Love at second sight: Indian Eagle Owls

About two summers ago, I was in Gudalur during a trip to the Nilgiri Hills – with a few friends. Barely five minutes after reaching the spot, we spotted a pair of Indian Eagle Owls. It was my first sighting. They flew past us, and into a section of the forest. And it all happened so quickly.

I couldn’t giggle over my good fortune. There wasn’t any time to react, much less – to celebrate. We kept our eyes glued on the couple, as they shifted their positions. But the light was fading fast. We couldn’t tell if we were looking at owls or a cluster of shadows. The evening sun blushed in sleepy orange and turned them into ghosts.

We hadn’t a clue where they were.

We left – having decided to wake up early in the morning to photograph them. So, we returned to a broken down warehouse. It was free accommodation so we couldn’t complain how disheveled it was. It wouldn’t have mattered, anyway, if it had been worse. Three types of owls – including the Mottled Wood Owl and the Brown Fish Owl – had been recently spotted in the area.

After having swept aside the rat pellets, we had to circumscribe the sleeping area with small pieces of garlic. The stench was putrid, but it could repel rodents, insects, and reptiles.

We were exhausted. The oldest in the group was already snoring before we could finish laying out the makeshift bedspreads. But I just couldn’t stop thinking of the owls. Or maybe it was just really cold. The chilly wind was gnawing on my ankles through a cracked window. To distract myself, I thought about the beautiful creatures I had seen during that trip.

When the alarm ran at 4:30 AM, I woke up with a loud gasp. I was surprised. I assumed I would have been awake all night. The rest of my friends were asleep, though. Like moist logs in a cozy fire. I tried waking them up but in vain.

I looked out the window and saw that the sky was still dark. It was a misty morning. I left immediately, worried that I might miss out on spotting the owl.

Since it was a downhill trek, I made an impetuous dash for it. The confidence was short-lived, though. I realized that every passage to the forest looked similar. Confusion crept in. As did a sense of panic. So I decided to sit down on a boulder and wait for the darkness to dissipate. I tugged at the hoodie over my head and rubbed my palms together.

Nilgiri Hills

The mist quietly began to drown in hues of green, brown and gold. The yellowing light swam through the trees, like crazy spaghetti. I got up to find the magnificent bird. I had a pocket-sized digital camera back then. I drew it out as if I had a premonition.

Two hours later, there was no sign of the owl. I had been walking back and forth. Looking here and there, with no luck. The camera was tucked inside a leather pouch.

I found a soft mound to lay back, stretch my legs, and listen to some music. As time went by, I was drifting into unmapped sections of my mind. Out of the blue, I noticed an adult Indian Eagle Owl staring daggers at me .

Instantly, I felt something. I couldn’t recognize it as being anything familiar. I don’t have a name for it now. Not even a metaphor or an analogy to capture the essence of that rare moment. I only know that we ended up having a staring contest that I couldn’t lose, no matter how persistently the world might have tried.

It was love at second sight.

Since then, I have spotted this large horned owl at on several occasions. But I doubt if any of them were as special.

Sketches of algae, bathed in electric red,
bloom on her 
breasts,
a pair 
of eager lips
thieve from her neck
– a lungful of air;
a gust of wind,
born to the trees
and her sturdy wings,
catches her unaware
and she glides away, far away,
from a 
lover’s stare.

(Photographs: Gudalur, Kumily)

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37 comments

  1. Christy, lovely poem, fantastic photos (always), and your adventure beautifully shared. I had no idea that garlic would keep rodents, insects and reptiles away. I’m not sure about those sleeping arrangements, or better yet non-sleeping arrangements, but well worth a somewhat sleepless night to see the Eurasian Eagle Owl, and capture some amazing photos. Remarkable!

    Take good care,
    Pepperanne

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Whenever I read about or hear of wildlife/bird enthusiasts slumming it out in shacks (I have a friend who is a wild life photographer) in the jungle, I feel jealous at their passion to pursue their dreams no matter the cost, and their closeness with nature. A little voice inside me also wonders, “what would they do if they needed to pee or worse, poop?”. I doubt if that voice would ever let me leave the comfort of my home with a clean toilet for all the eagle owls in the world. Yes, shallow, I know.

