Wednesday, July 23, 2014

An absurd little bird

A quirky little birding collectible:

The Birdwatching Cuckoo Clock from Studio Kuadra is made up of two distinct but connected cubes. The first element, the clock, is made up of a stylized observation perch, where two birdwatchers stand ready to catch a glimpse and the other element is a tree, where a sparrow hides in the branches.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

At the bird bath

Bulbuls do enjoy a frolicky bath when the sun is beating down - some images from last summer.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Square robin

I made this collage as an experiment for instagram and then thought it should go here as well.
A robin at the birdbath in my garden. He had a good time.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

All in a Day's Birding


When a species turns out to be exactly what I first suspected it to be, despite people doubting my identification skills.


When the taxonomic association suddenly decides to attribute the Latin name of a species I had grown up knowing intimately, to a bird which is not even found on my continent. 


When I identify a bird correctly and everyone appears suspicious till an expert walks on to the scene, proclaims the species to be the same and suddenly everyone willingly consents.


When the winning team's strategy at the most recent bird-race was to photograph birds with DSLRs and identify them in their car at leisure while driving to new spots; and the rest of us were stuck with binoculars and fleeting glimpses of birds.


When a "bird photographer" refuses to buy a field guide, but posts or emails photographs of common species on a forum and asks for identification. 


When someone announces to me with a surprised look on their faces, "Oh! You know your birds pretty well!"


When I identify a species with its old name, "Hey look! A dabchick!" and a  Neo-Nomenclature Nazi retorts, "Don't you mean Little Grebe?"


When I am busy counting birds during a census, get elbowed in the face by an excited bird photographer and lose count.


When yet another "bird photographer" starts boasting about his grand experiences at expensive birding camps held in exotic locations at a gathering.



When someone introduces me to someone else as "This one really can identify birds well!" and the latter immediately says, "Oh! Let's test you shall we? What's that bird?" and points into the distance at a bird.


When a Little Brown Job, or a warbler, or a flycatcher, or a wader, or a bittern goes about skulking and avoids identification. 

Source of GIFs, the wonderful #myfriendsaremarried blog.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Three mornings, one in the Himalayas, one in the Naxal heavy region of Adilabad District and one in the Western Ghats remain etched in my memory. Each morning has associated with it the sharp calls of three different bird species jolting me awake from deep sleep, my senses sharp and heightened.

For the longest while I was a birdwatcher. Merely identifying species, making lists, admiring the flash of reds, blues, iridescent greens and violets and soaking in nature’s marvels. Then one day, on a similar afternoon like the one mentioned before, with dwindling bird activity, in a scrub jungle close to Hyderabad, a veteran ornithologist in our group asked me to try and identify a lute like call stemming from the trees. It sounded like the ubiquitous Red-vented Bulbul. The bird flew down and sat on a low perch and I got my first glimpse of a White-browed bulbul. Birding they say, gives you fresh eyes. You perceive everything in a landscape differently and with palpable interest. With calls, another vestigial sense came alive. Here’s where I first learnt to really listen and became a birder.

The aural equivalent of watching fireworks in the sky came on yet another late afternoon, this time in mid-December near the rambling campus of the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. Eight of us were walking along in a quiet Kumaoni forest thick with Sal trees. Suddenly, in the distance we heard dozens of different calls and as we tried to figure out which direction they were coming in from, the calls grew louder and louder and like a shower of arrows raining upon us in a battlefield we were surrounded by birds swooping down on to branches; woodpeckers, tree creepers, finches, flycatchers and tens more species. Colours exploded everywhere; we were walking in the path of a hunting party. In forests, the birder’s trick to spotting species is to just wait and listen; eventually you chance across a mixed party of around 40-50 different kinds of birds hunting for food. We craned our necks trying to spot them, peg their names to the branch they were sitting a moment ago, but it became all too dizzying. And just as they came, the calls thinned and their owners moved on ahead to perches further on.

Ever so often, especially in winters when migration season is a cause for celebration amongst birders, you are lounging on the terrace, a book in hand and abruptly hear a “tik-tik-tik”, you heard once in the Himalayas. Or a sharp “Kreee”! you hadn’t heard before, but know by its written description that it is often heard near fast flowing streams in dense jungles of the Western Ghats. A smile on your face, heart skipping a beat, your mind saying, “I heard you.”

