The delayed monsoon this year seems to have affected the migration of the Pied cuckoo from East Africa to tricity. The first cuckoo sighted this season north of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh was at the Sukhna Lake's Bird Walk on June 9 by this writer. Last year, this cuckoo had been sighted in the tricity region on May 28 at nearby Perch dam.
The earliest cuckoo sighting in the tricity region has been May 23, 2009, at the Shiwalik Golf Club, Chandimandir. After the Sukhna sighting, the next record north of the Chhattisgarh-Gujarat line has been a lone cuckoo from Corbett National Park by Prashant Kumar on June 13. The cuckoo is a wonder of wonders. It is a weak flier but takes advantage of winds originating off the African coast to migrate 1,500-2,000 km to India just ahead of monsoons.
The purpose of migration is to lay eggs in the nest of Turdoides babblers, which will become foster parents of cuckoo chicks. The cuckoo has since 2009 been the subject of a nationwide study under the MigrantWatch programme run under the aegis of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore. The study seeks to examine the linkage between this bird's arrival in North and Central India in May/June and the monsoons. It is for this reason that the cuckoo is also known as the Monsoon or Rain bird.
Suhel Quader, coordinator for MigrantWatch, commented on the cuckoo arrivals this season: "The earliest migratory cuckoo sightings were from West Bengal between May 21-24. Then there were several sightings from Chhattisgarh on May 25, followed by a large set of sightings from Maharashtra and Gujarat from May 29 onwards. In Chandigarh, where the monsoon sets in relatively late, cuckoos arrive well in advance (ie 30-40 days) of the monsoon's onset."
KIDS GO CUCKOO
Due to their elegant looks, rakish traits and association with life-giving monsoons, Pied cuckoos attract much attention and even find mention in the Indian epics. A dramatic rescue of two cuckoos took place recently at the Worli seaface in Mumbai by the Eco Echo Foundation, which is run by wildlife biologists.
"We colleagues (Ajinkay Sawant, Amol Kutey and myself) were at the marine diversity research trail where we saw a group of kids playing with some rare birds by tying string on their legs. We were shocked and took the birds under our control. The kids said they got the birds from a nearby tree where crows were harassing them. There was a mangrove patch nearby so we went there for further observation and we noticed five other pairs of cuckoos flying there,"said foundation president Nitin Walmiki. The cuckoos are now safe at the SPCA hospital at Parel, Mumbai.
Crows harass species of the cuckoo family because of the latter's habit to lay eggs in other birds' nests, including those of crows.
MONKEY STRIPS LADY
If one were an Army officer's wife and posted in the godforsaken North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) in the early 1960s, wild encounters were commonplace. Doe Nair, whose hubbie, Vijai, was commissioned into the Skinner's Horse but volunteered for a NEFA deputation with the Assam Rifles as a young officer, reproduced some charming anecdotes in her memoir, I married the Army (Lancer International).Doe recounts how she would walk the Along hills with her bodyguards, who would whip out a khukri knife and behead deadly snakes that dare cross her path. Doe savoured the "fish"and "chutneys"her cook would serve her later. Till, one day, the cook confessed the fish were actually the writhing snakes her bodyguards had decapitated. And, the chutneys were actually colourful wild birds the Gurkha soldiers killed with catapults and the cook would ground these into a chutney paste for Doe Memsahib's meals! Doe also had occasion to mother orphaned wild creatures, including a monkey named Yoko.
The monkey became fast friends with her dog, Mitchi, whom Yoko would ride piggyback. When Doe was at Lachhi Camp near Agartala, the wicked Yoko nearly triggered a tribal uprising. Yoko would travel to the local bazaar with Mitchi. On one memorable occasion, Yoko could not resist ripping off a local woman's sarong as the duo passed her. The woman was left startled and stripped naked.
A local contractor, who had once been clamped in irons by Vijai, seized the opportunity and provoked the locals by saying that even the pet animals of that haughty young woman (Doe) had been trained to insult them and their women folk. But Yoko saved the day. Writes Doe: "Yoko, having sensed the atmosphere, went jumping over shoulders and landed on the pompous contractor's shoulders. There he sat examining his ears like an experienced ENT man. The crowd collapsed with laughter!"