Tale of 2 couples
Sarabjit Mahal and his better half, Basant, are not the standard, large group, raucous set of birders. Here is the Ambala-based couple's personal story about a pair of the magnificent Pallas’s fish-eagle. A vulnerable species, this eagle is known to hunt waterbirds as large as geese and also pirate food from other predators. Writes Vikram Jit Singhchandigarh Updated: Sep 20, 2014 23:55 IST
Sarabjit Mahal and his better half, Basant, are not the standard, large group, raucous set of birders. Here is the Ambala-based couple's personal story about a pair of the magnificent Pallas’s fish-eagle. A vulnerable species, this eagle is known to hunt waterbirds as large as geese and also pirate food from other predators. But now I'll divert from the standard species' description in deference to a poignant narrative of two couples—one human, one avian—who spoke to each other in silences broken only by the eagles `kwaks'. Over to Mahal.
PHOTO: BASANT MAHAL
"It was on a trip to Rajaji National Park in early March 2007 while passing through Asan Barrage that a booming 'kwak kwak' caught my attention. I noticed a well-protected bird sanctuary on my left with a small but deeply forested water body. It had small islands and frenetic bird activity. Atop the tallest silk cotton tree was a large nest and peering down from its perch was an eagle with a resplendent lion-like mane,'' writes Mahal.
Since then, the Mahals have enjoyed Asan immensely. “The eagles’ hunting sorties sending thousands of wintering birds into the air were spectacular, with the most memorable being their booming 'kwaks', especially on a moonlit night. However, in 2013, I was told by the GMVN staff, who look after the restaurant and property there, that the legendary eagles that had ruled the marsh for 30 years had not been sighted by anyone, including forest officials. The head cook had actually seen one of the pair dead on the road nearby. The booming call, the awe-inspiring swoop that had sent thousands of birds into the air, seemed gone forever. But my heart would not accept this loss: I promised to try one more time," recounts Mahal.
"In March this year, I noticed the familiar lion mane on a distant bird. While I scoured the terrain by vehicle, Basant took GMVN boatman Hukum Singh towards the bird's perch. Sure enough, it was one of the two eagles. I could ascertain by the size of the head and beak structure that the smaller-sized eagle (the male) had survived. It had shifted residence, and we did not hear it calling because there was no one to call anymore," said Mahal.We can only hope the lonely male finds another mate and booming 'kwaks' regale the Asan air once again.
FLUTTERS, FLIRT & VERSE
PHOTO: ViKRAM JIT SINGH
Just after the rains ebb, a ramble through the ribbony rivulets or 'choes' that course down from the Shiwaliks affords viewership of a medley of butterfly movies. Some are mud-puddling on the damp rivulet bed like flying flowers in blissful rest while others are fluttering like nervous eyelashes on the bushes peering over the choes. Late in the evening, as the sun gave its last blush before night drew the covers, I chanced upon a common castor finding a roosting spot on lantana near village Nagal, 20 km from Chandigarh. This butterfly is so named because its larvae or caterpillars harbour a proclivity to feeding on castor plants. But I do not want to delve on this: I only want to narrate how I saw this butterfly and how it reminded me of the little poem on a shy butterfly written by an unheralded poetess.
I stepped gently into the lantana and took out my smartphone to click but the butterfly would invariably fly away, its gait in the air resembling the flapping wings of the lapwing bird species. The butterfly never ever left me, coming back and up close, alighting for a few seconds on a leaf next to my face, and then winging away as if fleeing from great danger. In a different context, it would have been termed as 'typically flirtatious' behaviour!
That exercise continued for 15 minutes before the butterfly settled close to me for the night, and my smartphone resounded happily with the multiple fire of a hair-trigger camera. Fragments of those dainty verses swam to the surface of my memory’s reservoir in those moments where twilight, the butterfly and I were magically entwined.
I asked her name,
But she was very shy,
Giggled and flew off,
So swift like silk.
Fluttering through the air,
On the wind,
Here and there.
CAN'T RATTLE A FAUJI
You just can't match the spirit of an old soldier: renowned artiste Savita Bhatti's father, Air Commodore Manmohan Singh (retd), still believes he can take on the world at the age of 83! A 5-foot snake sneaked into the store opening into the retired officer's bedroom in his Mohali house recently. Fortunately, the aging couple was tipped off about the “infiltrator” by the fruit-seller outside. A Nepalese domestic help was summoned to evict the serpent. The retired officer was asked to step clear of the store but he refused and stood ready to nab the intruder.
The help rummaged through the store and the snake darted out. The old fauji did his best to pin it down with his walking stick but the snake was agile and strong and escaped. In the melee, the snake had coiled for a few seconds around the old man's ankle, nipped him on his third toe, and had drawn blood. The retired officer was taken to Fortis Hospital and kept under observation for 24 hours but there were no signs of envenomation. The description of the snake (brown) and its agility, coupled with non-envenomation, suggest it was a harmless rat snake.