THROUGHOUT the year, but especially during the north-east monsoon, from November to March, good shooting may be had at the numerous large irrigation tanks in the interior of the Island, at the great brackish lakes and estuaries stretching along the coast and on the perennial rivers on the south-west coast.
Of all the many kinds of birds frequenting these waters the most numerous and the most sought after by sportsmen are the whistling teal, dendrocygna javanica. They are not migratory and are to he found on almost every large stretch of fresh water in the Island all the year round. They congregate in greatest numbers in tanks in which stand half-submerged dead trees, and where there are great banks of reeds and large sheets of shallow water in which they can swim about in security, In such places they may be seen in hundreds. During the day they remain quietly floating in the shallows or among the reeds, out of the reach of the crocodiles, or settle on shore close to the edge of the water and stand preening themselves. They also perch on the dead trees in the tanks, more especially in the breeding season ; a curious habit which has given them one of their popular names, viz., "tree-ducks." When evening approaches they rise and fly in flocks round the tank, uttering sibilant cries which can be heard a long way off. After a time they fly off and make their way to newly-ploughed or sown fields and other feeding grounds, returning to the tank at daybreak. They are both graminivorous and insectivorous and consequently find plenty of food. They breed in the Island, the female laying clutches of from ten to twelve pure white eggs on the ground or in hollows of dead trees. Young teal are often brought round for sale by natives and thrive in confinement.
The usual way of shooting teal is to walk round the tank or along the bund in the evening, or to hide behind bushes at the water's edge and fire at them as they fly whistling over. Most of the large irrigation tanks are provided with Government canoes with outriggers, and good sport may usually be obtained by going out on the water and paddling slowly about. By using a boat birds shot can nearly always be recovered. When shot from the land a certain number arc sure to tall into the water and be lost, either through their making their way by swimming and wing-flapping to the shelter of the reeds or by falling victims to the crocodiles. Men who have waded into tanks to pick up dead birds have sometimes been startled by seeing them taken down by these reptiles before their eyes. Teal are heavy fliers and are easily shot, No. 5 is considered the best size of shot for them. Decoys made of light wood and painted to resemble teal have been most successfully used to bring them within range. As is well known these birds are very excellent eating.
Flocks of the pretty little goose-teal, vetta pus coromandeli-anus, frequent the larger tanks. Though seldom seen, except during the north-east monsoon, they are said to breed in the Island, and to nest in holes in dead trees standing in the water. The males with their bright metallic hues are much handsomer than the sober-coloured little brown and grey females. They are very fast fliers and have a short sharp quacking cry. They are not easy to shoot or to recover after being shot.
Every large tank supports a number of darters, piotus melariogastei'i big, handsome birds, with greenish black plumage dashed with silver grey. They breed in the Island, are great swimmers and divers, and are very shy and difficult to approach. They are often to be seen swimming with bodies immersed and only their long snaky necks above the surface. When alarmed they flap out of the water and mounting high, fly swiftly in circles round the tank or over the neighbouring forest. After fishing they are accustomed to perch with expanded wings on trees and stumps standing in the water, drying themselves. They are often eaten.
Little cormorants, phalocrocorax pygmoeus, are also common tank birds and have habits very similar to those of darters. They are black and about the size of teal, and are called " water-crows" by the natives. They can swim and dive exceedingly well, often remaining under water a long time and coming to the surface a good many yards from the spot where they dived. They are not at all bad eating.
Little grebes or (lab-chicks, podiceps fluviatilis, are not so common, but may be seen in small flocks on most of the tanks and brackish estuaries. When flushed they fly off skimming along the surface and dropping like stones into the water when out of range. They are difficult to shoot owing to their diminutive size and rapid flight. When fired at while swimming they dive with such extraordinary quickness as apparently to dodge the shot. If only wounded their powers of swimming and diving make it almost hopeless to recover them if there are reed-beds near.
Water-pheasants, hydrophasianus chirurgus, may be seen on many tanks, but are more common on large swamps or stretches of shallow lake choked with lotus plants, on the broad floating leaves of which they may be seen running about on their long-toed feet. It is, however, when they rise, shewing their white wings and long tail-feathers, that they are usually caught sight of. They give a peculiar mewing cry when flitting about in search of the water-insects on which they feed. They have often been eaten by sportsmen.
The great beds of reeds growing in most of the tanks and lakes give cover Lo large numbers of blue coots, porphyrio poliocephalus. These are bright-coloured birds but of ungainly build with short red bills. They fly heavily, with awkward legs stretched out behind, and are very easily shot. It is rare for them to take long nights, and they are usually seen flapping about the reed-beds, uttering loud cries. Their nests are often found in the sedge, a few inches above the water. They can be eaten.
Other birds to be found in most of the tanks of the low-country, especially in the north-east monsoon, are stately herons of different kinds, white-necked storks, usually called " parson birds," fast-flying pelican and black-headed ibises, also spoonbills, sombre-hued "paddy birds," and water hens of several species. The loud cries of these last "wok! wok! korowok ! " are familiar sounds to all who have camped in the low-country.