    That owl has some attitude, doesn’t he?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It isn’t shallow at all, LG. Those are valid questions. Plus, the extent of danger of being out there is quite underrated too, by those who claim to want to be at one with nature and all that. So yeah, there’s nothing superficial about not moving out the comfort zone. I mean, being surrounded by people isn’t of comfort to me. It’s a major part of why I take off so often during birding season.

      But, I urge you to consider the possibility that being out there in the wilderness (or wild) and experiencing something special may change perspectives. Turn difficulties into frivolities, and owls into guardian dragons (angels are creepy). I don’t mean to condescend, but the human mind submits easier than it breaks. Especially when overwhelmed by the beauty in our ecosystem.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I live in a protected forest area (the forest cover rapidly depleting much to my chagrn) that surrounds a premier educational institute (can I get any more obvious?). We have periodic bird watch treks in campus, and I am surrounded by deers (they look a little stupid at close quarters, and not at all romantic as Kalidasa makes them out to me), monkeys (pesky, thieving pains), a rather large snake (we give each other a wide birth, but that chap is gorgeous), a bunch of hyenas (J feel uneasy if I don’t hear their howls at night), and various domestic animals including my husband and kid.

        And a working toilet !

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Woaw. You make my living space feel like Orwell’s 1984 nightmare. But I am happy to hear that, such delightful descriptions ❤

        And yeah, you don’t have to draw a picture. I have been there hehehe. Do you know of the swamp there? We used to spend many a nights over there, perhaps not entirely sober – and have found ourselves surrounded by deer. It was magical! I sorta feel all lovey dovey around deer but your Kalidasa reference was hilarious.

        Also, you should write more. A lot more. Eduku only book reviews? Write some more about everything else, please.

        Like

      3. Waking at midnight to hyenas and writing the earlier comment does not excuse the use of “deers” as plural for “deer”. Sorry !
        Lake. Lake. Not swamp. But yeah. essentially swamp. I throw my clay Ganesha into it every Ganesh Chaturthi. Lovely ecosystem. There used to be gators in it when I was a student of the inset (don’t calculate).
        I axed a 11-year old blog I had, last January, to prove to myself that I am capable of letting go. I am weird that way.
        I write professionally at mobcip dot com slash blog. But that is boring stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Hehehe I ve heard of the gator when we were busted for swimming and boating on the lake at night. Escorted by the security to some seemingly important chap’s office. He told us we were lucky we weren’t eaten. I imagined he was just scaring us because we had been doing that schtick for a year.

        Letting go that way is some ninja technique. I suck at it, with writing. People – not so much.

        Hmm you ought to write more. Excuse the redundancy but avalathan solluvaen.

        Like

  3. Your reference to mottled wood owl brought in memories of our stay at my husband’s ancestral home a couple of years back. These birds used to make a weird sound like “koooaah” that sharply pierced the eerie silence of night’s stillness. In the northern parts of Kerala this sound was (and guess at some places still is) believed to be the call of death. They say that the bird’s sound is like “pooovah”(Poovah in Malayalam is something akin to “polaama” in Tamil). Some elders believed that tying a small knot at the end of their sari/dhoti kept away all bad omen from home.

    We used to hear this sound almost every other day during our stay and we started searching in the direction of sound and found five of them on an old mango tree in the garden. We saw them day after day…. ….may be they had found some fancy for that tree and were visiting everyday ……or may be they were staying there….if so, probably they were just calling out to each other!

    I do not know why this bird’s call is linked to bad omen and death ….may be some synchronicity there! Even today some elders tie a small knot at the end of their saris to ward off the probable bad omen or death as soon as they hear the call ‘poovah”.:-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That was so much fun to read, M, wow the mottled wood owl is such a cutie pie. I’ve never seen one before. So glad that you have! (big smile).

      It’s a real shame that owls are considered bad omen over here. I have heard horror stories of spotted owls being culled en masse in north and south India because of this.

      Apparently, words like ‘holocaust’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ don’t apply in these cases. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Didn’t know about the culling – sickening to think about the horror history we humans leave behind!

        Those birds were real cute and quite cool too – they were least bothered by the thin non-flying human bodies that were looking curiously up at them….rather they were enjoying a reverse curious stare I guess…… Incidentally, I haven’t captured them in my camera- had a less equipped camera then and thinking back I don’t think I ever tried!

        And.. honestly, there was something innocently cute about tying knot at the tip of the sari too! 🙂 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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