SOLITARY IN SPRING
A good number of Great/Intermediate egrets stalking the waters of the rowing canal at Sukhna Lake nearly resulted in a near miss of a solitary newcomer on February 13, a Eurasian spoonbill. A cursory glance would lead you to mistake the spoonbill for the egret. A birder at Sukhna is habituated to egrets. A male spoonbill in breeding plumage was observed feeding that evening in the canal in the company of egrets and Grey herons. The spoonbill is not a common visitor to the Sukhna though there have been sporadic sightings in previous years of this dapper avian from Bakarpur, Lalru and Motemajra that lie in the tricity’s hinterland. Unfortunately, for the growing tribe of bird enthusiasts in the tricity, the spoonbill registered a brief stint at the Sukhna and was not seen again after February 13.
Spoonbills in India can either be long-distance winter migrants from the colder, northern latitudes or resident breeders or even nomadic within a region. The spoonbill at Sukhna Lake is likely to have been in transit with the unfurling of spring. The Sukhna is hosting incoming flocks of standard waterfowl species that will use the lake as a staging ground for the long migration to summer breeding grounds in the north. The coming weeks will present opportunities to patient and hardy birders who are keen to spot vagrants and rarities in transit.
To know the spoonbill, it is best to visualise it from the timeless description of the legendary Dr Salim Ali. He writes, “Wades into the shallows on the edge of a ‘jheel’ or swamp and with outstretched, obliquely poised, partly-open bill sweeps from side to side in the water with a semi-circular scything action, raking the bottom ooze with the tip of the lower mandible as it moves forward.” A spoonbill eats small fish, tadpoles, frogs, molluscs, crustaceans, aquatic insects and some vegetation.
TRYST WITH RUBIES
It would be a pity if the tricity’s denizens imperiously drive past and ignore the wondrous beauty of the silk cotton (‘semal’) tree, simply because the lush, ruby blooms are an annual feature. But we could refresh our tryst with these blooms by rewinding to Nobel laureate and nature worshipper Rabindranath Tagore’s songs which contain references to 83 plants. Or seek the timeless aesthetics of these blooms through a glimpse of award-winning painter Sabia Khan’s magnificent obsession. This Delhi-based art teacher has spawned over 500 ‘semal’ paintings and drawings, including canvases of 6 x 8 feet featuring 108 birds or 108 squirrels.
“The number, 108, takes from the number of beads in a ‘mantra mala’ and adds up to nine symbolising the cosmos,” says Sabia. In the painting featured here, Sabia is feeding squirrels under a ‘semal’ draped in the richness of rubies, and she is enraptured by their antics, liveliness and gentle disposition.
Here is Tagore’s song no 275, on the return of ‘Basanta’, from the ‘Gitabitan’, translated from the original by former director of the army postal service, Maj Gen SK Sen (retd).
Tagore: I had taken leave and gone, time and again/I had thought I’ll not return/But here I am, once again, in a new attire, On the threshold of your heart/Who are you? I am Bakul/Who are you? I am Parul/And who are you all? We are mango blossoms, Arrived again on the shores of light/ This time when we fall on Earth, We shall fall with a smile/We shall fill the cloth-end of the Endless, And die with a joyous heart/Who are you? I am Shimul (‘semal’)/ Who are you? I am Kamini flower/And who are you? We are new leaves, Sprouting forth in heaps in the Sal forest.
BLOOD ON THE DEW
Farmers guarding fields in the tricity’s peripheral villages report that nights are often shattered by gunfire. All of these are not explosions directed at scaring boars, nilgais, porcupines and sambar from crops. Some of these are tricity ‘VIPs’ indulging in night hunting with searchlights and sophisticated, imported arms. Evidence comes at dawn with bloodstained dew, litter of spent cartridges, trail marks of jeeps and remains of animals shot and skinned. This indulgence is rampant in the rich scrublands and jungles teeming with wildlife along the Shivaliks, and some hunters don’t give a fig for breeding season, species, gender and age. What is of particular concern is the diversion of high-quality competition arms and ammunition by those bestowed with a ‘renowned shooter’ tag by the National Rifle Shooting Association of India.