Saturday, December 1, 2012

Blind Date with the Fliers

My friend - the white-breasted kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)

I thought birds were early-risers, but looks like Goa’s socegado style has touched the Mandovi Hill birds too.  A hush is all that greets me on my early morning birding trail. It’s well past eight in the morning and I can see fluff balls of green pigeons huddled up on top of a tree. It is full fifteen minutes later that the woods erupt in an aria pulsating and singing with life. The magpie robin with its cheery chirrupy call seems to lead an invisible band of songbirds, their music resonating space.
Two juvenile peacocks shielded in low dun grass are at a game. Both of them are running in compact circles as though chasing each other. Then they change tack, run at each other from opposite ends in their charmed circle. Even as I am silently applauding the performance, they gently trampoline in unison, facing each other.  Cheered on, more likely booed, by the pesky crows on the side-lines, the secret ritual leaves me dazed.  Could it have been a courtship dance… except that these were two males! It makes me wonder how little we know about birds and animals and their world. How alienated we are from an alternate reality which is next door! 
By 11 a.m. the birds seem to be lording the periphery with gay abandon. I catch flitting glimpses of the rare greyheaded bulbul and orange-breasted green pigeons and not so rare, but not very common either, black-headed cuckoo-shrike.On earlier occasions, I have had a serendipitous date with Tickell's blue flycatcher and a Paradise flycatcher in its breeding plumage. These have been surcharged moments, more so because I was without my camera then!
I usually come upon a white-breasted kingfisher – regal like a king - surveying its territory perched on a high post. Move in with a camera holding my breath and it zips away with alacrity averse to any intrusion. But today, the king obliged. It held its ground, rather its tree long enough – posing and pouting, peering and preening – for me to indulge myself. He has accepted me!
I come upon my favourite turning with its twin trees of silk cotton. To me, there is something bewitching about the bare-branched spike-trunked tree even when it is leafless and has long shed its flame red flowers. The birds seem to think so too, because this is where I am certain to find parties of green pigeons, orioles and other species.  As I stand admiring the tracery of twigs against the azure sky this sunny morning, a flock of rosy starlings suddenly take off the canopy. They perform a synchronised ballet in air. They come back to settle on the tree, ever so briefly, before they flit and float in a Mexican wave, once again. I stand mesmerised under the tree. Every day, I see new episodes of Planet Earth explode in front of me.  But where is the rest of the audience, I wonder!

Magpie robin's morning raga

Peacocks in a secret ritual

Purple sunbird - male