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Spotting a kingfisher at a Goa pool every New Year’s eve

A kingfisher by the pool in Goa every New Year’s eve. Is that a tradition in the making?

Written by Ranjit Lal | New Delhi |
Updated: January 11, 2015 1:00:28 am
kingfisher-main Kingfisher (Source: Ranjit Lal)

Over the last 15 years, I have happily found myself in Goa around the Christmas-new year week. Way back, on one of the first visits, I noticed a white-throated kingfisher coming down to the swimming pool early every morning. It would perch on the pool railings, bob its tail up and down, and belly-flop into the water, dipping under, or just bouncing off it like a skimming stone. Back at its perch it would preen its brilliant plumage carefully, then shake the sparkling droplets off, wait a bit and then repeat the performance, grinning like a schoolboy who has successfully pulled a fast one on his maths master. Then, with its toilette done, it would disappear in the surrounding coconut grove with a resounding cackle of laughter. I made a mention of this kingfisher in my book, Birds from My Window, which was first published in 2002.

This year, suddenly I realised that I had been seeing a kingfisher at the pool every year since perhaps 1998! Which could mean one of two things: kingfishers, like us, are birds that also get into a rut — or in this case, swimming pool; they’re birds of fixed routines and habits. But it would also mean that this happy fellow was around 17 years old, which is way past the species’ average lifespan — the longest for this particular species has been recorded as 5.5 years. The kingfisher at the pool was not old and decrepit, but young and sprightly. So, if it was not the same fellow that I first noticed back in ’98, who was it? A son or daughter or more likely now, a grandson or granddaughter? A cousin? Or simply an interloper who realised that the pool membership was open, when the first member disappeared or died and decided to usurp the place?

I would, of course, like to believe that the current incumbent was a descendant of the one I had first noticed — after all, we all understand dynastic dynamics. I like to think that the original pool king would have brought his favourite son or daughter to the poolside, put an affectionate wing over its shoulder and cackled, “One day, my dear, this kingdom will be yours — and later, your children’s!” Or, if the progeny showed adolescent resentment, “Remember a dip in this pool first thing in the morning has been a longstanding tradition in our family! It’s a matter of family honour and the chlorine gets rid of parasites!” Either way, it’s remarkable.

That there is a proprietary claim to the pool seems obvious: I’ve never seen more than one kingfisher at the pool. Other birds do dip down occasionally, drongoes hawk over it fluting cheerfully, snapping up insects and are not evicted, but then, they’re known for their policing skills.

I wonder if the kingfisher’s rest-of-the-day is as structured: “Dip in the pool at 7 am, breakfast at Lila’s Café at 8 am, fishing for lunch (shrimps, crab leftovers, prawns, pomfret) at Britto’s at 1.00 pm,” and so on…Many birds — like eagles and owls — retain ancestral homes, expanding and redecorating as they need to, over the years. So why not lifestyles? And birds will form habits quickly — anyone who regularly puts out birdseed will assure you that they have been indignantly scolded for not providing meals on time. It really would be interesting to find out whether, in this particular case, the poolside king has a fixed daily routine.

In the meanwhile, over the last couple of years, I have noticed that collared scops owls seem to have set up home in the coconut groves nearby and every evening at dusk, begin calling, and continue to do so intermittently, through the night. Another happy tradition in the making?

Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher

The story appeared in print with the headline King of Good Times

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