Friday, 18 July 2014

Follower of scrapes, tweets and chirrups

I heard it on my morning birds tour – I would not miss the early birds for anything while out on a jungle safari. Well to correct myself, it was not very early. I had overslept after a long drive last night from Nairobi to Samburu. Since Aamir and Adi were still sleeping and the tall trees around the lodge shaded the sun – even in a warm and arid place like Samburu, I decided to do my customary bird walk inside the lodge. Bird walks have never disappointed me – there is always a new creature or its habit waiting to be discovered, and that day it was a scraping sound.

My ears went on high alert instantly. Where was it coming from? A faint scrape, scrape, scrape – I tried to follow. One cautious step at a time to soften the rustling as I treaded on dried leaves. The scraping sound grew louder – aha! I was getting close. The challenge of course was to capture the living being doing the scraping on camera. The sound did not seem like scraping any more, it was more like hard tapping on wood. The next instant, I saw it - a spotted woodpecker with a bright red cap high up on an acacia tree in front of me. And it was a discovery sure enough - I had not seen this bird before.

The bird did not pay the least heed to me – guess I was too low down to be perceived as a threat. It continued its pecking, yes it was a wholesome insect meal in progress. The red crown glittered in the sun when it came into view as the bird went round the tree drilling rhythmically. I steadied myself for the shots – Aamir would always tell me I have my center of gravity wrong. Thank heavens for the automatic feature of the camera, don’t think I would have managed too many pictures of restless birds in the manual mode. And thank heavens for iPhoto and Picasa where I can tweak my snaps a little bit – if nothing else to adjust the exposure when all I can see are some shades of grey.

This time I managed to get a few modest photos and a decent video before the woodpecker decided enough was enough and vanished with flurrrrs and flapppps. It was almost past breakfast hour and it was time I donned my mother’s hat. So I rushed back to our room to start the day for Adi.

We had decided to take the day easy, so in between breakfast and lunch, I could resume my bird investigation. I opened the East African birds guide to check it out – there it was. My morning friend was the Nubian woodpecker. No mistaking the scarlet crest, the spotted body, the tree-grasping toes and the pointy chiselling beak. Scientists had preferred to associate the bird to the ancient region in the neighbourhood – ‘Nubian’ certainly gave a classical ring to the name.

I remember the early morning walks that I always took on visits to Kashid and Mahabaleshwar. I had even been on a birding trip to Bhigwan dam, where the star attraction were the flamingos; and where the instructors tried hard to make me see which was which between a heron and an egret. But it was the experience of Kenya, especially without the busyness of a paid job that brought out the bird enthusiast in me. I can now tell the difference between the bills of bee-eater and that of a sunbird, outlines of a swallow and a sparrow in flight, the neck contours of a heron and an egret – well at least half the times. The avian species have me captivated so much that I take bird trips in my own backyard – creating an astounding image gallery of flycatchers, tits, sparrows, mynas, prinias, munias, starlings and many more of their feathered friends. Rollers or neelkanths, hoopoes or mohanchuras, looking up from my study table or across continents, I am now a self-confessed follower of all scrapes, tweets and chirrups around me.

Male Nubian Woodpecker

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