Brown Rock Chat

Everyday while sitting in the balcony of my flat, I see this bird in the playground below. They don’t sit idle for long at one place. They suddenly dive to ground, catch some insect and fly to roost on the top of poles, basketball board or on the wire net along the boundary.

While sitting, they usually lift their head and wag their tails. Sometimes they sit in the bushes from where they swoop to grass to catch the insects.

The common name of this bird is Brown Rock Chat and the scientific is Cercomela fusca. It belongs to the category of Flycatchers, Chats. It is usually 17 centimeters long.

It is usually found in pairs, around ruins, dusty villages, rocky hillsides; often approaches close; tame and confiding; captures insects on ground; rather aggressive when breeding. It’s habitat in India is North India and to South till Narbada river and to east up to Bihar and Bengal.

They are reported to possess a wide variety of calls. As many as eight type of calls have been recorded. These include territory call, alarming call, threat call, begging call, contact call, distress call.

Although, they don’t sit still for long, I managed to take many pictures over many days. Here are some of these.

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Idyllic Life

There is a piece of uncultivated land adjacent to our building. Land is scarce in Punjab. Every inch is under cultivation. So this piece of land with uneven surface must have been purchased by some builder for construction of high rise buildings. But at present it is as it is. Grass and shrubs are growing uninterrupted in this land. On the opposite end are dense woods where poplar and eucalyptus are growing majestically. Poplars are not complicated trees. They are straight with no branches stand like the sentries at attention. The eucalyptus trees have grown so high as to touching the sky.

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During day time sunlight seem to play hide and seek with the dark in the woods. Top branches sway in the wind and there seem to something mystical in these woods. Occasionally, a bunch of peahens accompanied by a peacock stray from woods into the grass fields.There is a pool of water into which these days algae has grown and covered most of its surface. Algae is pushed from one side to other when the wind blows. Sun simmers in the water ripples.  On the nearby bushes cranes are seen sitting basking in the sun occasionally diving into the water.

Paths have been trodden in the random patterns by the people going towards woods from other end. The earth on these paths have become bald and devoid of grass. The fields are not at one plain, some are on higher plane.

Many a times, sitting at my room, I can hear the calls of some bird which become quite loud and distinctive in the night. Ilapwingn the day time if you are lucky you can glimpse these birds almost running on the ground. These birds are called “Yellow Wattled Lapwings”. They lay eggs on the ground in the pebbles. If it is very hot, the birds are seen diving into the water and sitting wet on the eggs to cool them. It is believed here that if the bird lays eggs on the higher plane, the coming days will be rainy. It the eggs are laid down in lower fields, it means the coming days shall be dry.

Goshawk

Those who live in Punjab must have seen the picture of tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh. He is depicted riding a horse with full regalia and a falcon sitting on his hand. The guru has in fact a title given to him as “Baajan Wala”. Baaz is the name of the falcon he is holding. The falcon is called Goshawk and Baaz is the female of species. Its counterpart male is called “Jurra” in the Punjabi. Also the female of the Baaz is much larger in size and esteemed for its preying prowess.

The falcon was a prized possession for the royalty and the affluent in the days of kings and princes in Indian subcontinent. One must have seen the pictures of Moghul kings holding this bird. It was trained for killing. The bird is prized because it has a very sharp eyesight and while swooping down on the prey whether in the air or on the ground can adjust its trajectory according to the changing location of the target. It is not impeded by the obstacles coming in between. It can hunt large prey such as hare, Macqueen’s bustard, crows, owls, herons, ducks, geese, and even cranes and large game birds such as partridges, junglefowl, pheasants. It commanded very high price in those days.

Goshawk is a large hawk, almost reaching buzzard size. When seen close to it has a fierce expression with bright red eyes and a distinctive white eyebrow. Its broad wings enable it to hunt at high speed, weaving in and out of trees, and its long legs and talons can catch its prey in flight.

It was thought that in the plains of North India it migrates from the Himalayas but this does not seem to be true because of the dwindling numbers. It has been declared the state bird and efforts to breed them in the captivity by the Punjab Government have not met with the desired success.

