It isn’t easy to spot Sri Lankan Frogmouths in the wild. The colour of their plumage makes them impervious to eager eyes scanning green and brown thickets. Years ago I saw a portrait of one, and imagined that our first meeting would be a grandiose affair. Or at least a poignant one.
We finally met last weekend. I spent some time with a female Frogmouth. She looked like a autumn leaf frozen in flight. She just stood there, untroubled by the matinee sun. It should have been love at first sight. When I spot a particular species for the first time, I go through the seven stages of happiness. It starts with childlike wonderment and ends with creepy obsession.
This time though, things were different. There was confusion. Some happiness too. But mostly, confusion.
I was out birding with a family of four from Luxembourg during one of my recent trails. Google had led them from a vacation in Sri Lanka to a quaint little cottage in Thattekad. We had a Southern Flying Lizard, a Rock Agma – the happiest-looking lizard I have ever seen, and Malabar Grey Hornbills – for neighbours,
They had discovered the joys of birding only a few months prior. It was lovely to see them get excited; always a thrill to be around people who feel passionate about the things they do.
They had spotted a pair of Sri Lankan Frogmouths the day before. And they still couldn’t find the words to describe how the experience. They seemed a tad beguiled about the warm luminescence their heads were filled with. The mother, a lady with a kind face and a delightful pronunciation of the word ‘mynah’, looked a bit sad. She told me how she felt that she should have started birding earlier. I reassured her though that it was never too late, and swiftly vanished from her sight – embarrassed at my own cornball response. Maybe I should have added “never give up” and sang the first verse of ‘Eye of the Tiger‘.
We managed to find a Sri Lankan Frogmouth near a temple in Adimali. A local birder, who was traveling with us, had located her. The father, a quiet man with a sunny disposition, pointed out to a thicket and mouthed, “Oh, there she is again” as the kids crouched behind a bush, holding their binoculars.
My chin was up, and my heart beating – fast. My eyes darted back and forth, trying to catch a glimpse of the frogmouth. The excitement was overwhelming me. With sweaty palms and shivering knuckles, I asked one of the kids to point me towards her again.
With every passing second, I was getting more and more worried that she might fly away. Thirty long and winding seconds later, I was still confused about her whereabouts. No matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t see her. Finally, she moved. Just a tiny bit. But it was enough for me to see her in the clear light of day.
She was gazing at us, with a great deal of curiosity; probably with the knowledge that she will never understand why a bunch of people are intently staring at her. She seemed neither confused nor frightened. And I doubt that she knew that we meant her no harm. I am pretty sure she is unaware of the love she had for her, in our lungs and our hearts.
It’s just one of those fundamental differences that I have noticed between birds and human beings – they are just as good in picking battles as they are in keeping calm.
She’s the eye
of a lighthouse –
the one that fell in love
with a whale.
She is light,
she is luminescence,
she is my wicked flame.