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Avian Encounters

Avian Encounters

Birds are believed to have begun evolving in the Jurassic Period. Categorised as Aves, these living descendants of the dinosaurs have been gifted with remarkable physical assets, virtually all geared for survival through the mastery of the skies. This said, virtually every land habitat is vital to birds whose beaks, claws, legs, feathers and body size not only determine what they eat, but where they live and how they procreate. The subject of poetry, art and literature, they also happen to be sought after by nature photographers and Sanctuary presents here the work of one of their most ardent followers, Raj Dhage, a resident of Wai, who travels the length and breadth of Maharashtra, following the avians that define his life’s purpose.

This Striated Heron Butorides striata, was photographed at a waterfall in Soneshwar, near Wai. Its hunting strategy involves remaining stock still, then pouncing on its hapless prey. This allowed him to use a slow shutter speed to create a magical image depicting the bird and the waterworld on which it depends.

Location: Soneshwar waterfall near Wai, Maharashtra Details: Nikon D7000, Nikon - 300 mm.; ISO-100, 2 sec, f/13 Image taken: February 02, 2013; 6:42 p.m.

The Mottled Wood Owl Strix ocellata, endemic to India, had been mobbed for a full three hours by a murder of crows near the Veer dam reservoir at Wai. Displaced from its roosting site, the owl was forced to land on the grassland, thus making this image possible.

Location: Veer Dam near Wai Details: Nikon D7100, Nikon - 300 mm.; Nikon 1.4x TC, , ISO 400, 1/3200 sec, f/5.6 Image taken: March 30, 2014; 10:39 a.m.

A Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis caught in mid-flight near a dumping ground in Panchgani, Maharashtra. Evolutionists suggest that the dinosaurs that eventually gave rise to birds, had evolved feathers, but not flight. The downward flap of theropod arm-strokes, could conceivably have helped subdue prey, together with claws that were sported by both hands and feet. Eagles such as this probably owe their strong pectoral muscles, so vital to flapping flight, to the early use of feathered extremities as threat displays, long before flight became part of their repertoire of survival. This eagle was about to land on an electric pole from where it would be offered a vantage point to spot potential prey that would include small mammals, birds and reptiles.

Location: Panchgani, Maharashtra Details: Nikon D90, Nikon - 300 mm., ISO-250, 1/800 sec, f/5.6 Image taken: November 22, 2012; 7:45 a.m.. n

The Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, also known as the European Kestrel, Eurasian Kestrel, or Old World Kestrel, is a grassland bird. This low angle was possible because the photographer lay on the grass to capture this sub-adult male that was foraging for worms. Masters of hovering flight, these efficient hunters are able to adapt their feeding strategy to take advantage of a variety of food sources including rodents, reptiles and even small birds, several of which may be killed in succession, stored in a cache and then later consumed.

Location: Veer Dam near Wai Details: Nikon D7100, Nikon - 300 mm., ISO-400, 1/6400 sec, f/4 Image taken: February 15, 2013; 4:02 p.m.

This image of Greater Flamingoes Phoenicopterus roseus and Lesser Flamingoes Phoenicopterus minor, both found in India, was nevertheless taken in Lake Nakuru, Kenya, where the sky can turn pink as thousands of the large birds take wing simultaneously. Such flocking behaviour has given rise to a sophisticated social hierarchy and is an evolutionary adaptation to counter predation threats.

Location: Lake Nukuru, Kenya Details: Nikon D7000, Nikon - 300 mm., with Nikon 1.4x TC, ISO-400, 1/2500 sec, f/5.6 Image taken: May 13, 2013; 7:15 p.m.

Why they are referred to as Common Kingfishers Alcedo atthis is anyone’s guess, given their jewel-like appearance. Observing the birds near the Soneshwar waterfall at Wai, the photographer says his subjects would dive at the very moment a fish jumped out of the water so as to capture it in mid-air! Resident in Europe, North Africa and Asia, the birds have evolved the ability to dive underwater to claim their quarry, after which powerful wing-beats propel them out of the water into the air. Some birds may actually migrate distances exceeding 3,000 km. between breeding and wintering sites. Dominant birds will chase others from favoured perches located near productive waterbodies.

Location: Soneshwar waterfall near Wai Details: Nikon D90, Nikon - 300 mm., ISO-800, 1/400 sec, f/4 Image taken: September 27, 2012; 5:18 p.m.

This Malherbe’s Golden-backed Woodpecker, or Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes guttacristatus is native to the Indian subcontinent and was captured scampering up, down and under the branches of a tree in search of insect prey. The photographer says he was actually waiting to photograph the Vernal Hanging Parrot that graces Sanctuary’s cover, when the rat-a-tat sound of pecking caught his attention. Woodpeckers are often found on fruiting trees, not only because they eat the fruit, but also because insects are attracted to such trees. The birds are often the first to arrive in relatively large numbers after a forest fire to gorge on the insects flushed from hiding.

Location: Ganeshgudi, Karnataka Details: Nikon D7100, Nikon - 300 mm.; with 1.4x TC, ISO-400, 1/400 sec, f/5.6 Image taken: February 22, 2013; 10:49 a.m.

A Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos angrily admonishes a Steppe Eagle, urging it to fly away! Raptors do not generally attack crows, yet crows and other avians often gang up on raptors of all shapes and sizes. One explanation for this evolutionary behaviour is the potential danger posed to fledglings and young birds from the birds of prey. This mobbing strategy is commonly employed by drongos, mynas and gulls too. In this case the crow caused the photographer some angst as well, since he had spent the better part of the day searching for acceptable images only to find the crow and his cohorts chasing his subject away.

Location: Panchgani, Maharashtra Details: Nikon D90, Nikon - 300 mm.; with 1.4x TC, ISO-400, 1/250 sec, f/13 Image taken: November 24, 2012; 8:29 a.m.

A Common Kingfisher watches from a safe distance as a well-camouflaged checkered keelback grabs a meal that rightfully belongs to the bird. Nature provides all species with the ability to survive thanks to evolutionary adaptations that enable them to exploit food sources in their chosen habitats. All wild creatures help maintain the health of the natural habitats that offer them sustenance. Homo sapiens is the only species that seems to consistently step out of line to waste the very resources on which his survival is dependent.

Location: Soneshwar waterfall near Wai Details: Nikon D7000, Nikon - 300 mm., ISO-1250, 1/1250 sec, f/4 Image taken: September 12, 2013; 3:44 p.m.

First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXIV No. 3, June 2014.


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Gaurav Shirodkar

June 5, 2014, 05:12 PM
 What a combination of observation, natural history knowledge, commitment and photography skills. It had been a sheer pleasure to work with Raj Dhage on this Photofeature. All the images have taken him immense observation time before taking the images that you see above, particularly the Heron on the stream in slow shutter. Great Work Raj !!!
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Anirudh Nair

June 5, 2014, 05:11 PM
 Do not miss the handsome male Vernal Hanging Parrot which graces the cover of the Sanctuary Asia June 2014 issue! The image was again clicked by Raj Dhage in Wai, Maharashtra. These canopy-dependent, true parrots move to forest parcels in the Western Ghats each monsoon to breed, and to gorge on wild fruits, nuts, nectar and blossoms. Targeted by the pet trade, the birds are doubly-threatened by commercial plantations, mines, dams and roads being gouged out of India’s Western Ghats.
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