Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sometime in the last century, treecreepers made a discovery that changed their sleeping habits for good. Dating mainly from Victorian times, majestic redwoods from North America were widely planted as ornamental trees in parks and large estates throughout the British Isles. The bark is soft with a texture like cardboard. For the tree the spongy exterior acts as a protective fire blanket. Somehow, treecreepers chanced upon an alternative use as a deep pile mattress. Using their toenails, the birds scratch out a neat, body-sized hollow and flatten themselves against the trunk. Birds from a wide area converge on mature specimens and several may be found clamped on a single suitable tree. However, the species' ingenuity doesn't stop there. Over time, each makes not one hole but several encircling the trunk. This means that, depending on the direction of wind or rain, a bird will always have dry, draught-free overnight accommodation

Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

From the 'Photocopier'

White throated Ground Thrush,
12th july 2006,
Source: Photo in Sanctuary Asia, August 2003

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Lets have some Pun.

A man was charged with stealing ducks from a local pond in a small English village.
When in court, the judge asked how he pleaded. He replied 'Not guilty Mallard'.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Touched by Thoreau – II

This was going to be a comment on Aasheesh’s beautiful post on Thoreau but my responses came in fractured slivers and turned out longish, so I thought they had better be put into a post.

Have you been touched by Thoreau? he had asked.
When I first read of Thoreau in school, his life in Walden, his eccentricities, his individual spirit, he felt like a kindred soul. Everybody has Guardian Angels and he seemed like he could be mine.

Many years later, I was stuck in a job and in a life I disliked, feeling trapped and very unhappy. I had wandered into that situation and had no idea how I must extricate myself, whether I must and indeed, if I could. Then:
I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
I had only Henry David’s word for it. I had been having altogether too many ‘common hours’ but then I thought, he must know. With that one sentence drumming in my mind, I escaped the life I had so dreaded and since have indeed met with success I could not hope for then.


Talk of Thoreau inevitably calls up another memory. I must’ve encountered Enid Blyton’s Tammylan around the same time I met Thoreau and to my young mind, they frequently meshed.

Siblings Rory, Sheila, Benjy and Penny go to live in the country in Blyton’s The Children of the Cherry Tree Farm where they encounter wild man Tammylan. As they become friends, Tammylan introduces the children to the inhabitants of the English countryside: rabbits, hares, badgers, otters, foxes, voles and squirrels. It is one of my most-loved books, but most of all, I fell in love with Tammylan’s homes, both of them. One, a cave for the colder months and a tree house for the summer that I would have given anything to live in.
It was by a backwater of the river – a quiet peaceful place, where moor-hens bobbed about and fishes jumped for flies. “A Tammylanny sort of place,” Benjy thought to himself…
It was a most extraordinary house. Tammylan had planted quick-growing willows close to one another, and used their trunks for walls. He had trained the top of these branches across for a roof! Between the trunks of the willows he had woven long, pliable willow twigs, and had stuffed up all the cracks with heather and moss. It was the cosiest house imaginable.
To me, Thoreau's cabin at Walden has always seemed like that tree house. Very one's own.


In Wildness is the preservation of the World.

‘Wildness’ (with the extra whump) reminds me of this book I enjoyed recently and a small aside in the story that captured my imagination even as it saddened me. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan is a fantasy for young people, in which contemporary USA meets the Greek Pantheon. Racy and very entertaining.

But the aside that interests us comes from Grover, a satyr in the tale who is, like many satyrs before him, desperately seeking a Searcher’s License. The search is on for Pan, the God of Wild Places. Even as they speak, our hero Perseus feels a change in the air.
A strange breeze rustled through the clearing, temporarily overpowering the stink of trash and muck. It brought the smell of berries and wildflowers and clean rainwater, things that might’ve once been in these woods. Suddenly, I was nostalgic for something I’d never known.
In Greek mythology, Pan is the only god who is supposed to have died. However, the news was dubious, though certainly Pan seemed to have disappeared. Grover explains his quest:
When humans heard the news, they believed it. They’ve been pillaging Pan’s kingdom ever since. But for the satyrs, Pan was our lord and master. He protected us and the wild places of the earth. We refuse to believe that he died. In every generation, the bravest satyrs pledge their lives to finding Pan. They search the earth, exploring all the wildest places, hoping to find where he is hidden and wake him up from his sleep.
All those years ago, Thoreau was right: the preservation of our world does depend on how well we protect Pan’s domain. Wake up, Pan-God, reclaim your kingdom. Before it is too late.