Today, amidst drill machines, sawing and cutting and hammering of wood in villas and multi-storeys going up, amidst the chatter of voices on Twitter and Facebook, a distant call came and went, perhaps from Siberia, perhaps from Tawang, or it could have been Outer Mongolia even. Like the proverbial tree which fell in the woods, no one heard it.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

They are back

Not exactly a live-birding blog post. Yes, you see, my birding quota over the past year has dropped virtually. Actually no, increased "virtually" and decreased in reality. Apart from which, they are back.

Eventually, pigeons have to feature on everyone's hit-list. Emily writes on action taken by the authorities at White Plains station against rising pigeon menace on I Ride The Harlem Line. While the anti-pigeon posters she has designed to poke fun at the North Metro people's efforts are hilarious, it looks like the joke's really on humans after all, what with pigeons now riding the metro.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A plane of paradise

It started off being an ordinary morning at the guest room of the Lace-park of Narsapur in West Godavari. That was till I heard knocking on the large glass paneled windows behind the heavy blinds of the west-facing room. I approached the window a little surprised because I thought it was odd for someone to be getting my attention that way instead of coming to the door. High pitched chirping coincided with my moving away the curtains, after which I was entirely motionless for the next ten minutes (apart from perhaps my jaw which dropped involuntarily and remained that way till I eased it shut after a while).

Not more than five feet from where I was sat a Paradise-Flycatcher on the low bough of a tree undertaking the most unusual antics. It came close to the window to which my nose was practically stuck, hovered close and knocked at it a couple of times before going back to its restless perch on the tree. This it continued to do for the next ten magical minutes. At one point it came to hover no more than ten inches from my face. I was too delighted , too afraid, and frankly too befuddled to move. But as it turned out I needn’t have worried. It kept coming back, darting close, hovering, perching, calling repeatedly and generally appearing absolutely fascinated by either the glass or me!

The explanation for this unusual behavior came to me soon. By an extraordinary stroke of luck I had found myself face-to-face with this beautiful creature across the barrier of a mirror tinted glass panel!

Needless to say, nothing remained ordinary that day.

Saagar-e-jalwa-e-sarshaar hai har zarrah-e-khaak

Shauq-e-didaar balaa aaina-samaan niklaa

- Ghalib

Saturday, November 21, 2009

This morning

When you think the garden has certainly been invaded by marauding hordes, or at the very least a phalanx of goats, chances are they'll be babblers.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Guttur Guttur!

Image from:

Concrete jungles make for hundreds of sightings of rock-pigeons. The look in their own eyes is also pretty much stoned.  Everyone who has ever lived in an apartment block has their own set of pigeon stories to tell. Anyone who has stared into the eyes of one will swear by the utter blankness that stares back at them. That is if they are in any state to talk after the staring bout. The existence of pigeons is a complete co-incidence. There is no way they could have evolved. Placed on earth by an alien race is more like it.

Neighbours of a dear friend staying at Hasmathpet road went ahead and painted their home a brilliant purple. The colour of a bright brinjal. Next thing we know, all the pigeons of the vicinity had chosen the terrace of that house to roost day in and out. E___ and the rest of us girls who had gotten together for lunch at her place, stood in the balcony and watched the birds taking off periodically, circling about like remote-controlled toy-planes and landing back softly. What gripped those insane people to do a "mera waala purple!" with a nerolac shade card, one shall never know. What attracted those pigeons in the first place to the mothership of pigeons is another question.

Pigeons do strange things to you. They startle you the most when you least expect it. They can do brilliant things really. One of the things about city pigeons is that they are forever sighted on window sills, water tanks or ventilators or sometimes squashed behind Split AC vents and no other kind of surface. A few years back, all of aged sixteen and entirely new to birdwatching, I and my Dad were standing outside the local WWF office waiting for someone to turn up. Casually I looked up a copper-pod tree and sighted two Rock Pigeons perching on the branches. And they seemed to be completely at ease while trying to be normal birds. I stood with my mouth hung in astonishment at the sight. What was obvious seemed like a revelation at that point.  Pigeons. can.perch.on.tree-branches. too? Wow. It was a supreme Duh moment as well as one of amazingosity.

Of course they take revenge for our complete lack of appreciation for them. The other day, S___'s dad was stomping about on the kitchen floor madly and making weird noises to scare two birds that had just begun building a nest in the ventilator. Poor uncle. He slipped in the process and sprained his back and arm.

