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Virus hits birders hard

The closure of the Sukhna lake for 30 days could not have come at a worse time for the tricity’s burgeoning tribe of bird-watchers. The lake provides an ideal location to watch migratory and resident birds via a criss-cross of jungle tracks. Writes Vikram Jit Singh.

chandigarh Updated: Dec 21, 2014 09:46 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Vikram Jit Singh


The closure of the Sukhna lake for 30 days could not have come at a worse time for the tricity’s burgeoning tribe of bird-watchers. The lake provides an ideal location to watch migratory and resident birds via a criss-cross of jungle tracks.

The forest and wildlife department had put up spotting scopes at the regulator end to facilitate viewing. The closure may prove beneficial for the birds, though, as they would not be disturbed by competition rowers. Bird-watchers could wait for the return migration of birds that will commence late in January, and hopefully, the lake would be back to normal by then and swarming with avian tourists! Interestingly, most of the migratory birds at the lake are notified by the Government of India’s department of animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries as species that can be “affected by H5N1 virus”. A total of 144 wild and domestic animals and birds have been notified as species affected globally by the virus.

At the lake, the affected species are: Northern pintail, Eurasian wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall, Greylag and Bar-headed geese, Common and Red-crested pochards, Tufted duck, Ruddy shelduck, Brown-headed gull, Asian open-bill, Little egret, Grey and Black-crowned night herons, peacock, Eurasian coot, Common moorhen, Purple swamphen, dog, cow, feral/domestic cat, Oriental magpie robin, Large-billed crow, House crow, Black drongo, Long-tailed shrike, Scaly-breasted munia, Great and Little cormorants, and Great crested and Little grebes.


Seonk village lies cheek by jowl with the Shivaliks behind the PGIMER.Tricity residents may not know much about its existence beyond the fact that the hamlet sports a quaint forest rest house that the well-heeled and the influential secure from the Punjab forest department for birthday bashes and booze binges in the charming countryside.

Farm fresh: Excreta at a communal toilet of the 'Roj'. PHOTO: VIKRAM JIT SINGH

But aging farmer Sher Singh’s life has little to do with the rest house. His life is dominated by a creature called the ‘Roj’ (Neelgai or Blue bull).

He is one of the bigger farmers in the area with 14 `kilas’ but that makes the task of guarding the budding wheat from marauding ‘Roj’, sambar and ‘awaara pashu’ (stray, abandoned cows) all the more tiresome as he has to constantly repair and reinforce long boundaries with thorny thickets and wires. Wandering cow herds, which lie up in nearby jungles all day, are lethal for crops.The ‘Roj’ and sambar easily clear Singh’s fences with mighty jumps and feast on his crops. The cows just crash through. Singh shows me huge piles of ‘Roj’ excreta. The fresh, glistening black pellets of ‘Roj’ excreta, touched with dew and mist, are the end product of a portion of Singh’s crops and hard work rendered waste. The pellets encapsulate his life’s story.

“We call them ‘Roj’ because they crap every night at the same spot. As the mist deepens, I have bought powerful Chinese flashlights for `900 each as these can spot animals across nine ‘kilas’. Farming does not reward me but since I am a Jat, I will continue the profession of my ancestors,” says Singh. His gait is energetic and steady. He retired a few years back after a long government service at the nearby Punjab main civil secretariat. His sons have not bothered to study, so they have not secured a ‘job’ in Chandigarh. They help him in the fields but he handles the main work, including guarding crops at night.

The saving grace is that his ‘kakajis’ (heirs or sons) have not forced him to sell off his ‘kilas’ and fund their immigration to ‘Kanaada’. Or, taken to drugs and drinking as the old man toils. There is an inner beauty to Singh’s lonely and implacable vigil.
Despite the onslaught of age, wild animals and dwindling agrarian income, Singh’s passion for farming has not withered like the autumn leaves strewn around him and now turning to the colour of his wrinkled, weather-beaten face.

The light...the stoic twinkle in his eyes...flickers valiantly like a lantern in the morgue-chill winds that buffet him and the shadows relentlessly creeping in from the edges of his existence.



Wildlife photography has been described by some as the ‘new hunting’ ---- it is as much a game of chance, perseverance, equipment, passion, and, sometimes, raw courage.

It is estimated that as many as 35,000 long lenses are roaming the Indian wilderness capturing frames of great originality. Many of these lensmen are not pros. They also delight with the novel turn of phrase they conjure to describe the unique moment captured by their photo. Nayan Hazra is one such passionate frame hunter.

He resides in Pune, Maharashtra, and is employed with Barclays Bank. We would also ascertain his ethnicity from the following caption he penned for a picture. “For sure, the gull wasn’t a Bong...Bongs don’t drop fish!” Well, let us ask Nayan to take us through a memorable photo odyssey.

“It was a regular Sunday outing for me to visit Bhigwan, a hotspot for migratory birds, waders and flamingos. I was in the deep mode of focusing on flamingos when I heard a massive commotion coming over from the other side: hundreds of Pallas’ Gulls or Great Black-headed Gulls. Being the shallow water zone, gulls were enthusiastic about the early morning catch. Quick dives into water, and fish pulled out in the deft snap of the bill. Have you ever seen gulls fighting over fish? They are noisy and really aggressive, and don’t spare anyone around. But one gull was unlucky: the bird dropped his/her breakfast,” recounts Nayan.

“As a photographer, action shots always drive the adrenaline. The gulls’ activity happened so quickly that I was forced to manage with quick adjustments within the camera, bumping up the shutter speed as a primary.

I chose to focus on that portion of the water where I anticipated the gull would dive. And, indeed the gull did dive in there. I pressed the shutter button to capture the moment. Generally, I choose not to spend time reviewing pictures during a session in the field, especially in the middle of action, as it will cause me to overlook some potential shots. So, I did not have any idea what I had until I saw the raw images back home,” he says.

Unknowingly, and quite by chance, his lens had captured a unique image. “It was five gulls who swooped down on a fish and one managed to pluck it from water. But perhaps, due to a bad grip or a real slippery fish, that gull lost the fish while rising in the air,” recounts Nayan.

First Published: Dec 20, 2014 22:37 IST