Not one mention of a bird here, or birding, and this a blog about birding! But I plead your indulgence and quote in my defence CLR James who said: ‘What do they know of cricket who only of cricket know?’ So it is with birders – our interests scatter wide and how do you stop a ripple?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Touched by Thoreau

"In Wildness is the preservation of the World."
Those words cleaved their way forcefully into my being in 1983, the first time I read the great sage of the woods. I had bought a copy of his 'works' at a book sale in Bharatpur, yes, my first visit to that avian shrine, and on returning to Hyderabad, spent numberless hours, blissfully sipping such verbal novelties, such novel ideas, written with a pen that seemed to spring from my very heart, that I trembled unabashedly in the passion and ardor of the author. I feel that the lodestone of his philosophy is encapsulated in this immortal phrase.

Notice, the great man used the word "Wildness", with a capital 'W' and not 'wilderness' as he is often misquoted to have done. That word, 'Wildness' has that extra whump to it, which transcends it into a meaning that is completely different from 'wilderness'.

I have read him whenever my fancy yearned for it or when my beliefs tottered in this material world, between the here-and-now of unfettered consumerism and the purity, the virginity and strength of Thoreau's Wildness, I found myself standing penitent in front of the bookshelf, tilting the masterwork into by palm, reading the tome from the page that fell open, instantly mesmerised, purified, calmed by the clarity and simplicity of his language.

"I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows. We require an infusion of hemlock spruce or arbor-vitae in our tea."

"Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him."

"Here is this vast, savage, howling mother of ours, Nature, lying all around, with such beauty, and such affection for her children, as the leopard; and yet we are so early weaned from her breast to society, to that culture which is exclusively an interaction of man on man, -- a sort of breeding in and in, which produces at most a merely English nobility, a civilization destined to have a speedy limit."

American nature writers are a class in themselves and Thoreau their godfather.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

History lesson

I’ve been reading Stephen Moss’s A Bird in the Bush these past days, which as the tagline says is a social history of birdwatching.

This is a highly informative book, rich in anecdote and birding lore. My one grouse is it is predominantly Britain-centric apart from some references to developments in the Americas, mostly North of course. However, once I’d put that disappointment behind me, I was absorbed by the view this book afforded me of birders and birdwatching in times other than this one, in their context, their mileau, with their values and resources.

Starting with the Reverend Gilbert White who made his home patch so memorable with his work The Natural History of Selbourne to the latest advances in bird ringing technology and optics today, Moss traces it all. He also peppers his account with passages by birders and naturalists and it serves to vividly bring their times to light, not merely by what they're saying but with how they're saying it as well. Birders, if these quotes are anything to go by, seem to make charming raconteurs, because these men are articulate, prone to description and frequently poetic. I'm taking the liberty of quoting a few pieces here because they're so telling.

For most of us today, birding is also a social activity. There is an insistent feeling of community flowing along a line of birders with their bins raised to the flighted ones.

The companionship too of those who are prosecuting with zeal and enthusiasm the same path of science, is not the least delightful feature of such excursions... the pleasing incidents that diversified the walk, the jokes that passed, and even the very mishaps or annoyances that occurred – all became objects of interest, and unite the members of the party by ties of no ordinary kind.
JH Balfour, on a similar pursuit, the search for rare flowers.
That doesn’t mean to say that it can’t be enjoyed alone, of course; it is glorious to be on your own, feeling the sun on your shoulders and all the time in the world at your command as you commune with a woodpecker, or even an owl:

Before that moment I had, like every young keen birder, compensated for experiences of the real thing with long hours poring over bird books and bird pictures. But on Goldsitch Moss I realised, perhaps for the first time, by how much life can exceed imagination. A Short-eared Owl had entered my life and for those moments, as it swallowed me up with its piercing eyes, I had entered the life of an owl. It was a perfect consummation.
Mark Cocker, Birder: Tales of a Tribe

However, there are times when you must, absolutely must have someone to tell what remarkable birds you saw that morning. And so, it was curious for me to see the loneliness that hung over many early birders. It was oddly brave of those early birders to persist in birding in complete isolation, in making meticulous notes of habitats, markings and observations in a time when it cast you in dubious light to carry field glasses (only race-goers sported them, apparently).