The most recent memory is that of writing our second year exams at this college.  Damned pigeons set the world record for most number of successful mating rituals in the ventilators as we slogged away in the midday heat at various governmental systems.  Stray down-feathers would float down occasionally and settle on our answer sheets as the pigeons cooed in delight. 

And they live on. All Hail.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Filed under: Multimedia, iPhone, App Store, iPod touch

This iPhone app is truly for the birds

Peterson's famous Field Guide to Backyard Birds [App Store link] has come to the iPhone/iPod touch, and in many ways it is a natural fit with the iPhone multimedia features. The field guide, which is a 92 MB download (!), contains hundreds of bird species, as well as the sounds of their calls, and of course illustrations and information about each bird.

I gave the app a try in my Arizona backyard. First, you enter the first two digits of your zip code, then you are provided a list of birds that should be local to your area. The quail that were sitting on my back wall were on the list, as well as the pesky road runner that peeks in the window every so often. I also learned that the roadrunner is part of the cuckoo family. Who knew?

The guide has some quizzes that can test your knowledge of our feathered friends, and tests to see if you can identify bird calls. You can also zoom in on the bird illustrations to see more details.

Some users have reported bugs and crashes of the app, but in my testing it was quite stable and I can't report any problems. The developer does have a note on the App Store web page saying a new version will be coming out soon with bug fixes and new features.

I think the app needs a search mode so you can type in the name of a desired bird. The information about each bird is pretty thin, and when the lists of local birds is displayed it doesn't seem to be in any order that I can fathom. I'd also like to see the program work in landscape mode.

Even with those criticisms, I found the app useful and informative. The app is $2.99US. Birders will also want to take a look at iBird Explorer Plus [App Store link]. It is pricey at $19.99US but it has a far more expansive catalog of birds, and does allow for searches.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Oil Scams

Found this via the web.

Very early one morning two birds are sitting at the side of a large puddle of oil. They see a worm on the other side. So, one flies over and the other one swims through -- which one gets to the worm first?

Ans: The one that swam across of course. Cause the oily bird gets the woim. :p :) :)

The Birdwatchers' Billboard

Ever wondered what Birdwatchers listen to?

1) Padosan Apni Murgi ko Rakhna Sambhaal from Jaadugar
2) Maare Hivda Mein Naache Mor from Hum Saath Saath hain
3) Teetar ke do Aage Teetar from Mera Naam Joker
4) Panchi Banu Udti Phiroon from Chori Chori
5) Panchi Nadiyaan from Refugee
6) Tota Maina ki Kahaani from Fakira
7) Kabootar Ja from Maine Pyaar Kiya
8) Do Hanson ka Jodaa from Ganga Jamuna
9) Jhoot Bole Kauva Kaate from Bobby
10)You are my Chicken Fry from Rock Dancer

(The above entry is part of an effort made by several members of the Birdwatchers’ Society. In April 2006, post a daylong camp at Uppalpadu, Guntur we came back with pelicanbeaksful of bird sightings and for a few posts, spoke of nothing but Pelicans and Herons (1,2,3,4,5,6,7 ). Enroute to camp, to fruitfully utilize travel time a list of hindi songs with bird references in them was drawn up. What started off as a game with four people soon had pretty much the entire birding group trying to hazard guesses and recall songs old and new. We’ll be back with ten more entries in the next post.)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

One of many circles

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Wallace Stevens gives us Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird and in the comment-space of this post, Shweta says, '
Everybody who ever sees a blackbird should give us a new way.'
So, have you ever seen a blackbird?

Friday, August 22, 2008

कार्यक्षेत्र अध्ययन

घटना १: A Shikra-like bird comes gliding by, “Arrey! Peregrine Falcon!” Mayhem breaks out। Some ten birders with scopes, binoculars and cameras with absurdly long lenses chase the bird as it wings its way to safety. Four twenty somethings stare in astonishment at the others as they recede into the distance leaving a cloud of dust billowing in their wake. The four plonk themselves on the ground. P__ opens her backpack, digs out four Twix bars and passes them around. They munch pensively and wait for the others to return with news. Suddenly a call sounds in the distance, “Arrey! Eurasian Sparrowhawk!” The four look up and spot the same bird flying past। Jumble of people, dust, cameras and binoculars returns and passes by.P__ looks at N___. N___ looks at N__. N___looks at S___. “Shikra,” they nod in agreement. Stuff empty wrappers in bags, get up, dust their jeans and saunter behind excited horde.

