Birders and wildlife photographers often indulge in crass races to claim credit for a rare bird spotted. But this rarity for Chandigarh, the Great Himalayan barbet, came to light not via an eager beaver birder. A voracious eater of wild fruits, the barbet is a common species as we drive up the Kasauli hills but is not so in the urbane plains.
This lone specimen was found in a Sector 4 bungalow garden after it crashed into a window pane, a common enough occurrence with garden birds. It was rescued by Madhu Sarin as dogs and feral cats roam the area sponging off generous souls. Despite her hectic work schedule, Sarin took the barbet to her room to nurse it tenderly.
To be fair, it did open its powerful beak twice. But that was when it pecked Sarin’s finger hard, as if it were a raw guava to be cracked open. The none-too-affectionate pecks left a red blush on the fingers of the barbet’s benefactor.
Certainly not the way Gregory Peck would have treated a lady’s hand! Sarin was unwilling to hand over the barbet to NGOs since some of them enjoy a dubious reputation of killing stricken birds with their much-publicised "kindness". Neither did the barbet want to stay on as an `unpaying, ungrateful guest’. The restless fellow showed signs of better flight the same evening. Sarin released it and the bird happily flew off to perch prettily on a tree in the neighbour’s garden. (PHOTO COURTESY: VIKRAM JIT SINGH)
SUITED AND BOOTED
Imagine flashes of white, spear-headed with dark, iridescent green necks, streaking across expanses of blue water. And, you will conjure the spectacle of Northern shovelers congregating at Sukhna lake and nearby Mirzapur and Siswan dams.Male shovelers look a far cry from the eclipse plumage they were in (after the breeding season) when they flew into India last autumn. Then, male colours had resembled the drab brown and mottled buff of the females.
But now, as they ready to depart to their summer grounds across a vast swathe of the northern latitudes, the males have acquired breeding plumage. Colours in nature have a profound effect on sex selection as females exhibit a bias for resplendent males. The shoveler is otherwise a confiding duck and often found dabbling in dirty village ponds.
It is among the last of our migratory guests to leave India. Legendary birdman, Dr. Salim Ali, vouched for the shoveler’s poor reputation among sportsmen of yore, stating: "It is not exacting in its food preferences, and therefore its flesh is usually rank and unpalatable. But in flight and other respects, it is a good sporting bird"! (PHOTO COURTESY: AMISH PATEL)
WHO’S AFRAID OF RED BLOOMS
The parallel colonnades of Red Silk cotton trees that run through Sectors 4 and 9 in Chandigarh are just mesmerising: they seem to smooch the skies with their dazzling, red lips. And, below, the litter of red blooms seem like telltale lipstick marks smudging a sanitised pavement.While we delight in this efflorescent eye-candy, and our feathered friends feast on their nectar, how does one come to terms with the poignant spectacle of municipal sweepers gathering and dumping blooms like the 'debris of unwanted beauty'.
I asked a sweeper, Balinder, about his task, and he said, "It breaks my back sweeping flowers that fall endlessly". These blooms are eventually exiled to rot at Dadumajra dump. Much the same 'hounding of blooms' is witnessed at the Sukhna lake walkway, where sweepers break sweat in chilly winter to bring to heel the sheer abundance and anarchy of purple 'kachnar' flowers.
These blooms flirt torturously with the brooms by drifting away in the sweeping winds. Amid this bloom gloom, Balinder did provide a nature insight to me: he had seen fruit bats or Flying foxes relishing these blooms/pods at night. (PHOTO COURTESY VIKRAM JIT SINGH)
Similarly, Manjit Kaur dislikes the looming Silk cotton tree outside the gate of her Sector 10 bungalow gate. Kaur says the flowers make such a mess on the road, the tree blocks sunlight to my house, and its cotton drifts dirty my lawn no end! So, is it that humans truly value only those red blooms that come with thorns that draw blood...