Okhla Bird Sanctuary

The Okhla Bird Sanctuary feels like my refuge away from home. I've been going there since my very first trip to India, back in February 2005. I usually join up with the local birding group, delhibirds, which helps me enormously with ID problems. I hadn't been to the site since February 2007, and on my most recent trip to the sanctuary, I discovered that things had changed quite a bit in a year. There is now a gate along the southern entrance, with posted entry fees: a whopping 350 rupees for foreigners, plus 50 rupees for cars. This puts the bird sanctuary on a par with the Taj Mahal, at least as far as entry fees are concerned! By comparison, I believe the Delhi Zoo cost 50 rupees for foreigners the last time I was there.
View Larger Map Nevertheless, the bird life at the sanctuary is well worth the increased cost of admission. From October through March the site hosts enormous flocks of wintering and migrant waterfowl. I routinely see Greater Flamingo, Greylag Goose, Purple Heron, Intermediate and Great Egret, Cinammon Bittern, and flock upon flock of ducks: the most recent trip yielded Northern Pintail, Common Teal, Indian Spotbill, Northern Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Wigeon, Garganey, and Common Pochard. This year for the first time, I saw Bar-headed Geese at the sanctuary. There's a huge tree on the northern embankment (the area up near the DND toll road); Spotted Owlets like to hang out there. Greater Coucal, a large (almost 1/2 a meter tall!) cuckoo is a common sight in the area as well. The sanctuary is circumscribed by the river on the west and civilization on all other sides. A paper (PDF version available on the web) by Abdul Jamil Urfi describes the situation as follows:
Okhla barrage bird sanctuary, on the river Yamuna in south Delhi, is an important site for breeding and wintering waterbirds, with 14,000–20,000 waterbirds recorded in winter. The dominant feature of the site is a large lake formed after the creation of a barrage on the river in 1986. [...] Species recorded since 1992 include three Vulnerable species (Baer’s Pochard Aythya baeri, Indian Skimmer Rynchops albicollis and Bristled Grassbird Chaetornis striatus) and six Near Threatened species (Ferruginous Pochard Aythya nyroca, Black-bellied Tern Sterna acuticauda, Darter Anhinga melanogaster, Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus, Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala and Black-necked Stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus). The sanctuary is being encroached upon, and isolated by, surrounding development.
This paper was published in 2003; since then the road to the east has encroached even further on the sanctuary. There had been a pretty little park between the road and the sanctuary, but now the road has been widened and improved, and many of the trees have been cut down.The park still seems to be there, but for how long is anyone's guess. So, every chance I get, I visit the place. Here is a photo gallery of the most recent trip; for some reason I've lost all the photos I have from previous trips (none of them were any good, so it's no great loss). Also, I just upgraded to the most recent version of NextGen gallery, and for some reason it broke the captions. As soon as I get the caption thing fixed, I'll update the gallery... [UPDATE: Captions are now working; just click on any picture for the larger image with caption] A complete list of the 107 species I've seen there since 2005: GREBES Little Grebe CORMORANTS Great Cormorant ANHINGAS Darter HERONS, EGRETS AND BITTERNS Gray Heron Purple Heron Indian Pond-Heron Cattle Egret Black-crowned Night-Heron Yellow Bittern Cinnamon Bittern STORKS Painted Stork IBIS AND SPOONBILLS Black-headed Ibis Red-naped Ibis Glossy Ibis Eurasian Spoonbill FLAMINGOS Greater Flamingo DUCKS, GEESE AND SWANS Greylag Goose Bar-headed Goose Ruddy Shelduck Eurasian Wigeon Gadwall Eurasian Teal Spot-billed Duck Northern Pintail Garganey Northern Shoveler Common Pochard Ferruginous Pochard Tufted Duck HAWKS, EAGLES AND KITES Black Kite Western Marsh-Harrier Shikra PHEASANTS AND PARTRIDGES Black Francolin Indian Peafowl RAILS, GALLINULES AND COOTS White-breasted Waterhen Purple Swamphen Common Moorhen Eurasian Coot JACANAS Pheasant-tailed Jacana Bronze-winged Jacana AVOCETS AND STILTS Black-winged Stilt THICK-KNEES Eurasian Thick-knee PLOVERS AND LAPWINGS Red-wattled Lapwing SANDPIPERS Common Redshank Green Sandpiper Wood Sandpiper GULLS Yellow-legged Gull Brown-headed Gull Black-headed Gull PIGEONS AND DOVES Rock Pigeon Eurasian Collared-Dove Orange-breasted Pigeon Yellow-footed Pigeon PARROTS Rose-ringed Parakeet Plum-headed Parakeet CUCKOOS Common Hawk-Cuckoo Asian Koel Greater Coucal OWLS Spotted Owlet KINGFISHERS White-throated Kingfisher BEE-EATERS Green Bee-eater HOOPOES Eurasian Hoopoe BARBETS Coppersmith Barbet SWALLOWS Plain Martin WAGTAILS AND PIPITS Citrine Wagtail Yellow Wagtail Oriental Pipit BULBULS Red-whiskered Bulbul Red-vented Bulbul CISTICOLAS AND ALLIES Graceful Prinia Yellow-bellied Prinia Ashy Prinia Plain Prinia OLD WORLD WARBLERS Blyth’s Reed-Warbler Sykes’s Warbler Common Tailorbird Common Chiffchaff Striated Grassbird OLD WORLD FLYCATCHERS Bluethroat Indian Robin African Stonechat White-tailed Stonechat Pied Bushchat MONARCH FLYCATCHERS Black-headed Paradise-Flycatcher BABBLERS Yellow-eyed Babbler Common Babbler Large Gray Babbler Jungle Babbler SUNBIRDS AND SPIDERHUNTERS Purple Sunbird ORIOLES Eurasian Golden Oriole SHRIKES Long-tailed Shrike DRONGOS Black Drongo CROWS AND JAYS Rufous Treepie House Crow STARLINGS Common Myna Asian Pied Starling Rosy Starling OLD WORLD SPARROWS House Sparrow WEAVERS AND ALLIES Streaked Weaver Baya Weaver Bengal Weaver WAXBILLS AND ALLIES Red Avadavat White-throated Munia Nutmeg Mannikin FINCHES, SISKINS, CROSSBILLS Common Rosefinch BUNTINGS, SEEDEATERS, ALLIES Crested Bunting Black-headed Bunting


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    Very cool photos! Eagerly awaiting the captions. Ignorant question — are the birds (listed on your India list) with a common name that is the same as the common name we call the bird (such as House Sparrow or Crested Bunting) the same bird that we have? Or do common names that a birder uses mean different birds in different places?

  • avatar

    Most common names are the same, but there a few differences. I try to use “standard” English common names, but I also include the taxonomic name of any species I’m actually discussing, because, as your comment suggests, there can indeed be confusion. House Sparrow is House Sparrow, pretty much worldwide, but it has been called English Sparrow and Damn Nuisance Sparrow also, so Passer domesticus is the safe way to refer to it.

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    And, oh yeah: Crested Bunting (Melophus lathami) doesn’t really have a common name in the U.S., since it is strictly an Asian bird…

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