It has long been my misfortune never to have had any neighbours whose studies have led them towards the pursuit of natural knowledge; so that, for want of a companion to quicken my industry and sharpen my attention, I have made but slender progress…
Gilbert White

It was a bit shocking to know that even as close as the early 1970s, there were closet birders.

At the time, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll were far more alluring… As such, the last thing I would mention to anyone was that I enjoyed watching birds – it just wasn’t, well, cool!
Neil McKillop
It was the standard joke when people heard I was interested in birds – ‘oh, the two-legged kind, I hope!’… That kind of constant crass innuendo made me wary about disclosing my bird interests.
Mark Cocker
Moss talks at length also of the shotgun naturalists and the egg-collectors – a period that by the simple expedient of holding the (dead) bird in hand, added much to the collective pool of scientific knowledge – and the social and ecological values that led to their condemnation.

Particularly thrilling for me were accounts of young men in Britain and America who stepped out to explore their worlds with dogged single-mindedness. Specially the story of American birder Kenn Kaufman, who at the age of 17 dropped out of high school and took off with fifty dollars in his pocket to travel his country looking for birds. Then there were Britons Nigel Redman and Chris Murphy who charted a 10-month epic journey of more than five thousand miles from Britain to Nepal via Europe, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

Moss presents the debates around the more recent day obsession with twitching also. Even as I wondered at listers for not seeing the woods for the trees in their pursuit of another tick, I couldn’t help gasp at Phoebe Snetsinger and her haul of 8500 species when she died in 1999. Diagnosed with cancer and told that she had less than one year to live, she fought back and continued in her quest for ‘lifers’ till she died in a freak bus accident in Madagascar.

The book narrates many such stories, engrossing to anyone who’s interested in how birding came to be what it is today. Fascinating stuff.

A Bird in the Bush: A Social History of Birdwatching
Stephen Moss (2004)
Aurum Press, London

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Close encounters of the bird kind

The best moments in birding are probably when you get so close to birds that you can reach out and touch them. Our garden and the Gulmohar tree growing in front of our home, is frequented by Koels, Ashy prinias, Sunbirds and Red-vented Bulbuls. I have seen bulbuls pluck caterpillars from the Oleander tree and bang them on the wall and eat them from a meter away. The Ashy prinias are the best. If you sit still enough the bird comes to you. Calling out its jingling and chiming notes merrily. After mum waters the plants a prinia comes regularly to drink water from little pools and drops dripping from the ferns. Once it hopped across the little garden and came ever so close to me, that I could see every feather and every mark on its body. Give a sudden jerk and it flits away into the neighbour’s garden, out of sight. The morning glory creeper gives a shudder and you know it’s another Prinia bouncing among the tendrils. The creeper hides our drawing room window, so you can see the bird from the room separated only by a glass pane. The bird is totally oblivious to your presence and goes on hopping about and suddenly stops directly in front of you and you are staring it in its eye. I love these close encounters and every time they happen I can't stop smiling for the rest of the day! And recently a Prinia was stitching two leaves together in the Ixora tree with a strand of dry grass. I could see it punching holes in the two leaves with its beak. It however abandoned making the nest. Perhaps the leaves were too tough to hold together.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Starting off: The Kawal article

One of BSAP’s newest members, Ludwig, messaged me this week: ‘Golden oriole, fem. What is wrong with Begumpet?’ I gave him that old birding truism: ‘Birding gives fresh eyes.’ But it isn’t just that, you know.

What it is is also beginner’s luck. Take a newbie with you on an outing and if they’re even halfway inclined, you’re bound to see all manner of species short of Rhodonessa caryophyllacea, all of course just to make sure they’re well and properly reeled in.

With me, it was the Scarlet Minivet. Tyda, Eastern Ghats, Andhra Pradesh. The first day on the trip left me a little overwhelmed – I knew I hadn’t the best eyesight but people were apparently seeing things with the speed of light. There! There! they went, and all I saw was bouncing branches. Till we stumbled upon a hunting party and saw what seemed like a forestful of birds – nuthatches, orioles, verditer flycatchers, minivets, chestnut bee-eaters.

I’d written this account of a trip to Kawal, interspersed with general remarks on what a beginner can expect from birding. Published in India Today Travel Plus in July 2005. It also belongs here.

