In the last week of November 2018 we celebrated a Class reunion of our Medical College batch of ’76.
It was the culmination of extensive planning and preparation that began almost a year earlier with Whatsapp messages and emails flying fast and furiously across several continents to ensure that the meet was a success.
The venue, not surprisingly, was at a posh resort in the South of Goa. I decided to arrive the evening before in order to sneak in a bit of birding at my farmhouse the next morning before making the 2 hour-long drive to the resort. The Tickell’s blue flycatcher below was one of the images I got.
The Holiday Inn Resort is situated bang on Mobor Beach in Cavellosim, Salcette, Goa. It is a stunning location spread over several acres. There are cattle egrets that roam freely on the grounds that are surprisingly tame allowing one to get pretty close. Close enough, in fact, to get a decent image even with a phone camera.
I must say, the reunion itself surpassed all our expectations and turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It was 1976 all over again as thirty-odd 60 plus year-old doctors miraculously shed four decades and partied like there was no tomorrow!
Days earlier a few batchmates had expressed interest in doing a bit of bird watching on the morning of the second day. Towards that end I got in touch with a friend and birding guide to take them around.
Russell Fernandes is a wildlife enthusiast who also happens to be an authority on beer. I had done a few birding trips with him when he was based in Mumbai before he moved to Goa to set up his birding tour company ‘The Salcete Birding Company’.
Unsure as to how hectic the previous evening’s festivities were going to be, I warned him that the numbers that turned up for bird watching would be inversely proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed the previous night!
Suffice to say, only one person went out the next morning. Yes, you guessed it – it was ‘yours truly’!
Between a rollicking evening that went on till 4 am and a lunch at a fancy Goan restaurant the next afternoon I was the sole individual motivated enough to squeeze in about an hour of birding.
We explored some fields in the vicinity and rounded it off by visiting a water body. The images below were taken on that trip.
Like I said, it was non-stop partying from beginning to end on a scale reminiscent of the good ol’ days! Personal rivalries and professional bitching were cast aside and the barriers between ‘wild’ and ‘nerdy’ evaporated like winter mist on a sunny Goan morning.
All that was left was a heady mix of genuine camaraderie, undemanding friendship and mutual bonding.
While most of the group departed the day after the festivities, a few opted to extend their stay for a few more days and were keen on doing the ‘Zuari River Safari’. I have done several of those trips in the past. It was originally started by Mr. Balachandra Kamat who unfortunately passed away in 2016. His wife now manages the show and his assistant Frankie conducts the tour.
In all honesty but the end of the weekend I was exhausted.
A detoxifying leisurely boat ride down the tranquil waters that ebb and flow between the mangroves of the Cumbharjua Canal canal was exactly what the doctor ordered.
It is a trip that is ideally done at low tide. The exposed sandy banks between the mangroves not only attract a large number of water birds in search of food but also provide ideal basking areas for marsh crocodiles.
Unfortunately the tide was quite high and so the sighting were not as numerous as I have had on previous occasions. It was however a very pleasant trip and one that was enjoyed by all.
The highlight of the excursion was the collared kingfisher (below). This is a bird that is normally very shy. This particular individual however had no qualms in posing for several minutes, allowing us to get so close that some in the group actually managed to take decent pictures on their phone cameras!
By now over 24 hours had elapsed since the reunion but my phone kept buzzing! Comments, images, videos… they kept coming in in droves! Testimony indeed to a truly memorable get together and one that would not be forgotten in a hurry.
Back ‘home’ at the farmhouse after the boat ride I had half a day to kill before driving to the airport to catch the late night flight back to Mumbai.
A ‘quick snack’ of beef patties, chicken and cheese pockets, mango and raspberry cheese cake, custard stuffed doughnuts and some exquisite Karjat Chikki thoughtfully provided by a batchmate interspersed by generous gulps of chilled beer meant that a snooze was definitely on the cards.
Having said that, I never did make it to the bedroom.
The incessant chirping of birds had me moving to the patio instead. More out of sheer curiosity than anything else. It was 2.30pm in the afternoon. A time when most self-respecting birds should be tucked away in the sheltering shade of a bush or tree to get away from the midday heat.
Not today. They were out in numbers and centred around the birdbath at the far end of the yard. All thoughts of a nap vanished. Instead, I picked up the camera and sat out on the porch and watched…and clicked.
I sat there, all by myself, for two whole hours. Breaking only once to make myself a cup of coffee. All the images posted from here on were taken during that period.
Between sips of coffee, shooting off quick bursts of images and catching up on the unending and continuous stream of phone messages connected to the recent reunion I must say it was a very enjoyable afternoon!
In fact watching the birds was, in a way, very much like re-living the recently concluded college reunion.
Let me explain…
Red-whiskered bulbuls, jungle babblers and red-vented bulbuls dominated the proceedings and were the ones that provided the initiative.
They took the lead to fly down to the water bowls.
Then there were others that rallied around the bulbuls to get the party started. Some were common like the oriental magpie-robins and white-browed bulbuls.
Others like the orange-headed thrush and the Indian golden oriole, I bump into quite regularly and hence do nothing for me, but I do know of quite a few people who would go into raptures on sighting them!
Without this core group, I have no doubt, there would have been no party!
It was only on their cue that some of the others were encouraged to participate in the proceedings. Like the gold-fronted leafbirds and Indian blackbirds.
Birds like the pair of Indian robins (below), although very much present, preferred to stay away from the centre of the action, (i.e. the water bowls), and instead focussed their attention on foraging the front lawn for juicy creepy-crawly titbits.
Falling squarely into the above category too, were a group of green bee-eaters, scaly breasted munis, purple-rumped sunbirds, Nilgiri flowerpeckers and small minivets.
Then there were the individuals that are rarely seen but still took the time to grace the occasion. Grey-headed bulbuls are listed as a ‘near-threatened’ species and their numbers are dwindling alarmingly. I was really thrilled when the one below made an appearance.
As in the case in any party, our reunion being no exception, there are those like the rufous treepie that put in a quick face presentation before taking off again, disappearing almost as quickly as they had appeared. They are beautiful birds and though we would have loved for them to have stayed longer we are thankful for the few moments, however brief, that we got to share together.
The spot-breasted fantail and the puff-throated babbler were classic late comers! The sun was already well on its way to the horizon when they arrived with most of the festivities already done and dusted.
There was this one bird that I simply could not recognise. (…and the analogy continues!)
I posted the image on a bird identification website and was shocked by the responses. The bird (above on the right) was identified as an ‘eyebrowed thrush’. For the record, it was a ‘lifer’ for me, which is birding parlance indicating the very first sighting of a particular species.
In fact, according to one of the online replies to my post, the last recorded sighting of this species in Goa was way back in 2007.
Eleven years ago!! The overwhelming number of congratulatory messages that followed were testimony to what a big deal it was.
And I couldn’t help but think wryly to myself that eleven years was a mere blink of an eye in comparison to the number of birds encountered over the weekend whose last sighting was well over four decades ago!