Well, I spent most Sunday afternoons this winter — and spring — sitting out in my single-person balcony, sipping a beer and reading. Trying to read, actually, because ever so often, a tailorbird would visit the bougainvillea creeper right in front of me, searching for tidbits and inveigle me to try and take its picture.
And no, it’s not a particularly quiet and yogic spot suitable for deep introspection or composing epic poetry — the traffic roar from the road across the (Nicholson) cemetery is incessant and louder than usual because of the wind direction and, of course, there are the usual morons whose main means of communication is blaring their horns.
But there’s more to be heard (and seen) than the traffic, and I’m always amazed at how many species of birds (and some animals and insects) have gotten used to our clamour and cacophony and uncouth habits, and carry on with their normal lives as if we didn’t exist (tip for survival?).
We must certainly be upsetting their sentiments a lot — fouling and poisoning the air and water, harassing and trapping and killing them and using their body parts for weird rituals, keeping them in cages and trying to teach them to talk…. And still they continue to live cheek-by-jowl with us, “adjusting”, no doubt, one hell of a lot.
Tune in even in the middle of the afternoon, and there’s plenty to be heard and seen. The loudest, of course, are parakeets, streaking and shrieking across the skies in an excess of Sunday bonhomie as if there’s nothing in the world that can bring them down (hah — these lucky fellows obviously don’t know what cages are!).
Wheeling about in the heavens, mewling peevishly are the black kites that roost and nest in the huge surviving tamarind tree in the cemetery (most of its equally magnificent compatriots were hacked down way back in the ’90s), occasionally spiralling down and snatching up tidbits from the cemetery, causing the flocks of gossipy mynahs to flurry off with much indignant chattering.
I hear the squealing of grey hornbills and, through the corner of my eye, spot a threesome undulating swiftly through the cemetery as if chasing each other. Hmm… I’ve seen this threesome on several earlier occasions, and wonder what’s going on: two suitors chasing the same girl? An outraged parent forbidding an unsuitable alliance?
As the afternoon wears on, the barbets and coppersmiths begin calling, gleefully anticipating another incandescent summer. And then there’s a flurry of panic-stricken “mayday” calls, from bulbuls, mynahs (who soon start heckling) and babblers.
An electric high-pitched “ki-keee” rents the air, and suddenly there’s a shikra on the bottlebrush, glaring this way and that, blinking its golden eyes belligerently. I know this is the time it nests, and hope a pair has been doing so in the cemetery because I have heard — and seen — them here often. It’s also the time for spotted owlets to bring up their young and I often hear their querulous chittering even in the middle of the afternoon.
As summer blasts in like an open oven door, it’s going to become impossible to sit out in the balcony in the afternoons. Already, the saffron coloured wasps have reappeared and are persistently driving me indoors, as they examine keyholes (taped over) and air-conditioner fins.
Their bulging eyes say it all: go inside or else… All through winter, the magpie robins have remained quiet, occasionally venting their displeasure (with what man — the weather’s glorious!), with a harsh, misanthropic “churrrrr” from somewhere deep in the foliage. Thankfully, they’re now feeling better and are practising snatches of songs they will sing all summer. I’m also delighted to discover that my regular “morning alarm”, the red-whiskered bulbul, is back on duty, after having taken most of the winter off.
This fellow perches right outside my window on the bougainvillea and starts his loquacious performance in time with the sunrise. He’s going to awake (me) earlier and earlier as the summer progresses, but hey, the whole world is into daylight saving time, so what’s the problem? The koels, too, have started calling mellifluously (especially after thunderstorms), and I often wonder how many parents of daughters whom they have named “Koel” would have done so had they known that it’s the male that calls so seductively, and not only to attract a mate, but also to inveigle crows to chase him, so his partner can deposit the results of their hanky-panky in the crows’ unguarded nests!
The birds and bees will always have the last laugh, won’t they?
Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher. In this column, he reflects on the eccentricities and absurdities of nature