Painted Stork

March 25, 2019

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The first time I set eyes on them was at a zoological park. They were not captive. A small island-like space was made available for them. They would come there each year to build nests, lay eggs and raise their hatchlings. Other birds also made it their home for a few months, darters, cormorants, spot-billed pelicans, black necked storks and even a Sarus crane or two!

They make wonderful parents. They spread their wings wide to shelter their hatchlings from the sun. Hatchlings dip their beaks deep into their parents’ necks to “fish out” dead fish. Must be a rather painful process, that!

The fledgelings are a grey ball and nowhere near as beautiful as the adults. They make loud screeching noises to make their hunger known and their parents make frequent flights to bring them food.

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They tirelessly fly around to gather more twigs for their nest, so that eggs or hatchlings don’t fall prey to prowling monitor lizards.

One can derive endless pleasure watching them for hours, as they ferry food and twigs back to their nests, and interact with their babies, mates and other members of their flock.

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House Sparrow

March 25, 2019
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a male sparrow

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a male and a female sparrow

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a female sparrow

Sparrows are perhaps the first birds I learnt to identify. My parents would encourage me to fill earthen water bowls and keep them under plants for them. Then, armed with a small pair of binoculars, I would sit at a window as the birds gathered for a drink and a splash.

Sparrows and Indian silverbills would gather in large numbers. They would also bathe in the fine red dust after their bath. They would also gather twigs to make their nests and dog fur to line them.

Two decades later, I moved to a city and missed the sparrows. It is only after I moved to the suburbs that I found them in large numbers again. Their chirping and twittering is music to my ears. They love the bougainvillea bushes and don’t seem to be bothered by the thorns.

I watch them pecking at the sheaves of wheat and ears of corn. They are not bothered by the wind swaying the stalks of the crop. They are a pleasure to watch and are curious little winged creatures that blend well with their surroundings.

Long live sparrows!

Indian Grey Horbill

March 11, 2019

What a beautiful bird, despite being a drab grey!

I first saw it on a glum winter morning when the sun was breaking free from smog.

The dappled light lit up a bird busy with a fig. It seemed to have rather a large beak with what looked like a horn (!) lean body and long tail. Wonder of wonders, another beak, equally large and with a horn, protruded from the tree trunk and the fig was gently “handed” over. These were the hornbills I had seen pictures of, but never in real life.

Mesmerised, I walked towards the birds, unmindful of traffic. Large leafy trees stood on a wide divider in Lutyens Delhi, and the birds had made their home in the bole of one such tree. As I approached, one red eye sized me up and flew away.

The flight was less than graceful, the bird flapping it’s wings, bobbing up and down in the air, and gliding for a very short distance before landing.

I made myself scarce. I had disturbed them. But the image remained in my mind. I started walking around the area and soon saw other hornbills. This time I trained my binoculars at them so as not to bug them.

They ate figs, garden lizards and even scorpions! Where I live they are called Dhanesh. I would dearly love to watch them sunbathe as that is an activity that they are known to enjoy.

But till then, here is a picture of a hornbill I spent a long time with in a sprawling park.

White-throated laughingthrush

March 6, 2019

It was their first trip to Uttarakhand. The weary, city sick travellers found themselves on the wooden balcony of a cottage.

As if on cue, a large flock of noisy birds descended on the trees in front of them. Some humans made an immediate scramble into the room they had just left. Cameras with zoom lenses were swiftly pulled out of cushioned bags.

But before they could emerge with their machines, a soft drizzle began, quite without warning, as it often does in the hills. The birds disappeared just as quickly as they had made an appearance.

The sun soon made its way back among the clouds, and the birds returned in tow. They talked a lot with each other, preened, huddled together in the cold and made a lot of noise.

A prominent white throat helped identify them as white-throated laughingthrushes.

While the day remained cold and the humans debated taking a bath (even though hot water was available) the birds joyfully bathed in the water that had collected in pools.

They dominated the scene by their sheer numbers and decibel levels, even though the place had plenty of other birds like the streaked laughingthrush, striated laughingthrush, black headed jay, and grey-winged blackbird.

Red vented bulbul

March 5, 2019

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Red-vented bulbuls, loud, gregarious birds found in plains and dry scrub. Chances are, you will hear them before you see them, even though they steer clear of dense vegetation.

My most memorable interaction with them was when I was an adventurous (read dumb) teenager. Thirteen-year old me had gotten too close to a nest and was chased away by a pair of furious flapping furies! Lesson learnt: Do not peer into a bird’s nest or animal’s lair.

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Their crest looks like a mohawk. Thanks to their red vents (butts) they are called red-vented bulbuls. They sing beautifully. This is why they used to be sold and kept as caged songbirds. Thankfully, that no longer happens.

