Mr. Ferry Ossendorp, from the Netherlands. 
Pune Trip Report

The only trouble with us birdwatchers is that we try to watch birds everywhere. Whether it’s a family trip, a sightseeing visit, or even work-related travel, we try to get some birding done somewhere, no matter how little or how much.

I had the pleasure of birding with such a gentleman, Mr. Ferry Ossendorp, from the Netherlands. In Pune accompanying his spouse on her work visit, he asked if we could spend the two days he was here birdwatching, and I eagerly put together a quick plan. Through a combination of email and phone conversations, we coordinated our two-day birding session.

DAY 1:
On Tuesday (the 3 rd of December), I met Ferry at his hotel, The Ambassador, at 6.30 AM. The first site we were visiting was the Sinhagad Valley, a mosaic of teak plantations and rice paddies in the shadow of Pune’s famous Sinhagad Fort – a mere half an hour’s drive from Pune. The area is often frequented by forest birds and, in the winter, especially plays host to a variety of flycatchers. En route to Sinhagad, we took a quick stop at Khadakwasla Dam to see some aquatic birdlife. Unfortunately, due to the heavy rains in Pune this season, the reed beds on the edge of the reservoir, which are usually great habitats for a few rallids, were submerged. Since the sun was not completely up, we could not see anything apart from the closest birds, a few Indian Pond Herons and Eurasian Coots, and a Common Buzzard that was flying along the edge of the lake.

We finally reached Sinhagad Valley and took a walk inside the wooded area. Many birds were seen, and even more heard, as soon as we crossed the small stream that forms a sort of boundary to the fields. From Common Ioras and Plum-headed Parakeets to Plain and Ashy Prinias, Greenish Warbler, Yellow-throated Sparrow, and large flocks of Scaly-breasted Munias, a myriad of birds were there to welcome us.

As the sun rose higher and the day became warmer, we were hoping to see the Changeable Hawk-Eagle, a common sight in the Valley. However, luck was not on our side with this particular species However, we were lucky with several flycatchers, including Verditer, Taiga, and Red-breasted Flycatchers, and a female Indian Paradise Flycatcher. After a little bit of lamenting about not being able to see the beautiful male of the species, Lady Luck shone down on us when we reached the stream on our way out. Noticing a few busy photographers, we went a bit closer to investigate and were rewarded with a wonderful display by a male Indian Paradise Flycatcher, the dream catcher for most birders and photographers visiting Sinhagad in the winter.

We took a quick pit stop at the village on our way out for a cup of tea and proceeded back to Khadakwasla Dam to see if we would have better luck with the water birds. We managed to spot a Brahminy Kite, a somewhat uncommon raptor for the Pune area, as well as a few waterfowl in the distance. However, we failed to see any of the Cotton Pygmy Geese, definitely the cutest and most sought-after of the denizens of Khadakwasla.

We then proceeded to the Saswad region, a vast grassland on the outskirts of Pune. Being a little late in the day, however, there was not much activity of the smaller grassland birds. We managed to see Black-winged Kites and a Short-toed Snake Eagle in flight, but it seemed the other avian predators of Saswad, the Indian Eagle-Owl, Steppe Eagle, and Bonelli’s Eagle, eluded us on that day. We did have a spot of luck with spotting a few Chinkara (also known as Indian Gazelle or Bennett’s Gazelle) in the distance.

Scanning a few of the grassland patches on foot, however, we were able to get better views of some of the small birds, especially the variety of swallows flying around us. A Blue Rock Thrush stood almost waiting to welcome us at the first spot we investigated, and at the second, larger spot, we were rewarded with some very bold and very photogenic Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Larks. We also managed to spot Grey-necked Buntings in a nearby bush, but unfortunately could not get closer to photograph them.

We were even rewarded with a sighting of the Common House Martin in a mixed flock of swallows. Of course, the bird was very familiar to Ferry due to their common homeland continent, but it is an uncommon bird, bordering on rarity, for the Pune region, and a lifer for me.

With lunchtime having long been past and our tummies rumbling, we decided to move for lunch, before Ferry had to get back to Pune. Stopping at the Kanchan Restaurant on the Pune-Solapur highway, we enjoyed the delicious, if somewhat spicy, flavors of a Maharashtrian ‘thali’. It was interesting to find out that Ferry enjoyed spicy food, of course drawing the line at the famous Marathi ‘thecha’ – an accompaniment made of mashed green chilies, garlic, and onions, dressed
with lime juice.

