A few days ago, on my most recent trip to Goa, I had a magical encounter with a shikra…
17, November 2018.
I needed to be in Goa for a day to put in my application for an unbelievable scheme initiated by the wise old city fathers of this tiny but beautiful state. The Government had opened a window, that was to close at the end of the month, in which land owners could opt to convert their properties allowing them to construct to the maximum possible limit.
People owning orchard, forest and CRZ properties that protected the state’s ‘lungs’ and coastline could now apply for permission to construct to their heart’s content.
I came in to Goa on the early morning flight so as not to miss the deadline. My meetings were scheduled for the afternoon and so had a few hours to kill.
The minute I arrived I made myself a quick cup of coffee, assembled the camera and went out on the patio. On my last visit a couple of weeks ago there were an unusually large number of birds on show and I was hoping that they’d be obliging today as well.
Suffice to say, I wasn’t disappointed! One of the first birds to visit were a couple of female of female leafbirds (below).
I’ve put out a few birdbaths around the backyard. Unfortunately they cannot all be covered from the same vantage point and I have to make an often difficult decision as to where to position myself to observe either one or the other. The leafbirds at the bird bath down the slope of the property were instrumental in my selecting that particular one! Moments later a rufous treepie (below) ratified the decision.
From where I sit I’m facing west, I’m looking directly down the lower slopes of my orchard property. Years ago my dad did make a serious attempt at cultivation. When he passed away a little over a decade ago I had let it grow wild and now all that exists is a dense, impenetrable jungle of unproductive vegetation. A hotchpotch of bushes and trees whose commercial value is, at best, negligible.
An Indian golden oriole (above) and a juvenile black-hooded oriole (below) fly in, attracted by bunches of wild berries on one of the trees. I have no idea what tree it is and make a mental note to do a bit of research to find out a bit more. Earlier this year an adjacent tree filled with wild figs had a cast a spell on a female Asian koel who just could not seem to get enough of the fruit.
I’ve often be criticised for neglecting my property and allowing it to grow wild and not utilising it to its full potential. Now, with this new rule I will have unprecendented power to plan and construct to the maximum possible limit that will see its present, relatively useless value skyrocket!
A jungle babbler (above) posing on a bare branch to the left and a Blyth’s reed warbler (below) hopping from branch to branch in the bushes nearby in search of tidbits brought me back to the present with a pleasurable dilemma: Which one to shoot first?! I went with the babbler and was fortunate to get a half decent shot of the warbler as well.
A few moments later a male purple-rumped sunbird (below) popped up directly ahead of me and though I have plenty of really great images of this species from previous trips I went ahead anyway and clicked a few shots.
I guess the same can’t be said for the beautiful grey-headed starling (below) that joined a group of red-whiskered bulbuls and orange-headed thrushes at the water bath at the far end of the lawn. They are less frequently seen and images of them were pretty high on my bucket list!
There was a time when I had a great view of the fields at the foot of the hill, a huge grove of coconut plantations beyond them and finally in the distance, a sliver of ocean before it eventually gave way to the horizon and sky.
The trees have progressively obliterated that view and each year there is a noticeable restriction in what can be seen beyond. The beautiful St. Alex’s Church for instance, is no longer visible. As are the peacocks that graze in the fields below.
This new rule will now give me the power to rectify that. In my mind’s eye I can see the wild unkempt jungle that many who visit regard as a blot on the landscape, now replaced by manicured lawns and a selected range of carefully chosen exotic plants and trees. Strategically constructed villas will finally restore the lost view, each one having picture perfect vistas of the landscaped surroundings and beyond.
A pair of Indian blackbirds (above, a female on the left and a juvenile beside her) join a red-whiskered bulbul (extreme right) at the bird bath. A few quick images before I swing the camera to take in a female Asian paradise flycatcher (below) in the lower branches of the tree in front of me. These beautiful birds are infrequent visitors but both male subtypes, i.e. the rufous and white morphs with their long streaming tail feathers, have on different occasions given me the pleasure of their company and great images for my library.
Clearing the jungle will have a few additional advantages. Snakes, mice, scorpions, tarantula spiders and other unwanted creatures that have pestered me in the past will now reduce dramatically. I do admit that not once have I ever been bitten by any of them, but they do scare me and that ‘fear’ will finally be a thing of the past.
Several species of bulbuls including red-whiskered bulbuls, white-browed bulbuls, red-vented bulbuls are having a blast! The fact that they are joined by the rare and near-endangered grey-headed bulbuls really warmed the very cockles of m’ heart as my dear mum was fond of saying!
The ‘junglee’ gunpowder tree that for years dominated my backyard and was instrumental in ‘hooking’ me on birds tragically fell earlier this year.
Its progeny however, (white arrow, below) that had been growing quietly in its shadow is now making its presence felt.
Tiny berries have begun to appear on its branches and with them the birds are coming back! Like the black-headed cuckoo shrike (below).
As of now, Mumbai is the preferred location for many Goans to reside in as opposed to the laid back cities of Goa. All that could change and even small Goan villages like Calangute could be right up there with all the other major Indian Metropoles for boasting rights.
There are of course minor concerns, like garbage build up and water and electricity shortages. Fortunately, those are issues we need not worry about.They are problems for the city fathers to take care of.
Also, the state of Goa is slap bang in the middle of one of the most biodiverse regions not only in India but in the world. If this trend continues it will lose out on a lot of the borderline species like the grey-headed bulbuls to name but one. But many consider this a small price to pay for acquiring the humongous benefits of progress.
A southern birdwing butterfly (above) flies in to sample some of the nectar on offer in the hibiscus flowers. It is the largest Indian butterfly and is not commonly seen. I am pleased to say, however, that it had been frequenting my property pretty regularly of late. The butterfly-attracting plants that I have put down coupled with the fact that I ensure as little human activity as possible are possible reasons for that trend.
Having said that, whenever I do spot one I drop whatever I’m doing and grab the camera to try and get a shot! After spending a few minutes on the shoe flowers it flew behind me to the bougainvillea above the beautiful yellow-flowered cassia biflora tree that was beginning to get into full bloom (below). Naturally, I followed!
A slight movement in cassia stopped me in my tracks.
About 15 feet away, perched calmly on a bare branch of the cassia (see arrow above) at eye level to me, was a shikra. I had the 500mm with a 1.4x TC and being close I struggled to frame it completely. I do see shikras off and on but they are always shy and don’t stick around for too long. And never at such close quarters!
This one was completely unperturbed.
From the cassia it flew to one of the water bowls for a drink of water before flying up to perch on a branch on the christmas tree that my dad planted decades ago in the middle of the backyard.
It remained there for quite sometime, every once in a while casting piercing, almost accusatory, glances in my direction.
When it finally flew away, as God is my witness, it did so directly in my direction swooping down to within a foot of my head before disappearing in the trees behind me!
And, at the back of my mind an all too familiar question popped up. One that first whispered to me quietly and hesitantly decades ago. But one that has grown over the years. Both in strength and conviction. Resonating repeatedly within my skull, over and over again and back and forth. With the terrifying ever-increasing intensity and frequency of an unstoppable onrushing train: