Great Lake & Great Birds

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It is close to 11 am. February weather is just pleasant. We park our car at one side of the Great Ana Sagar lake of Ajmer, in Rajasthan. This part of lake side is known at Chowpaaty. Chowpaaty is, these days, synonymous with line-up of scores of vendors of fast food. Probably the vendors come in the afternoon, when the crowd visits the lake  – I can see the road side and part of the pathway is oily, and surrounding show signs of being used to place dishes.

Access to pathway is about 50 metres from where we park, and first thing, even before the Ana Sagar, we come face to face is a massive signage ‘I❤AJMER’. Ek photo to banta hai.

Yes, Ana Sagar is huge. I have seen a similar lake in Indore few months back. In fact, many towns have such lakes. A random thought come to my mind – the Sagar may be a century old? Later I learn, this is a historical site, not 1 but almost 9 century old – It has been ‘built by Arnoraja (alias Ana), the grandfather of Prithviraj Chauhan, in 1135 -1150 AD. Baradaris (pavilions) were built by Shahjahan in 1637 and later Daulat Bagh Gardens by Jehangir.’

Our main reason of coming here has been to see some interesting bird species and large flocks. We see some coots and gulls swimming around.

Coots are common and the species is also called Common Coot (Fulica atra). I remember, for your information in case you do not know, Coots are peculiar in some ways – it does not hide away and can be seen easily; Coots attack their own hatchlings as they are too many (up to 9) and they are unable to feed all! Another thing of interest is that Coot has a white shield-like conspicuous mark on forehead, which in the specimen here, is continuation of same white colour beak. This featherless shield has given rise to the saying ‘as bald as a coot’!

Gulls too wherever found are common and easily seen. They do not mind being fed by human beings and in some areas they would even steal from man. In Mumbai, including at the Gateway of India, morning walkers and tourists feed them. An odd tourist may even dare to pick the bird and take selfie!

I find it difficult to make out the species – Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) or  Brown-headed Gull  (Larus brunnicephalus)? These are the ones commonly found. These cannot be some uncommon species e.g. Common Gull (Mew) Gull, Yellow Legged Gull, Sooty Gull…

The problem is that adults of both in winter are ‘superficially similar when at rest, with pale grey upper parts, dark primaries, a red bill with a dark tip of variable size, and dusky markings on the ear coverts and to a varying extent around and over the eye.’  One may think it will be easier to identify the bird with brown or black hood but the fact is that even the black headed gull has actually dark brown hood’!

Later at home, I go through literature and my photos and zero in on Black Headed Gull – Lesser grey, darker eyes, less stout bill (in comparison to Brown Headed Gull).

I look around to find other interesting things about the place. There is haze over and around the lake – it can be pollution! There is a featureless island in the middle of the lake. There are some boats sailing. There are scattered Aravalli hills and hillocks. I can see outside the lake there are layers and layers of houses and markets even though the lake is supposed to be on the outskirts of Ajmer. There are people and people. There are vehicles and vehicles. Lake water seems dirty.

Nothing looks really beautiful, natural, attractive or extraordinary. It has been only 15-20 minutes and we decide to leave. But we cannot. Our car says, ‘Nothing doing, you have parked me at chowpaaty and I will not leave without some snacks.’ Jokes apart, it is just not starting. We arrange for a mechanic who takes the car to a service station and we spend two hours at the workshop instead of site seeing!

We start back around 2.00 in the afternoon. Our next destination is Pushkar, just 20-25 odd kilometres from here. Oh my god, we are passing by Ana Sagar,   ‘I❤AJMER’, chowpaaty and all that again. I feel like closing my eyes.

But it turns out the other way. As we take a turn around the lake on the road towards Pushkar, the area is much more peaceful, the lakeside has been beautified with rows of green belts and plants. Suitable walkway along with ample sitting arrangement can be seen.

“Hey Sunayan Bhai, stop! What a sight!” I shout. There are scores of pelicans on two artificial mounds and an immersed small building, and several birds swimming and perched here and there – pond heron, grey heron, large egret, black headed gull, white-breasted kingfisher…

Pelicans are so conspicuous that you are bound to notice – massive white birds with huge beak and very very conspicuous gular pouch fluttering in the wind.  Off hand, I get the impression, ‘this is Rosy Pelican’. I take photographs, I make some mental notes. It has pinkish face and legs, enormous pink and yellow bill, and a dull pale-yellow gular pouch. Plumage is largely white. I make sure the identification is correct. What I did not know that this species is mainly called Great White Pelican.

Though anybody can see Great Pelican is a large bird which also flies but you will be amazed to read the measurements – 1.4 m to 1.8 m (55 to 71 in) in length with a 0.29 m to 0.47 m (11.4 to 18.5 in) beak. The wingspan measures 2.26 m to 3.6 m (7.41 to 11.81 ft) and weight 10–11 kg (22–24 lb).

To add to this, the mounds are shared with contrasting black birds i.e. cormorants.

Later, consulting literature with photos and my notes, I find that this one too is great, Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). Incidentally, here there has been no problem in identifying the species. Most of the cormorants are in breeding plumage i.e. ‘black plumage with metallic blue-green sheen; white facial skin and throat; bright yellow gular pouch and white thigh patches; silky white plumes on head and neck.’ I am able to clearly identify several, one year olds – dull brown above, white below.

Oh, what’s that! There are two pelicans swimming a little further which seem larger than any bird around. I need to take head on shots. I move a little away from the pool, so that not directly visible to the birds and I run to be on their side to take a head on shot. I am partially successful. I can make out it is different. Later, I can clearly identify, it is the largest pelican on earth – Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus). There can be confusion with Great White Pelican but a closer look tells the difference besides the size – the beak is grey-black with bright orange gular pouch and greyish legs. The feather on head and neck are curled.  What I have been watching is, in fact, ‘the largest freshwater bird in the world’, wonderful, great.

Finally, Ana Sagar cheers me. I do say, “Ana tussi great ho.”