Wow! If ever there was a year that demanded to be in contention for the ‘Mother of All Years’ award…!
For me personally, it began ordinarily enough.
3rd – 6th January 2020
A 4-day trip to Goa in the first week of January that provided an interesting mix of sightings at the farmhouse.
There were the ‘regulars’ like the gold-fronted leafbird above and the Eurasian blackbird and small minivets below. The latter arriving in droves and working the cotton trees in search of food with GPS precision.
The appearance of a few grey- headed bulbuls (below) at the bird bath every evening was a promising sight. These threatened beauties are stingy with their appearances and are always a welcome sight.
Not to be outdone, a male lesser goldenback, (below) an otherwise occasional visitor, also dropped in to say hello.
Even the sky had some nice offerings like this pale morph of a booted eagle (below).
Butterfly numbers had significantly reduced since monsoons but there were still quite a few around like the chestnut-streaked sailer below.
The were two really exciting sightings to be had on this trip.
One was this rare philomela form of the female common wanderer butterfly (below). The yellow ocherous colour on the upper wings at the base, adjoining the body, differentiating it from the female of the common form.
Below is an image of a female common wanderer for comparison.
The other, and in my opinion the numero uno sighting of the trip, was the nominate species of the orange-headed thrush (Zoothera citrina) below.
This was my only sighting of the sub-species, and I am told, (though I’ve yet to verify the truth), that the all-time number of sightings of this bird in Goa can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It is a winter visitor to the south residing mainly in the north and north east of India.
The resident sub-species of the orange-headed thrush, Zoothera citrina cyanotus on the other hand (seen below) is very common in these parts and can easily be differentiated from the former by the vertical blackish stripes on the head and the white ear-covets on the head and throat.
I got some great images of a number of species of both birds and butterflies. However, the image below was, without a doubt, the one that truly represented the forthcoming year!
It is a selfie of me in a bird hide and the resemblance to a PPE kit is uncanny!!
30th December 2019 – 18 February 2020
Towards the end of 2019 I got this urge to paint birds and between January and February churned out quite a few canvases.
I got so involved that I’d spend every spare minute working on the current canvas. To the extent that I wound up completing each one in 4-5 days. The coppersmith barbet below was my last effort during this period.
Even now, months later, tiny multicoloured specks of acrylic and gesso can still be found at various locations all over our apartment!
14th January 2020
Makar Sankrati or kite flying day in Maharastra.
It was a Tuesday and being a holiday I had a very light Out Patient Department.
With time to spare, I took a walk down Hill road to the kite shops at the junction of Hill Road and S.V. Road and picked up a whole bunch of kites a firki and maanja.
25th January 2020 – 27 January 2020
3 days in Goa. We attempted – unsuccessfully I may add – to fly the kites. The image below, taken by my cousin Ayesha, depicts the maximum height attained by the kite before plummeting to the ground. And this is despite being ably assisted by my trusty ol’ sidekick in her red Stanford (ahem) tee shirt.
Can’t wait till next year’s kite flying day to improve on my performance. All things considered it shouldn’t be too difficult a task to achieve!
Sitting out on the backyard that afternoon, we enjoyed a well-above-average display of a variety of bird species including the white morph of the Asian paradise flycatcher above.
26th February 2020
It was around this time that I started working on the painting below. It was 36″ x 36″ and by far the largest I had attempted so far. Unlike the others, I took my time on this one. Also unlike the others, although I had a basic idea of what I wanted to portray, in this one I improvised as I went along.
In fact even now, almost a year later, I would still like to add a few finishing touches.
1st March 2020 – 4th March 2020
Back to Goa. The cotton trees were in full bloom and attracting a variety of birds including chestnut-tailed starlings and black-hooded orioles.
I also got nice images of wooly-necked storks that were feeding in the fields at the base of the hill.
5th March 2020 – 8th March 2020
Desert National Park, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. Flew back from Goa on the 4th to catch the early morning flight to Jaisalmer on the 5th.
Cases of the lethal Covid-19 virus were now just beginning to make their presence felt in in India. As yet there were no travel restrictions and wearing masks was strongly recommended, though not mandatory.
The trip to Desert National Park in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan was nothing short of mind blowing! We did get several sightings of the critically endangered greater Indian bustard (below).
Apart from the birds we did get to see a few mammals as well including two species of foxes.
In case you are wondering, of the two images below, only the one on top is a desert fox. The foxy dude in the second image is actually yours truly in full birding gear complete with Tilley Hat gifted to him by his sister.
We saw so many fabulous species that it really breaks my heart to share only a few here. I’ll leave you with the beautiful Indian gazelle (chinkara) below, but feel free to explore the blog grid in the main menu for a more detailed report and many more images.
12th March 2020
Significant progress on the unfinished painting…
18th March 2020
…and yet some more…
22nd March 2020
Two weeks after my return from DNP, the PM announced an all India Janta curfew from 7 am to 9 pm.
This was the very first official step to stop the spread of coronavirus that had by then claimed 4 lives in the country and infected close to 200 others. Those figures were destined to go through the roof in an incredible short span of time.
The images above was taken in the afternoon of the Janta curfew. I remember posting it on FB with the attached text:
“Janta curfew. Sunday 22 March. Sorpotel and a glass of wine in deafening silence with neither car nor soul on the road. A reminder…of the uneasy calm in the wake of the viral threat that looms large over the entire planet…”
Scary times that were about to become a whole lot scarier!!!
