SUBJECT :The birding season is well underway. You have had a few outings yourself in the bush already. But you want to be out in the field at every opportunity before the season ends. And today is another day when somehow you manage to get away from it all and go look for your feathered friends once again. 

Common Hoopoe                                     Long – tailed Minivet

Local name in Nepali – Phaparey chara     Local name in Nepali – Lampucharey Rani Chara

May 10, 2018: The birding season is well underway. You have had a few outings yourself in the bush already. But you want to be out in the field at every opportunity before the season ends. And today is another day when somehow you manage to get away from it all and go look for your feathered friends once again.

It’s a fine spring day albeit a bit too warm for your liking. You amble along the dirt road with a spring in your step, with the camera at the ready. You know that should anything feathery cross your way or come within range of the long lens it would be clicked and bagged.

You keep your eyes peeled for any darting movement among the foliage. You crane your neck at an angle and then a bit further to listen to any sound that resembles a flap of wings, a tap on a tree trunk or rustle of dry leaves. As soon as you know that there is a bird nearby you stop in your tracks. You do not want to spook the bird so you do not make the slightest of movements. Then you wait with bated breath for the bird to make the next move.

The minutes ticks by slowly and a waiting game ensues between you and your quarry – whom you are yet to sight among branches. Most times there is nothing that gives way the bird’s presence. But still yours gut feeling says that there is something avian close by just out of sight.

At time you realize that both your vision and your aural sense were fooled by some other sound in the forest. But more often than not your hunch is right and you are onto something. And as soon as you pinpoint the bird’s location in the bush or the tree a game of cat and mouse begins.

It depends on who breaks cover first. That is if there is any cover to be had for your – the photographer of birds. Give your size and the way you stumble and fumble your way through the bush the chances are your winged quarry is onto you already. Sometimes you do get lucky when you catch them unawares while they are tucking into a tasty morsel of a hapless insect. Or when they are off guard and just preening on a branch or frolicking about, especially during the breeding season.

Come spring every year the feathered ones, more so the males of the species, spruce up their plumages to entice potential mates. During these couple of months or so the birds do not mind us birders for they have more pressing matters to attend to.  The breeding season’s supposedly the best for birding – or so the birders would like to believe.

Being one such believe of bird behavior myself, I walk along once again on this here forest track hoping to catch the denizens of the avian world when they are engrossed and so into each other. My spirits are pretty high for I do believe that I will someday sight a Purple or a Green cochoa sunning itself on an open perch from this dirt road.  The fact that I have had this belief for some years now does not dampen my spirits at all

Once you cross the forest check post you seldom run into another soul on this road which is always a good thing for a birder. Every now and then I have to sidestep pools on the road formed by the overnight rains. With the morning sun warming my back and the birds chirping in the bushes around I walk on hoping to run into an avian species or two that I have not seen yet.

But it turn out to be one of those days when the birds are being extremely coy and doing all their romancing well out of sight. All my spotting skill comes to nought.  And all I have to show for my efforts are some blurry images of Rufous - winged fulvettas, some warblers and a few closes – up shots of a common hoopoe. Now I am not one to belittle fine images of a hoopoe which in its own right is a handsome bird, but I had wished for something more exotic on such a fine spring day.

Then the sun also gives up on me and disappears behind some dark clouds in the afternoon. As rain clouds gather towards the west and the conditions become a bit murky I decide to give up the ghost and call it a day. I give out a loud sigh so that my disappointment is audible to the denizens of the avian world. Then with one last wistful look around I start to trudge back wearily.

After some time the forest check post looms into view and then suddenly I hear some minivets calling towards my rights.  Although tired from the day’s hike I want to go have a look. From the calls I can tell the birds are close by. The calls have come from the slope below so I scramble up the mud embankment on the right and peer at the tree below. Soon there is a flash of red. It is alone male minivet. I immediately mutter to myself, “Short – billed, could be a Scarlet too.”

I have sighted both species on many an occasion in the past. But the call does lift my spirits for if you are a birder yourself you would agree that a minivet in any avatar is a minivet, right? In other words, a bird as vibrantly – colored as a minivet, or for that matter any minivet sub – species, is worth a look on any given birding day. And on  a day like this when my best images is that of a hoopoe I am not going to miss out on a minivet, and a male in breeding plumage at that, am I?

The thing is, a few thing have to fall into place for me to even wish for clear shot at the bird – a) the bird has to linger in the vicinity for a while – b) the subject has to alight somehow on an open perch c) I have to get a clear look at it through the dense branches d) I had the ISO set at 640 so adequate amount of natural light has to be there on the branch and e) the bird has to still for a second or two.

Then in addition to all of the above I ahs to have some luck on my side as well. It indeed sound like a tall order but these are what every bird photographer hopes for while stalking a prized species.   Rarely do we get it right but it is quite rewarding when we do. And when it all comes together it does make one good photograph for us to savour and cherish and tuck away in our archive of avian images.

All of the above factors are at the back of my mind while I stalk the minivet. I have the slightest of advantage with me for I am on higher ground. Having climbed the mud embankment I am standing at the canopy levels of the trees on the slope below. This is exactly the kind of birding I like for I do not have to look upwards to find the birds. Now all I need is Lady Luck to smile down on me.

There is another flash of colour among the leaves. I see the bird land on a branch that is devoid of leaves. I train my camera at the subject which is a bit obscured by the branches of a tree in front of me. I dare a step to the right and suddenly the minivet is right there on an open perch.

I search for the bird’s eyes in the viewfinder to get a lock – on. I can see that the bird has a big caterpillar in its beak and is in the act of stunning its prey on the branch. The minivet disables its catch, gulps it down whole and then cocks its tiny head at me for a second. As the blue – black head comes into focus I squeeze on the shutter – release for a burst. Then the bird flies off and disappears among the trees. It all happens in matter of seconds but somehow I manage to capture some images. I check on the LDC and there are a few sharp photos of the minivet there.

A few days later I check on my computer to see whether it is a Short – billed or a Scarlet. I settle for the former but to be doubly sure I pull out the field guide and riffle through the pages. It is only then I realize it is none of the above two species for me. The last time was more than five years ago in Yuksam which is indeed a long time back. So long ago that I had completely forgotten about the species.

The spring season has sprung its first of its surprise already. It is moments such as these that make birding and bird photography such an exciting experience. Moments like these makes the day – long hikes in the sun and rain lugging the heavy gear through thick bush on forest trails and on dirt roads worth your while.

And the lure of bagging and adding an image of the elusive cochoas to your collection of avian beauties eggs you on your quest. You know that5 it is just a matter of time before you see one. If not this spring may be during autumn or maybe again during spring next year. And who knows what else you will stumble upon just around the next bend in the trail.

Source: Sikkim Express