On our drive back to Pune, we passed the time comparing birding notes of all the places we had collectively been to, including Africa, Southeast Asia, and Europe, as well as a quick discussion about what I had planned for us the next day before we reached The Ambassador.

DAY 2:
Wednesday began the same way as the previous day with me meeting Ferry at his hotel at 6.30 AM. For this day, I had restricted our birding to a single site: the Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary. There were 2 main reasons for selecting only this site: it was further away from Pune then the previous day’s locations, and I felt we could get some better-quality birding done if we concentrated on one location.

Mayureshwar is one of India’s smallest wildlife sanctuaries, created especially to protect the Chinkara (Indian Gazelle). It lies on the outskirts of Pune and is made up of a scrub habitat – a rolling grassland with small Acacia trees and bushes, and a few small ponds dotting the landscape.

On the way to Mayureshwar, we stopped at a small lake, a reservoir for the nearby villages. While we didn’t have any luck with rallids, we were rewarded by sightings of Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Indian Grey Hornbills, Marsh Sandpiper, a variety of egrets and herons, and we even got close sightings of a hunting female Shikra!

We then proceeded to Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary. While the entire sanctuary is quite easily covered by vehicles, by a network of dirt roads and paths, we decided to park the car in one place and explore the area on foot. While the grassy patches were not very rewarding at first, the trees and bushes were a different story. Large flocks of Small Minivets, a few Bay-backed Shrikes and Common Woodshrikes, and even a large number of Sykes’s Warblers. We even managed to spot a large subadult Steppe Eagle sitting in one of these small trees, waiting for the air to get warmer so it could start soaring.

We then heard a Grey Francolin calling and decided to go after it. However, on our way to the area where the calls were coming from, we were often distracted, once by a Greater Coucal (considered a good omen by locals), and once by a flock of very friendly Baya Weavers. The francolin continued to tease us with its ‘teeter-teeter call but refused to let us see it.

While we were waiting to hear the francolin call again, we noticed a flock of about 10 birds flying overhead. A look through the binoculars confirmed what I suspected: Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse!! Waiting to see where they would land, their zigzagging flight and changes in direction had us walking in every direction too! Finally, we saw them land on a bare patch of dirt some distance away and decided to move closer to them.

Creeping closer and closer, and of course, distracted by larks and pipits on the way, we were rewarded with some pretty good views of these perfectly-camouflaged terrestrial beauties. Perfectly satisfied with the sandgrouse, we decided to get back into our car and move ahead to scan another few spots.

The next spot we checked out was a little rocky patch next to a village. While scanning the landscape, we managed to spot Grey-necked Buntings again. However, in trying to follow them, they proved as elusive as the buntings from the previous day. However, we also got some Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Larks that were as bold as the ones we saw yesterday, this time a male with a small chick.

We then proceeded to a nearby watchtower so we could get a better look at the landscape. From our elevated viewpoint, we saw a few small lakes. Thinking we could have better luck with the sandgrouse there, we decided to get back in the car and proceed to the nearest one. Stopping where we would have to continue on foot to the first small lake, we were rewarded with yet another great experience: a large flock of 150+ Short-toed Larks surrounded the car and were foraging on the ground, oblivious to how close the car was to them. Once the flock was done and moved on, we got down and walked to the water.

Our plans didn’t work out as well as expected. We didn’t see our expected flock of sandgrouse stopping for a drink and, apart from some Red-wattled Lapwings and a few Rufous-tailed Larks, there weren’t that many birds around. Somewhat disappointed we started walking back to the car. However, Lady Luck shone on us again. As we were walking a flock of 7-8 Indian Coursers flew down and settled on the ground just in our path!! We steadily crept towards them and were rewarded with some very clear views, and a few blurry photos, before they decided we had gotten close enough and flew away.

Thoroughly satisfied with our day at Mayureshwar, I realized we still had some time left before we had to head back to Pune, so I suggested visiting a small wetland spot I knew on the way. Heading out of the sanctuary and back onto the highway, we stopped for lunch and then proceeded to Kavdipat, a small village near the Mutha River on the outskirts of Pune.

