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HindustanTimes Thu,27 Nov 2014

Chasing Chicks

Vikram Jit Singh, Hindustan Times   November 10, 2013
First Published: 10:11 IST(10/11/2013) | Last Updated: 12:08 IST(10/11/2013)

This is not meant for those bitter halves who cannot accept their spouses’ obsessive bird watching (errr...the real ones). Alka and Dr. Surya Prakash, an academic at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, have been happily married for 26 years. But Alka has come a full circle from her honeymoon days.

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When Alka first met Dr Prakash, he charmed her by keenly listening about her interests. This small-town girl and a literature student had stars in her eyes. The first shock came soon enough. Dr Prakash changed their honeymoon from Manali to Gajner (Rajasthan).

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Gajner was off the India map as far as Alka knew it. Dr Prakash felt Gajner’s rich bird life would be a good introduction to their marriage.

“We returned with more pictures of birds than of the newly-wedded couple,” quips Alka in a humorous essay she penned on bird-hit spouses.

As marriage proceeded, Alka recounts, “Sooner or later he would land up on his favourite subject, BIRDS, and like a stupid school girl I would listen to his endless stories which least interested me. Our outings were to zoos, Lodi garden or Humayun’s tomb, not for their historical importance but because they housed birds. My kids were more into nursing (rescued) chicks than studies. It showed in their grades!” Photo courtesy: Dr. Surya Prakash

He made her drive 5km at odd hours to get papaya for an injured hornbill, a task she had never undertaken for her own chicks (oops kids).

Alka wittily remarked, “Seeing his passion, sometimes I am forced to think birds are my concubine! I know that whenever I tried to voice my opinion I was considered an imbecile.” Alka realised she cannot change Dr Prakash. Now peacefully reconciled to her fate, Alka says she is no longer awed or baffled by his knowledge of birds but is proud that she is his wife.

Bitter truth: better the worse half chases birds than bimbos!

Signature Stylehttp://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2013/11/spidermandeepbali3_compressed.jpg

Insurance development officer Mandeep Singh Bali was sipping morning tea in the garden of his Kansal house. While soaking in those treasured moments of tranquillity before work routine would draw him in and dull his finer sensibilities, a spider caught Mandeep’s eye.

He described the effect on him thus, “I found a beautiful and different spider with a golden body and red face with a long spring-like web on one of my plants and could not resist taking a picture with my mobile phone. It was looking too beautiful with rays of morning sun falling on it and making it glow further on a plant full of green leaves and pink flowers. It compelled me to pull my chair and sit near this plant before nature took away the real treat for my eyes.” Photo: Mandeep S. Bali

Mandeep could never have fathomed the spider’s name and why it had such a curious white zig-zag pattern in its web forming an ‘X’ shape with the body in the centre. But thanks to the popular Facebook study group, ‘SpiderIndia’, and experts like Rajshekhar Hipparagi and Abhishek Narayanan, the haze surrounding the spider’s life lifted.

The zig-zag pattern, which looks like a busy VVIP’s signature, gives this spider its common name: Signature spider (Argiope anasuja).

The pattern gives strength to the web and protects it by making it conspicuous to birds, which may tear it while flying, as also serving to attract prey. The spider secures the zig-zag structure by interweaving its own web to the requisite thickness. This spider preys on insects, flies etc. 

The Falcon's courtierhttp://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2013/11/shikrahemrajmeena_compressed.jpg

The Shikra is the most common of the hawks found in our gardens. An ace shikari, it provokes excited sentimentality among householders due to its prowess in snatching other birds’ babies from nests. It is often mistaken for the falconry or hunting bird of Guru Gobind Singh, which was not the Shikra but the much larger Eastern (now Northern) goshawk or the true ‘baaz’.

 

Declared the state bird of Punjab, the goshawk was the prized bird of noble falconers in the Mughal era. But if a Shikra somehow enters a gurdwara, granthis and the devout mistake it for the Guru’s bird and accord it great piety. Photo: Hemraj Meena

The Shikra in the days of falconry, practised from the times of the Mughals, was accorded great pluck and dash by its trainers. RS Dharmakumarsinhji of the erstwhile Bhavnagar State wrote that the female Shikra was flown at quail, partridge, plover and crows, and even at larger birds up to young peacocks and Egyptian vultures.

But in a way, the Shikra was little more than a courtier or underling in the kingdom of falconry.
Hugh Whistler wrote in his ‘Popular Handbook of Indian Birds’: “It (Shikra) is a favourite bird with Indian falconers as it is easily trained and will take small birds within 10 days of being caught; it is often used by them to catch food for their more prized falcons and goshawks.” 

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