Wildbuzz | The nightjar’s balcony perch

Published on Nov 06, 2022 01:12 AM IST

At about 6am, when Parul and her husband, Ankur Singh, were preparing to send their child to school, they noticed a strange avian on the balcony railing. Though the couple is not into bird photography, Parul was nevertheless sufficiently intrigued to click a picture with the cellphone through the glass window.

Long-tailed nightjar on the balcony of the 18th floor. (Photo: Parul Saini)
Long-tailed nightjar on the balcony of the 18th floor. (Photo: Parul Saini)
ByVikram Jit Singh

*The right connections or a series of coincidences finally bring to light a natural phenomenon that had gone unnoticed. When the specimen in question is the cryptic, nocturnal and less-studied long-tailed nightjar, a chance discovery of its “uncommon” presence on an 18th floor balcony creates an atmosphere of intrigue and curiosity. Parul Saini, the daughter of a Tricity-based bird photographer, Ranjit Singh, is settled in Gaur city, Ghaziabad. At about 6am, when Parul and her husband, Ankur Singh, were preparing to send their child to school, they noticed a strange avian on the balcony railing. Though the couple is not into bird photography, Parul was nevertheless sufficiently intrigued to click a picture with the cellphone through the glass window.

Knowing her father’s passion for birds and being herself unable to identify the esoteric avian, Parul sent the photograph to her father. Singh identified it as a long-tailed nightjar, a species “normally known” to keep to wild habitats such as open areas interspersed with scrub jungle. The picture drew rave comments from envious bird enthusiasts: they had wandered the jungles in vain to catch a glimpse of the ghostly nightjar. And, lo behold, here was one perched virtually at the doorstep and very obliging with picture-perfect poise!

The nightjar’s presence at the high balcony was not in sync with the popular understanding that the species stays well away from human habitats. However, less-conspicuous wild creatures displaced and marginalised by urbanisation / agriculture continue to haunt their former undisturbed habitats. Their edgy, unknown existence in disrupted habitats conjures the ghost lore of ‘bhoot banglas’ with tormented spirits of forgotten dead owners flitting through the ruins. It is but natural that a chance sighting of such a creature from right under our noses would generate a lot of “discovery excitement”. The “new kid in town” is summarily assessed as having “strayed in” or “got lost” though it may well have been frequenting its habitat disturbed by humans but had managed to evade scrutiny.

As Mohali-based birder, Prof Gurpartap Singh, points out, the “world over, there are many instances of nightjars found in human habitats. In India also, a couple of recent instances have been there, such as a dehydrated jungle nightjar reported in Andheri, Mumbai, from the staircase of a residential building, presumably while chasing prey, and an Indian nightjar from an apartment on Sarjapur Road, Bengaluru. With habitat fragmentation and human activity in breeding areas, some nightjar species have turned urban dwellers, finding suitable nesting sites on flat roofs of city buildings and hunting insects around street lights. However, range maps of this nightjar indicate that the Ghaziabad area falls out of its known summer breeding range”.

So, the specimen under scrutiny is likely to have migrated there from its summer, breeding abodes, such as the Shivalik foothills, to spend winter in the Ghaziabad-Noida region. This region does retain suitable pockets of nightjar habitat, such as the Hindon river bed/bank, though vast swathes of nightjar habitats have been trampled upon by the advance of apartment complexes. “The balcony nightjar must have been out feeding in / around the apartment complex in the morning twilight as it either continued to be a part of the nightjar’s suitable foraging habitat or it was attracted to that particular area due to the apartment lights drawing night-flying insects. Whether the nightjar was waiting on the railing (using it only as a temporary perch during foraging) before its next sortie to catch insects or it was taking some rest after feeding before finally returning to a nearby suitable habitat (i.e. scrubland jungles, riverbed etc) to rest for the day will remain a mystery,” explained Prof. Singh.

Royal snake rescued from ‘bhujia’ stacks kept at Kendriya Bhandar, New Delhi. (PHOTO: WILDLIFE SOS)
Royal snake rescued from ‘bhujia’ stacks kept at Kendriya Bhandar, New Delhi. (PHOTO: WILDLIFE SOS)

Royal pop-ups

If the balcony nightjar comes as a surprise, the rescue of a magnificent black-headed royal snake from a stack of ‘bhujia’ packets would constitute an astounding find. The snake was rescued by the Wildlife SOS Rapid Response Unit from the Kendriya Bhandar located inside the Delhi Sachivalaya at ITO. This was not the first time this species was rescued from “strange spots” in the National Capital that has the green belt, the Delhi ridge, running through. Wildlife SOS rescued specimens of this snake from the storeroom of the office of the pay and accounts officer in the old secretariat, the Karkardooma courts, two specimens from the kitchen and MLA Lounge at Delhi Vidhan Sabha, Shastri Park Metro station etc. It was not as if the snakes had appeared out of thin air. It was just that the reptiles had been living there, had adapted to human-altered landscapes and had escaped prying human eyes.

An expert climber of trees, the most astonishing of rescues of Hiss Highness, the royal snake, was from high up in the abode of His Lordship, ie, the ceiling of court room 26 at the Punjab and Haryana High Court in June 2011! As everyone knows, the HC complex is hemmed in by scrubland jungles.

vjswild1@gmail.com

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