In search of the Dwarf Kingfisher

India, Maharashtra, Wildlife

I spotted a small green bird in the dense canopy of the trees in the distance. Even though it had it’s back to me, I recognized it as an Indian Pitta. While this was a good find, I hadn’t traveled close to 300 km from Mumbai to see just the Pitta. Where was the Kingfisher ?

There’s an Indian Pitta in the house”, exclaimed our guide, Nishikant (“Nandu”) Tambe, as we got out of the car. I had traveled from Mumbai, along with a group of eager wildlife photographers, to the sleepy hamlets of Shiravli and Miravane near Chiplun on the Konkan coast of Maharashtra. I hoped to be able to observe and photograph the small little Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher in its native habitat, and Chiplun was one of the few places where this elusive little bird is a bit more easily spotted.
We entered our homestay for the weekend, and lo behold there was actually an Indian Pitta that had wandered indoors by accident. I had initially taken Nandu’s declaration as a joke, especially after our long ride and also because the Indian Pitta is somewhat difficult to spot on the forest floor, let alone in a house!! I took this as an encouraging sign of the things to come and settled in while Nandu helped usher the poor lost bird out of the human settlement.

Now the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (Ceyx erithaca) is a fairly common bird and is widespread in the south of India. Measuring just about 13 cm in size, the little bird is a riot of blue, violet, red and yellow – almost as if the celestial creator used the bird as a brush to mix colours. But thanks to its rather small size, it’s quite difficult to spot in the dense jungle – in spite of it’s rather striking colours. The Kingfisher begins to breed with the onset of the south-west monsoon in the Konkan region. It’s nests are intricate tunnels, some of which are up to a metre in length. It can be seen ferrying tasty titbits to its hungry offspring quite often during the breeding season, and is therefore somewhat easier to spot then.

After settling in, I heard the first bit of bad news from Nandu – the two other sites where the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher was sighted, were no longer viable. The little chicks of the Kingfisher had emerged out of the nest and flown away into the dense jungles at those two sites. This left only one site in the open fields where I hoped to get a chance to spot the bird. Keeping fingers crossed, I followed Nandu to a spot in the open fields. I set up my tripod and camera behind a tree and began the long wait for the bird to show.

The minutes ticked on, while I anxiously waited for the bird to appeared. I had almost resigned to the fact that the bird might not deign to grace us with his presence, when suddenly I heard shutters go off all around me. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief and almost like magic there it was – the long awaited Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher with a rather largish lizard in its beak.

The Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher catches a lizard
The Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher catches a lizard

The little bird sat on it’s perch, completely oblivious to the large “bazooka” lenses trained on it, as it posed for us with that fabulous catch in it’s beak. After it had decided that it was done posing, it vanished as quickly as it had appeared.In the hour that followed, the Kingfisher showed itself several times for good photographic opportunities before it was time for us to pack up for the day.

I spent a few hours around the property walking among the fields as rain clouds gathered overhead. It promised to rain soon, and seeing this I walked back to camp to hopefully stay dry before the downpour began.

Rain clouds gather over the fields in Chiplun
Rain clouds gather over the fields in Chiplun

But I was mistaken, because it didn’t rain much at all that evening. In fact after a sumptuous home cooked Konkani dinner, a few us even ventured out to see what reptiles and amphibians we could spot. The night air was punctuated with the rattle of typewriter sounds or the call of the common Bombay Bush Frog. Further down the road we found a small colourful Fungoid Frog (also called the Malabar Hill Frog). Moving along village roads, we managed to spot a civet cat and a jungle cat before it was time to return back to camp. That night I slept like the dead, dead from sheer exhaustion.

Fungoid Frog
Fungoid Frog

The next day I rose early to try and catch some forest birds. I was rewarded with some photos of the Indian Pitta, before the rains started. Sitting huddled under an umbrella, I waited for the rains to pass before I could move on and try to get more photos of the kingfisher. I returned to my perch from the previous day, in the hope that the kingfisher would show itself again. This time around though it was not so generous. While it did show itself, I spent a lot of time waiting in the bushes for it. And sometimes long waits such as those only serve to heighten the senses and you end up noticing things that you otherwise wouldn’t. I spotted ants foraging in the branches, spiders lying in wait for their prey and even chipmunks scrambling about.

Ants forage in the undergrowth
Ants forage in the undergrowth
A small spider sits on a leaf
A small spider sits on a leaf

After breakfast, we moved on to Eagle’s Nest Camp, which was the property we were originally supposed to have visited. Eagle’s Nest Camp is an eco-resort of sorts that is run by Nandu. Nandu who was born and brought up in Shiravli village, is very passionate about nature and uses Eagle’s Nest Camp to help conserve nature, while at the same time promoting awareness about the ecology of the region. The camp and it’s surroundings preserve a 100 acre private forest which has rich biodiversity within it. Previous trips to this area have uncovered rare and exotic species of birds as well as many reptiles as well. The camp centers around Nandu’s home which is built in the style of a traditional Konkani house.

I joined the group as we spent a pleasant hour or so, trying to spot various species of birds in the forest. The catch of the day was the nest of a monarch flycatcher which was just above the road we took to the house. I also saw the other nests of the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher which were now abandoned as the fledglings had left the nest. Sitting on the verandah, overlooking lush farms and dense jungles, and listening to bird calls periodically shatter the silence with their melodies was a supremely calming experience, one, that I hoped would never end. Sadly, it was time for the group to start back.

I spent the last few minutes at Eagle’s Nest Camp, walking towards our car, under tall trees wondering whether all this would still be standing 10 years later. For now, I considered myself fortunate to have been able to see the wonderfully colorful kingfisher and as I took the long road home I was content in the knowledge that I would forever keep that slice of nature alive in my memories.


More Information

Getting There

Chiplun is about 250 km from Mumbai and is well connected by rail and road. If you are coming by train, Eagle’s Nest Camp can arrange a pick-up for you from the station. If you are driving, getting to the little villages is slightly tricky. From Chiplun you need to drive towards Guhagar on Chiplun-Guhagar highway till you reach Rampur. After Rampur you need to take a left at Gudhe Phata and continue towards the Pathardi Junction. From there drive to Eagle’s Nest Camp at Shiravli village.

Best Time to Visit

Eagle’s Nest Camp can be visited all year round to experience the birds and beasts that abound in the jungles around the site. To see the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher though, the monsoon months (July to early August) are the best

Where to Stay

Eagle’s Nest Camp is the probably the only stay option here. Eagle’s Nest Camp offers hospitable homestay options in a traditional Konkani house with delicious Konkani meals. Mumbai Travellers organizes regular trips to Eagle’s Nest Camp, so watch their website for more.

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