घटना २: A Shikra-like bird glides by and perches on a palm tree. Inmates of car number two (generally the last car, can also be numbers 4, 5, 6 etc.)* whip out their binocs and set about trying to identify the bird. Car number one zooms into sight, parks behind car number two and out emerge expensive cameras, binoculars and expert birders. “Arrey! Crested Goshawk!” Disorder reigns. Bird decides to wing its way in the blue yonder and floats about a la Shikra. Cameras click away. Snap! Snap! Snap! “Check out the barring on its body!” yells somebody. Members from Car 2 munch on a few peanut laddoos, down half a bottle of Slice and open up the Field-guide. “Eurasian Sparrow-hawk,” they murmur.

* विचार: A highly interesting state of affairs observed at birding camps. The hierarchy progresses thusly:
Car 1: The Executive/Administrative vehicle. Is usually occupied by the most solemn birders whose sole objective is to notch up the birding list and capture shots of raptors gliding in some obscure part of the horizon with their fantastic cameras. The latest news in the world of the environment and ornithology is discussed here.
Car 2: Comprises the party workers. A degree less in the feverishness that grips the first vehicle, but will ensure they overtake cars no 3 and 4 just to retain their position.
Car no 3: The Opposition: Will bird in west while the rest bird in east.
Car 4: Supplied with Biryani, loaded onto trucks and brought for birding program.:p The last vehicle in the convoy, its occupants are the small-fry to whom people rarely listen to. “Ooh! That’s an Ultramarine flycatcher!” Expert walks by and says, “No. That is an Ultramarine flycatcher.” Rest of the horde rejoices, "Yay! It’s an Ultramarine Flycatcher!” Apart from birding, occupants involve in various activities like eating junk-food, napping, singing, discussing interesting random topics like Politics and Sports, playing Dumb Charades and laughing at the most absurd jokes on the planet. Interested newbies may apply C/o Last Car of Convoy.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Happy Family and a Jinx.

“Sharada! Sharada!,” came Mum calling excitedly into our bedroom today, at the unearthly hour of eight in the morning. I opened my eyes and stared groggily at her, while the words Bulbuls, Parents, Teaching, Babies and Fly swam about in the air. That did it. I was wide awake. I rushed to get my camera and took a video of the babies making their first attempts at taking flight. Here are short clippings (all taken from behind a meshed window) from today morning:

Throughout the past month it was Mum who tracked the whole nesting process of the Red-vented Bulbuls, in between her busy schedule of running her playschool, managing a deranged family and one loony pet-labrador by the name of Alvin. It was around the first week of April that we noticed signs of nesting activity in a Christmas tree in the backyard, while taking Alvin out (aged one month then) for his daily business. Mum immediately banned the family from approaching the area and took it upon herself to protect the Bulbuls from us. I and Sai occasionally pottered about in the backyard, took cover behind bushes and photographed the birds from a safe distance. We used a camera with a 12x optical zoom, so we assure you we did this without bothering the bulbuls. While we were spared from an ambush from the protective parents whenever we went into the backyard, Alvin in all his innocence was subjected to a furious blitzkrieg whenever he went nosing about at the base of the tree. Sai succeeded in dragging away the dog from ground-zero, for he survives to this day to maul and bark at us.

That the Bulbuls had chosen our backyard for nesting, the realization that two little eggs had been laid, that they had hatched, the sight of the pink, skinny babies with bulging blue-black eyelids-their beaks agape clamouring for food were amazing moments. And today the fledglings made their first venture beyond their home. Awkward wing beats, apprehensive minutes waiting for Mom and Dad to come to their aid. While baby 1 was happily (or unfortunately ) stuck on the Parijatam tree blinking away at its predicament, baby2 was a faster learner, clambering over tree trunks and launching itself back and forth across the Parijatam and Karaunda trees.

Three summers back two Purple Sunbirds built a nest in the same Parijatam tree and bore the scorching summer heat for a single egg. Their beaks closing and opening as if they were panting in the heat. A couple of weeks later, I found them gone. The nest abandoned. I put my hand into their pendulum-shaped nest and brought out a tiny egg and held it against the sunlight. It was barren. And just a shell. At that instant I felt really bad. When the Red-vented Bulbuls started nesting in our yard I hoped the same wouldn’t happen to them. And today, with their chattering calls resounding in the backyard, (“I told you not to let them fly today! Look now! They are stuck in two different trees!”:p), it feels awesome!


