads and croak away to join the uproar.
From Srirangapatna, an eight-km ride has brought us to this idyllic spot with a sea of flapping wings — the Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary where the leafy islets appear painted in hues of white, pink, grey, black, and yellow.
The white are the egrets, the black the cormorants, the grey the pelicans and openbill storks. True to their names, the painted storks are pink, white, grey, black and have yellow legs. I can see daylight and a fellow stork through the beak of the openbill stork. Aptly named, spoonbills have elongated beaks rounded at the tip.
Night herons are cagey and quickly disappear into the thicket when our boat nears. But in the warm morning light, with shutter speed of 1/100 and ISO 400, I do manage a shot or two.
The marsh crocodiles bask in the sun upon rocks as big as their bodies. They are easy to spot and shoot, and some may need the services of a dentist. The boatman obliges moving this way and that so that we are positioned to get a good angle. The river terns have long since gone after nesting and breeding in these safe environs. We should have come in mid-February, we are told. The swallows, dumpy looking little birds, have built dozens of nests in a colony that looks like randomly placed gray clay pots on a vertical rock-face.
Very active and skittish, the swallows flap their wings rapidly, making a whirring sound. The photos would be just blurs but with some patience, I get a shot or two after they enter the nest and turn around to peer outwards.
How and where
On road from Bangalore to Mysore, look to your right at Sirangapatna for a board with water birds. Drive 8 km to the car park of Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary. Walk 1 km to the embankment, where you can hire boats. There is no accommodation here, but a modest chai shop has drinks and dry snacks. We stayed at the Mayura Riverside Cottages in Srirangapatna (Rs. 2000 for A/C room for two). Reservations can be made at the KSTDC head office Kanojia Bhavan, Race Course Road, or their office on St. Mark’s Road in Bangalore.
Also visit Tipu Sultan’s tomb at Daria Daulat Bagh Palace in Srirangapatna.
This article has been corrected for an editing error.