Monday, November 14, 2011

The Birdwatching Itch Begins! (April 2008)


Two consecutive days of birdwatching...and the yen just grows stronger! I visited the Mahalaxmi racecourse on Saturday morning at around 7, with Kalpana, an absolutely knowledgeable and absolutely sweet birding companion. We crossed the racetrack and walked on towards what is called the 'polo ground' a huge tract with lots of bushes and areas of open land. Kalpana is a regular visitor and soon she was pointing out the birds to me: first an ashy prinia broadcasting its low, sweet chit..chit..chit song from a bush, then a tiny tailorbird and a nonchalant rufousbacked shrike with its kohl-lined eyes...
As we strolled further into the wilderness, we saw barn swallows and swifts zooming just above us. We could see the the pintails of the swallows clearly and the curved silhouettes of the swifts. Now it was becoming warmer and we spotted groups of pariah kites sunning themselves all over the ground. There was a lighter coloured juvenile and it was sitting so low in the grass that it resembled a duck! Bunches of yellow wagtails were gorging on the seeds in the grass and didn't fly away even when we approached quite close.
Then! A bird with an exotic name that one wanted to say over and over again, that simply rolled off the tongue: the zitting cisticola! The little brown-streaked bird flew up and then swooped down into the grass, going 'zit, zit, zit...' Hmmm... A plain prinia was on the hunt close by. We crossed the ground towards the club. Kalpana excitedly gestured towards the far end. Paddy field pipits! And quite a flock...In a fenced garden near the entrance, Indian silverbills - brown, sparrowlike birds, their beaks reflecting lustrous in the light. I had seen six birds I had never set eyes on before (not forgetting the pied starling) - all thanks to a wonderful new friend called Kalpana.
And it was Kalpana again who invited me to join Rajesh and Rajshree, on a trip to the Palm Beach road in Vashi early on Sunday morning. We landed there around 6.45. There were a few waders in the patch of water near the road - little egrets, cormorants, common and little terns,brown headed gulls flying overhead and graceful long-legged stilts. In the bushes was an Indian robin in melodious song, an ashy prinia and a shrike. Red vented bulbuls, red whiskered bulbuls, some white throated kingfishers, small green bee eaters and the black drongo. Further ahead was a bird that Rajshree and Kalpana had seen on their last visit but which was new to Rajesh and me: a flock of ashy crowned sparrow larks! Then Rajesh spotted a Malabar crested lark - wow! Very near the mangroves there was a tree with baya weaver birds (females) sipping nectar or was it pollen, from the red flowers. We heard the sharp cries of the red wattled lapwing. While returning, we were quite besides ourselves with happiness to see a large flock of red munias! These looked like females because the red could only be seen near their tails. I believe the males are scarlet all over and quite wonderful to see.

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