Sunday, October 30, 2011

Birds in my housing society garden

I stay in SoBo, South Bombay for the uninitiated. My residential society is located near Mazgaon Docks, and is about 5 minutes from the Dockyard Rd. railway station. We are on the second floor, and our house balconies and windows face a terraced garden that was laid out about 10 years ago on the foundation of an old hillock which was not excavated by the builders in the eighties when the society was constructed.

Something amazing happened a few days ago, and I feel that I must share this with my readers: I had just finished my morning ablutions etc and, as I do most days, I was out in the balcony to look at the greenery that faces our place: the garden in our housing society has several old, large trees that are inhabited by the usual birds and insects; often, we see the Coppersmith Barbet, couples and juveniles of the Purple-rumped Sunbird, couples and juveniles of the Asian Koel, and. of course, lots of crows, sparrows and pigeons. From time to time, though, we have unusual visitors gracing our garden. I have seen, for a long time, a couple of Red-vented Bulbuls who have entertained me and anyone else who cares to enjoy them, with their antics and their beautiful sounds. There are, on many occasions, sporadic sightings of the Large-billed Crow and once, the Chestnut-shouldered Petronia

However, for the past fortnight or so, we had been privy to a bird song that was enchanting and attracted me to try and espy the bird. On this day that I am writing about, I finally identified the bird and matched it against its bird song on http://www.xeno-canto.org. It was the White-throated Fantail. Then, as I was observing the bird, a Male Oriental Magpie Robin made its appearance. It hung about for a long time, and allowed me to take several photographs. The next two visitors were a pair of Rose-ringed Parakeets who sat on the branches of a tree that is shedding its leaves (it being the season for shedding leaves) - and they, too, allowed me to take many photographs! 

As I was celebrating my good luck, I saw a flash of yellow in between the swinging branches of foliage - and what should I see, but a Black-naped Oriole! This was a pleasant surprise, but also, I felt doubtful, because these birds are normally seen in a jungle. I took pictures and checked my bird guide. The identity was confirmed. I felt as if I was on a cloud. My excitement caused me to post all the bird photos of that day, along with a new short status message on my Facebook Wall. I shared the photos on the "Indian Birds" group page on FB, and got several people to congratulate me on my photos and my good fortune. Some of them were frankly envious. 

Before I move on to share the photos here, let me also add that I have seen and shot pictures of the Red-whiskered Bulbul also in my society. And, to tell you honestly, this blog entry may have missed some of my other sightings. Oh, yes, here is one more: the Black Kite, which is seen on many days.

Finally, I must make a mention of a winged mammal that comes by after sunset and habitates a tree right opposite my window: the fruit bat. Several of their species make a lot of noise and ensconse on the tree for the night before flying away in the morning. It is a sight that is great to see.

Okay, so here are the photos: I could not get the Fantail, but the first two are of the Oriental Magpie Robin, the next two of the Black-naped Oriole, and final three, of the Rose-ringed Parakeets. Hope you liked them and this blog too.

Trip to Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly Park

Please read this account of my trip to this fantastic butterfly haven here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Some rumination

In my humble opinion, Nature watching and appreciating can be likened to worshipping God, as God created Nature. I used to think of this as a cliche, but, over the last several months, I have come to sincerely believe that God created us, intellectual beings, so that we could admire His handiwork and praise Him for his craft. 

Although I haven't travelled far and wide to seek Him through Nature watching, whatever experiences I have had have reinforced this truth in my heart. In these past months, I have seen, and most times, captured on camera, nearly 300 to 400 of His creations; I am just giving a rough idea of the variety that exists in Nature that is discernible even to a lowly traveller like me. Off-hand, I would say that this sample may not account for even 0.01% of His bounty. However, to see the myriad species of trees, flowers, non-flowering plants, insects, birds, mammals, and what not - the mind boggles at the thought that after 8-9 months of serious Nature watching, I am almost near where I started. Maybe I might have shifted just a little, but I have a lot more to see in this big, wide world of ours, and what I have achieved so far is so little, and yet, so significant!

My pediatric practice continues as before, but come the weekend, and my heart urges me to leave the work place and go somewhere, anywhere where there is a chance to see Mother Nature in all its glory. I often reach home in the afternoon and, without lunch, I pick up my camera and rush to go either to the local zoo, which is less than 2 km away from where I stay, or somewhere within 5-6 km radius where I am likely to see some greenery/life.

