Ornithology and Photography

I’ve written about the family holiday home in the Nilgiri Mountains in a post in December. The house is a vacation home is every sense of the word. If I were to jot down what a get away to a hill station would be like, I would probably use the words, silence, clouds, mist, clear and crisp air sans pollution and the rather ubiquitous cold weather. All of those words are more than appropriate for the Nilgiris. As done to death as they are, the mountains are incredibly charming if you intend being a path breaking traveler rather than a tourist. That is a beautiful sentiment echoed even by the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I am here in spring and there is no rain, just blue skies all around. I’ve never seen blue like this….

For me, I don’t need to step out of this wonderful vacation home to experience a getaway. Everyday, nature puts on her finest show, right in our backyard. Idyllic and clichéd as it may sound,  we do wake up to a symphony of birds in the garden. We have several resident bird species such as the – red cheeked bulbul, sparrows, pigeons, nilgiri flycatcher, a woodpecker, oriental white eye, pied buschat, nilgiri pipit, quails and some jungle mynas. No, no I am not a seasoned ornithologist but an accidental one. Like I said, the mornings and evenings in the garden are an amazing show of birds and butterflies, all you have to do is sit quietly and observe and hope to god they stay still for a moment so you can photograph them. I’ve spent two days now without a television and just a couple of phone calls to check in at home and I assure you I am NOT bored and I can get used to this. Observing these birds has been a treat.

A couple of red cheeked bulbuls have a tiny nest in the garden, which from observing them for the last two days is either being built or under renovation – because they seem to be taking the slightly thinner, soft and not so sturdy variety of dried grass and twigs. Only one of them is in charge of building/restoring while the other hunts for food, a.k.a., locusts, beetles. How do I know that? Spend a day watching them, and you will see the two birds taking turns guarding the nest, while the other goes out to do their chores. Families are the same aren’t they, humans or birds! Gorgeous birds, they are black and white, albeit their cheeks(ALL of their cheeks, pun intended!) which are red. They seem to be in on the punk rock scene, since they are black and sport a wet set mohawk!

We also have two oriental white eyes that nest in one of our fruit trees. Nifty little creatures, they are tiny, fast, green and are never still. The good part however is that they seem to travel in pairs and one is never far from the other. As a photographer, that just means – when you focus on one and he takes flight, the other is still there for the next 2 seconds and you can still take your shot. They seem to feed on our peaches and some of our flowers, and are incredibly pretty to look at. Tiny with a white circle around the eye and a green body with a white and yellow chest, makes me wonder who came up with the idea of creating a creature like that. In fact I have posted a picture of them in an earlier post, here it is again..

There is yet another species which I think are Sun birds, if any of you can clearly identify the bird please let me know. Again these are rather tiny birds, black with a long sharp beak , but when the light hits their feather, they have a brilliant royal blue tinge to their feathers. They feed on the honey in the hibiscus flower and nothing else. They are camera shy and can easily hide themselves behind the flower!

The mynas, pigeons and sparrows are however incredibly friendly creatures and don’t mind sitting next to you if you have an earthworm by you or some rice to throw around.

Let me warn you that throwing rice starts territory fights and so on amongst the various species, and as a thumb rule – size wins and number is second in the pecking order. These are never violent and birds like ornithologists and photographers, are rather patient. They wait for the larger ones to finish their meal and come back for their fill when they are gone. I actually have photographic evidence to attest this fact – a Pied Buschat stole a meal from the Nilgiri Pipit. Let me first introduce the two species – Pied Buschat and the Pipit.

My attempts to photograph the woodpecker are a complete and total disaster. The bird can sense the tiniest movement from the corner of his eye, and trying to get into position is not a possibility! I am hoping that he does come again into plain sight and settles in a place where I am of no hindrance to him.

This house is a veritable buffet for birds, with abundant fruits and flowers, there is never a dearth of food for them and they seem to know it. For our part we try not to disturb that except maybe the ‘feeding them rice’ bit. They seem to coexist rather peacefully, without any human interference. They seem to have clearly earmarked territories and echelons both inter and intra species. Food, shelter, water – their basic needs are met and thats all they seem to need. They seem extremely effective at providing these necessities for themselves  and in return contribute generously with sight and sound to my picture perfect getaway.

The Great Tit & the Nilgiri Flycatcher

As a photographer, I find it cruel to just take pretty pictures of them without understanding them and hence I’ve immersed myself gently into ornithology. It just didn’t seem fair that I take my time to understand my human clients and not so much my feathered friends. Ornithology has driven it deeper into my psyche that patience is truly a virtue. Long ago I used to think what a waste of precious time it was to sit in wait for one elusive species and how I will never be able to do that. Oh how wrong I was! There are rich rewards for one who wants to marvel at creation. A front row seat to tiny little insects, the birds, worms and their little lives in what is most definitely their natural habitat feels more like a live version of Planet Earth and I love that I get to play the part of the spectator.

All photographs are copyright of Shruthi.V, please do not reproduce without authors permission. Do click on the pictures to view an enlarged version, they are always better that way and you can see far more details.



Ornithology and Photography

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