Capturing various moods of birds in suburban shimla
White Crested Laughing Thrush
All through November, early morning, braving a bracing chill, I ventured out of my cottage and scattered grain seeds on the ground at the base of a pine tree. Without fail a flock of laughing thrushes would soon arrive and gleefully go about picking an early breakfast. I always think of this thrush as a happy and friendly bird.
Asian Barred Owlet
During my early morning walk, I sighted this cute diminutive owl perched serenely high up on a pine tree just outside my cottage. The owl is both feared and embraced. The vahan of goddess of wealth, the Owl denotes wisdom. On the other hand, the Owl also represents Alakshmi, the polar opposite of Goddess Lakshmi. In our culture the owl also denotes stupidity. Traditionally, many Native American Tribes considered owls to be a symbol of death. Hearing an owl hoot or screech was a bad omen. In Greek mythology, the goddess Athene was thought to symbolize wisdom and was often depicted with an owl nearby. The Greeks also thought owls had some sort of inner light that let them see at night.
A casual mid-morning glance out of the large window of my cottage, in between a tepid session of stock trading, favored me with the sight of a russet sparrow sitting placidly on a gnarled branch. I was lucky that the back of my cottage overlooked a forest where the trees were frequented by many birds. There were more such sparrows on the ground. It was a pleasant vista as childhood memories of the chirupping of the ubiquitous (then) house sparrows popped up.
This is an attractive orange arboreal (living in trees) bird with blue-tinged wingtips and a black, weakly crested head. Its song is a pleasant-sounding series of notes on nearly the same pitch. The Wild Himalayan Cherry Tree is called Padmakh in Hindi and Pajja in the local dialect.
Red Billed Magpie
I have hazy childhood memories of reading stories about magpies and the myth surrounding their thieving characters and the truth about their animated chatter.
However it was only in 2003 (nearly 30 years later), when hiking in the Himalayan foothills, that I had my first (which I remember) enthralling sight of a flock of red billed blue magpies, elegant in flight with their long tails and cackling away happily. Though their call, a high pitched whistle, when by themselves is completely different from the merry raucous when in a group.
Now during my recent two month staycation at suburban Shimla in Himachal Pradesh in November and December 2020 I saw many of these bright blue, white bellied, black headed, red billed essentially arboreal birds, enchanting as always. Post the nesting and breeding season, I followed their initial life journey as they grew from juveniles to young adults. I also put up a bird house in the pine tree in front of my cottage which these fellows started frequenting – many a time bullying away the bulbuls, tits, thrushes and nuthatches true to their aggressive nature – preferring the apple peels and biscuit crumbs to grains.
My daily meditation was spending many long minutes with them and trying to capture their various moods as they glided across the trees in the forest behind my cottage, often in a hide and seek playful spirit.
A post lunch impromptu whim pushed Ranjana and me on the trail to a nearby hilltop. After about 15 minutes we found ourselves walking through a quiet forest stretch with the rays of the afternoon sun shining through the branches forming entrancing patterns on the ground. As I stopped for a swig of water to wet my parched throat, I heard what sounded like a woodpecker on the trunk of an oak tree. I looked around and up expecting to see a common Himalayan woodpecker but instead was rewarded with the sight of a Lifer – A Lesser Yellownape!
This is a type of woodpecker which is a widespread and often common breeder in tropical and sub-tropical Asia, primarily the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Its colorful yellow crest bobbed incessantly as it worked dexterously with its beak foraging for a delicious meal. The primarily greenish avian, at times lost between the leaves, was rather oblivious of my presence and I was gifted with an extended leisurely sighting.
Scaly Bellied Woodpecker
The scaly-bellied woodpecker is large in size with a green back and has a distinctive scaly pattern running from the belly to the tail. The males have a red crown and females have a blackish one. Other features include a large pale bill and a black cheek stripe.
Grey Faced Woodpecker
The Himalayan Woodpecker
The Himalayan Woodpecker is a species of bird in the Picidae family. This was the most commonly found woodpecker at Park Woods. However it generally perched on the higher tree branches making a clear sighting difficult at times. It has a black back, a white patch on the shoulders, and white spots on the flight feathers. A distinctive black stripe runs around the ears to the base of the bill. The top of the male’s head is red, while the female’s is black. I saw solitary ones in the mixed forests here along the trunks of pine and oak trees.