The flow of the river slows somewhat at the village, making it a great spot for small waders. Since it was afternoon and the sun was high, there was not much waterfowl activity on the water. However, we did have great luck with a large flock of River Terns, a variety of waders including sandpipers, stints, and plovers, a variety of ibises and egrets, and even a Booted Eagle and a Marsh Harrier flying overhead. The biggest surprise, however, were a few Yellow-wattled Lapwings in the water, a bird normally associated with dry scrub habitats and a species we had strangely missed in both the scrub areas we visited.

All in all, two days of intense birdwatching during a non-birdwatching trip was hopefully a great experience for Ferry, but was amazingly rewarding for me too!

Birds seen and heard:

  1. Grey Francolin
  2. Ruddy Shelduck
  3. Common Pochard
  4. Tufted Duck
  5. Garganey
  6. Northern Shoveler
  7. Gadwall
  8. Indian Spot-billed Duck
  9. Eurasian Teal
  10. Northern Pintail
  11. Little Swift
  12. Greater Coucal
  13. Asian Koel
  14. Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse
  15. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  16. Laughing Dove
  17. Spotted Dove
  18. Rock Dove
  19. White-breasted Waterhen
  20. Grey-headed Swamphen
  21. Eurasian Coot
  22. Little Grebe
  23. Black-winged Stilt
  24. Yellow-wattled Lapwing
  25. Red-wattled Lapwing
  26. Little Ringed Plover
  27. Ruff
  28. Temminck’s Stint
  29. Little Stint
  30. Common Sandpiper
  31. Green Sandpiper
  32. Marsh Sandpiper
  33. Wood Sandpiper
  34. Indian Courser
  35. Whiskered Tern
  36. River Tern
  37. Woolly-necked Stork
  38. Painted Stork
  39. Little Cormorant
  40. Glossy Ibis
  41. Black-headed Ibis
  42. Eurasian Spoonbill
  43. Little Egret
  44. Indian Pond Heron
  45. Eastern Cattle Egret
  46. Intermediate Egret
  47. Great Egret
  48. Grey Heron
  49. Purple Heron
  50. Black-winged Kite
  51. Crested (Oriental) Honey Buzzard
  52. Short-toed Snake Eagle
  53. Booted Eagle
  54. Steppe Eagle
  55. Shikra
  56. Western Marsh Harrier
  57. Brahminy Kite
  58. Black Kite
  59. Common Buzzard
  60. Eurasian Hoopoe
  61. Indian Grey Hornbill
  62. Indian Roller
  63. Common Kingfisher
  64. White-throated Kingfisher
  65. Green Bee-eater
  66. Common Kestrel
  67. Rose-ringed Parakeet
  68. Plum-headed Parakeet
  69. Small Minivet
  70. Common Iora
  71. Common Woodshrike
  72. Black Drongo
  73. White-spotted Fantail
  74. Indian Paradise Flycatcher
  75. Long-tailed Shrike
  76. Bay-backed Shrike
  77. Great Grey Shrike
  78. House Crow
  79. Indian Jungle Crow
  80. Cinereous Tit
  81. Rufous-tailed Lark
  82. Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark
  83. Indian Bush Lark
  84. Mongolian Short-toed Lark
  85. Sykes’s Warbler
  86. Blyth’s Reed Warbler
  87. Common Tailorbird
  88. Jungle Prinia
  89. Ashy Prinia
  90. Plain Prinia
  91. Dusky Crag Martin
  92. Wire-tailed Swallow
  93. Barn Swallow
  94. Common House Martin
  95. Red-rumped Swallow
  96. Red-vented Bulbul
  97. Red-whiskered Bulbul
  98. Greenish Warbler
  99. Indian White-eye
  100. Large Grey Babbler
  101. Jungle Babbler
  102. Rosy Starling
  103. Common Myna
  104. Jungle Myna
  105. Oriental Magpie-Robin
  106. Indian Robin
  107. Verditer Flycatcher
  108. Taiga Flycatcher
  109. Red-breasted Flycatcher
  110. Blue Rock Thrush
  111. Pied Bush Chat
  112. Siberian Stonechat
  113. Purple-rumped Sunbird
  114. Purple Sunbird
  115. Baya Weaver
  116. Indian Silverbill
  117. Scaly-breasted Munia
  118. Yellow-throated Sparrow
  119. House Sparrow
  120. Grey Wagtail
  121. Western Yellow Wagtail
  122. White-browed Wagtail
  123. White Wagtail
  124. Paddyfield Pipit
  125. Olive-backed Pipit
  126. Grey-necked Bunting