Two in the bush

By Sheetal Vyas

It’s early morning, and still dark. A group of soft-footed people walks along forest trails, a sharp ear out for a rustle here, a chirrup there. As the dawn grows lighter, noisy screechy parakeets zip across the path and bulbuls raise a din. Binoculars raised, the birders communicate in near-silence or murmurs, tapping each other on the shoulder to point to a woodpecker or a sunbird. A couple more hours in the strengthening sunlight and the morning’s session is done. Notes are made and compared. A birdlist is made, coffee is drunk, and all’s well with the world.

Fact of life: there’s no such thing as a former birder. Once you’re hooked onto observing or identifying the feathered ones, one way or another it’s an affair that lasts a lifetime. Why, though? What’s the deal with birds? They’re cute and all that, but why should watching them be so addictive?
There are many reasons: nature, knowledge, activity, community… but there is one word that is never far away when you mention birding: joy. The sheer joy of it. The grace of a heron soaring across the horizon, the flutter of geese as they flush, the flash of colour as a jay takes flight… yes, the most enduring reason to bird is the pleasure it gives.

We were ten birders on this trip. Our destination: Kawal Wildlife Sanctuary, Adilabad district, Andhra Pradesh. About 900 sq km of dry deciduous forest, and reportedly one of the best sanctuaries in Andhra Pradesh. I was excited.

Kawal is a charmingly untouched place. In these times, when you find tourists milling around the smallest hill station or jungle lodge, it was refreshing to find a place still off the beaten track, still undiscovered. No resorts, no guided tours; just a government rest house and forests that are… just forests. Our trip was linked to two wildlife organisations, the Birdwatchers' Society of Andhra Pradesh (BSAP) and the Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society (Hyticos).

Birding is done best early in the mornings and the evenings, which makes it important to be up early and in the field as the birds stir. Our first foray was to Dongapalle, a Telugu name that translates roughly to ‘village of thieves’. The first sightings were of the more common ones: red-vented bulbuls, small green bee-eaters, rose-ringed parakeets and a white-breasted kingfisher.

Common, did I say? There was a time, a few years ago, when any bird that wasn’t a crow or a pigeon was ‘exotic’ to me. It took one birding trip and a little ‘tuning in’ to realise that red-vented bulbuls dropped by my garden every single day… I just hadn’t seen them before. As do purple sunbirds and common tailorbirds. Shocking, to know they had been right here all this time.

I have progressed a little since then, but there are still aggravations. At Dongapalle, I was engrossed in spotting what may have been a woodshrike, when violent ‘come-quick’ hand signals from the others sped me on. They’d seen a Tickell’s flycatcher, a lovely blue bird with an orange throat. As it always happens, it had quite disappeared by the time I got there. I’ve never ever seen the dratted bird, and it always appears on the consolidated bird lists.

It takes a while for a wet-behind-the-ears birdwatcher to get the hang of birding. First there’s the little matter of spotting a timid little flutter in dense foliage. Peer as you will, you can’t tell if there is really a living creature in there. If you do manage to get a clear look, then comes the noting of its size, form, colour, beak, markings – all on the basis of a single, very fleeting glimpse. Then comes the job of pinning an identity on this bird, which means wading through the 1300-odd species in India… it comes, they tell you encouragingly, with experience.

Our afternoon session was at Kadam reservoir. Kadam River, a tributary of the Godavari, runs along Kawal’s southern boundary. Soothing waters, surrounded by forests and a long walk along the bund itself. Plenty of water birds: open-billed storks, ducks, herons, egrets, cormorants, lapwings. Also, gulls by the dozen, swooping about, and beautiful to watch.

Make no mistake, birding can be frustrating, especially when you’re getting started. There! someone will exclaim, a pied kingfisher! And you swivel madly, adjusting your binoculars as you go, trying to get a fix on the exact location. Minutes later, you come to a bare-looking stump. Look around you and everyone’s finished with the now-missing kingfisher and moved on to the river terns. Speed, I learnt quickly, is of the essence!

As dusk advanced, so did we towards a gond tribal hamlet in Mysempet. We were now in the heart of the forests, glimpsing black bucks and a herd of chinkara as we passed through. The hamlet is accessible only by four-wheel drive and is quite a vantage point over the surrounding forests. The adults stared at us and the children followed us around noisily as we walked in. The houses are all made of timber – it felt odd to see solid timber worth the-lord-knows-how-many lakhs sheltering cows and poultry; but so it is.

