We received an invitation to attend a wedding in November 2019.
It was not just ‘any‘ wedding.
For one, it was to be held in Goa. That in itself is reason enough to be given absolute priority over all else.
The fact that my daughter was a bridesmaid and was flying in from New York for the occasion rendered all other incentives pale in comparison.
The mouth-watering prospect of being able to blatantly take pictures of people – complete with formal attire, professional makeup in the beautiful setting of a 350 year-old church – without even the slightest risk of getting hammered in the process was the icing on the cake!
The nuptial mass was held at the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church in Moira and, while the duty-bound professional photographers were blinkered into ticking the right boxes I, happily, was licensed to shoot at will!
The sacristy at the church – ( a side room that connects directly to the main alter and houses ceremonial vestments and important church registers) – had this huge colourful, 350 year-old fresco on its far wall. Although badly in need of restoration it was still stunningly beautiful.
The image below was taken after the nuptial mass with the ‘paparazzi’ jostling for positions to record the bridal couple as they signed the wedding register in the sacristy.
I chose to stand in the corridor outside to get a totally different perspective of the life-defining moment.
Being the end of November the bird and butterfly ‘season’ was well underway and, with the wedding out of the way, I was looking forward to the wildlife at the farmhouse.
From a birding perspective, the mornings were not very productive.
Purple-rumped sunbirds were everywhere but apart from the a Tickell’s Flycatcher, a few red-whiskered bulbuls and a pair of puff-throated babblers there was precious little else by way of feathered life at sunrise.
I caught the shikra (below) with his wings spread almost possessively over the birth bath. I suspect that it was one possible reason why the smaller birds stayed away.
Despite the paucity of birds there was enough happening in the backyard to keep us entertained.
I can’t remember when last I saw so many butterflies!
By mid morning they were everywhere! The ixora beds, hibiscus shrubs and bougainvillea that Dad planted decades ago have always attracted these beauties. I was happy to see that the host and larva plants that I have been putting down over the past couple of years were also beginning to pull their weight and pitch in.
The dominant butterfly species were common wanderers, a pair of which appear below; a male on the right pursuing the female on the left. The female has her abdomen raised. When she does that, contrary to suggestion, it actually means that she is unwilling to mate. This ambiguous behaviour appears to be a common trend across the animal kingdom!
A male common wanderer was curiously dangling from a flowering bush at the periphery of the lawn.
A closer inspection revealed a violin mantis that had positioned itself under one of the floral sprays and was picking off butterflies as they flitted from flowers to flower!
Interestingly, common wanderers, although not harmful, protect themselves from predators by mimicking the appearance the poisonous ‘tiger’ group of butterflies.
The tiger or milkweed butterflies in turn render themselves unplalatable by imbibing toxic alkaloids from the rattlepod or Crotalaria plant.
The violin mantis just got lucky that his prey was a wanderer instead of a glassy tiger!
Early morning at the farmhouse is my best time of the day.
It’s incredibly peaceful and being late November there is an invigorating chill in the air. I make it a point to get up at sunrise and sit out on the patio with a cup of coffee. More often than not by the time the others surface I’m usually halfway through my second cup.
On one such morning I had been sitting out for quite a while.
The sun had already begun to creep over the hill behind me painting the tops of the silk cotton trees a soft shade of gold. Vanessa and her mother had just joined me when we heard a rustling in the undergrowth making its way uphill towards us.
For first-timers on this blog, the Goa farmhouse is built halfway up a slope adjoining a forested plateau. Ever since my Dad passed away over a decade ago, except for the long winding driveway leading upto the house and and the backyard behind it, we have allowed the jungle to grow wild over the rest of the property. To the extent that it is now virtually impenetrable.
Each time we hear footsteps in the undergrowth we experience a rush of adrenalin in anticipation of the creature that is about to make an appearance. Invariably the ‘rustler’ turns out to be either one or more of the mongrel dogs the roam freely or peacocks making their way to or from their feeding grounds in the fields below.
In fact, under the guise of tightening security I have installed a number of CCTV cameras equipped with ‘night vision’ in the hope of picking up some wild animal. After viewing hours and hours of footage the only creatures that set off the motion sensors at night are moths that flutter around the cameras.
