Easy Goan birding
Never do all your birding indoors, says RANJIT LAL. It's lazy and scandalous ... .
Brahminy kite ... crowning glory.
THE laziest and most scandalous way of doing birding would be to settle down with a cup of tea in your balcony and watch the comings and goings of birds from here. And when the balcony overlooks nectar-rich flowering bushes, coconut groves, mango, chickoo, peepul and banyan trees, and also a swimming pool, well you get a nice diversity of avian visitors too. The flat in Arpora (near Baga) had all this, and also overlooked some unsightly transmission wires and the usual spaghetti of cable television wires. Ah, but the birds loved cable!
First off, however, and absolutely appalling, was the huge population of crows in the whole of the Calangute, Baga and Arpora area. Perhaps they went hand in hand with the enormous amount of garbage that lay strewn around everywhere: Goa needs to ban plastic like no other place on earth and tourists need to be rounded up on regular garbage collection drives. More garbage means more crows, and crows, alas, are none too kind to other species.
But thankfully, there were others, even if they were completely outnumbered. First off, early morning would be a splendid white-throated kingfisher that would perch on the swimming pool railings, grinning wolfishly all over its face. It would dive straight in and out for a quick dip and wash up the procedure repeated several times. On the first morning I saw it, I swear it emerged with a fish in its beak! The transmission pole and wires would be hot property for the purple-rumped sunbirds, stunning in their emerald green, purple-maroon and canary yellow outfits. A resplendent male would zip up to the top of the pole, posture fiercely with lowered head, turning jerkily in every direction, and call shrilly, as though defying all comers. His wife would soon join him, and from this vantage point the couple would launch forays at the hibiscus bushes, refuelling non-stop for their high-voltage lifestyles. They would launch themselves like missiles at other sunbirds venturing into their airspace. The wires themselves proved convenient perches for small green bee-eaters and ashy drongos that played musical chairs with each other while sallying after bees and insects in the scrub below. The ashy drongo does a wonderful call imitation of the shikra, but one such mimic spoilt the effect somewhat by hunting down a butterfly and making a messy job of de-winging it before breakfasting. The kingfisher too, would land up on the wires after its swim, its shiny eyes on the earth below, glittering in anticipation of fresh lizard for breakfast.
Small flocks of black-lored tits were also regular visitors to the flowering bushes below. They are very restless, busy birds with delightfully untidy crests and a dishevelled just-got-out-of-bed look, but smartly patterned in blue-back and olive-yellow. By around 8.30 a.m. the white cheeked barbets would have arrived on the peepuls and banyans to pig out on figs; with their dappled breasts and leaf green plumage they are beautifully camouflaged: you can stare at one straight in the eye and not see it all. The magpie-robins were mostly misanthropic at this time of the year (winter), churring harshly from deep within cover, but one morning five of them turned (two couples and a handsome bachelor) and began jousting fiercely for the property around the house. In summer I have heard a single magpie robin here, sing four different songs pretending it was four different lotharios in order to keep other birds away from the area and from its wife.
Purple heron ... its every move is professional.
Of course you can't do all your birding indoors, and walks through the coconut groves and along the Baga creek (don't ever get your feet wet in it!) were no less rewarding. The harsh but unmistakable "chtrrr!" call of the paradise flycatcher provided some excitement. It was tracked down at last and turned out to be a female, who on the last morning paid a visit to the flowering bushes beneath the balcony. Up in the crowns of the coconut palms, brahminy kites flew in and out, smart in their russet and stippled white, but with strangely weak and whingeing voices. Black-rumped flamebacks (nee the golden-backed woodpecker) with their scarlet bottlebrush crest and bullion backs clamped themselves suddenly to the palm columns with a ringing cackle and then scuttled around as though playing hide and seek. In the open red-earth country abutting the creek, white-browed wagtails sauntered and sang, while along the muddy edges sandpipers hunted assiduously. Little herons in sculpted bronze green, skulked furtively at the muddy feet of the mangroves, and in the lagoons beyond the creek, grey and purple herons fished like professional harpooners. Here redshank and greenshank dipped and darted, while on the embankment, or on suitable perches, the resplendent common kingfisher in its spangled sapphire and shining amber, squatted like a piece of jewellery, before rocketing off in spark like blur. The skies were patrolled by barn, and red-rumped swallows, and occasional squadrons of little cormorants winged past.
Egrets in their pearly whites would settled ornamentally on the water or arrange themselves on the trees; an effect somewhat spoilt when you spotted them (especially cattle egrets) picking their way fastidiously in garbage heaps.
At dusk, the spotted owlets in the cracked-up jackfruit and mango trees would be calling querulously, bobbing their heads and glaring at you out of great golden eyes. If you were up and about early enough next morning, you could find them squatting on top of say, a headless palm, like dumpy little Napoleons, surveying the fields around them for a rat scuttling back after a rave. But all too soon, the Mafiosi of crows, or a lynch mob of babblers would drive them back to their cracked up hollows and the day shift would take over.
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