“Listen to the chirping of the birds without the chirping of the mind!” ~ Osho
The Indian summer, when most people crave for a break, is the perfect time to set off for nature trails and treks for bird watching. But the unprecedented and unexpected lockdown due to the pandemic made it next to impossible to venture outdoors.
Stress levels were at an all-time high due to the uncertainty and anxiety that the contagion had posed. Work from home (WFH) was the new norm but not without its set of challenges. In these times, one is always seeking instant gratification or happiness either through the internet or social media or surfing TV channels. However, one ends up spending most of one’s time on gross things that don’t leave us feeling happier, contented, or rejuvenated in the long run. More often than not one ends up feeling low and lost, hopeless and dejected and confused with the bombardment of content on social media and TVs about the pandemic. At such times, the only solace was the windows and balconies of our home, which provided a glimpse to the outside world.
One of the best parts of birdwatching is that it makes us look at the world differently. It is about focusing on just one thing—i.e. a bird and admiring nature. The whole practice of mindfulness bird watching is where you’re paying attention to – anyone thing: be it colours, behaviour or the song of the bird. Whatever you choose—it can help root you in the present moment. Since mindfulness is partly about “being” in the place you are in, it helps enhance your mindful experience, real contentment and joy.
It helped that we stayed close to the Aga Khan Palace, Pune, whose gardens and backyard have birding activities. We had spotted several birds even before the lockdown. But the lockdown seemed to have brought about a frenzy in bird activity. The bird calls were louder; there was a flurry of movement, almost as if they had gone wild and were rejoicing at freedom from human interference. Nature had finally reclaimed its spaces which were it’s own. The earth doesn’t belong to man alone, and we share it with other creatures of creation. The birds seemed to be having a hearty laugh as humans were caged, and the birds and animals roamed freely without the danger of the human predator.
With his DSLR camera in hand, my husband, at the end of his workday, would strategically park himself near the kitchen window to spot the birds. Evenings were the best time for photography for two reasons. The obvious being that business and meeting calls were over. The second and more important one was that it was the golden hour when sunlight from the west provided ideal lighting conditions for photography.
He was suitably rewarded with numerous bird sightings which were beautifully captured in his camera. Since he is a trained ornithologist, the golden rule that he always asks a novice to follow is, ‘Look for the sound before the sight.’ We could hear the ‘tuk, tuk, tuk,’ sound and knew it was the Coppersmith Barbet. Its green body with a red and yellow band near the neck and a dash of the same on the head was its distinguishing feature. He even spotted a juvenile on one of his sightings.
Our kitchen windowsill has some potted plants with colourful flowers. Mynas and Bulbuls occasionally perch on them but this time around there were more frequent sightings. A mother and juvenile of Rose-ringed Parakeets were spotted on a tree. Typical of maternal instinct to feed and nourish the young ones the mother fed the juvenile some wild berries or fruits. As the juvenile lapped up the food offered the Indian Grey Hornbill on the adjacent tree started competing for attention. The distinctive feature of this grey bird with a white belly is its obvious casque or horny helmet above the bill or beak.
One lazy summer afternoon, the silence was disrupted by the babbling of the Large Grey Babbler in our balcony. This bird is gregarious and always found in flocks which give it another name of Seven Sisters. These birds are like the chatterboxes in the classroom, forever being reprimanded by the teacher to maintain silence.
Kites frequently hover over the grounds, but in the lockdown, they seemed to be now sweeping down lower than usual. One afternoon we found a feather of a kite in our balcony. We soon realized that kites were now perching on the terraces of the buildings a departure from the usual where they preferred the trees. Another raptor spotted was the Shikra almost camouflaged with its dry surroundings. It surprises its prey from a hidden perch and catches them unaware at high speed. The prey is usually lizards, dragonflies, and small birds and mammals.
The Southern Coucal with its long black tail and copper brown wings is usually found in the undergrowth but now walked unabashed on the blue asbestos pieces in the backyard. Bharadwaj, as it is called in Marathi, this bird, is considered a good omen and a herald of good luck. The only thing on everyone’s mind would be a stroke of some luck with the discovery of a vaccine for the virus, which was far from reality.
Birds in layman’s terms can be classified based on size by comparing them to common birds like crows or sparrows. e.g. A bird smaller than the sparrow is called sparrow minus while the one larger is called sparrow plus. The Cinereous Tit, the size of a sparrow, went ‘whee-chichi’. A lot of these tiny birds were now seen in the surroundings like the Purple Sunbird with its iridescent feathers, sucking nectar from its downward-covered beak. The hyperactive Oriental White Eye with yellowish olive feathers and white eye-ring. Much like human beings, Oriental White-eyes are social birds, and one can see them congregating in flocks of 5-10. They travel in mixed flocks, and birdwatchers refer to this as ‘mixed-hunting parties’. Such a flocking improve their feeding efficiency and provide them with better protection from predators. Sunbirds and Oriental White Eye are essential pollinators often found on flowers for nectar and insects.
The Asian koel with its melodious call of ‘ku-ku’ wafted through the air. Almost the size of crow the male has a bluish-black plumage and greenish-grey beak. The female, by contrast, has brown upperparts, heavily speckled with creamy white. Another melodious singer was the Oriental Magpie Robin which even imitated other bird calls.
Birds in various colours like the electric-blue and brown White-throated Kingfisher, the bright yellow Golden Oriole, and the greenish-yellow Common Iora were also seen. A Common Tailorbird with its bright green upperparts and white underparts was also spotted. It gets its name for its ability to sew leaves together to make a nest.
For us, this green cover of Aga Khan Palace gardens and its surroundings during lockdown was a saviour. It made us realise the importance of having an ecosystem where not just humans, but diverse flora and fauna mutually coexist and thrive. Every unique creation of God – plants, animals, mountains, rivers, and so on are a legacy to us humans, and it becomes our responsibility not only to admire but also to protect them.