24th March 2020
A nation-wide lockdown is announced and work came to a standstill. With a lot of spare time on my hands I began to experiment with cooking. The very first dish I tried was coconut jaggery pancakes or as it is called in Goa, alle belle!
23rd April 2020
To minimise outside contact groceries were bought in bulk, meticulously sanitized and laid out to dry. Also, with so much time on my hands, alcohol consumption went up steeply.
Both the above resulted in an interesting mix of still life objects on the kitchen slab!
25th April 2020
Being a photographer and attempting to cook is guaranteed to take you way out of your comfort level! Not to mention that the kitchen winds up looking like a war zone!
Below is a gallery of some of the images that I cooked during the lockdown. Needless to say I put on 5kg over the next 4 months!
7th June 2020
…this is as the painting stands today (give or take a couple of feathers). There are further additions I would like to make but I have not yet got down to implementing them. (Ah, well… story of my life!)
My first attempt at baking with yeast was with cinnamon rolls. I used 3 year old yeast. Needless to say the rolls could quite easily have substituted the lead sinkers I use when fishing at Powai Lake!
After spending a bit of time on the Internet I did manage to sort out the issues with yeast-based cooking and it’s been pretty smooth sailing since then.
Around June this black kite began showing up on our bedroom balcony. Religiously every afternoon it would sit on the railing and screech for all it was worth.
How was I so sure that it was the same bird? Well, this one had a problem with its left eye.
Almost up until the end of November the bird continued to visit us. Often several times a day, it would allow me to approach upto 4-5 feet away and stare at me for prolonged periods of time before flying away.
6th August 2020 – 27th August 2020.
With the lockdown in full swing we decided to drive to Goa. Interstate travel restriction were at their peak. We needed to apply for a special E-pass and have 48 hour negative RT/PCR report for Covid 19.
It was well worth the effort. Goa was heaven compared to being cooped up in our Mumbai apartment. Below is just a tiny selection from the 4000+ images I took.
It was in Goa that I began to realise a project that I have been dreaming of for several years but, true to form, never actually got down to doing it.
‘Dr. Ian D’Souza’s Images and Beyond’ is my brand new online store. (If ever I have to do it again one of the first thing I’ll do is ensure that the name is not such a mouthful!)
The bird in the logo is an image of a male Vigor’s sunbird in full breeding plumage. This species is endemic to a relatively small region in and around Goa. I thought it only fitting since this tiny jewel of a State is where I got hooked onto bird photography.
I have begun populating the store with my images but still a long, long way to go before all my favourites are uploaded! Over time I hope to add paintings and coffee table books as well.
9th November – 15th November
We made another trip to Goa. Travel restrictions were not as strict and although there were still rigid rules on social distancing, adhering to them in the rocking state of Goa was, as the saying goes, easier said than done!
Here too, I got some memorable images like the Giant redeye skipper above and the gorgeous sunset below. Sunsets at this time of the year are quite spectacular and a tele lens at 700mm does tend to give images additional oomph!
24th December 2020 – 27th December 2020
We spent Christmas at a friend’s vineyard farmhouse in Waldevi, Nashik. Calling it a farmhouse is very, very misleading. This place would put any up market 5-star hotel in the shade! It was one of our nicest Christmases! To begin with, non-stop fun and laughter, gourmet food and a never ending supply of Christmas sweets. Added to that mix were flowing rivers of alcohol; ranging from the standard single malts and margaritas to cocktail concoctions that most would find difficult to conceive of even in their dreams!
For me the icing on the cake was the bird life in the area and I did get some nice images like the tawny-bellied babbler below.
When in Nashik I planned to visit Niphad Lake that was an hour and a half hour away by car.
Way back in the sixties Niphad Lake was my Dad’s favourite duck shooting spot. I must have been 9 or 10 years old at the time. We’d drive there in Dad’s Nash car on roads that were often no more than dirt tracks. Traversed by several streams, it was with the utmost of pride that I was given the all important job of walking through the freezing cold water to gauge the depth before the car went through!
Hundreds of migratory water birds fly in here for the winter, often from as far off as Russia and Siberia. The area is now designated as a bird sanctuary and goes by the name of the Nandur Madhweshwar Bird Sanctuary.
I will do a trip report some time soon but suffice to say it was a disappointing experience. The hordes of people that came here appeared to be more keen on picnicking rather than appreciate the birds. Their scant respect for any form of social distancing was the reason why we cut short our visit to under an hour before we left the park.
The fact that the best images I got, (the ashy prinia above and the golden jackal below are a couple of examples), were taken outside the park speaks volumes.
That was a review of 2020 based on my image library for the year. A total of 12,319 images taken on my DSLR. This is after culling (which usually accounts for at least 50-70% of the total images taken).
That one microscopic organism could wreak such unimaginable havoc, not just across the city, state or country, but across the entire planet was the stuff only seen in movies.
On a more positive note there are so many lessons to be learnt. For one the pandemic had absolutely no preference for caste, colour, religion, nationality or social status.
We began to witness the miraculous appearance of birds and other wildlife in habitats that were previously all but destroyed by our greed and selfishness.
The enforced time off forced us to pause, look around and be a bit more conscious and appreciative of our surroundings. We could actually do things that we always wanted to do but never found the time.
Apart from the havoc it has caused, this pandemic has opened a window and given us a glimpse of what life on planet Earth can be with a just little bit of effort on our part.
The problem is… are we ever willing to learn?