We were put up in the local school, the only concrete structure for miles. No electricity, and so a good fire set the mood perfectly. The night was as clear as we could hope for and we lay back and toured a few constellations. After dinner was polished off, we sat around to campfire tales. There was just a light nip in the air and the fire crackled comfortingly. There had been a tentative night outing planned, hoping to see a few owls and nightjars perhaps, but the full-dinner-and-hypnotic-fire combination put paid to that and we wandered off to our respective charpais and sleeping bags.

Waking up was a comedy of sorts. We were four women altogether, and all the alarms we’d set mysteriously refused to go off. At 6.30 – the hour we should have been setting off – there was a banging on the door and what a mad scramble there was! I see no shame in confessing that no baths were taken on that morning – it would have been a greater shame to miss out on the wonderful morning light. The day was still young and we made good time.

As we set off, the ubiquitous Indian roller greeted us good morning. This is a brilliantly coloured bird, splashed in electric blue: it’s attractive enough as it sits, but breathtaking in flight. Also, the state bird of Andhra Pradesh.

We saw plum-headed parakeets also, high up on a perch, their bright heads catching the light beautifully. Then we something that caused much consternation: distinct grey heads amongst the plum. How could this be? After all, the grey-headed and slaty-headed parakeets are never found in this part of the country. A quick consultation with the guide books solved the mystery - the female of the plum-headed parakeet is actually grey-headed, see? The sexes in many species look completely different, adding yet another complication to the already challenging task of identifying a bird.

The technicalities of birding needn’t bog down novices, though. Birds enrich even without your going into species, habits and habitat. You begin to absorb more without knowing how. It’s a learning curve that never quite ends, for no matter how many years you’ve been at it, there will always be some bird you’re seeing for the first time. Birders have been known to cross continents to see a single bird so they can tick off yet another in a long wish-list.

We had just sat down to a snack in a clearing when I saw my first, my very first paradise flycatcher. It’s heartbreaking to miss rare birds that others have sighted, but equally maddening to miss out on one particular fairly common bird at every outing. Oh, I’d seen the female – an exquisite, brown flighty creature, but unless you’ve seen the white male, you just haven’t seen this bird. So, there he was, in all his glory, flitting about the reedy growth, his delicate streamer-tail swooping behind him in utter grace. I got a nice, long leisurely look. Worth the wait? Every minute of it.

We saw about 55 species in the three days we spent in Kawal. That isn’t a bad count, but go to the Eastern or Western Ghats, and we could easily double that number. Bharatpur alone can give a count of over a hundred in a single day. I came away thinking that is remarkable what ‘tuning into’ birds can do to your life. It’s almost like an additional sense and more friends. I’ve developed a tendency to scan the skies, with a casual eye out for a raptor. It’s a comfort to register that there’s a set of babblers in my garden, parakeets on the guava tree or a coppersmith at the very top of the Ashoka, flinging his soul into the air.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The fairest of them all

Discussing which might be the most beautiful bird we have, Salim Ali, in his The Book of Indian Birds, says, ‘…As a family, the pheasants occupy a high place for colour and brilliancy of plumage and adornment possessed by the cocks of most species.’ That should have tipped me off. Certainly the peacock is a brilliantly coloured bird – the turquoise hurts the eyes and the dance mesmerises. The others seemed pretty too. But the field guides hardly ever do justice to vivid colours, and I’ve only seen junglefowl in the wild, so the Galliformes were a bit of a surprise.

A bit unprepared then, this Sunday at the Nehru Zoological Gardens in Hyderabad, I ran to the aviary with the pheasants in them. Painted spurfowl, Khaleej pheasants, red and grey junglefowl, green peafowl, golden pheasants, silver pheasants, Lady Amherst’s pheasants… a series of birds each more spectacular than the last. The brightest, most unashamed of colours; the wildest of combinations that would have come off looking gaudy in the hands of a lesser designer.

Why are they so ornate, pheasants? Is beauty such a priority with nature then?


We had a bit of a dilemma at the Zoo. A twitcher-type dilemma. We were seeing many species for the first time, and even with birds we’d seen, certainly this was a closer look than we could ever have in the wild. These birds didn’t retreat at the sight of us, if anything they came closer emboldened by months of no harm and treats from visitors. Was it okay to tick them on your life list? Or was that unfair? In an older time, naturalists regularly shot birds to have a closer look and I imagine they went right ahead and ticked them off. Yes, it was caged, but I have seen the Greater Flamingo, haven’t I? A close, unobstructed long look at its colours, its beak.

