the Anhinga, the Duck and the Rat Snake

Place: Karanji Lake, Mysore
Date: 23rd March 2008

Though I have made many trips to this lake before, I never used to have a fixed agenda; this time I wanted it to be different. I wanted to primarily focus on taking snaps of the Anhinga Melanogaster bird. The Anhinga Melanogaster is the Indian variety of the American Anhinga and is more commonly referred to as the Indian Darter or Snakebird.

I entered the park at around 3:30 PM, it was a Sunday, and as usual there was a Sunday crowd flocking the lake. I wanted a quite corner of the lake for myself, where I could position myself and shoot pictures of the bird in peace. From my previous observations I had known that the Anhinga mostly fishes in shallow water, so I choose a spot right next to the water edge opposite to a small Island with a stretch of shallow water between, which was in full reach of my cameras zoom range. This place was relatively secluded from the general public as one had to cross a couple of bamboo shoots and a field of dry leaves, not that one couldn’t, the real deterrent might have been a sign board ‘Beware of Snakes’ put up in front of the bamboo shoots. We will learn the truth of this signboard at the end of this very same post.

As I reached this spot, I swapped the 18-55mm lens on my Nikon D40 with the 55-200mm lens, and almost immediately, I saw the Snakebird break the water surface holding a fish in its beak, about 40 feet from where I stood. As I took snaps of the bird and the unfortunate fish with my camera in rapid shoot mode I managed about 7 snaps in a time window of 8 seconds. The Anhinga was tossing the fish in its beak, getting a better hold before gulping it down.
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It’s this unique style of catching fish that I like the most about this bird: while other fish eating birds generally catch fish between their beaks, this bird harpoons the fish with its pointed bill and lifts it above the water surface like a prize catch before gulping it down.
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After seeing off the Anhinga till a distance, I shifted my attention to a duck which was acting in a very curious manner – It was rhythmically lowering its neck, touching the water surface with its beak. In a few seconds there was a second duck acting in the same way approaching the first duck. I initially thought there would be a duck-fight, maybe a fight over territory, or a fight over right to mate, or some other silly reason .
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As I was too involved in taking snaps of these two ducks, I could only see the incident through the viewfinder of my camera: I observed that the first duck had suddenly disappeared, but later I noticed that the second duck had been pushing the first duck under water.
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I presume that the one on top is the male.

It was only when I saw the snaps on my camera LCD did I realize what was actually happening, the second Duck had been courting the first Duck.

After the courtship the first (female) duck shook off the excess water from between its feathers.
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The tiny flying water droplets are such a sight!

Later, the first duck began following the second duck. As they moved onto deeper waters the two ducks were joined by another duck.
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After I had taken these snaps I noticed that a couple had occupied a spot about 20 feet behind me on a clearing in the dry leaves. I usually feel a bit awkward taking photos being closely watched by an audience who do nothing but stare at me. Anyway, in a few minutes I left that spot in search of other places to take better shots of the Anhinga. During this stroll, I noticed in the distance there was a Kingfisher making its occasional trips to the water surface – this I tried capturing with very little success, also, there was a Heron perched on the edge of a dead tree stump doing nothing but posing for the camera.
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Though these things kept my interest for some time, I returned back to the first spot, next to the water edge, within about half an hour of leaving it, to wait on another chance of photographing the Anhinga. The couple who were earlier seated at this spot were nowhere to be seen.

Here I waited, though the Anhinga bobbed in and out of the water surface quite frequently, there was no other fish catching incident that I could capture on camera. After about 30 minutes, an Anhinga emerged out of the water quite close to where I stood.
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I was observing the bird and photographing it without making any sudden moves, lest I disturb it. In a few seconds of emerging out of the water the bird raised its wings to dry them. I began to anticipate a take-off that I could capture on my camera, but I never expected anything this grand!

