The exotic states of Northeast India are yet to be explored completely; several species of wildlife are yet to be discovered. Here are some the few birds I was lucky to spot in wintery environs of Arunachal and the tropical heat of Assam a few Decembers ago. If you recognize some of the birds do add in the comments. I will update my own list soon. All photos are taken by me. Subscribe/follow me on YouTube, lalithainsta(Instagram), HeartofConservation Podcast, and https://earthymatters.blog/
Music: ‘Natural’ via YouTube https://r5—sn-qxa7snel.googlevideo.com/videoplayback?
I was lingering over my morning brew of South Indian coffee in Ranikhet [29.6434° N, 79.4322° E] when I spotted one of my favourite Himalayan pheasants pecking away below the dangling wisteria. The Khaleej is a common sight on the hillside, it is categorized with a conservation status of ‘LC’ [Least Concern] by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). That means there’s a healthy population of Khaleej pheasants around and you’re very likely to spot them if you’re in the Himalayan foothills.
Common not ordinary
I find the Khaleej nothing less than dramatic. If you haven’t seen a Khaleej rooster up close, think of a dandy draped in iridescent blue-grey-black, donning a swanky brush-stroked neckpiece, delicate scalloped patterns on his coattail; hiding behind a bloodred masquerade mask. It’s quite the show stopper. The all brown hen with white-edged feather patterns doesn’t look so dull on her own. But put alongside her male counterpart and her chances are bleak. In the breeding season which is right about now, things get interesting.
The all puffed up Triumphant rooster
The banksia that blocked my view
Coming back to my tale of two pheasants, our solo traveller cocked up his head; I too heard the clucking that got him into an instant splayed-crest mode. Then I heard an urgent onslaught of clucks and saw a rapid blur of pheasants clash behind the screen of yellow banksia. I missed all the action. The impact of the chest a/g chest or whatever that encounter was, made them recoil violently. They both kept at that raucous clucking but didn’t engage again. I noticed the hen leave the scene in a hurry. Romeo clucked himself downhill reluctantly. I spied on the pheasants for two more days to see if he would brave the competition again but he was a picture of foraging-innocence. The hen had chosen her rooster and stood her ground. The very red-wattled one who succeeded in thwarting her 2nd suitor was strutting around like a puff fish. How I just love watching wild performances over coffee.
Like summer visitors on the hillside, barn swallows descended on me in troves, unannounced, one fine morning. Then as swiftly (pardon the pun), they shot up, flew past a corner, looped around a tree or two, took a nose dive, twisted and turned and swung by again fleetingly. I stood rooted to my spot for a good few minutes, hypnotized by their acrobatics in the sky. What an air show…and a pain in the neck.
I noticed the swallows didn’t stay together like, say, white-throated laughing thrushes do, instead, they did their own thing, taking random flight paths “tweet-tweeting” without seeming to take a break. Almost like they had left their kids at home alone and needed to get back soon. It is the breeding season. Landour town shops already have swallow-nesting inside.
If there was a pattern to the swallows’ flight, I didn’t get it. It was impossible to stay focused on one bird continuously, let alone a flock. What I was watching was, in fact, nothing but a feeding frenzy. Summer bugs are out as well and the dives and swoops were directed by where the bugs were. Swallows catch them in mid-flight making a competitive reality TV game show look like child play. Not to be left behind, I zipped in and out with a camera and started randomly taking shots of swallows. 50+ blurs-in-the-sky has been promptly deposited in the trash. The rest I’m sharing with you.
View from Jaberkeht Nature Reserve, Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, India
My mountain dog, Chingoo, sheds like there is no tomorrow. His fur coats everything I own, borrow or dream of. If I needed an autopsy, they’d probably find traces of it in my stomach lining as well. Not that I care.
On the other hand, fur on my jacket seems to get some folks into a tizzy. These ‘uncontrollables’ start brushing it off without so much as pausing to ask. Hello, take your hand off my… This is me, fur et al. Restrain yourself. Shed the thought or face the consequences, I think to myself. But of course, I say the very opposite looking as obliged as someone rescued from a terrible wardrobe malfunction just in the nick of time.