Watching the Evolution

I had a long cherished wish to watch the evolution in the making. But lifespan of us humans is infinitely short to witness the events taking place during the evolution which span over thousands or sometimes million years. But my desire grew with time. So I many a times felt anguished and helpless. We are living in a time when it is quite easy to access information. On the scientific front, there are wonderful instrument which are available making the life of a scientist comparatively easy. Think of the times, when Darwin, Newton, Kekule did their research. They were the really creative and genius people.

For a time assume I have been granted the power to travel back in time without affecting my present form. I remain the same. I have also been enabled to reach where ever I wish to in this universe. So I am flying on the wings of thoughts. I hover over some islands of Hawaii. The time is 5 millions years ago. What do I see?

The island is reeling under a very powerful hurricane. The trees are uprooted and being flung like light toys. The birds, especially those dwelling in the trees are swept away. As the fury of hurricane is spent, there are ruins everywhere. Devastation is all around. But there are birds called “Pollenpeepers” which have successfully weather the storm. One reason for their survival is that they live in the bushes nearer the ground.

So now it is the aftermath of the hurricane. Life again sprouts. Due to the sweeping away of so many birds, the pressure on the pollen peepers is relieved. They find plenty to eat and begin to spread across the whole island. 1 million years go by.

Still the pressure is low. But the climate in the North and South of the island is becoming disparate. While North is wetter, the south is dry. In the North, the tall trees are flourishing while in the South it is bushes all around. The birds in the North eat insects in the Northern part and seeds in the South as the availability is such. The birds are assuming different features. For example, the beaks of the birds are becoming narrower suitable to catch insects whereas the Southern cousins have wider beaks to hold the seeds. Another million years go by.

The weather in the South takes a turn. It is becoming wetter like Northern part. hovering above, I see more and more clouds and rains in the South now. The bushes are being replaced by the taller trees. Availability of seeds is decreasing causing problems for the birds in the South. As the weather is becoming like the North, I can see the birds in the from North migrating to south also. The situation for southern birds is becoming very testing.

Now they are being outnumbered and decimated. The birds with narrow beaks are climbing another echelon of the evolutionary ladder. In the present times, I can see only the birds with narrow beaks dominating the whole island. I salute the Darwin who once carried out his work in these islands although those were very tough times and it was not easy to express such revolutionary evolutionary ideas.

It is all magical. I have seen a glimpse of the evolution in the making. I am again back to original self. but I feel how miniscule is our entity in the scheme of nature’s grand play.

Chinese Love this Delicacy

Soups made from bird nest seems to incredulous. Bird nests are usually made from twigs and other materials which are inedible by humans. But believe it that there are nests made by some birds called Swiftlets, which are used to make soups in China and this soup is amongst one of most expensive food items in the bird.

Swiftlets are very small birds belonging to Collocallini tribe. They are mostly the inhabitants of South Asia and Australia. They live in the seashore caves. Most of these caves in the limestone rocks. The birds use echolocation technique to navigate inside deep and dark caves. They made the nests which stick to the walls of the caves. These nests are cup shaped in which the bird just fits when it sits in the nest.

These nests are not made from ordinary material which other birds use. These are fabricated by the intertwining threads of thick saliva which the male birds secrete. There are multiple layers. The purest and most prized nests are white colored. Though these nest are built by birds for laying down the eggs and breeding, they become the curse for the birds. There are professionals who are engaged in removing the nests from walls of caves.

It is back breaking job. They use the bamboo scaffolding to reach to the ceiling. Secondly all the time, he has to hold the torch for dispelling the darkness. The demand for the nests is so high that the birds are made to work overtime. It is a cruelty really to the birds. When they make their first nest, it is scooped out in no time. The bird, helpless, builds the second nest at the same place immediately and it is also plucked before the birds lay their eggs in it. Third nest is generally spared and birds are allowed to lay egg and rear their children because otherwise there is danger of depletion of their population. But the greed is so much that many unscrupulous one’s do not bother about this and destroy their third nest also.

The nest when immersed in water yields a thick gummy substance. Chinese believe that the soup maintains the skin tone, and reinforces the immune system. It increases the virility. It helps in strengthening the lungs and prevent coughs.

