Wednesday, December 23, 2009

This is Saxicola Caprata alias Pied Bush chat!!

This blogger is not much into scientific names of birds. Mostly browse through but some names strikes. Saxicola caprata is one like that. It’s a name for a tiny bird common through out the subcontinent, some confines to hills but avoid thick forest (the above was taken at Sholyar Dam hills). Their note is like two stones knocked together, common to Chats from which they derive. It has a pleasing short song. They are generally found perched on vantage point that has view over bare ground in the vicinity thus prefers land with low shrub and near water bodies, it takes its food (entirely insects) thus. They prefer well concealed nest on the ground.

The above pic is that of young one complete black plumage except under tail since it doesn’t get white band on the wing till about two years, and it is sub-specie that has abdomen black unlike the white bellied that is common in the plains. The female have grayish brown plumage.

This few stanzas from Borges’s poem I came across, it is one the best I have read

To see in every day and year a symbol
of all the days of man and his years,
and convert the outrage of the years
into a music, a sound, and a symbol.

To see in death a dream, in the sunset
a golden sadness--such is poetry,
humble and immortal, poetry,
returning, like dawn and the sunset.

Sometimes at evening there's a face
that sees us from the deeps of a mirror.
Art must be that sort of mirror,
disclosing to each of us his face.

They say Ulysses, wearied of wonders,
wept with love on seeing Ithaca
Art is that Ithaca
a green eternity, not wonders.

Art is endless like a river flowing,
inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same
and yet another, like the river flowing.

Borges (1899-1986)was an Argentinean poet, short story writer and essayist (complete name being Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo, phew!!). When 1955 he was made head of the National Library he had become fully blind due to a hereditary disease. He writes…
Nobody should think that I, by tear or reproach, make light
Of the mastery of God who,
With excellent irony,
Gave me at once both books and night.

Borges is someone I came across in the dusty shelf of Central Secretariat library (in Delhi), it was just about the time when after many stints of 9-5 jobs in god knows what all places in what all occupations that I took firm decision on no more full time jobs (I had just quit a job at publishing), and found myself with lot of time and lot to read. This library was also an escape from horrible heat of summer not to mention sometimes I would sneak into ministries nearby and have excellent food at discount rate, I did enjoy Rajma-chawal plate at the road side stall nearby. Things have changed so drastically because of jihadi macaques that anyone who try this now could be in serious trouble. One of my favorite short story is “Borges and I” it is a kind of an autobiography you would rarely witness in fiction. It is also an insight into the writer…"…it would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things. Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger, I shall remain in Borges, not in myself ……..thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.”

Another of his fine story is “Everything and Nothing”. It starts quite brilliantly “There was no one in him; behind his face (which even bad painting of those times resembles no other) and his words, which were copious, fantastic and stormy, there was only a bit of coldness, a dream dreamt by no one. At first he thought that all people were like him, but the astonishment of a friend to whom he had begun to speak of his emptiness showed him his error and made him feel always that an individual should not differ in outward appearance. Once he thought that in books he would find cure for his ill and thus he learned…instinctively he had already become proficient in the habit of simulating that he was someone, so that others would not discover his condition as no one…”.

It goes on like this “His histrionic tasks brought him a singular satisfaction, perhaps the first he had ever known; but once the last verse has been acclaimed and the last dead man withdrawn from stage, the hated flavor of unreality returned to him. He ceased to be Ferrex or Tamerlane and became no one again. Thus hounded he took to imagining other heroes and other tragic fables. And so, while his flesh fulfilled his destiny as flesh in taverns and brothels of London, the soul that inhabited him was Caeser, who disregards the augur’s admonition, and Juliet, who abhors the lark, and Macbeth, who converses on the plain with witches who are also his fates. No one has ever been so many men as this man, who like the Egyptian Proteus could exhaust all the guises of reality. At times he would leave a confession hidden away in some corner of his work, certain that it would not be deciphered; Richard affirms that in his person he plays the part of many and Iago claims with curious words “I am not what I am.” …

The story ends this way that reminded me Bhagvad Gita “History adds that before or after dying he found himself in the presence of god and told him ‘I who have been so many men in vain want to be one and myself’. The voice of the Lord answered from whirlwind: ‘Neither am I anyone; I have dreamt the world as you dreamt your work, my Shakespeare, and among the forms in my dreams are you, who like myself are many and no one.’”

Now that is a good story!.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Great tits!!