Chestnut Bellied Nuthatch
This one used to frequent a tree just outside my cottage and looks to be a juvenile as it has a white head instead of greyish. They are pretty fearless and can hence can be often watched at close quarters. That is how I also noticed the backward pointing toe (heel, ankle) that many birds have.
Nuthatches are known for their abilities to grip a tree bark as they walk up and down, and around trunks and branches and to hang upside down on the underside of tree limbs as they forage for insects and seeds. The name nuthatch is derived from nut hacker, reflecting the bird’s method of opening up nuts and seeds by jamming them into a crevice then hammering at them.
Blue Whistling Thrush
I would be drawn towards this loner by its loud and long human sounding whistle. A juvenile and an adult frequented the area, one often found foraging on the ground for insects while the other could be spotted serenely perched on the fence after having picked wild berries from a tree. Though the thrush sounded pleasant enough, I don’t know why but it somehow always projected a forlorn and plaintive feeling to me.
Article Authored By: Achal Bindraban.
Page Design By: Ranjana Achal.
Pictures By: Achal.
Cinerous tit is a small black, white and ashy bird about 15-20 cm (6″-8″) in size. It is cute without any crest on its black hood, the face accentuated by a white cheek patch and the black wings stylishly edged by white narrow bands. I was lucky to get a clear shot. It is found mainly in light woodlands.
Bulbul is a name for the most generic songbird I have heard since childhood. It is a shame I never noticed the red whiskered bulbuls which used to frequent our huge garden when I was a kid. From the bulbuls I have sighted, the sweetest songlike sound I would say is of the Black Bulbul. Our very own Sarojini Naidu was once addressed as Bulbul-e-Hind in the Indian Parliament.
The Himalayan Black Bulbuls were easily sighted at the forested nature resort I was staying in. They were clearly identifiable by their short dark crest and red beak and legs. The ones here had slate grey plumage. Though small in size their long tails and elongated beaks give an impression of a larger bird. I frequently saw these sweetly noisy birds in groups frolicking between broad leaved berry trees.
Outlined against the cerulean sky at dusk, the bulbul silhouettes took a strangely surreal beauty on the bare branches.
Himalayan Black Lored Tit
Himalayan Black Lored Tit veiled by pine needles! Just the right one for a futuristic fashion show with its springy crested head and a yellow and black face. As the cinerous, black wings stylishly edged by white narrow bands.
If you want to see a charming (debatable) member of the crow family, look out for the treepie. It is a Corvidae, a common bird and almost everyone would have seen it. Largely found on trees, mainly oak and rhododendrons, it can now also be discovered in broad-leaved urban foliage. It looks like something between a crow and a magpie and can be distinguished by its hooked beak, long tail, colored feathers and metallic call.
Grey Winged Blackbird
On the way to the dining machaan Ranjana all of sudden spotted this male and managed to capture it with her tiny camera. Since then I always remembered to pick up my Nikon D5600 / 70-300 mm even when we went for meals or a casual stroll. The grey-winged blackbird (Turdus boulboul) is a large forest thrush. The males are black and the flash of silvery plumage gives them a distinguished look. Their orange beak and white eye-rings cut away the camouflage in the forest and undergrowth. The females are brown. Endemic to the Himalayas, in winters these birds migrate to lower altitudes.
Kalij Pheasant / Red Jungle Fowl
I was staying in a forested area in the Himalaya Foothills for sometime. The first birds which I often woke up with were the big boys and girls – a mixed flock of Kalij Pheasants and Wild Red Jungle Fowls. Foraging busily in the ground, these skittish pheasants would vanish in the undergrowth, scuttling and taking short, low flights as soon as they saw or heard me!
The male Kalij Pheasant is larger than the female and more colorful with bluish plumage and white scales on the lower back. It has a scarlet wattled face with a regal backward pointing finely feathered crest and a bluish white hooked beak. The females are brownish and relatively smaller in size.
Red Jungle Fowl
The Wild Red Jungle Fowl is difficult to photograph as it keeps bobbing its head constantly while looking for food. It is a beautiful bird with a rainbow of colours ranging from tomato red to tangerine to teal to aqua to rust to black with long black feathers at the back as long as its main body. I learnt a couple of interesting facts about this bird. One that the chicken was domesticated from the red jungle fowl about 8000 years ago. The second that wattles and comb help it in heat regulation and reddishness indicating good health. Read about it, you may find this grain of knowledge interesting.