Birding India: Osmania University, Hyderabad

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The twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, in south-central India, are known as a center of high tech industry. Like any Indian metropolis, they have their share of traffic and smog, blaring horns and crowded streets. But right in the middle of town there’s a green oasis full of birds. As you hike the dusty trails, trees and shrubs mute the distant sirens and motor bikes. Birds chirp. Sunlight filters through to warm your shoulders. If you find yourself in the area, I highly recommend birding Osmania University.

OsmaniaUniv-Hyderabad-India_LAH_1222Osmania University is home to over 300,000 students, many of whom study at this central campus. Clusters of buildings line the streets, but large swaths of rural land separate the various colleges. Through the thoughtful referral of a friend, we were able to connect with four biology grad students who were also excellent birders. After weeks of birding new places on my own, I can’t begin to emphasize how much I appreciated having local birders helping me find and identify the birds! Plus, the grad students were a lot of fun.

Even with their help, I still have a few birds I haven’t been able to identify. Maybe it would help if I could find my list! Anyone recognize these two?

With Pete trailing along as well, we headed out along a path leading off into the brush. The weather had been dry, and the leaves were coated with dust. I was surprised to realize that none of the locals had binoculars with them. Perhaps we western birders are a bit spoiled in assuming that having good binos was a necessity. However, since I was mostly using the telephoto lens on my camera, I handed my bins over. They were quickly put to good use.

We quickly encountered our first birds, a flock of big green parakeets. My guides’ reaction led me to believe that these were common birds, but I got excited anyway. I’d seen Rose-ringed Parakeets (left) the week before, at Lodhi Gardens in New Delhi, so they at least were a bit familiar. The Plum-headed Parakeet was even more impressive!

We could hear chip notes coming from the waist-high scrub, but I had to concentrate to see who was making the noise. Then a small flock of brightly colored, sparrow-sized birds suddenly flew up into the bare branches of a small tree, and I got a good look at some Coppersmith Barbets. The feathers reminded me of the paint job on the trucks and buses I’d been seeing on the roads.

Our guides kept naming small birds “chaffinch” but they weren’t the European finch that I would use that name for. Finally I realized that it was their equivalent to “LBJ”—a little brown job, any small bird hopping around in the brush.

We spent a couple of hours exploring. Sightings included Spotted Doves, Scaly-breasted Munia, a flock of Peafowl (one of my most-wanted species!).

A Hoopoe sauntered down the path, then hopped up onto a branch, along with a Red-vented Bulbul. The Black Drongo forms a unique silhouette.

An active robin-sized bird turned out to be a Jungle Babbler, impressive with its white eyes.

We finally emerged from the scrub to discover a small lake. I immediately spied a Little Grebe paddling across the water, along with a yet-unidentified small juvenile heron. A pair of White-browed Wagtails sunned on a nearby rock, and a Red-wattled Lapwing floated onto the shore. Black Kites soared overhead.

As we turned back toward our starting point, I spotted a Green Bee-eater perched on an overhead wire. I admit to being besotted with bee-eaters. Their flamboyant colors and streamlined bodies are a delight to the senses, and I’m impressed by anything that eats stinging insects! A Purple-rumped Sunbird competed for my attention, its bright yellow plumage glowing in the warm sunlight.

As we began to run out of additional species, I turned my attention to the butterflies along the trail. Here we see a Common Tiger (bottom right) and two views of the Common Jezebel (where do these names come from?!).

We finally made it back to where our patient driver was waiting. We treated our guides to a late lunch from the chaat vendors’ carts. Mmm, delicious. If I’m not looking for Indian birds, the next best thing is enjoying Indian food!

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