Now before you get any funny ideas Great tit are birds coming under tit family Paridae (tit meaning small, shortened titmice). Tits are birds with stout legs, strong feet and hardy bills. They could be found foraging upside down on the branch and climbing the trunk like woodpecker, and I thought I have found the rare White naped tit (Parus nuchalis). It turned out to be Great Tit (Cinereus tit to be specific, as they have white under part. Great tit could be yellowish. Cinereus have distinctive grey coverts unlike white naped that is black). Clearly I was getting overambitious even experts have found it difficult to locate White naped, these birds are endemic to India and found in patches of Rajasthan-Gujarat and around Bangalore-cauvery valley (I had read about it, so was excited!) but the sightings has been rare, classified by Butler as thus about 150years back. Salim Ali (at Kutch) referred it ‘very rare’ but later changed it to ‘capriciously patchy’ (1943-44). Though in south India it has been very rare from the onset, only handful sightings reported in last few decades. Incidentally a single specimen Jerdon obtained in 1864 from Eastern Ghats was thought to be ‘some mistake’. Apparent habitat incongruous of ‘low jungle thorny’ Kutch and dense deciduous forest of south led to further confusion. Many maintain that south Indian spotting must been Parus major (Great tit) they are very similar, but the sightings in south have been strongly corroborated. White naped tit is seriously endangered bird due to habitat destruction (I read that in Kutch belt the need for twig-acacia for toothbrush has threatened the bird further, the researcher suggests immediate availability of cheaper toothbrush)

Tits are varied colorful species and found commonly across the world, they seem to have adapted to city life too. I read that they could open the milk bottle to get the cream, and that bird calls also have changed in noisy cities (became ‘rap’ from ‘rural melodies’-as the report in UK says!). They feed mainly on insects and sometimes fruits, and are found to nest on tree trunk holes. Otherwise found in groups they become territorial during breeding season. And yes I hope to sight White naped tit sometime in future (o boy that would be something!). The painting of Great tit is by none other than John Gould one of the finest bird painter who had no formal training and learned from observation, he got the nickname “the birdman”(a detailed account on him was posted under pied wagtail).

And now a beautiful poem on caged bird (like Munias I mentioned in my last blog) by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) titled

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opens,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats its wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!

Dunbar was one of the earliest Afro-American writers, although he died quite young his contribution has been significant. I was reading some of his short stories at (it is a great site…I have included it as link in my main blog) titled “The heart of happy hollow”. The author had these interesting lines to say as forward to the collectio
n “Wherever laughter and tears rub elbows day by day, and the spirit of labor and laziness shake hands, there—there—is Happy Hollow, and of some of it may the following pages show the heart”. I found this collection very interesting it gave insight into Afro-American community at the turn of the 20th century. The dialect used by black Americans that I have seen in some English movies also helped to understand the stories better. There is an amazingly funny story written in afro-American dialect titled “The race question”. It’s about an old punter (who also was a jockey once, as I gathered from the story…frankly with the dialect you have to read it loudly to get it right). This story is a monologue of an old man at the race… not very uncommon if you sit next to a seasoned fellow at the turf club, they are quite liberal with opinion and judgment!!. And yes our man is quite defensive about gambling and comes out with incredible “honest gamblah was ez good ez a hones' preachah...” and yes he wants to “money ernuff to mek a donation on de pa'sonage”. I loved the story!!. It starts like this

Scene—Race track. Enter old coloured man, seating himself.
"Oomph, oomph. De work of de devil sho' do p'ospah. How 'do, suh? Des tol'able, thankee, suh. How you come on? Oh, I was des a-sayin' how de wo'k of de ol' boy do p'ospah. Doesn't I frequent the racetrack? No, suh; no, suh. I's Baptis' myse'f, an' I 'low hit's all devil's doin's. Wouldn't 'a' be'n hyeah to-day, but I got a boy named Jim dat's long gone in sin an' he gwine ride one dem hosses. Oomph, dat boy! I sut'ny has talked to him and labohed wid him night an' day, but it was allers in vain, an' I's feahed dat de day of his reckonin' is at han'.

And his commentary later was amusing
De bay maih's done huh bes', she's done huh bes'! Dey's turned into the stretch an' still see-sawin'. Let him out, Jimmy, let him out! Dat boy done th'owed de reins away. Come on, Jimmy, come on! He's leadin' by a nose. Come on, I tell you, you black rapscallion, come on! Give 'em hell, Jimmy! give 'em hell! Under de wire an' a len'th ahead. Doggone my cats! wake me up w'en dat othah hoss comes in”.

And it ends like this…
"No, suh, I ain't gwine stay no longah, I don't app'ove o' racin', I's gwine 'roun' an' see dis hyeah bookmakah an' den I's gwine dreckly home, suh, dreckly home. I's Baptis' myse'f, an' I don't app'ove o' no sich doin's!"

