Close Encounters of the Feathered Kind

Written by Vinod Sreedhar


 

Red-whiskered bulbul

It’s 8 am in Goa and I’m sitting beside the window in our living room. The sunlit room opens into a large balcony overlooking the central courtyard of our apartment complex, with a cosy little swimming pool surrounded by tall trees and flowering shrubs, as its centrepiece.

At first light, I can hear a number of bird calls, each more interesting than the other. The cawing of the crows can’t be missed — this is India, after all. Curiously, it is the red-whiskered bulbuls and the Muniyas, the proverbial early birds here, that are the loudest.

Up next is the raucous call of the Rufous Treepie. The apartment complex that we’re living in, has one that shows up every morning on the tree outside the house and starts shrieking as if it​ ​is being strangled. With its distinctive orange-brown upper body, black and white wings, and its long tail, it cannot be missed. A prattle of Plum-headed Parakeets stay in a tree that’s just out of our line-of-sight, but we can hear their calls quite clearly.

More infrequently, a rather pretty Indian Oriole, sunny as the morning itself, stops by on the large mango tree dominating the courtyard.

Sometimes there are Kingfishers. We’ve spotted the Common Kingfisher quite a few times, and once, the White-throated Kingfisher.

Goldenback Woodpecker

Talking about the Common Kingfisher reminds me of the Common Goldenback Woodpecker that showed up recently on a coconut tree right outside the house, and spent a few minutes pecking around under the leaves. There is a pair of Common Coucals around as well, but they stay in the tree outside the society. We hear them more than we see them.

And what do I say about the drongos? The Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo has graced us with its presence only once so far, but we’ve been happy enough to see the Black Drongo a few times. The Jungle Mynah, the Magpie Robin, and the White Browed Wagtail are also frequent visitors here, with the latter two often found drinking water from the swimming pool.

Brahminy Kite

There are the larger birds of prey as well. During our morning walks on the beach, we’ve spotted the Brahminy Kite and the Osprey several times, but we’re yet to see any of the endemic species of eagles. However, this is also because they mostly stay around the seaside, near the river, or near small ponds where they can find food easily.

We have spotted only one different pigeon — the Grey-fronted Green Pigeon, which again showed up on the mango tree outside. I can barely see any pigeons here. Our house in Bombay gets a large number of pigeon visitors and they always leave a terrible mess behind. And the crows aren’t very far behind. Both of these bully the smaller birds, like the sparrows and the muniyas that try and build their nests outside our house.

This month, we followed up on a long-held dream to live and work out of Goa. The noise and pollution of Bombaywere getting to us, and we desperately needed a break. We chose Goa as it is reasonably close to Bombay, while also having plenty of open landscapes and forests where we could enjoy the amazing avian life. What’s surprising is that we’ve spotted all these birds in a place where a lot of people stay, and with a fair amount of cars and two-wheelers driving in and out. We’re located barely a minute’s walk from the main road with all its traffic and noise. And yet, the only reason why these birds continue to live in a bustling residential and tourist area​​, is the sheer number and diversity of trees around.

Unlike cities where we have​ ​replaced the native tree species (​​that were a habitat for the birds) with ​ornamental trees​, Goa has thankfully managed to hold on to its native tree species thereby ensuring thatthis amazing assortment of birds has a safe place in which to live.

A big thank-you to the people of Goa for respecting trees and keeping them alive!