In the Indo-Gangetic Plain one only has to go for a morning walk to listen to them singing. They chase after insects, raid fruit trees and make a loud noise wherever they go.

They are curious, fearless birds, so they will let you approach closer than other birds would. I find that they are a treat to watch on sunny winter mornings when there are grubs and fruits aplenty.

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Foolish human gets their due!

March 2, 2019

Many years ago I used to be a regular visitor to a zoo. Then as now, the greatest attraction it held for me was in the very first enclosure. It had a tiny island with thorny vegetation. Migratory birds would come and go as they pleased. Painted storks and spot billed pelicans would make their nests, raise their chicks in winter and then fly away with them. Egrets, cormorants, herons and an occasional darter would also join in.

I would spend hours looking at the goings on. Back then I used to have a tiny point and shoot camera and was rather inspired by conservationists on nature channels, trying to get up close and personal with the animals they observed. I would never try to touch any wild animal but the limited range of my camera would sometimes induce me to take risks I shouldn’t have.

So one fine afternoon when sleepy guards had perhaps gone off for tea, I crossed a thorny hedge and walked into the enclosure. My plan was to squat right there and take some quick pictures of a pair of storks feeding their young, about 15-20 metres away. While I was thus occupied I heard a loud hiss at close quarters.

I was sure it was nothing less than a cobra and I would not make it out alive. I scrambled out forthwith, heat pounding, pulse racing. When I looked back–through the scraps of my t-shirt hanging from thorns as souvenirs of my misadventure–I saw a furious black swan, wings fanned out, red beak shaking from side to side. Behind it there was another black swan with cygnets close by.

It was a narrow miss, and a good lesson never to mess with animals. This is a photograph of another pair of swans living in captivity at the same zoo. The male was making a large mound nest on the ground and the female was paddling around unconcernedly. The male soon joined her in the water. I wished them luck in my heart and walked off.

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Cattle egret

March 1, 2019

Late evening, driving past farms, open drains, makeshift garages, “desi thekas”, and other prosaic markers of a suburban existence, I came upon a solitary bird. It looked like an old man sitting on a wall, meditative, lost to the world.

Cattle egrets are common in these parts, riding buffaloes and getting between their hooves as they forage in deserted, plastic strewn oases between towering high-rises.

This one though, gave me a pause. Its utter focus, crest feathers fluttering in the breeze, silent and static amidst the hustle and bustle caught my eye.

I parked my car. It was aware of my presence, but since I was at a distance, it stayed on the wall. I stayed in the car, watching, imbibing the tranquility that seemed to emanate from the creature.

This photograph is a peaceful moment frozen in time.

Streaked Laughingthrush

March 1, 2019

This was my first laughingthrush sighting ever!

Streaked laughingthrush are beautiful, petite, busy birds. Hopping on the ground, or taking short flights, or perched on a branch calling its mates through the day, they are a sight for sore eyes.

Initially they kept away from my hulking figure poking around, camera in hand. Once I settled down on the ground and looked uninterested enough they flew down and began to root through wet leaves. Every now and they would find a choice morsel and then go back to looking for more.

More than the streaks on their breast, the orange spots on their cheek seemed attractive to me. Their busy gregarious nature was a close second.

This was my first foray into the hills of Uttarakhand. May there be more.

Anhinga melanogaster

February 26, 2019

Whenever I imagine a darter, it is with wings spread wide in the sun. I have seen it close to freshwater bodies. They usually congregate in large numbers, often on the same tree as cormorants and egrets.

When they are in the water their lower body is submerged. All one can see is the snake-like neck, which is why they are also called the snake bird. Its beak is a formidable spear, where small fish are concerned. Fish are gulped down head first.

I would not know a male from a female, however much I have read about how to distinguish between them.

Their numbers are decreasing due to shrinking habitat, poaching of their eggs and the overuse of pesticides.

I saw this one at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park in Delhi.

Owlets in the day

February 25, 2019

I have always been fascinated with owls. I have seen spotted owlets before. As a matter of fact, I see one often when I take my dogs for a walk in the morning.

I usually find it perched on a wire near a large fig tree (where it lives). If you look at it, it looks right back, unafraid. It’s a tiny bird with a lot of personality.

I can hardly click a picture with two dogs straining at the leash, so I make do with looking at it for as long as possible.

I clicked these pictures at a birding walk. The guide knew where to find them and took us to a spot where five of them were huddled together on a branch.

The loud “oohs”, “aahs”, “where is it?”, “can you see it?”, drove most of the birds away. This one was curious I guess, or maybe I saw it because I hung back after everyone left.

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