It has been four months since my last trip to Goa.
Though that opening statement may sound like it was made in a confessional, the four days in Goa that followed can hardly be considered penance.
The monsoon was well underway and Goa was at it’s best. The garden was in full bloom and exactly as I like it to be: wild yet beautiful.
A pair of Jacobin cuckoos were the first to greet me. This was only my second sighting of these birds in over a decade so as far as omens go, I couldn’t have asked for a better one!
Like most cuckoo species Jacobin cuckoos are brood parasites. They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds that in turn raise the chicks as their own. Judging from the number of juvenile birds around I’m guessing they had missed the bus.
Grey headed bulbuls are endemic to the Western Ghats and are listed as a near threatened species.
I used to see quite a few of them up until till a year ago. Their reappearance now is heartening and I’m got my fingers crossed that they are here to stay.
I almost mistook the bird above for another juvenile. Uncertain as to it’s identity I posted the image on the India Nature Watch (INW) website that suggested it was a plain flowerpecker.
For the record, it was the encouragement from this site that actually got me going as a birder. INWians are a bunch of nature lovers that encourage amateurs. My initial posts on the site were quite terrible and often included common birds that regular birders would be tempted to scoff at. Not so at INW. Its core members are all seasoned veterans, yet underpar postings are greeted with encouraging ooohs, and wows, and queries, no matter how insignificant are often put to bed within hours of posting.
If you are in India and have even the slightest interest in birds, or any other wildlife for that matter, I would strongly recommend that you give this site a look up.
On this trip I experienced a completely different method of avian identification.
Late one evening, after sunset, Vanessa and I were sitting on the front porch when we heard an unusual birdcall coming from the far end of the yard. The two species of birds that would be active at this time were owls and nightjars and the call seemed to be more likely to be made by a nightjar.
Several species of nightjars can be found in Goa. These include great-eared nightjar, Jerdon’s nightjar, jungle nightjar, Indian nightjar and Savanna nightjar. Browsing through Internet recordings of birdcalls, simply by method of elimination it was easy to identify the bird as a Jerdon’s nightjar.
The next night the bird called again and, using a torch, I got this shot above.
You’ve probably guessed by now that much as I enjoy birding, I am far from expert and I will struggle to identify many uncommon birds.
Unless, that is, I happen to see them repeatedly.
Blue-faced malkohas are not common. And even when they are around they tend to stay deep in the bushes. For me however, malkohas are regular visitors and so they do not elicit the same adrenalin rush as when I first laid eyes on them years ago and identification, I’m happy to say, is instant.
While shooting the juvenile Tickell’s flycatcher I had noticed a feeding pair of malkohas. One of them kept its distance. The other demonstrated unusual curiosity by gradually making its way towards me under the cover of the branches of a tree.
It got to within 10 metres of where I was standing and gave me a quick once-over before casually flying off to join its mate. Judging by its cheeky inquisitiveness and beautiful long lashes I’m guessing it was a female.
All in all the birding was reasonably productive. Having said that it has been my experience that the monsoon season is not the best time for bird watching, as the thick foliage interferes with optimal sightings.
The rain and its attendant riot of flowers does however bring in abundance another of Mother Nature’s beauties.
Between now and the end of the year butterflies are plentiful. In fact one of the projects I plan to undertake (as part of my grand retirement scheme) is to set up a butterfly garden. Towards that end, just prior to this trip, I went online and splurged on several plants that are specifically known to attract these creatures. Not that there is any dearth of flowers in the garden.
I already have chameli, champa, mogra, hibiscus, birds of paradise, lantana, mussanda, cassia biflora, alamanda, bahunia, bougainvillea, tecoma stans, and gulmohor to name a few. Not to mention and a whole bunch of other wild flowering plants that I’ve encouraged to co-exist with ones that have been planted.
In fact, on either side of the porch are beds of dwarf ixora that attracts a number of butterfly and moths. My gardener fights a loosing battle, especially in the monsoon season, to clear the weeds that grow alongside.
One of these ‘weeds’ had just begun to flower and was attracting large numbers of plain tiger butterflies. Closer inspection revealed that there were five of them in a three metre radius, one of them had gone past the flowering stage and was readying itself to produce seeds via a distinctive pod shaped fruit.
Rattlepods… also known as Crotalaria!
Damn and damnation! I had ordered four crotalaria online and paid a bomb, and here I had five. For free. One of them with enough seeds to give me God knows how many more!!
At the time I was placing the order I remember my cousin, whose love for Nature equals – and probably exceeds – my own, suggesting that some of the plants I ordered actually grew in the wild.
All I can say is: My dear Cuz you were right! I should have listened!!
So here I was completing my penance. Cooled by a gusty monsoon breeze that whispered soothingly in the trees. Surrounded by flowers, plants, butterflies, moths, and birds. All living in peaceful co-existence. Heaven!
Did I say peaceful co-existence? My apologies.
The image below is of one a couple of beautiful cycas trees in front of the house that are our pride and joy. I love this image not only for its aesthetic value but also for the story it tells.
There are three whorls of leaves visible. The leaves of the outermost with their main ribs and spiky leaflets are healthy. (Seen in the background and on the lower left and right.)
The same can’t be said of the middle whorl. The central ribs are intact, but their leaflets have been destroyed leaving a residual pattern of off-white dashes, that paradoxically contribute to the aesthetics of the image.
The cause for their destruction can be found on the newly emerging whorl of leaves in the centre. Tiny plains cupid butterflies have laid their eggs, (seen as tiny white spots) on them. When the caterpillars hatch… Well, no guesses as to what will be the fate of the leaves.
My dilemma: Spray the plant with insecticide and kill the butterflies. Or allow the caterpillars to destroy the plant.
As usual Mother Nature always provides a more acceptable solution. You can follow this link to find it!