bird photography

Great Indian Hornbills, Anaimalai Hills

How I mess up the parenting habits of birds

Great Indian Hornbills look visibly upset when they sense danger in their surroundings. They let out a guttural cry as they take flight like wondrous paper planes, to find a vantage point. They aren’t scared easily, though. They are one of the largest hornbills in the world. Any predator would think twice about pissing them off. Malabar Trogons panic, like most smaller birds, when their nests are under attack. With one swift movement, they position themselves at a safe distance. Then, they stare at the intruder, dead in the eye, and purr softly – like a spellbound cat.

Earlier this year, I had the dubious distinction of interrupting the feeding sessions of these gorgeous birds. Yet I was spared the guilt of being a nuisance, and the Hitchcockian tragedy of being pecked to death by birds.

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Rufous-backed Shrike, Vattakanal

Year 1 of birding: This time I went too far

Over the past 11 months, I have spotted and photographed 200+ birds in South India. I have also spent the year working on two documentaries. It means that I was not gainfully employed. So, time was on my side. I got to watch birds every single day. I was on the lookout for bird poop that drizzled from above. The thin branches that swayed when all else remained still. Dancing phone lines, scissoring through cities and forests, on which they perched upon. Quick movements in shrubs and bushes.

But, it was mostly several gigantic strokes of luck. I saw them wherever I went. Soon, I started to believe that the birds found me as often as I searched for them.

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Spotted Owlet, Chennai

You make me want to dance: Owlets

I have a sneaking suspicion that birds dance more than we may assume. Especially when they think that nobody else is around. I may have seen Owlets in action, without their knowledge. I can’t be sure. They may have just been belligerent about being spotted. Perhaps they had food poisoning. I am not an ornithologist. Or a reasonable person.

Besides, I don’t know anything about dancing. My left foot thinks for itself. We haven’t been on the same page for a decade. The right one has been fractured multiple times. Since 2012, it has suffered three hairline fractures, a shattered ankle, and two broken toes. But it’s no excuse. I have always danced with the grace of a rubber chicken impaled on the horn of an angry rhino.

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Black and Orange Flycatcher, Vattakanal

Orange is the new black: Bird photography

I love photographing birds. It feels so exhilarating that I am willing to walk out on any part of my life for it. But first, I must buy a professional camera. Then, figure out a way to make people pay me for it. It’s a pipedream that may take another decade to evolve into a purposeful plan. And even though I can wait, it probably won’t work out in my favor.

Good things don’t happen to those who contemplate. They happen to those who make the first move. And the heart often wants what the brain can’t make sense of. It wasn’t a career I had ever thought about before. Not until I spotted a Black-and-Orange Flycatcher one rainy afternoon.

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Great Indian Hornbill, Valparai

He’s a family guy: Great Indian Hornbill

It’s been 72 hours since I spotted Great Indian Hornbills in Valparai for the fourth time. A few things have changed in my life since then.

It’s as though someone turned my life’s volume knob way down. The bedroom walls are starting to whisper back. Last night, we watched each other peel in strange places. It was unsettling in a sexy way. Or vice-versa. I am unsure. Either way, we didn’t make eye-contact in the morning.

But there’s no confusion in my mind about how it feels to be close to Great Indian Hornbills.

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Layard's Flycatcher, Kumily

To catch a flycatcher

Birds are potted plants for rent;
Even if their terrace gardens may change,
the colour of water that kisses their roots
will remain the same.

Old World Flycatchers (Eeppidippan) are beautiful passerine birds. They are notoriously difficult to photograph. It took me about a year to spot the Asian Paradise Flycatcher. The Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher and Black-And-Orange Flycatcher continue to be disastrously fleet-footed subjects of mine.

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