My portfolio of photographs has grown, and how! I have more than 500 photos now, and they are on my computer's hard disk, some located within folders describing one particular trip, and some within folders for one particular type of living thing - e.g. a folder on insects. I have begun to display these photos on Facebook, on this blog, and also published some on external sites on invitation (check out my article on Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly Park, Thane, on this site).

The surprise is that although my younger daughter does accompany me on many of these outings that I go to, she hasn't, as yet, developed any keen interest in Nature watching. It is obvious from my wording that neither my wife nor my elder daughter are in the least interested in this hobby or passion that I have nurtured.

Diwali was today, and I was standing outside my bedroom and watching the terraced garden that graces the view when I heard the typical call of the white-throated fantail - a bird that has a fan-like tail, and a song that is beautiful to hear and so soothing! I looked in the vegetation, and sure enough, there was the bird, flitting from one shrub to another, pausing only a while to sing that melodious nine-toned song once again.

And then, the unthinkable happened. Someone lighted a chain-fire cracker just below my house, and with the staccato sound of the cracker, the bird flew away, never to again return to the same shrubs for the rest of the morning. 

This is what really pains me: humans never think of the collateral damage they produce when they pursue something so inane as bursting crackers on this occasion. Think of the damage caused to birds on the kite-flying day, on Holi, and on the several such festival days throughout the year.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sharing lots of news and views

Returning to this blog after several months, I find that I need to share a lot of stuff. First of all, Facebook has transformed the way I surf the net, post news, post photos, share interesting things and so on. Little time is therefore available to do anything else. Indeed, this blog post is also written while I wait for some recent photos to upload to my page on facebook!

However, I agree that blogs have their place in cyber-space and cannot be totally replaced by facebook. While blogs offer creativity, facebook apps do, too, but within the parameters set by the applications themselves. Also, Facebook is a social platform, while a blog is a mouth-piece to air one's own views and shares.

I appeared for, and cleared, an interview for the Ministry of Health, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in late April, 2011. Following this, there has been a long wait as the agent sorts out my application, and now, as I write this on the 18th of October, I am still awaiting my visa to travel to that country and join as a specialist pediatrician in Taif city, a hill station in the country. A lot of my well-wishers do not want me to leave my practice and go, but it is only I who realises that going there would improve my family's finances tremendously and also allow me to pursue my own hobbies of photography, nature watching and international travelling ... all pretty expensive and out of reach at my current income levels. As of the contract that I signed, I would get paid 150% more than what I make here in India, and it would all be tax-free.

Thus, as of now, the idea of going there is on, and I am waiting for it to reach its logical goal of success. As to what kind of life my  being alone in Taif brings, Allah alone knows ...

My elder daughter Inas joined Hotel Leela near the airport as a Hotel Operations Trainee in July, and is busy with this since the last 3-4 months. A stipend of over 10K per month has kept up her spirits, and only last week, she did a major splurge and bought a blackberry curve phone for herself. Her duty hours are so long she barely finds the time to do any other work than travelling to and fro (each way, the journey takes over an hour and a half), working at the front desk for anywhere between 9-12 hours (although the duty is stipulated at 8-9 hours) and sleeping for 6-8 hours. Food and other routine tasks take up most of her other free time, and it is only when she has a day off that she is able to surf the net, go and buy things or visit with her friends. As a family, we all respect her hard work, but it sometimes makes her testy and short-tempered when socialising with us; also, she regularly makes excuses and avoids doing not only some household work which we keep for her, but also her own personal work ... which is a pity.

Hannah, my other daughter, is busy with her XIIth standard studies, and she is constantly running to one tuition or the other ... and mind you, she is doing commerce, not science. She does, however, have the time to chat for long periods on the home's landline number, and with her Whatsapp and free internet, she is forever busy chatting with her friends on her mobile phone. Aside from this, Hannah has become a good eater of food, and it is interesting to see her eat well and opt for designer foods.

Nishrin is very much busy with her own salon work, and there is nothing much to report about changes in her life. She did lose her paternal uncle last month, and this made her a bit morose and serious for a week, but things are back to normal now.

My parents and brothers and their families are all right, and there is nothing new to report there.

My nature trips continue, and I try to go at least one, and possibly, two trips each month. In October, I went to the Ovalekar wadi butterfly park on the 16th. I have added photos of that trip to my facebook profile and you may visit the photos here. There is a chance that an account of this trip may get published on http://www.ghumakkar.com, an Indian travelling site.