Well, this problem is somewhat hypothetical seeing I don’t have lists of any sort yet. In case, it doesn’t matter.

Friday, April 21, 2006


I got this out of Chicken soup for the soul!

The Seagull

A hole in the cliffs
Is my nest but the sea calls me,
And I cradle my dreams
In the hollows of the waves.
The role of Your ocean
Is with me in the sky,
Where I swing
On one wing, then the other,
And plummet
Like a stone
On the living flash
Of a fish.
Does my poignant cry
Echo the endless travail
That beats on Your shore?
I am the bird
Like salt,
Grey and white,
A bitter tang
That does not fade;
And the ships
Outward bound
Watch me out of sight,
A little handkerchief
Waving goodbye.
In the restlessness of my kingdom,
Let the storm spare me.
--Carmen Bernos de Gasztold
Translated from French by Rumer Godden

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Pelican Chorus

The pelican leitmotif continues with the inimitable Edward Lear:

King and Queen of the Pelicans we;
No other Birds so grand we see!
None but we have feet like fins!
With lovely leathery throats and chins!
Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelicans jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

Lear describes the bird:
...her waddling form so fair,
With a wreath of shrimps in her short white hair.
heh heh. The rest of this delightful poem is here.

Two on a scale of 1-10

Bad joke but I hafta...
Q: What does the birder sing when he first catches sight of a pelican?
A: Peli peli baar baliye, dil gaya haar baliye,
Rabba mainu pyar ho gaya...


Monday, April 17, 2006


A Wonderful bird is the Pelican;
His bill can hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week;
But I'm darned if I see how the helican!
--- Dixon Lanier Merritt

More Uppalapadu

More pictures from Uppalapadu...Juvenile painted storks.
A cattle egret doing that cattle thing.

The Pelican Brief

Uppalapadu, near Guntur, Andhra Pradesh.

Pelicans are the bird of the fortnight on this blog, simply because at least four of its contributers went last week to this marvellous place, Uppalapadu, which is one of the biggest breeding centres for the painted stork and the spot-billed pelican.
This picture doesn't do justice but there were what seemed like thousands of these birds. Along one bank were piled heaps and heaps of cut hyacinth and we walked on mounds of rotting weeds, which feels as weird as walking on trampoline.
Quantity birding is quality birding, and there is nothing like seeing a bird over and over again to know it pretty damn well. We now own the spot-billed pelican, hurrah.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Romance-- Shel Silverstein

Said the pelican to the elephant,
I think we should marry, I do.
Cause there's no name that rhymes with me,
And no one else rhymes with you.

Said the elephant to the pelican,
There's sense to what you've said,
For rhyming's as good a reason as any
For any two to wed.

And so the elephant wed the pelican,
And they dined upon lemons and limes,
And now they have a baby pelicant,
And everybody rhymes.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Pelicans! What the Dickens?
Yes sirree! Pelicans
672 Pelicans
Spot-billed Pelicans
Regurgitating Pelicans
The first swooping sight beheld
A picture too amazing to be telled
In numbers so many, so close too me
Thank the lord for the bird on the tree
One decides to take off overhead and high
We lift our lenses to that cloud in the sky
Jaw locked in jaw one fed her young
Down dropped my own and out fell my tongue
On rotting hyacinths we place our behind
‘Twas a sweltering 40, reader be kind
The fever abated, now in leisurely mode
We watched these fellas in their self-made abode
Note: the pelcs like the storks a lot
How chummy they are, much buddiness, wot?
They sat mingled together not put out a jot
A bit surprising for of a feather they are not
We stared long enough to be considered rude
Walked away picking pink feathers in a summery mood.

Friday, March 10, 2006


This man knew a thing or two about watching birds...

all I saw of
the bird was the bouncing
branch he left
-Matsuo Basho

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Up from the Egg: The Confessions of a Nuthatch Avoider-- Ogden Nash

