On a surprisingly mellow June morning, Hassath and I took Soma, a friend
visiting from Calcutta, to the Asola wildlife sanctuary near Tughlaqabad
in Delhi. Despite a late start due to car trouble, we arrived before the
sun was up, and spent a little more than an hour in the scrub forest.
All three of Delhi's Bee-eaters: Blue-cheeked Merops persicus,
Blue-tailed Merops philippinus, and the Little Green Bee-eater
Merops orientalis all heard and seen in flight and at rest in
Rufous-fronted Prinia Prinia buchanani, an Asola speciality;
White-browed Fantail Rhipidura aureola, Yellow-eyed Babbler
Chrysomma sinense and Common Babbler Turdoides caudatus,
and many Bay-backed Shrikes Lanius vittatus. Non-avian: Common
Mongoose Herpestes edwardsi, Jackal Canis aureus,
Blackbuck Antilope cervicapra; and many Cicadas seen clinging to
the underside of the Acacia branches and singing loudly.
We saw several Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters in flight. That they were either
Blue-cheeked or Blue-tailed was obvious from their size and behaviour in
flight, and I identified them at first by call, because I couldn't see
their face clearly.
Later, we saw another large Bee-eater perched atop a thorny bush. When I
first caught a glimpse of it through the branches, it was so blue above
that I mistook it for a Kingfisher. A little manoeuvring brought us a
better view, and confirmation that this was the Blue-tailed Bee-eater,
a resident local migrant that breeds in the Himalayas. To our surprise,
a second bird joined it and the two engaged in a quick mating, following
which the female remained sitting on the branch and the male flew away.
(Of course, if my understanding is correct, mating may be only a
precursor to actual breeding.)
I was grateful for a gentle refresher in the identification of
Blue-tailed and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. It's really quite simple if
they're adults: they either have very blue cheeks, or they have very
blue tails. If it's not very blue, then it doesn't count either way.
Another feature is that the yellow in the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater's face
is confined to the chin, whereas it is smeared backwards onto the cheek
for Blue-tailed. Their calls, of course, are also audibly different.
On our way out, we saw a single Little Green Bee-eater to complete our