100 gram of dry nest includes about 50 grams of water soluble proteins, roughly about 31 grams of carbohydrate, iron and inorganic salts. It is rich in Potassium and other trace elements which are required in trace amounts but are crucial to overall well being.

Authentic bird’s nest soup is quite popular throughout Asia. It is also extremely expensive; many western restaurants serve a less expensive version consisting of soup with noodles shaped to resemble a bird’s nest.

Hummingbirds: The extraordinary birds

Hummingbirds are most beautiful birds endowed with dazzling colors and hues. But these birds seem to be consigned to the extreme life because at the end of the day, they are so exhausted that it is not sure whether or not they will live to see the another day. Their humming near the flowers in which they insert their specialized beaks to suck the nectar while steadying themselves by constantly flapping their wings, seems like a fluid motion poetry. It is sight to behold. They can fly forward and backward, up and down manoeuvrings come as easily to them.

So they are not the ordinary birds but take the definition of extraordinary to a whole new level. They are the smallest warm-blooded creatures on the planet, but they are also among the fastest. They measure on the average 4-5 centimeters. They can  With wings that beat up to 200 times every second, they are among nature’s most accomplished athletes, the only birds able to hover, fly backwards, and even upside down.

Hummingbird metabolisms are set in permanent overdrive, requiring them to consume more than half their body weight in nectar every day. Some researchers say that nectar consumption for providing energy to fuel the furious activity during the day time, may be equal to their own weights. Since nectar provides them only sugars for energy, they have to supplement it with insects for getting proteins and other nutrients.

To survive the night, they fluff up their feathers and adjust their body thermostats, and reduce their body temperatures by half and reduce their heart rate from 600 beats per minute to a mere 36 to save the energy for survival  and begin their struggle for life next morning.

Due to their small size and dizzying speeds, human beings know only the crude facets of their sizes. PBS has sponsored a study to peer closely into their lives. By using state of the art technology and high definiton cameras, they have been able to delve deep into the private lives of hummingbirds. With  cameras able to capture over 500 images a second, the hummingbirds’ magical world can finally be seen and appreciated. Amazing footage shows these little powerhouses are far more than delicate nectar gatherers — they are also deadly predators. And watch as the birds display their elaborate mating rituals, showing off with nose dives that subject them to over ten G’s of force — enough to cause an experienced fighter pilot to black out!

These tiny marvels dazzle and delight bird watchers all over the world, and NATURE reveals their stunning abilities as they have never been seen before. The whole story is available at the PBS website page. Please go through and if you can watch the video you are lucky because video is blocked in our region, God knows for whatever reasons.

Not only Men

“The Bird Detective” is a book written by Bridget Stutchbury, a biologist in Canada. The book, it is claimed, has been written after extensive research and reveals many startling facts about the habits of birds especially songbirds. Evidence exists already that females of some birds cheat on their partners. This was confirmed by DNA fingerprinting of birds and their chicks to ascertain the fatherhood. There is a reference to this in the chapter “DNA fingerprinting” in the book “The Magic Universe” by Nigel Calder.

This books dispels many myths about the birds behavior. The belief that birds pair up for life and are faithful to each other seems to be a big myth. The fact is that in the olden times, serious research was not done on such issues. Everyone by nature is lazy and wants the life of comfort and pleasure. Since as a species of humans, we understand more about the promiscuous nature of males, we tend to paint other species in good light than ourselves.

Birds also want to lead a life of pleasure and comfort. They switch partners, commit adultery, divorce and can abandon their young ones to die. Females look out for the robust and colorful partners so that they live in safety protected by the strong males and also produce healthy progenies.

Since summers are shorter in cold Canada and to produce more chicks, females leave their nests even before the chicks are fully fledged, so that they can find new partners and lay more eggs. The helpless chicks are left to the male mates who have to rear them by their own efforts.

Similarly males to propagate their lineage mate with neighboring females and can indulge in relations with triple or quadruple females.

Divorce is surprisingly common among birds, and most live with one partner for only a few months or years. Divorce rates range from 99 percent in the greater flamingo to zero in the wandering albatross.

The book has been published by Harper Collins.

So, the old adage “Men will be Men” should be replaced by “Every living being is Every one”. Females are no less than males. Men can find some solace in these revelations.