Owls have been always very fascinating to me since I saw the first one in Central park, Kolkata in 2015, a Spotted Owlet. Back then it was just an winter visitor to the park, it would come, breed and when the chicks are well fledged would fly away . Though, soon later enough it became a resident in Central park, so after that whenever I visited central park, I did make sure to visit them first.
They just never fail to amaze me .
And since then, I developed an affinity towards these magnificent raptors. The next owl that I came across in this region was the Brown Hawk Owl. When I saw it for the first time, I totally had a different aptitude from that of the Spotted Owlet. It had yellow eyes and frowned at me. It was sitting on high end of a canopy above me so I couldn’t manage to take a good shot of the bird then. Luckily, once again, I came across this raptor, which was at a close distance from me at a forest in Nadia district. It looked straight at me with only an eye open. It was a lifer for me back then.
In 2017, I made a tour to Manas National Park and Kaziranga National Park in Assam. These National Parks are well known for housing a wide array of raptors though rarely seen, hence I consider myself very fortunate to have encountered four species of owls, each for the first time, apart from the Spotted Owlet and Brown Hawk Owl. The experiences that I had for the first time with these raptors were astonishing.
The first one was an Asian Barred Owlet which I came across at Manas National Park. The day was going more or less good and the first half of the safari was almost over so we were making our way back, when I first spotted this little raptor sitting quietly on a small branch. With bare eyes, from the moving gypsy what I first saw was a black round figure. Then, after zooming in the lens of my camera it turned out to be an Asian Barred Owlet. Amusingly, the owl first pretended like it never saw us, by always turning its head but not looking at us. And then almost after waiting for around 5-8 minutes, it finally looked at us. Through the viewfinder, I saw it staring right at me with those majestic yellow eyes.
Later again I spotted this little fellow (Asian Barred Owlet) in Kaziranga. It was the first safari early in the morning and we were greeted inside the sanctuary by this little fellow. With overcast sky above, when the soft rays of the sun fell on the owlet, it was a pure delight to watch it and to my joy, in the cold, the raptor was looking like a puffball.
The second one was a Jungle owlet which I spotted during my first safari itself at Kaziranga National Park. We were waiting for the Great Hornbill, when I saw a small dark round figure moving slowly on a branch of a tree. On the first glance, I knew that it was an owl; then our guide told us that it was a Jungle Owlet. The Jungle owlet is one of smallest owls to be found in India. It was very far away from me, so I had to get down from the gypsy to get a bit close to the owl, so that I could manage a decent picture of the species. I couldn’t go too close to the raptor as it was not allowed to get down from the gypsy or to move away from it inside the jungle.
The third one was a dream come true for me, a Brown Fish Owl. Again, this was for the first time I was encountering this magnificent raptor. It was the first half of the second day, when our guide said to me, “Now, let me show you a Brown Fish Owl, ’’. I was already too excited by that time, so, when I came face to face with this spectacular raptor, I had a spine-tingling sensation all over my body, when for the first time, its eyes met with mine.
We spent almost 20 mins photographing and watching it pose for us, stretching its wings, wagging its head, preening its feathers etc. This was an awe-inspiring moment for me. It was always a dream of mine to photograph a fish owl, and here in Kaziranga I got the chance to witness this beauty from some 10-12 ft distance.
The last owl which I had encountered during this tour left me with an experience to be cherished for a lifetime. It was the last day of our safari, as we didn’t have anything to do in the evening, so, we went for a walk in the tea gardens behind our stay . It was pitch black, the sky was clear, studded with stars shining like diamonds everywhere, it was cold enough and I could only see a horizon which divided the sky from the ground, twinkling with fireflies everywhere. That view made me feel much more alive than I have ever felt.
It was quiet, and even the slightest movement of the breeze was audible. Soon we could hear calls; calls of Oriental Scops Owl. So, we also played calls of it, within a minute, which was very startling, we saw something fluttering over us and soon it sat on a nearby tree. With the aid of a flashlight, we identified that it was an Oriental Scops Owl, looking straight at the flashlight. After a while, again, it started to flutter over us, by that time I had seated myself still on the ground, waiting for it to sit on a nearby branch so that I could photograph it.
But without sitting on the branch, it came and sat on my back for few seconds, a moment to be cherished throughout my life, the closest encounter with any raptor. I was so awe-struck that after that when it sat on a branch nearby, I almost forgot to take pictures of it. But anyway, I soon clicked some images of the bird and went back to our hotel.
The very next day, which was our last day in Kaziranga, again we went to the tea garden in the evening around 7pm, to my surprise this time it responded more quickly, sitting on a branch much nearer to us. So, with caution, we went and sat near the branch where it was sitting, soon it fluttered away and sat on a branch just above our head. It was so close that I could clearly see the streaks on its feathers. We stopped the call that we were playing, even then it looked straight down to us at the flashlight.
Within few seconds, another Oriental Scops Owl, which was probably a female came and sat on a branch above the first one and started calling very feebly. The first owl was so close that I could make very fine pictures of it and then turned off our flashlight and sat motionless under it. Now, the first owl started calling which gave me an opportunity to record my own first bird call of an owl.
Soon, it became quiet but it was still there sitting on the branch, looking straight at us. Now, it was getting late, so we moved out slowly. Coming to the road, what I saw was the owl was still seated on the branch, looking at us.
For some reason, it might have had gained the trust on us that we won’t hurt it. May be that is the reason why it stayed so close to us even when it could see us. And what could actually be more precious to a young wildlife enthusiast like me to be able to experience such moments which were never expected. And what I feel great about is the fact that the Oriental Scops Owl, unknowingly, gifted me an experience of a lifetime in Kaziranga.
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