• Vikram Jit Singh, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Jan 19, 2015 18:22 IST

This bird has evolved uniquely to hop up cliffs like a superlative rock climber. It has been described by the Chinese as a ‘rock flower’. A Frank Neveu film, ‘Like a Butterfly’, described this under-studied winged delight thus: "Imagine a bird, original enough to live in the cliffs, that looks as exotic as a hummingbird and which moves like a butterfly". Well, I did not know I had stumbled upon this Greta Garbo-like recluse of hideaways on the high cliffs.


We had set out to observe migratory steppe eagles at village Gurra in the Shivaliks, a mere 25-minute drive from the heart of City Beautiful, this January. I was especially keen the children enjoy a glimpse of these magnificent raptors. We did not see the eagles that foggy day with the poorest promise of the sun but sharp-eyed Tirath Sandhu from St John’s High School spotted a blue-greyish bird hopping up cliffs just 50 yards above us. And, like a lovely lady revealing cleavage by chance or design or swirling skirts startled by a gust of wind, the bird teased with fleeting views of the most charming wing coverts, daubed as these were in vivid crimson. Unfortunately, we did not have a camera that day but the bird embodied such mystique that I requested wildlife photographer Munish Jauhar to click its picture the next day with a 300 mm lens.

That day was doubly misty and seemed jinxed for bird photography. We spotted the bird after a sustained scanning of the cliffs with binoculars. It had shifted much higher and Jauhar managed a grainy shot at 200 yards. As we manoeuvred to get closer, a pair of bullying Rufous treepies arrived on the crags and the mystery bird vanished like an ethereal spirit of the air. We searched in vain the next few days but never saw the bird again at Gurra.

The hazy outlines of Jauhar’s grainy shot aptly captured the mood of this icy, clammy and grey January of 2015, wherein wildlife viewing was rendered difficult as birds and animals kept a discreet profile. All we had was this photo for identification. On my request, renowned bird book author Tim Inskipp replied thus to Jauhar’s picture, which I emailed to him: “Although the photo is a bit fuzzy, the bird is clearly a wallcreeper.”

The wallcreeper summer breeds in the high Himalyas and winters in the foothills. Its range extends across a ridge of nations from Europe to Asia. However, only a handful of sightings have been reported earlier from the tricity region (at Berwala and Nepli). Due to its evolved abilities, the wallcreeper is able to tap the insects, spiders, small crustaceans, etc. that dwell in the cracks and crevices like no other tenant of the high cliffs.


What impels men to risk life and limb and save the life of a leopard that had already injured two persons? The leopard rescue by the Wildlife department and Chhatbir zoo veterinarians at village Paprali (Kurali) on January 13 witnessed actions beyond the call of duty on the part of forest guard, Dharampal. All alone with the cornered creature and armed with only a wooden stick for protection, Dharampal grabbed the big cat as it slipped into a deep well. He had disregarded the warning calls of villagers, who had fled to the rooftops, to not go near the leopard.

CAPTION: Punjab Forest guard, Dharampal.PHOTO: MUNISH NARANG

The leopard had, a few minutes earlier, been hit by a tranquilising dart while hiding between fodder piles. It then made a dash for freedom only to get cornered at the well situated at the end of a very narrow Paprali bylane. Under pressure and losing consciousness, the leopard slipped over the well’s wall until only its hind legs and tail remained outside. The first villager who came to Dharampal’s assistance as he struggled to hold onto the teetering, 60-65 kg leopard was Bant Singh (70), a retired soldier of the 6 Sikh Light Infantry who had fought the 1965 War in Chamb Jourian, Jammu. With a soldierly disregard for his own safety, Bant rushed in and took firm hold of the leopard’s hind legs. Emboldened by this, more villagers and wildlife officials rushed to assist the duo. Mind you, the leopard was not fully unconscious. A cellphone video taken by a villager on a nearby rooftop shows the sequence of events at the well. The leopard made a last dash for freedom after being pulled out from the well. Dharampal again intervened and pinned down the leopard’s neck with his stick. The struggling leopard was quelled only when nets were thrown on it and a second tranquilising dart delivered!

CAPTION: Retired 6 Sikh LI soldier, Bant Singh.PHOTO: VIKRAM JIT SINGH

I must try to save a wild creature and not show cowardice. Our family has a tradition of animal welfare and we maintain two dogs. I regularly feed peacocks at my village near Morinda,” explains Dharampal.

On the other hand, Bant has some experience as a leopard had strayed into his battalion quarters when stationed at Sunderbani (Jammu) decades back. Bant felt strongly that the “leopard’s life had to be saved as it had not committed any fault. It had strayed into Paparali, panicked and attacked people. Also, the well’s water is used by us in summers. Had the leopard died, the water would have been polluted.”

Dharampal had earlier ventured alone and rescued a buffalo calf that was marooned in a shed right next to the leopard hiding between fodder piles and before the first tranquilising dart had been fired at it. His initiative and courage drew commendation from his superiors, DFO (Wildlife) at Roopnagar, Dev Raj Sharma, and range forest officer Sunil Kumar.

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