Bird watchers top my honours list.
I aimed to be one, but I missed.
Since I’m both myopic and astigmatic,
My aim turned out to be erratic,
And I, bespectacled and binocular,
Exposed myself to comment jocular.
We don’t need too much birdlore, do we,
To tell a flamingo from a towhee;
Yet I cannot and never will,
Unless the silly bird stands still.
And there’s no enlightenment in a tour
Of ornithological literature.
Is yon strange creature a common chickadee,
Or a migrant
alouette from Picardy?
You rush to consult your Nature guide
And inspect the gallery inside,
But a bird in the open never looks
Like its picture in the birdie books---
Or if it once did, it has changed its plumage,
And plunges you back into ignorant gloomage.
That is why I sit here growing old by inches,
Watching the clock instead of finches,
But I sometimes visualize in my gin
The Audubon that I audibin.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Coincidence? Or...(insert sinister music here)

So there is this friend of mine. Yes! I still do have friends inspite of the PJs I churn out like 'Pun'jab churns out lassi.I digress.So about this friend of mine.We meet up once in a way on weekends over a drink or four.To plan our nefarious activities we usually keep in touch on the phone as both of us have a more than one pan on the burners.Its a remarkable coincidence that the last three times i have spoken to him, while i was still on the phone , I have seen Grey Hornbills, at each time the location was different.Maybe I should bring this chap birding.God knows what we might see then, or at least give him a call if birding is not that great.

Monday, February 13, 2006

I concur

Truth to tell, the sisters Vyas aren’t really chirpy early risers. But we have a persuasive mother and I went walking with her this morning. Having heard of this ‘goldmine of a birding spot’, I urged that we direct our footsteps thither. And what do you know, Shweta’s spot is truly lovely. Apart from the military guards who’re distinctly (and understandably) antsy about lurkers with binoculars. Once you shake them off, though… oh, what fun.

This morning’s yield, after I leave out the usual suspects of sun birds, prinias, spotted doves, bee-eaters, mynahs and babblers:

Short toed eagle (Circaetus gallicus) – 1 nos
Grey Hornbills (Ocyceros birostris) – 4 nos
Coppersmiths (Megalaima haemacephala) – 1 nos (seen), a forestful (heard)
Tickell’s flycatcher (Cynoris tickelliae) – 1 nos
Indian robin (Saxicoloides fulicata) - 1 nos
Blackrumped Flameback woodpecker (Dinopium benghalense) – 1 nos
Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) – 4 nos (first viewing of the dance, specimen bit sparsely endowed but I shall not cavil).

Also on the way back through the colony, poking head out of a cracked window glass… Mr Sparrow! With the missus not far away, appearing very broody. Joy! I find the Sparrow defection very hard to take, and every sighting is like forgiveness.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Bird rights

I am in a terrible fret. The thing is, I found this goldmine of a birding spot about a kilometer from home, I have been there three days in a row, and now it seems I may be banned from it. My mother squarely blames me for arguing with the military guard and says I may be responsible for that entire area being shut off from civilians. I don’t think things are so bad yet. I have finally managed to ferret out my army camouflage cap and hope to appear very inconspicuous tomorrow.
Really, but how is one expected not to display some enthusiasm when one spots a pair of White-bellied Drongos, a Silverbill, a Coppersmith, an Oriole, two loverly Treepies, a pair of Grey Hornbills, an Iora, a Large Wood Shrike and then goes a little ahead to stumble upon so divine a birding spot that all IDing faculties are suspended in stupefaction. All this a stone’s throw (OK given a giant’s arm) away from where I’ve been living all my life! Surely, under these circumstances one is allowed to be a little silly?
Any way I have to go back and confirm if some of those bathing beauties were indeed Indian Blue Robins. Like I said, it was so perfect a picture that all I could do was stand and stare. It was a thickish overgrowth with a tiny stream going through it. The sun was slanting in and catching the water most beautifully. The air was sharp with birdcalls. And suddenly they swooped in, about ten of them, and raised the dust off the water. The flying water droplets were like silver beads in the sunlight and our friends were having themselves a frolic. Later they perched themselves to dry off and I thanked heaven for a day well begun.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Look at what flew in...

This fledgling parakeet came into our garden yesterday. Blossom headed, we reckon, going by the yellow beak. Our theory was it flew from its nest in a fit of reckless bravado and then finding itself tiring, came down to rest, because it sat there quietly in this hibiscus bush for about half an hour even as the sun birds and tailor birds twittered around it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

To know oneself as we know another

"When birding one morning at sunrise, I asked a bird I didn't know if he knew what kind of bird he was himself, and he said he didn't but he could always tell another bird of the same kind when he saw one." - Robert Frost in Antaeus - Journals.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Ostrich

Ogden Nash

The ostrich roams the great Sahara.
Its mouth is wide, its neck is narra.
It has such long and lofty legs,
I'm glad it sits to lay its eggs.

