A HYMN FOR MONALISA
Any bird photographer worth his/her salt will risk limb and comfort to capture that "Kohinoor of pheasants", the Himalayan Monal. Most such pictures are of the Monal male, whose plumage as a kaleidoscope of colour would rank among the finest of paintings executed by the supreme artist: Nature. But this pheasant, which inhabits alpine pastures, presents an esoteric spectacle when the male does a "full Monty", i.e. reveals all and more in courtship display!
Faridabad-based finance professional Hemant Kirola captured this revelation of courtship colours on the Chopta-Tunganath route (Uttarakhand) last month when he clicked a seductive male from the rear. Kirola had persisted through ice, rain and mud along with friends Ritesh and Janak and courted multiple failures in pursuit of the elusive Monal. He finally succeeded because in his heart flickered the words braving every dank wind: "To catch a dream, one has to follow it."
"The male raised the golden orange tail, the purplish blue wings were lowered to such an extent that the feet and legs were completely hidden and the feathers of the mantle and neck were fluffed out, showing the beautiful metallic colours at their very best,"recounts Kirola.
Describing the Monal's courtship, Salim Ali and S Dillon Ripley had memorably written in the Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan: ''...the cock erects his tail like a turkey cock, jerking it up over the back from time to time as he struts around the seemingly unconcerned hen. A variant of the 'dance' observed as follows: Cock and hen scratching and feeding on flat surface on hillside. Hen uttered her 'call note' several times. Upon this, the cock ran to her with wings raised high above the back, tail spread, neck and body feathers fluffed out displaying refulgence of plumage in the morning sun to best advantage. He thus moved quickly to and fro in front of her for a few seconds while she stood quietly looking on; then abruptly closed his wings and tail, turned about, and ran back to his feeding place. The cock also indulged in spectacular courtship flight, leaping straight up into the air from a steep hillside, moving slowly with wings held high above line of back, tail partly spread and the white rump conspicuously displayed."MAGPIES IN A PANDORA'S BOX
The race to get to the bird first opened a Pandora's box! It all started when a Chandigarh birder, Rima Dhillon, photographed a pair of Red-billed blue magpies in her house in Sector 24 on April 26. This colourful chatterbox is common enough in the hills but its presence in Chandigarh was, till now, perceived as odd enough as a Sherpa strolling down highway from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer! Dhillon claimed this to be the first sighting in Chandigarh. But the wonder of online bird groups is that it draws responses in double-quick time. Birders quickly posted sightings (sans photos) of magpies from Fatehgarh Sahib (Swaraj Raj), Sector 11, Chandigarh (Nachiketa Bajaj) and Butterfly Park, Sector 26 (Ankur Diwan). Geeta Goswami reported it from Chandimandir years back.
However, the credit for the first photo record from Chandigarh goes to Puru Medhira, who resides at Panjab University and is a Class XII student at Government Model Senior Secondary School, Sector 16. Medhira has been observing magpies for the past two years at Dhanas Lake and PU. He finally clicked the magpie, which he found to be a shy, restless bird, in the jungles adjoining PN Mehra Botanical Gardens (PU) on December 19, 2014, and posted it on Facebook's Chandigarh Bird Club page three days later. But it went largely unnoticed till the current excitement bubbled over!THE SEASON'S FLAVOUR
Wheat is being harvested across Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana with only the late-sown crops left standing. The ripening fields attract a merry medley of small birds. However, farmers are particularly wary of peacocks as these "beautiful burglars"eye grain from the fresh wheat stacks cut and stored in the open.