Harike Lake Bird Sanctuary, Punjab
by Anand Prasad
6 February - 10 February 2001
Best birds: 1 female Long-tailed Duck, 2 Horned Grebes, several Black-necked Grebes, 24 Indian Skimmers, 4 Black-bellied Terns, 1 Mew Gull, about 30 Yellow-eyed Pigeons, 1 White-winged Tern, White-crowned Penduline Tit, Rufous-vented Prinia, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Moustached Warbler, Cetti’s Bush Warbler, Hume’s Lesser Whitethroat, Brooks’s Leaf Warbler, Striated Grassbird and Sind Sparrow.
Anyone visiting this area is bound to have the Birdwatcher’s Guide to India by Krys Kazmierczak and Raj Singh on which these notes are based.
I flew to and from Amritsar via Delhi (be prepared for the most ridiculous security imaginable when leaving) and then a taxi for 300 rps to Amritsar town. This is strange because I was quoted 400 rps for the taxi to Harike which is much further. After a night at the Hotel Amritsar International (about 400 rps), I caught the bus to Harike (bus station is near by). The Guest House of Mrs Bhandar at Amritsar (mentioned in Lonely Planet) sounds good but it is a bit out of town (although it is in the cantonment on the way from the airport). Tel # 222390. Price about 700 rps.
At Harike I tried to stay at the Wildlife Offices and at the Circuit House but had no luck. I couldn’t get through to the temple with the tel. # in Birdwatchers Guide and was trying to stay with anyone who would put me up. When people realised I was trying to contact Mr. Madho Singh they became very helpful and gave me the new tel # of Mr. Singh which is 01682 70213. Even if this # changes again you can probably just turn up. Mr Singh lives at the temple and is in fact the resident guru. The temple is quite an experience. You are made very welcome, treated like royalty and fed and lodged for free. The temple seems to run on gifts only but money is not accepted, so you might try to bring something useful, although I am not sure what they could need as they are very well provided for. The whole community contributes work and goods to support the place and obviously there are also donations coming from abroad because it is very new and rich. You will be woken up early by the small group of young temple musicians singing Kirtans. The music is quite beautiful but you might want to bring some ear plugs to sleep the extra hour or so before dawn. I had a lot of fun here as the kids are a delight. Mr Singh arranged a bicycle for me so I could get to the Sutlej to the east of the lake. The down side of the temple is that in their eagerness to beautify the place they have bulldozed the areas to the south of the temple (beside the canal) which must have been good habitat before. The Forest Department has put a stop on the work but I overheard the advice of a lawyer who was advising Mr Singh to ignore the order. The temple wants to build a park and garden area. When I left I checked whether birdwatchers were still welcome and I was assured they were. Obviously this would not apply to large groups who anyway can more easily arrange cheap transport from further afield. Try to be as respectful as possible to their rules as regards keeping the head covered within the temple grounds and removing shoes indoors, in the eating area and especially in the temple itself.
Behind temple and to the south of temple.
Sind Sparrow (common), a flock of about 30 Yellow-eyed Pigeons (on the small penninsular behind the temple in mid afternoon), 1 White-winged Tern (probably the same bird present throughout), a few White-crowned Penduline Tits (south of the temple), Rufous-vented Prinia (south of the temple), Yellow-bellied Prinia, Brooks’s Leaf Warbler, Moustached Warbler, 3 White-rumped Vultures (the only vultures seen), 1 Greater Spotted Eagle, 4 unidentified aquilas and a few Black-necked Grebes. Also Great Crested Grebe (a few), Little Grebe (common), Grey Francolin (common), Indian Peafowl, Darter (common), Great Cormorant (common), Indian Cormorant (common), Little Cormorant (common), large flock of unid. geese in flight, 1 Greylag Goose, Common Pochard (common), Eurasian Wigeon (common), Ferruginous Pochard (in small numbers), Mallard (in small numbers), Northern Shoveler (common), Gadwall, Common Coot (common), Purple Swamphen (common), Common Moorhen (common), unid. crake/rail sp., Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Shikra, unid. accipiter, Black-shouldered Kite, Yellow-legged Gull, Black-headed Gull (common), Brown-headed Gull (common), River Tern (common), White-tailed Lapwing, Alexandrine Parakeet, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Black-rumped Flameback, Barn Swallow, Black Redstart, Red-throated Flycatcher, Common Chiffchaff (common), Hume’s Lesser Whitethroat, Hume’s Warbler, Ashy Prinia, Great Tit, White-browed Wagtail, Jungle Babbler, Common Babbler, Long-tailed Shrike, Asian Pied Starling and House Crow.
At night heard Jackals calling.
Behind the temple.
Moustached Warbler, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Hume’s Warbler.
In front of the temple.