Monday, January 16, 2006

I drew these pictures out of photos a long time back. Got them scanned and uploaded them.

Gannet: drawn from photograph in Sunday magazine- The Hindu
20 march 2004

Kestrel: Drawn from photograph in the book'The gift of birds' published by National wildlife federation(U.S.A)

21 june 2005

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Bird Brain.

The scene: a traffic light crossing
on a university campus in Japan. Carrion crows and humans line up patiently, waiting for the traffic to halt.

When the lights change, the birds hop in front of the cars and place walnuts, which they picked from the adjoining trees, on the road. After the lights turn green again, the birds fly away and vehicles drive over the nuts, cracking them open. Finally, when it’s time to cross again, the crows join the pedestrians and pick up their meal.

If the cars miss the nuts, the birds sometimes hop back and put them somewhere else on the road. Or they sit on electricity wires and drop them in front of vehicles.

Read the full article on these bird brains here

Friday, January 13, 2006

Breakfast---- P.H. Kilby

Good morning little earthworm,
Said the speckled thrush,
Where would you be going,
So early in a rush?
I’m off to find some breakfast,
He answered with a frown.
Well so am I sir, said the thrush
And quickly gulped him down.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

And if you thought my puns were bad...look things are getting verse

The Seagull
Ogden Nash.
Hark to the whimper of the sea-gull;
He weeps because he's not an ea-gull.
Suppose you were, you silly sea-gull,
Could you explain it to your she-gull?

You can tell these birds anything and they'll believe you...They are pretty Gull-ible.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Mystery of the Missing Merops

As early as October each year, we'd find our colony invaded by swarms of small green bee-eaters (M. orientalis), like I mentioned last year in this post. They were especially fond of one tree one road away from us, and they' d raise quite a din settling down for the night, every night of the winter.
They're missing this year. Just the odd ones are here but nowhere near the hundreds we saw last November.


Arjun, I have a riddle for you.

Q: Why did they fire the offcial at the bird sanctuary?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Rhyme, no reason

Doing pomes, are we? Chalo, meri baari. Found this one in BBC's Wildlife magazine, September 2003. Part of a poetry contest organised by the magazine and Poetry Please, Radio 4.

Birds keep flying

in and out of my poem,
perching on the adjectives,
nesting between the lines.

They strut about
on long spindly legs
looking for worms
with their big beaks.

Their songs
are the most beautiful colours.

One of them is flying upside down.
I think that means
it feels at home.

I wouldn't mind, only
I had forty-eight lines on the nature of life
that they've pecked to ribbons,
and their droppings
have messed up all the rhymes.

I'm afraid they'll have to go.

-Michael Swan

First words

What shall I say first? Much clearing of throat happened; weighty words of welcome were being considered. Fortunately for all of us, fellow-contributors have set the tone with Nash (of whom I'm told there is an endless supply) and Richard Edwards, poet of great felicity. Hurrah!

As you, sharp reader, will have guessed: this blog is about birds, birding, birders. And what fun we will have!

So, there's nothing for it but to imitate one's betters and declare: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!

The Birdwatcher's First Notebook-Richard Edwards

Monday- to the reservoir,
Real beginner’s luck,
Saw a quack-quack-quacking thing,
Think it was a . . .. grebe.

Tuesday- to the farmyard,
Only mud, but then,
Saw a cluck-cluck-clucking thing,
Think it was a . . . partridge.

Wednesday- out at midnight,
Tom-cats on the prowl,
Heard a twit- twit- twooing thing,
Think it was a . . . nightingale.

Thursday- to the seaside,
Weather grey and dull,
Saw a big white wailing thing,
Think it was a . . . spoonbill.

Friday- brown bird on the lawn,
Outside in a rush,
Saw a worm tug-tug-tugging thing,
Think it was a . . . pipit.

Saturday- to the heathery moor,
Scanned the sky and hark!
Heard a trill-trill-trilling thing,
Think it was a . . . curlew.

Sunday- tired of Birdwatching,
Made a bamboo wicket,
Asked some friends round,
cadged a bat,
Had a game of . . . football.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Duck

Ogden Nash.

Behold the duck
It does not cluck.
A cluck it lacks.
It quacks.
It is special fond
Of a puddle or a pond.
When it dines or sups,
It bottoms ups.