Wednesday, March 21, 2012

There is something about birds

Before my readers start puzzling over the title of today's post, let me say that there really is something about birds that drew me to the hobby of watching the feathered variety since the past one year and few months. Although the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not offer the same opportunities for bird-watching that I used to have in India (but was sadly unable to take because of the lack of time and resources), there are birds here too. Over and above this, I feel very much like the pioneers of this hobby must have felt when they had no guides or books or the internet to refer to while making their observations.

My daily walk to the Al Moweh garden has enabled me to closely observe the birds that are either residents here (i.e. those with "Iqama", LOL) or simply visitors ("Ziyarah"). In my earlier posts, I have posted photographs and several other details of the birds seen by me. This post is not about just listing the birds seen or showing you the photos. This is a more emotive post about what observing birds really means to me.

Not lacking the time and opportunity to observe my feathered friends, I have come to one important conclusion: even without a book, or camera, or the knowledge of which bird it is that one is seeing, bird-watching can be an immensely satisfying hobby. It is not easy to venture close to a bird, whose basic nature is to move away from advancing humans. There are a few Indian robins in the garden which have a keen sense of sight: the moment they see me (even when I am over 50 meters away), they move off into the shrubbery. If I dare to close in on them, they simply fly away and appear again at a distant spot with at least 100 meters between us.

Other birds, like the common chiff-chaff and the male of the common stonechat do allow me a slightly closer approach, but will still not enable me to get closer than, say, 15 meters. At times, they will stand still as I pass by them from about 5 meters away! It is sheer pleasure to see a pair of white wagtails remaining still on the path as I walk past them from within less than 3 meters! They will eye me continually, though, and they are poised to take off if I so much as turn my neck a little forcefully to look at them! Meanwhile, they will continue to wag their tails up and down, or hop a little ahead or away from me, and keep eyeing me from a distance.

The common stonechat male is a study in confidence; from flight, it will invariably land on the highest blade of grass on the green. Balancing itself on its nimble legs, it will keep fluffing its tail feathers and jacking up its tail from time to time, maybe every 10 seconds. If a barn swallow swoops low over it and flies past it, it will stumble a bit, then right itself and perch back on the same blade of grass again, preen itself again, and continue its odd behaviour till I get tired of it and move off. 

The chiff-chaffs are small, mostly silent, very restless, and move here and there on the green, pecking at insects to fill their tiny tummies. Every 20-30 seconds, though, they will take flight, move to the nearest shrub hover there for about 2-3 seconds, and then dive into the dark to do whatever they want to do. Thus will they remain for about 5 minutes or so, then re-emerge into the bright daylight to alight again on the green, from where they will repeat the cycle again.

The barn swallows are tremendously energetic birds. They continue to fly just 9-10 inches off the ground in circular and oval directions for half an hour, one hour or even more time. I have only rarely seen a barn swallow actually alight on the ground to preen itself. They must eat a lot of grub, as they seem to never tire. Zoom, swish, zoom, they keep up their routine tirelessly. It is fascinating to see them. When I leave the house in the morning to go to the hospital, there are about 3-4 barn swallows doing their above-ground dance there. In the garden, where I go daily in the evenings, they are there as well. 

And the sparrows: I think the world celebrated the Sparrow Day yesterday in honour of this species that has survived in all the countries of the world, although their numbers are steadily dwindling ever more. In Al Moweh, though, there is no dearth of sparrows. They are all over the town, perching on building  tops, shrubs, electric and telephone poles, trees (such as they are in this country), car tops, and so on. Long may they live, is all I pray for right now.

More on my passion some other day. Be blessed and enjoy life!

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