Charming indeed

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

White rumped Munias are gregarious birds

It is a bird that is always found in groups or pairs, the flock fly in undulating manner when disturbed. I found this bird in a bush- adjacent to a river, maybe it had its nest nearby as it flit and came back again and again to check and was vary of my presence. The sparrow sized bird feeds on seeds and therefore considered pests by farmers. Unlike sparrows it has thicker stubby bills (so belong to the family of waxbills, also finches) and smaller in size and despite the fact they are numerous they are reclusive and not very easy to spot. Adults have dark brown upperparts and white lower. Unfortunately they are popular cage birds, it is saddening to see these gregarious birds in cramped cages for human entertainment. It need be added that the trend of keeping cagebirds as pets has gone down drastically in last few decades.

Ancient Korean Poetry: I came across a form of poetry that is followed for centuries in Korea, referred to as Sijo. They are three line lyrical poems that start with introduction, development of the theme and conclusion. The conclusion generally has an element of surprise, that can take a profound turn. They are elaborate and not intended to be witty though they use pun, metaphors and allusions. Sijo is meant to be a song that was vehicle for religious and philosophical expression that was more personal.

Yun Sondo (1587 - 1671) is considered greatest Sijo poet. Born in Seoul, Yun Sondo was a government official during the Choson dynasty, but his straightforward character made enemies at court and he was banished for imprudent criticism of those in power. Thirteen years later he returned to become tutor to the royal princes but was later banished again. He spent most of his 85 years in his rustic country home, contemplating the nature of life, teaching and writing poetry. Yun is considered the greatest master in the history of Korean literature. His most famous composition is The Fisherman's Calendar, a cycle of 40 sijo. In both Chinese and Korean classical poetry, the fisherman symbolized a wise man who lives simply and naturally. Having observed fisherman at close quarters this blogger very much agrees to that.
The translator of Sondo’s poems faces a serious dilemma: whether to trace the meaning track (literal meaning and structure) or poetic track (theme and aesthetic). Clearly translation from culturally divergent milieu is rarely successfully.

The Fisherman's Calendar is a sijo cycle consisting of 10 verses representing each of the four seasons, a total of 40. The innovative Yun Sondo transformed the way the verses were written. The freshness, imaginative word usage and line structure set higher standards to which future writers could aspire. Here are some taken randomly from the collection. Chigukch'ong, chigukch'ong, oshwa that is repeated is meant to be represent sound of anchor chain and rowing. Like boat rowers in kerala use hylasa and other sounds that give rhythm.

The sun slides low to the west; it tells us its time to go home.
Strike the sail, strike the sail!
Evening willows remain a joy, flowers more amazing still.
Chigukch'ong, chigukch'ong, oshwa!
How many statesmen would envy this? Now why do I think of them?

I'd like to roam the tender grass, pick orchids and gromwells too.
Haul in the boat, haul in the boat!
How many could I carry in this leaf-like little boat?
Chigukch'ong, chigukch'ong, oshwa!
This morning I came out alone; the moon and I will go home.

I've put down the fishing rod to watch moonlight through the awning.
Drop anchor now, drop anchor now!
Night is sneaking up on me: hear the cuckoo send out his call.
Chigukch'ong, chigukch'ong, oshwa!
It brings me so much pleasure I can't recall my way back home.

Another fine day has ended; now it's time to eat and rest.
Secure the boat, secure the boat!
I walk the path in cheerful song; red patches peek through new snow.
Chigukch'ong, chigukch'ong, oshwa!
From my window I'll praise the moon till it sets behind hushed pines.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Meet Mr.Robin with no hood

You could mistake it for pied wagtail but for its upright tail and smaller size, Oriental Magpie Robin is black and white in color while female is greyish. Quite courageous it isn’t perturbed by human presence, constantly hopping and flitting. Found mostly in South Asia and East Asia (the reason for Oriental) they are quite common in gardens as also forests. This blogger though have rarely seen it in cities or gardens nearby, they seem to have vanished. This bird is the national bird of Bangladesh (called Doyel) and also seen in the currency notes. That is quite amazing.
This part of an interesting discussion that was generated following a report in Britain to shoot magpies as they are threat to other songbirds…

Monday 28th February 2005, I wasn't much impressed by the spokesman for this proposal on Radio 4 this morning. I think what is worrying is that the "It's the Magpies/Sparrowhawks what done it, Guv" school of ecology only serves to obscure the fact that this is a complex issue which involves our own use/abuse of the environment. Given that these shootin' folks & their sympathisers tend to enjoy a dominant role in the countryside, I find this worrying. If I was cynical I'd find it sinister. What was obvious, I thought in today's interview was that the RSPB spokesman (Andre Farrar I think) was willing to accept that song bird decline was complex whilst his interlocutor seemed fixated by a single cause,John
Jane Turner Sunday 27th February 2005,
You all know my views on this type of hogwash. I'm about to step on an aeroplane or I'd post the plethora of peer reviewed articles in respected journals showing that Magpies/Sparrowhaks etc have no effect what so ever on the numbers of breeding pairs of songbirds.
If they insist on using over-simplistic simplistic measure of "eats the eggs and young of smaller species" they would do better to shoot Jays. However both would be entirely futile and they'd do better to campaign for more songbird friendly farming methods.