So I am jinxed. A cat came and caught hold of one of the babies, right in front of my eyes, even before this post went up on Urban Babblers, while the other baby escaped to two houses away. The parents were calling away anxiously, flying after the cat. And I was the one who went poking about the bushes to see if the babies were okay, when Sai chased the prowling cat away. They got scared and scattered in two different directions. I feel horrible. :(

One Bulbul returned with fruit in its mouth to feed the fledglings and found an empty bush. I feel very (raised to the power of infinity) horrible. :(

Mum claims she saw the other baby survivor and the parents feeding it.

I don’t think I can ever again look at a Bulbul directly in its eye. Ever.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Find and keep

(This piece is also posted here)

A couple of months ago the Guardian Poetry workshop had a very interesting exercise designed by a poet called David Morley.The exercise requires us to find poetry in nature or descriptions of nature. Morley says that very often even the most prosaically intended, quasi-scientific descriptions of natural things and phenomenon in such material as field guides can be astonishingly beautiful; he is very right.

Being a birder and Indian I naturally turned to Salim Ali. My difficulty then was to choose a passage; they were all variously lovely. So I opened a page at random as suggested. I just took most of what I found and placed it in a ‘live’ context. It (the context) happened to be the intended one and one I am most familiar with.

Here’s the result-


Could it be

the unmistakable cousin of the Indian Pond Heron

Upper parts chestnut-cinnamon


Stripe down foreneck

Strike two.

Female duller

A male then.





very similar to those of a Little Green Heron

Bookmark and flip:

When surprised

on its nest

or cornered assumes

characteristic attitude of the tribe

termed the ‘on guard’.

Ocular note:

Neck stretched perpendicular,

bill pointing skyward,

the bird freezes,

astonishingly obliterated

amongst its reedy environment.

That’s a wrap.

But just to know:

Nests – in the south west monsoon

Nest – a small twig platform

Eggs – four or five


Note: Chestnut Bittern; nos: 1

Monday, March 03, 2008

Tern and tern again

We went to Kolleru in January and it was a phenomenal experience of sheer scale. I will persuade Shweta to put up a piece here that she wrote for our society’s monthly newsletter.

In the meantime, here is a video I took of a few, just a few Whiskered Terns. Why they were so fond of this little pond, we couldn’t figure out. We all posed by erm… terns and the pictures make it fondly into our scrapbooks.

As you will find out, the men in our group chatter incessantly. I will quite understand if you want to turn down the volume. In fact, please do. In case you don’t, don’t miss Arjun saying at the very end, ‘Oh, she’s taking a video, I think we should shut up…!’

The link is here

Friday, December 14, 2007

Trivial matters

I revert again to talking of British books on wildlife. First, I must admit I have a weakness for off-beat publications – frivolous books that are about ‘nothing’ but for a nebulous central idea, quirky funny books with self-belief. Precisely one such is The Wildlife Companion. Edited by Malcolm Tait and Olive Tayler, this is an assortment of the most delightful trivia on wildlife you might wish to come across.

Nothing is too sacred, or too trivial for this book. Random notes by naturalists feature here: you can admire Peter Scott’s career in conservation or scoff at Aristotle for imagining that redstarts turned into robins in winter. Then there are myths and fables associated with flora and fauna, puzzles, quotes and of course trivia. You would learn for instance of Campsicnemius charliechaplini, a fly with a tendency to die in the bandy-legged position and that an owl has 14 neck vertebrae twice as many as most mammals and that swans have 25. Dead useful for all that necking they do.

Like I said, more trivia than you could possibly remember. To underline this, each page number gives you a little nugget: for instance, on Page 20 you will find ‘20 Time, in minutes that a grey seal can stay submerged’ or if advance to 32, you would discover that this was the ‘amount, in billions of dollars, spent on their hobby by us birdwatchers in 2001’. And the pages are sprinkled with a series of hilarious jokes on talking frogs.

With its broad, all-enveloping stance, The Wildlife Companion links Hannibal, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Pliny the Elder, cockatrice, Siegfried Sassoon and Shakespeare among a diverse number of other things… the writers evidently agreeing with John Muir when he says, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”