Guests are pre-warned of unique conditions in my home. It’s not about so much about being unafraid of dogs as of being prepared. My dog is allergic to some people I tell them. Honestly, he sneezes. (I don’t tell them we share the same allergies.) Don’t pack blacks I say. And don’t bother to remove your shoes. Oh definitely don’t walk in socks…you’re in the doghouse now. Every time I sweep the house (I don’t vacuum), Chingoo’s fur takes on a life of its own. It swirls into individual fur devils taking flight routes of their own making. Not even our large hills spiders are spared. I often see them donning a fur-cloak as they drag themselves to safety behind the flush tank.
Unlike anything I’ve seen, Chingoo’s fur seems to have a survival instinct. It has gone forth and seems to have multiplied over the years. You only have to step onto my porch. My entire ecosystem has paled out. The deodars, the oaks the little weeds that are surfacing the hard earth, the little bugs that are on these weeds and even dung left behind by roaming cows have been consecrated by the travelling Furburys.
Not all has gone to waste. Once in a while I see little creatures of the wood pick and collect Chingoo’s fur to line their nests. They go at it all day long collecting as much fluff as their beaks can hold before flying out to their new home-in-the-making. I love the idea of comfy fur-lined nests. It feels like giving back…through your dog. More so, if you own a down-jacket or two. I’m just saying.
For the past month or so, every time I leave the house, I’ve been hearing a rapid flutter of wings accompanied by a slightly high-pitched screech, followed by gentle tapping. I spent weeks looking for what I recognized to be a woodpecker but never caught it perching in one place for too long. It seemed strange; I kept hearing it in the middle of the afternoon when sane birds take cover. So what was this pesky little bird up to? It was doing nothing but distracting me and probably warning its mate of imminent danger.
Be conscious of your surroundings.
Blame it on the fact that I am a wildlife enthusiast of sorts and curious enough to spend the better part of my day looking for anything that I can digitally capture. Luckily, I do not have the distractions of employment interfering with my rambles; and so it came to be I noticed an old hollow with fresh drilling marks.
Be ready for contingencies.
Feeling like a photojournalist about to enter the NG hall of fame, I started by keeping my camera cleaned and charged, my SD card empty, played my music real low and kept an ear out for any tapping throughout the day.
Keep your house clean.
In the meanwhile we were expecting houseguests and as is the norm at our home, just before their arrival we conducted a monumental clean-up effort. As you can guess, this included wiping our windows clean. And we have a lot of them! As I drew the curtains to proceed, I realised I was standing four feet away from the tree hollow. And lo and beyond there was the brown fronted woodpecker sticking its little head out.
Always work in good light.
Whilst spying on the woodpeckers, I noticed they were most active when the sun lit up the inside of their hollow. They were using natural light to their advantage and mine. Though I was photographing them from behind a dark glass window, they were perfectly lit up as I captured their activities.
Share responsibilities as a team.
Though the pair worked together I rarely saw them both at the hollow at the same time. One of them would spend a few minutes inside the hollow carving out the nest and then would take time clearing out the wood chips before starting again. Reminded me of me cooking while my spouse did dishes later. An arrangement that always works out well!
I also noticed the woodpecker pick up wood chips and with a quick shake of the head and bill, disperse it to the wind instead of just dropping it off like dead weight. They left no trace of their nest building that way.
Use all the resources you can.
In my enthusiasm, I shot a lot of shaky movie clips at different times of the day before I realized I could just as well have planted my tripod in place. I found better use of ankle weights (which I never use) for weighing down the tripod in the hope my mountain dogs wouldn’t topple it over. They have the uncanny knack of snuggling up by my feet just when I don’t want them to!
Whatever you do, give it your best shot.
These minuscule woodpeckers have been drilling out their home to perfection for a few weeks now.
I tried to get a glimpse of the inside of the nest but it was deep and cleverly spiralled out. Making it relatively safe from larger predators! They had functionality and safety all figured out! Makes you wonder why the word birdbrain has such negative connotations. Seriously!
As you can see, I was rewarded with a private viewing of the secret life of the yellow-crowned woodpecker.
Woodpecker chicks are hopefully on their way soon. Their intelligent parents are bound to teach them more than 8 life skills to survive. I have seen timber martens claw away at a woodpecker nest before and I’m hoping they never sniff this one out. Hope you enjoy the photos. All of them were shot through my (recently cleaned) window.