summer

White-Throated Kingfisher, Padur

Winter is unbecoming

Over the past two weeks, Lady Luck has been on my side. I saw nearly 50 Ashy Woodswallows. Over fifteen Spotted Owlets. Three spiffy Sparrowhawks. A flock of hyperactive Eurasian Spoonbills foraging for food; they looked like giant headless chickens, clad in priestly gowns, playing ice hockey. A White-Throated Kingfisher at war with a pond crab. And a Glossy Ibis finally decided to let me close enough to photograph it.

If my semi-charmed life was a movie, these sightings could be indicative of some grand design. But the truth is that birding season is a month away. The first fleet of winter visitors has already descended upon burnt soil of ours. Even the local bird sanctuary has opened its gates earlier than usual; its lake brimming, despite the scarce rainfall.

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Spotted Owlets, Pulicat

Sweet spotted child of mine

I often wonder if birds think that I am a stalker. A person with a fetish for voyeurism. Look at the facts. I follow them around. I try to escape their line of vision so that they don’t fly away. Then, I photograph them before coming back home to admire them.

I post it on restricted groups across social media. Engage others in the stories that led me to them.  And hope that they will come back for more.

I feel like the gatekeeper of an underground pornography racket. Excepting that, nobody is paying me for it.

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Eurasian Spoonbill, Chennai

Because I am not happy: Migratory birds

There are still a few months left for birding season to begin. And I can’t wait for the rains to go away. So that migratory birds will visit me from all over the world. Because they will make me happy. I may even tap the shoulders of strangers to tell them about it. If they ignore me, I may grab one by the collar and repeat myself in a creepier voice.

While being dragged into a police van, charged for public nuisance, I will clasp the hands of officers and proclaim, “But sir, I am happy”. They won’t understand, though. There is a good chance that I will be beaten up first, and prosecuted later. But that’s fine. Happiness works in mysterious ways. One moment I feel good, and the next – I am a bloody mess.

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Velvet-Fronted Nuthatch

Monsoonal blues: Fly away home

No year has ever gone by without its share of obstacles. Except when I was 8 years old. Yeah, that was a good year. It must be the same with you, right? I hear people talk about their ups and downs. Isn’t that how things work? At least, I hope so. I will feel a little better knowing that your life, consistently, has shitty moments in it too.

It’s like we are hugging without touching each other. It’s the stuff that peculiar songs about friendship are made up of, dear reader.

Come closer, won’t you? This may be a special moment in our beautifully screwed-up and symbiotic relationship.

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Grey-Headed Swamphen, Pallikaranai

Never ask a swamphen why it crossed the river

I didn’t exercise my right to vote this year during the State elections. Because I don’t pee in public anymore. See, I am already doing my bit to improve the community. Next year, I hope to stop wasting water while shaving over the washbasin.

Today, I am just flexing my right to complain about the sweltering summer. It’s getting hotter in Chennai. The weather is like an alarm clock going off at full volume. Except it doesn’t have a snooze button. Hell, there are no buttons. The tune sucks too. It’s really hot. To make matters worse, we keep talking about it.

If it wasn’t for Grey-Headed Swamphens, I might have found posthumous fame as the first recorded case of spontaneous combustion. Or jail time for brandishing a homemade napalm gun.

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Black Winged Stilt, Pulicat

Your love is haunting me: Black-Winged Stilts

Black-Winged Stilts are one of the longest-legged waders in the stilt and avocet family. It doesn’t sound like a big deal until you see them. Then, you realize that you may secretly have a foot fetish. Or something which is just as uncomplicated and beautiful.

Every movement of theirs is a dance step waiting to happen. I bet it’s all they do when nobody else is watching them. During lazy afternoons, far from urban kerfuffle, they tap-dance their hearts out. At nights – with only fireflies for neighbors, they move to the sound of flowing water as it kneads through tiny rocks.

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Pheasant-Tailed Jacana, Chennai

A water lily that thought it could dance

I am pretending that summer isn’t in a fierce mood. I am ignoring the sweat dripping down my forehead. The constant buzzing of air-conditioners. The humidity in the air. But I am painfully aware that birding season is over. Many of the migratory birds are gone. The endemic ones are vacating regular nesting grounds in search of water. Last summer, I felt really bad about it. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to wait until November for the next season.

This year, things are looking up. I know this because a birdie told me so. And not just any birdie. But one with tail-feathers so curvy that it can be mistaken for a dance recital that came to life.

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Pompadour Green Pigeon, Anaimalai Hills

A 5-star review in the sky: Pompadour Green Pigeons

It was a cold start to the day in the sleepy village of Kurangu Mudi in the Anaimalai Hills. The sun wasn’t up yet. I was sipping on hot beverage outside a tea shop, petting an old mongrel. We were watching the mist disappear from moist skirts the forest wore that morning. Suddenly, out of nowhere, ghostly cries hijacked the air. I looked around and saw only the sleepy stare of the shopkeeper.

So, I craned my neck upwards to see if they were birdsongs. I noticed that a flock of pigeons had taken to the skies, and they were heading towards the other side. They were too quick for me to identify them by name at that moment. And so I ran after them until I reached a fence safeguarding the wild animals from people and vice-versa.

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Common Hoopoes, Anaimalai Hills

Summer is coming

Summers are hot and humid in the plains of southern India. It’s a tough season. We sweat, like incompetent lawyers, the moment we step outside our front doors. We feel dehydrated every few minutes. The tar on the road angrily gleams, barbecuing the soles of our feet. Suddenly, the sun assumes that we are all direct descendants of Icarus.

It’s a brutal season for the birders too. Starting mid-April, it won’t be easy to find non-endemic birds. Many will be gone until November. But I am ready for the drouth. I just returned after spending a few days in the Anaimalai Hills. I can handle it. I have enough love in me to take over a small Polynesian Island. I swear that I can turn summer into mango-scented curd.

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Baya Weaver (male & female), Pulicat

There will be blood: Weaver birds, cuckoos and hawks

Nothing is ever cruel in the bird kingdom. It’s not as though they hold talons and waltz their differences away. They can be vicious too. They kill their own babies. They invade foreign territories. And wreck each other’s air travel plans. But they do so only for survival.

The most brutal attack I have seen took place two years ago at Pulicat. Two Jacobin Cuckoos invaded a Baya Weaver nest colony. It was agonizing to see them tear to shreds each painstakingly-woven nest. I was also confused. They are known to feed on insects and fruits only.

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