The monsoons bestow a lush green blessing on the fields and glades of Shahpura, a small town in Jaipur district of Rajasthan. It is a delight for nature worshippers as well as the birds and animals that spend idyllic days in this Rajasthani gem. In this post, I present a photo story of the beautiful denizens of Shahpura and Shahpura Bagh, the wooded summer home of the royal family, where I spent a rejuvenating weekend.
Rajasthan is true peacock country, with these fanned beauties gracing every other royal home and heritage hotel. Wherever we stepped in Shahpura, be it the forts, fields or farms, we were almost always greeted by the harsh call of India’s national bird. We spotted this one in the estate of Shahpura Bagh, a delightful nature park in itself.
The monsoons delight these stunning birds in many different ways. Not only does the weather inspire them to dance in joy, but it’s also their mating season, meaning that the peacocks are all out to impress the peahens. Post the monsoon, the landscape is full of peachicks, the folks at Shahpura Bagh told us.
The first time I laid my eyes on this sight, I wondered if there was a different species of peacocks with a different colouring. Photographs rarely show us how the feathers look from the back but as you can see, the rear view has a beauty of its own. Since the peacocks loved to rotate their fanned feathers, we were privy to many such views.
This here is the quintessential view of the Indian peacock, whose scientific name pavo cristatus is as elegant as its deep blue colouring and graceful gaze. It’s easy to see why this bird was chosen as the national bird in 1963 over all the other contenders. We were also lucky enough to see peacocks flying and perching high up on the trees but I was unable to capture that in a photograph.
We spotted these rose-ringed parakeets at Dhikola Fort, a recommended excursion for guests staying at Shahpura Bagh. As a child, a parrot was the first bird I learnt to draw perfectly and I’ve fantasised about having one as a pet. Yet, why would one cage a creature so lovely and free in the wild?
This red wattled lapwing that we spotted on our walking trail through the lush fields and woods of Shahpura Bagh seems to be quite hungry. Its wide eyes lend it a perennially surprised look; then again perhaps it was amazed to be the cynosure of my Canon lens. A ‘wattle’ incidentally is defined as ‘a fleshy lobe or appendage hanging down from the throat or chin of certain birds’.
We spotted this bird at a clearing in the woods at Shahpura, a little way away from Shahpura Bagh. Bhaya, our middle-aged driver was admirably knowledgeable about the biodiversity of the area and informed us that this was an Indian pond heron. Even at his mature age, Bhaya (his real name was Rajendra) wore no spectacles and possessed sharper eyesight than any of us!
Interestingly, the pond heron looks like this only during the breeding season, which begins with the monsoons. It strikes me that although we visited Shahpura during the tourist off season (winter is when all the hotels teem with travellers), we were fortunate to see all the birds in their mating avatar. When it’s not mating season, the legs of the pond heron become a dull brown (here they are bright red) and the beak loses its beautiful green colouring.
See that wonderful yellow flush on this cattle egret‘s plumage? It’s only present during the breeding season. Otherwise, the bird is entirely white with a yellow beak. It’s called a cattle egret (‘bugla’ in Hindi) because it’s usually present around cattle, as you will see in the following photograph.
We spotted numerous little cattle egrets milling around grazing cows in the fields at Shahpura Bagh. The egrets feed on the insects and small vertebrae that are disturbed when the cows munch on the grass. I’m sure the cows don’t mind the company either.
The tiger butterflies are a common sight in India but this one is not striped like its cousins. If you’ve ever tried photographing butterflies, you know how difficult it is with their constant flitting and alighting. But we managed to capture this one twice. In the following photograph, you get a better look at its beautiful wings.
We spotted this beauty during our walking trail as well. Hard as it was to tear our eyes away from the tranquil waters of the Umaid Sagar lake, we found many delicious distractions in the surrounding forest. The plain tiger (danaus chrysippus) is also called the African monarch and is native to both Asia and Africa.
Tell me this myna doesn’t look as though it’s lost in thought. We found it perched pensively on this ledge overlooking the panorama below the lofty ramparts of Dhikola Fort. I would have loved to know what question was bothering this little bird of the starling family. But alas, the language of every creature other than man is but a nature-cloaked cipher.
Two birds seemed to have an ongoing affair with the overhead wires – rollers and drongos. I saw many of these beautiful Indian rollers in my last trip to Kanha and Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh as well. In this part of India, they are quite common though I’ve never seen any in Mumbai.
This is the favoured pose of the Indian roller. Google the bird and you will find any number of photos of the roller in this exact same pose! Although rollers are found all across tropical Asia, India has the highest number and several Indian states (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha and Telangana) have elected to have it as their state bird. Did you even know that there are state birds in India? An entire list is available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Indian_state_birds.
Pigeons love these hollows drilled through the windows and towers of forts and palaces and we found them in large numbers at the erstwhile palace of the royal family, now turned into a school for girls.
I don’t think even the slimmest and most svelte of models can compete with the long-necked elegance of the great egret, also called the common egret, large egret or the great white heron. The lake surrounding Shahpura Bagh was dotted with these graceful birds and their dark-coloured counterparts. Here are a few more photographs of these water-loving wonders.
These two resembled a married couple who have fought and turned their backs on each other!
There were numerous such leaf-less stumps sticking up in the midst of the lake and every one of them had a great egret on top. I suppose it was an ideal vantage point to survey the happenings in the entire expanse of the lake.
I’ll tell you one thing – the front view of this bird’s face isn’t as pretty as its side profile. Birds have their best angles too. We saw a lot of jungle fowl and hens near a farmhouse clearing where we stopped for tea and cookies. My travel partner was particularly fascinated by its claw-like webbed feet. Its black feathers had a greenish sheen in the afternoon sunlight.
I’m guessing that these are Indian cormorants, but clarification is welcome in the comments section below. Swimming in the water, these looked a lot like the fair egrets. But unlike some humans, they didn’t seem the slightest bit unhappy about their dark colouring!
This white fronted or white-breasted spotted hen darted across the fields in front of us at Shahpura Bagh. I think it’s lovely facial features and white and brown colouring redefine the image of hens as ‘boring’, don’t you think?
This black drongo simply wouldn’t show his face to us. I guess he didn’t like being photographed much. We spotted a drongo another time but it was hidden by the branches of the tree and I was unable to capture a good photograph.
I swear the goat to the right smiled back at me when I smiled at him. These two caught my attention while we were heading to a 200 year old banyan tree in a patch of woods at Shahpura for their obvious affection towards each other. A few moments before this photograph, they were caressing each other in a way only animals can. We also saw an adorable baby goat (kid) and my friend managed to pick it up for a cuddle!
This plump little waddling bird is a patridge we spotted on our way to the ancient banyan tree. We stopped the car to click a few pictures and watched it settle down on the ground, looking like a fluffy brown ball. Then it stood up, shook off the dirt and waddled away into the lands beyond.
I was quite fascinated by this lizard outlined against the light of the lamp in the night. We were taking a stroll around the gardens of Shahpura Bagh, after drinking in the mesmerising sight of the dimly lit pool when we chanced upon this little adventurer.
Now you see it, now you don’t. The master of camouflage, an Indian garden lizard revealed itself to us during our drive through the farm-lined roads of Shahpura. Note the lovely orange flush at its throat.
Here is a closer look at this talented reptile. I hope you enjoyed this showcase of the birds of Rajasthan. In my travels, I have come to realise what a wide variety we have of birds in India. And every one of them is a breathtaking sight, rare or common.
Photos courtesy: Team Trail-stained Fingers