A bungling birder’s early notes

By TheHindu on 28 Feb 2017 | read

recently acquired a pair of binoculars. Although I have harboured great enthusiasm for nature, demonstrated mainly by stalking naturalist friends and hoping to imbibe their knowledge, I had bucked the pressure of acquiring a camera. Mostly because of a spat with my purse.

But I soon grew tired of peering at others peering into their lenses while a babbler babbled or a woodpecker pecked. So, promising to heed the purse and my notions of unobtrusiveness, I had marched off to the nearest nature enthusiast’s pit stop, examined a couple of cameras, acquired an 8X40 Nikon Aculon instead, to the attendant’s dismay, and prepared for a wholesome birding experience.

The start

Suitably armed thus, I tumbled out of bed and went birding one morning. First, the landscape. A Tabebuia rosea with an explosion of pink stood before me, guarding empty plots around it. A tarred road separated us. On my left stood a row of teak trees interspersed with a couple of rosewood trees, coconuts and a lonely bougainvillea, all lovingly planted by my father when they were wee saplings.

Beyond them lay another empty plot. The plots wore patches of green and flourishing piles of garbage. The trees, along with a few Gulmohurs, formed a patchwork canopy over this busy, part-commercial, part-residential locality in southeast Bangalore. I was perched on the terrace of my third-floor house, in my pyjamas.

Applying the rudiments of bird- watching, I scanned for any movement. Sensing some on the lovely Tabebuia, I instantly trained my binoculars. Only to find a few aged flowers on their descent.

Disgusted, I began to turn away when I spied a black kite sitting atop a branch. Sure, black kites are a dime a dozen these days. But now I could see the bird in gorgeous detail: the soft brown feathers, the yellow smudge on the beak and side, the sun glinting off its dark eyes, and the menacing curve of its beak.

I stood admiring the bird and my contraption when there was a sharp movement to my left. A small bird had burst forth from the canopy, flitted and flown about, and disappeared just as quickly. Was that a swallow? Suddenly, a whole posse rushed out and kicked the sleep right out of me.

Don’t get me wrong. I have spotted many birds in these parts before: kites, pigeons, bats, barbets, mynahs, bulbuls, Asian koels, great tits, spotted doves, greater coucals and several pesky crows.

The pesky one

Indeed, I have a score to settle with a particularly pesky fellow. His evil machinations have led to my enlistment as my mother’s companion on her walks. He caws and swoops, in glee no doubt, dangerously close to her while she’s alone, but displays a most gracious temperament otherwise. However, swallows? I quickly shot out a description to a friend: plane-like wings, sharply forked tail, tines ending in long and narrow slits, dark body, pale underside flashing yellow in the sun. Yes! I had recognised a barn swallow despite myself!

Encouraged, I turned around. I thought I heard a parakeet. Sure enough, I sighted a male rose- ringed parakeet with his red nut-cracker beak, a neat red cravat and a long, elegant bluish tail that wafted like chiffon in wind.

A disturbance in the foreground caught my eye next. An Indian paradise flycatcher was gadding about. Unmistakably the female of the species: rufus body, short rufus tail, glossy black head and crest with metallic sheen. I was now confident of my birding skills. I had also spotted one recently. As I pursued her, a shrill screech pierced the morning.

Now, I was acquainted with the owner of this awful screech. A while ago, a barn owl had nested. Her chicks’ blood-curdling calls in the night announced their presence but she remained elusive. So when I heard the screech months later, I launched into an investigation.

But no amount of pursuit revealed this Houdini. She screeched in broad daylight too, confusing matters further. Until one day luck turned and I caught the culprit in the act. Only to be dumbfounded. It was a black-naped oriole. I spied the rascal, disgruntled.

I continued to hear many more twitters, chimes and jingles. But the sun was gaining and I was anxious to pen my findings. I abandoned my perch, resolving to return soon.

Surely these calls were a demand to press my now considerable birding skills to service?