My book on birds of Goa had been languishing.
In a bid to get fresh material, in November 2016, I requested one of the best birding guides I know, Leio D’Souza, to organize a session birding in Goa.
The day was spent exploring water bodies in South Goa. I shot over 3000 images and did get some great images and several ‘lifers’…but that’s another story.
To accommodate the session I had to spend an extra day in Goa. This particular blog is to document an incident that took place early in the morning on that ‘extra’ day.
I had just settled down with a fresh cup of coffee. The camera with the 500mm f4 + 1.4 xTC and tripod was all set up and ready on the front porch.
The birds were out in numbers! I could feel it in my bones – today was going to be a good day.
A brahminy kite posed on top of the now bare gunpowder tree. Behind me and just over the compound wall droves of juvenile scaly-breasted munia were having a blast in the tall grass.
In the trees beyond the yard teasing glimpses of a black-naped monarch and a pair of foraging Jerdon’s leaf birds had me swinging the camera in their direction with metronomic regularity.
Pairs of purple-rumped and purple sunbirds made frequent sorties to the hibiscus shrubs deep in whose branches a Blyth’s reed warbler appeared to have taken up temporary residence.
Black drongos, ashy drongos, white-belied drongos, red-whiskered bulbuls, oriental magpie-robins and small minivets were everywhere. With guest appearances from rufous treepies, Tickell’s flycatchers, asian paradise flycatchers and black-hooded cuckoo shrikes.
Like I said. The birds were out in numbers.
Then, a grey bundle of feathers flew awkwardly towards a bare branch at the far end of the yard.
Even as my eye moved to the viewfinder my right hand had already begun to swing the camera on the gimbal, right thumb instinctively seeking the back focus button. Despite having the camera for some time now I am still awed by speed at which the Canon EOS 1DX2 locks focus.
A grey-bellied cuckoo popped into view.
I’ve been seeing quite a few of them of late. But there was something different about this one. It took a few moments to realise what it was.
This one was a juvenile.
The urgency and frequency of its calls, along with the intermittent quivering its wings meant only one thing – this was one hungry fledgling!
Brood parasitism is the term used for organisms that manipulate others to look after their young. It is seen in some species of birds, insects and fish.
Birds belonging to the Cuckoo family (e.g. asian koel and grey-bellied cuckoo) are brood parasites. They lay their eggs in others birds nests, tricking them into believing that the hatchlings are their own. Resulting in bizarre and incongruous mother bird /chick pairings!
So here was one hungry grey-bellied cuckoo chick. The question was who was tricked into thinking it was the ‘mother’?
I decided to stick with the bird in the hope that all would be revealed.
And, boy, was I in for a surprise!
A common tailorbird, a fraction in size compared to the larger juvenile cuckoo, showed up and…well, I will let the following sequence of images speak for themselves!
I was fortunate to document some of the action on video: