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Snow white, blood pleasant

chandigarh Updated: Jun 21, 2014 23:14 IST
Vikram Jit Singh

Unlike the blood shed and splattered on the high snows --- that at once divide and bridge Pakistan and India --- the magical kingdom of Bhutan is a favoured destination for serious bird-watchers wanting to drink deep into the heavenly goblets that brim with natural concoctions. Of these species, the Blood pheasant --- so-called because of its scarlet streaking on its breast and belly --- is a must see.

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Photo: Tashi Namgay

This pheasant is also the State Bird of Sikkim. A well-enforced hunting ban in Bhutan ensures its blood does not spill on the snows and makes the pheasant not very shy. Thimpu-based photographer and tour guide, Tashi Namgay, clicked a most striking pictures of the pheasant by using the call lure. "Whenever I reach the feeding place of the pheasant or I hear its call, I play recorded calls. Pheasants normally do respond to recorded calls and get attracted. When I took this particular shot, it was a bit difficult to get a perfect shot because I was with a tourist group and I had binoculars, IPod with the speaker playing the pheasant's call, and the camera. So, I played the call and made the bird come into the open space. The bird obliged us and and spent 45 minutes in the open allowing me to get a shot," says Namgay.

Picture a word's worth
Though pictures are the proverbial 1,000 words' worth, writers never tire of vainly trying to conjure the mystique of magical realities such as Bhutan. But here is a wonderful account of a Bhutan birding odyssey by the Delhi-based Sheila Chhabra. I will let Sheila's words give our imagination wings so that for a few moments we can make haste from our hot, sultry Indian homes and flit like apparitions in those magical alpine forests. Writes Sheila: "We watched the sun rise with the Himalayan monal and Blood pheasants, had breakfast with the Satyr tragopan and lunch with Black-throated parrotbills. Yes, happiness is a place, and its name is Druk Yul: Land of the Thunder Dragon or Bhutan.

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Sheila Chhabra with an Olive Ridley hatchling rescued from nets at Rushikuliya, Odisha Photo: Nikhil Devasar

When you fly in to Paro, you get a feeling that you are going somewhere very special, a kingdom guarded by no other than the mighty Himalayas. The peaks reach out to you, Mt. Everest breaking through clouds and showing its summit, the vast timeless range inspiring awe and putting into perspective our small problems and everyday struggles. The Buddhist Bhutanese people attempt to strive for and measure their success with an index of Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product. This is a land that still has 72 per cent forest cover." Sheila's group woke at 3 am to reach Chele la (3,988 metres), and she writes, here, "Conifers stood tall, their branches weighed down by fresh snow. Lichen hung from trees like beards of wispy green spider's webs.

Icicles gleamed under overhanging roots and in this pristine white, green and brown landscape, a few shrubs added colour with red stems. As we walked, snow crackled beneath our feet while fresh flakes fell gently from above. This was a charmed forest reminding one of fairy tales and wizards and only magical creatures could live here. And, sure enough, the first among them moved behind the shrubs giving tantalising glimpses of iridescent colours: green, copper, purple, cinnamon brown, all packaged to make the most amazing pheasant, the Himalayan monal. Scrambling movements on the side turned out to be Blood pheasants. One male decided to visibly and vociferously claim his territory --- he clambered onto a stump and announced his presence and challenge while we stood mesmerised. Illustrations in books fall far short of the real thing. The colours of this bird --- blood red, lime green, grey --- set against a white snow backdrop, have to be seen to be believed."

Gugli & mugli

Some humans can't tolerate wild creatures. Nikhil Sanger of the Wildlife Conservation Society rescued two Palm squirrel pups from a house in Baba Deep Singh Nagar, Nawanshahr, Punjab, after the landlady, Gursharan Kaur, threatened to sweep them out of her attic.

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Photo: Nikhil Sanger

The squirrel female had made a nest underneath the grain storage tank in the attic, and the lady got disturbed by the squirrel's visits to feed her pups. Though Sanger explained that squirrels were not venomous snakes, the lady told Sanger in an ominous tone that she would deal with the pups herself if they were not taken away. A reluctant Sanger then brought the pups home, christened them Gugli and Mugli and fed them milk powder paste and later honey and corn. The pups relished the tender care of Sanger and his wife, Sonika, and now live happily in their flourishing garden.