4 Black-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Shelduck, Tufted Duck, Northern Pintail, Common Teal, Cotton Pygmy-goose, Black-crowned Night Heron, White-throated Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Black-winged Stilt, Common Snipe, Common Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Red-wattled Lapwing, Spotted Owlet, Pallas’s Gull, Rock Pigeon, Plain Martin (common), Citrine Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail ssp lutea, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail ssp dukhunensis, Hoopoe, Bank Myna, Small Minivet, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Plain Prinia, a possible Desert Lesser Whitethroat and below the dam superb views of two Smooth Otters.
South of the temple.
One female Long-tailed Duck, 5 Black-necked Grebes and 2 Horned Grebes confirmed by Werner Suter who writes "Most unexpected were Slavonian Grebes (at least 1, probably up to 3), on 1 February and 5 on 3 February."
Also 8 Grey Francolin, 13 Red-crested Pochard and Common Greenshank.
On the side of the canal now heavily disturbed by the work of the temple.
Another Red-vented Prinia and Moustached Warbler. Also an unid. ibis, Black-crowned Night Heron, Spot-billed Duck, Little Brown Dove, a pair of Yellow-crowned Woodpeckers, Greater Coucal, Terek Sandpiper, 2 Ruff, White-tailed Lapwing, Black Redstart, Common Stonechat, Pied Bushchat, Indian Robin, Striated Grassbird (common), Yellow Wagtail ssp. zaisanensis, Black Drongo and Red-vented Bulbul.
Middle of the canals and south of the bridge
Grey Francolin, 1 Avocet, Black Kite, Osprey, White-breasted Waterhen, White Wagtail ssp. leucopsis, White Wagtail ssp. baicalensis/dukhunensis, Wryneck (common), Common Woodshrike (common), Bay-backed Shrike, Brown Shrike (scarce here according to the literature), Common Starling, Common Myna, Bluethroat, Graceful Prinia and Yellow-eyed Babbler (common).
To the Sykes’s Nightjars site.
Looked under every Tamarisk bush and explored quite far down the river but found no nightjars. The tamarisk bushes seemed heavily cut for wind breaks for the spreading marrow? cultivation. I did see 1 Greater Spotted Eagle, 2 Oriental Honey-buzzards, 3 Long-legged Buzzards, 2 Common Kestrels, 80 Greylag Geese, 12 Northern Lapwings, Green Sandpiper, Little Stint, Sand Lark, Crested Lark, 4 Common Starlings, Bluethroat, Desert Wheatear, Long-billed Pipit, Tawny Pipit, Paddyfield Pipit and 2 Desert Warblers. Also a Small Mongoose, Monitor Lizard and unid. turtle sp.
South of the temple
More Grey Francolins, 2 Black-necked Grebe, 1 Asian Openbill, 12 Black-tailed Godwits, Blyth’s Reed Warbler (un-common), White-browed Fantail and White Wagtail ssp. dukhunensis. Also another Small Mongoose.
South the temple and to the Sutlej east of the lake.
Many Red-crested Pochard, Common Buzzard, 9 Glossy Ibis, Graceful Prinia, Moustached Warbler, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Striated Grassbird, Common Tailorbird, Oriental White-eye, Slaty Blue Flycatcher, Yellow Wagtail ssp. thunbergii, Yellow Wagtail ssp. plexa, and 4 Common Starlings.
At the Sutlej river to the east of the lake.
1 Bar-headed Goose, 1 Lesser-spotted Eagle, 24 Indian Skimmers, 4 Black-bellied Terns and 6 Temminck’s Stint, Rufous-tailed Shrike, and more Striated Grassbirds. There was a flock of pipits in the cultivation beside the river but too far away for identification .
Back to the Lakeside.
Comb Duck, the only (1) Garganey, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Cetti’s Bush Warbler (only one, seen between the 7 and 8 markers to the north of first buildings south of the temple), White Wagtail ssp. leucopsis, Bluethroat and Baya Weaver.
Small wood north of the dam and the pond to the north
Shikra, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Rufous Treepie, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Brook’s Leaf Warbler, Graceful Prinia, Plain Prinia, 2 White-crowned Penduline Tits (to the west of the pond where Bristled Grassbird has bred), White-throated Fantail ssp. canescens, Striated Grassbird, Yellow-eyed Babbler and Red Avadavat. On the peninsular to the north-east of the dam could see a few terns roosting but didn’t have the scope with me. It is worth scanning from here.
14 Eurasian Spoonbills, 22 Black-tailed Godwits, 1 Pied Avocet, and another Smooth Otter.
At the temple.
I saw a Mew Gull feeding along with the Brown and Black-headed Gulls from the chapattis thrown to them.
South of the temple
1 Glossy Ibis, the Long-tailed Duck still present (description available) and 1 Black-necked Grebe.
© Anand Prasad