On this particular morning Vanessa went to the edge of the lawn to peep downhill half expecting to see one of the dogs or a peacock. She was in for quite a shock!
“Oh my God”, she whispered, “there are a couple of wild boar! ”
As quietly as I could, I grabbed the camera off the tripod and moved to where she stood. Right enough, barely 15 meters away was a wild boar looking up at us.
This one appeared to be a bit of an idiot. He was standing motionless peeping at us from behind the silk cotton tree. Apparently considering himself well hidden by the tree when in actual fact his head poked out from one side of the trunk while most of his body and butt stuck out from the other!
I’m convinced that the main reason why I get these unusual wildlife sightings is because I consciously make it a point to keep human activity at my place to the bare minimum. Towards that end I have left strict orders with my gardener and I monitor CCTV footage regularly to ensure that my instructions are upheld.
It also probably explained the presence of another startling guest. A 2 foot long monitor lizard had taken up residence in the tiles of the roof.
House lizards or geckos are common sightings in most houses all over India.
They were thriving at the farmhouse much to the annoyance of three generations of women in my family – daughter, wife and mother-in-law. On this trip their fervent prayers for a solution to cull the gecko population seemed to have been answered. I got this great video of the monitor lizard attacking a gecko barely 5-6 feet away from us. (I’ll provide the YouTube link to the video at the end.)
The jury is still out as to how comfortable the women were in the methodology of the culling!
When I was here last year around this time for our Medical College class reunion, the birds seemed to prefer the afternoons for a drink and a bathe. And so, with the holiday almost over and only two days to go, despite a heavy lunch, I decided to sacrifice my afternoon nap and sat out in the yard.
And was I in for a pleasant surprise!
From around 3pm till dusk there was a continuous, feathered procession at the birdbaths. It was facinating to observe the orderly way the birds flew in; most species patiently waiting their turn on the surrounding bushes while the others drank and bathed. There were a few exceptions though. (Isn’t there always?!)
Jungle babblers, a juvenile male Asian koel and a rufous treepie ignored the ‘queue system’ and simply barged in forcing the rest to disperse.
One of the species I was thrilled to see was the black-lored tit below. This is only the second sighting I’ve had at the farmhouse. Despite being a tiny little fellow he certainly held his ground and did not allow the others to bully him.
He had a funny way of bathing. He’d take a mandatory sip and then turn and face outwards daintily lowering himself rear-first into the water. Which made me wonder if I was mistaking a ‘she’ for a ‘he’!
Grey-headed bulbuls, classified as a near-endangered species, used to be seen fairly frequently in the years gone by. Sadly, over the past year or so their sightings have reduced drastically. I do have images of them but never from close up.
A few of them put in fleeting appearances during the afternoon sessions and didn’t seem to mind that I was sitting reasonably close thanks to which I got some really nice images.
Just prior to packing my bags I saw the male Vigor’s sunbird (below) on the hibiscus flowers. It was a juvenile with only a hint of the the spectacular colours that he would most certainly develop over time.
I have several images of this bird, many of which are in full breeding plumage, and I was in two minds whether I should make the effort to take the image. With extreme reluctance I fired off a short burst.
Looking back, in terms of sheer diversity, my image folder for this visit really rocked. Wedding images, birds, butterflies, a 2 foot long reptile and even a dimwit of a mammal!
Interestingly, of all those images the one that was most appreciated – (I’m a sucker for the likes and comments that they generate on social media!) – was the one that I was most reluctant to take. The one of the Vigor’s sunbird.
I guess it’s a reflection of the planet we live on.
At some time or other we have all seen and experienced noteworthy deeds and occurrences that barely manage to muster luke-warm interest at best; often going totally unnoticed and completely under the radar. And, when we least expect, things that we normally wouldn’t have given the time of day for, will blindside us completely by getting inundated with accolades!
Ah, well… C’est la vie, as the French would say. That’s life!
As promised, a link to the video of the monitor lizard preying on a gecko or house lizard below. Viewer discretion is advised as some of the scenes may be disturbing!