Within a few seconds of raising its wings for drying, the Anhinga started its flight procedure. As the Anhinga’s feathers are not waterproofed by oils like those of ducks, it was quite an effort for the bird to take flight when its wings were still wet. It had some difficulty getting off the water, but it finally took flight flapping its wings rigorously while also running on the water.
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Soon it was gone, far away.
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As I stood there reviewing these pictures, there was a hurried rustle in the grass to my left. As I turned to look, the grass 5-6 feet from where I stood began to twist and turn and quite suddenly a snake entered the water. I stood their transfixed, with more than half a mind to run, but to my own surprise my hands reached for the camera and clicked some snaps, some understandably blurry of course. I took snaps till the snake disappeared into the grass on the other side. The snake was easily 8 feet long and about 3-4 inches in diameter and was a swift swimmer. After this incident I didn’t stay at that place for more than a minute. I’m terrified of snakes!

I took the snake to be a Cobra as Indian Cobras are known to be more or less of the same color and appearance as the one I just saw. During my walk back to the Karanji lake exit, my head was full of the snake incident and I was cursing myself for being so reckless. It was very clear that the snake had been resting in the grass for quite sometime while I was involved in my photography moving about 10 feet within the resting area of the snake for about 30-40 mins.
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The day after, when I subjected the snake’s photo for closer inspection, it resembled a Rat snake. From what I read about Rat snakes: these snakes grow to a length of 2 meters, is a swift swimmer, mostly feed on rats, frog/toads and most importantly non-poisonous (which I knew earlier). Though the Indian Cobra is very similar in appearance to the Rat snake, they rarely grow longer than a meter, so with sufficient confidence I can claim it was a Rat snake and leave a sigh of relief.

A photo of Sunset over the Karanji lake.
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Note: Picture taken during one of my earlier visits to this lake.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    >Anoop,

    Snake or no snake, your captures were worth all the pains.

    Great pics!

  2. Sunil Deepak says:

    >Lovely pictures and the black background makes them even better. Congrats.

  3. >nice.. very nice!

  4. >anonymous: I have been reading about snakes from sometime, and yeah, I’m not that terrified of them since I know more about them now.

    Sunil Deepak: thanks.

    Sameer: 😉

  5. >Hello,

    came here following Sree’s blog links and the pictures are very pretty. I just found the answer to the question I was about to ask you… a photoblog of yours!

    Happy shooting!
    gowtham

  6. >Hello. This post is likeable, and your blog is very interesting, congratulations :-). I will add in my blogroll =). If possible gives a last there on my blog, it is about the Vinho, I hope you enjoy. The address is http://vinho-brasil.blogspot.com. A hug.

  7. Rohini Kamath says:

    >Great photos, particularly the first! The Last one is a real beauty too!

    The white bird is most likely a Median Egret in breeding ( its beak is yellow and legs are black )

  8. backpakker says:

    >awesome pictures..I was engrossed completely..tell me how do you increase the size of the pictures ?
    lakshmi

  9. >gowtham: thanks.

    Vinho: thanks again.

    Rohini: ya, I was confused between an Egret and Heron, still not sure.

    backpakker: I don’t increase (zoom) the pic size after the pic is taken. I used a telescopic lens (Nikon 55-200mm VR) to shoot these pics.

  10. Anonymous says:

    >Hey Anoop,
    I visited ur blog today for the first time.
    Found interesting.Great photography.At the same time a question flashed in my mind.How do u manage to go to places, take these photos n all?(Despite being a Telecommunication engineer)How are you able to give so much time on your hobbies?

    Mail me at : prasad.nirchal@gmail.com

  11. Anna Bond says:

    >The picture of the Anhinga tossing the fish on its beak is absolutely brilliant! Priceless!!

    Dude, isn’t the 55-200mm lens a pain to carry around? I wanted to buy it but was discouraged by its size.

  12. >Anna Bond: yup, it is quite a lucky shot!
    The pain has to be endured, if you need better photos 🙂 I would recommend buying the 18-200 mm, its got great reviews and saves the trouble of changing lenses. But if u need serious zoom, try the 70-300 mm f4/5.6 my friend has it and its really really good, oh and its 500$ – as costly as ur D40 😉

  13. >hi..the pictures were really awesome..aptly captured nature's beauty..

    i wanted to share an info regarding snakes..rat snakes do resemble the indian cobra..and indian cobra can grow well upto 2 meters or even longer..

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