Birding break

Author: Kalpana Malani

I discovered the joys of birdwatching quite by accident. Till then my leisure hours were filled with reading, music or swimming.

Sometime in 2004 I was gazing out of my balcony and I happened to notice a small greenish bird with a bright red and yellow head – I was smitten. It was a Coppersmith barbet ( from the woodpecker family).

In a few months I had bought a Field guide, joined the Bombay Natural History Society and every Sunday found me at Borivli National Park, Uran, or Karnala with my Binoculars, along with other nature lovers.

In 2005 I visited Corbett National Park with BNHS – it was and will be one of my favourite birding destinations. Along with the birding I made several new friends and I find that it is really refreshing to be with them – no negative stuff is discussed, no gossip, just a sharing in the joy of being outdoors and boundless wonder at all the creatures that exist along with us.

In 2009 my mother who lived with us was diagnosed with dementia. I read up on the symptoms and handling and realised that I would need help. I enrolled her in a Day care and employed a night attendant. I still pursued my birdwatching on weekends and to a great extent it keeps me sane.

I am enclosing a trip report of my trip with BNHS to the Gir forest

7/04/2006 to 11/04/2006

Trip to Sasan Gir

After the comfortable air conditioned confines of the Saurashtra Mail the heat and dust of Rajkot presented a strong contrast. Our auto rickshaw driver had a very aggressive attitude and predicted that we would suffer dire consequences if we travelled in ‘that’ ( pointing at a very ramshackle bus which seemed to be held together with rope and luck).

The experience of traveling in the ST bus was surprisingly comfortable as we could sprawl over an extra seat – the bus was relatively empty. At Junagadh there was on bus service of Amul icecream and sugarcane juice – quite unusual for us travellers from Maharashtra. There was also a travelling smooth talking salesman with a sales pitch to buy two gold chain replicas for Rs.15 only whose strength was tested by vigorous swishes of a hacksaw blade.

The landscape was dry and dusty with tortured looking thorn trees interspersed with the freshly blooming gulmohur.The towns on the way were the usual depressingly busy urban setups of all Indian small towns with ill maintained buildings and littered roads. I had expected Junagadh to be an impessive sight but maybe the ST bus traveled on roads which did not show any interesting buildings or scenery. As we entered the forest gate we were greeted by more brown in the shape of  the dried out teak trees which seemed to have attained very tortured looking shapes in the glare of the fierce sun. The bus stand seemed  to be a crowded, Lays chips festooned shop infested place, which was a poor introduction to Sasan Gir.

Thankfully Sinh Sadan, the forest guest house where we stayed was an oasis of peace in comparison with a rectangle of red tile roofed bungalows pucca sahib style with the superior Maharaja’s deluxe bungalow at a height overlooking our lowly servant’s rooms (very large and very comfortable by current Bombay standards). The central strip had a small lawn with a cannon ball tree in flower.

Our first evening jeep ride in the forest:

The first sight was of the black ibis with it’s distinct red crown, at a stream fairly close to the rest house. The red vented bulbul could be seen and heard all throughout the trip and it was easily the bird that was spotted the most by all. There were numerous oriental magpie robins, Indian robins, spotted doves and collared doves.

Highlights of the forest trips:

Seeing the 3 lionesses walking majestically only 10 feet from our jeep in the early morning. Most of the other lion / lioness sightings seemed very contrived as if the whole act was carefully co-ordinated by the guides. If the trees were removed we could have been watching the lions and they us through the bars of a zoo cage.

The coppersmith barbet nest at the rest house with the frantic feeding of the nestling by the parent.

The early morning mist over the vista of the Kamleshwar dam and it’s surroundings. As one fellow traveller remarked, it was picture postcard perfect.

The close-ups of the perched Oriental honey buzzards with their bright yellow/red eyes.

The close up view of the perched crested serpent eagle.

The skilful diving of the pied kinfishers and the classic hovering over the water at Kamleshwar Dam.

The cryptic colouring of the grey francolin and the painted sandgrouse. If it wasn’t for the guides pointing them out to us we would never have spotted them. When viewed thro’ Binocs the sandgrouse’s eye has a permanent startled expression!

The spotted owlet’s fierce looks at being disturbed from it’s roost!

The startling green of the tendu leaves against the dry teak and thorn trees.

The ghostly grace of the karaya gum tree ( sterculia urens ) like the alabaster arms of a ballerina.