Gaz Shilton Well said Jane. Reminds of a conversation I overheard once between a man who had just given a talk about birds of prey at our local birdclub and a woman who thought that sparrowhawks should be shot because they took HER birds were being taken from her garden. She wouldn't listen when he mentioned the Tawny Owl does similar things because to her they were too Cute to do such things. And her attitude towards him when he mentioned her cat was taking more birds than their natural predators do, well I couldn't believe it!!!

Sunday 27th February 2005, 15:35
You all know my views on this type of hogwash. I'm about to step on an aeroplane or I'd post the plethora of peer reviewed articles in respected journals showing that Magpies/Sparrowhaks etc have no effect what so ever on the numbers of breeding pairs of songbirds.
Please don't muddy the waters by bracketing specialist predators / protected species (Sparrowhawks) with generalist-switching predators / unprotected ones (Magpies).
As regards the "plethora of peer reviewed articles in respected journals" I'm genuinely interested in them, so if you could post them when you get back. I'm very interested in the methodologies they use to demonstrate that generalist / switching predators have no effect (on songbird numbers) without removing them from the equation. Safe journey.

I read Thomson, Green, Gregory and Baillie's paper when it came out. I'll read it again, now that I'm wiser and older.
Here's a paper,peer-reviewed and published in Conservation Biology that takes a less rosy (and in my opinion) more balanced view of the arguments.

Jane Turner
Sunday 27th February 2005,
Here are some more
No evidence of any long-term effect on songbird populations in England including in urban areas (Wilkinson 1988, British Birds, 81,657-8; Gooch et al. 1991, Journal of Applied Ecology, 68, 1068-86), and in Berlin and Osnabrück (Germany) no discernible decline in their numbers due to P. pica (Witt 1989; Kooiker 1991). In rural area of Belgium, accounted for only c.*6% of predation by Corvidae on songbirds though comprising 50% of corvid population (Vercauteren 1984, Gerfault, 74 327-60); see Birkhead 1991 for review of European studies.

Jane Turner
I can see we are about to revisit the debate about post breeding numbers, which clearly predators do affect, and number of breeding birds the following spring, which evidence suggests there is no effect on! Lack of food in winter being the most likely limiting factor.

Touty Sunday 27th February 2005,
Thank you. I read Thomson, Green, Gregory and Baillie's paper when it came out. I'll read it again, now that I'm wiser and older.
Here's a paper, peer-reviewed and published in Conservation Biology that takes a less rosy (and in my opinion) more balanced view of the arguments.
# Tapper, SC, Potts, GR, Brockless, M (1996) The effects of an experimental reduction in predation pressure on the breeding success and population density of grey partridges (Perdix perdix). Journal of Applied Ecolog
y, 33, 965-78
showed that (legal) predator control on Salisbury Plain for 3 years in one area (A) led to higher breeding success and spring pair density while in the area where predators were not controlled (B) breeding success and spring pair density declined. After 3 years the researchers switched the control from area A to area B and the breeding success and spring pair density in area A fell back to its original level whilst rising several-fold in area B. I grant you that grey partridges are not songbirds

Sunday 27th February 2005,
Forgot to say that the Loddington Study (completed in 2004) follows a similar if not identical methodo
logy (actually removing predators and then letting them return, rather than area A and area B)

alcedo.atthisSunday 27th February 2005,
Jane, I do not expect a response at the moment, as you may be elsewhere, but your comment :- "Lack of food in winter being the most likely limiting factor." How does this relate then to the tonnes of food put out by bird-lovers on a daily basis especially during the winter, and even during the rest of the year. Are we as bird lovers creating an unhealthy situation of keeping the numbers high just to serve our consciences in doing our bit for the part of nature which we happen to like. Should we stop putting out this vast amount of resources, which is artificially keeping numbers well over the natural balance, and let nature take it's own course?Regards

This a study by Anil Kumar (Department of Zoology and Environmental Science, Gurukul Kangri University, Haridwar) and Dinesh Bhatt (Desert Regional Station, Zoological Survey of India, Jodhpur) on Oriental magpie robin found in the net I thought was interesting, it is about research done on different calls of this bird. This the preface para of the paper...

Birds use a variety of vocal signals while communicating. These signals play an important role in their social life. A number of avian species often deliver either calls or songs or both in a variety of contexts. Information in a call usually relates to the immediate circumstances of the caller. This study characterizes different types of calls on the basis of their physical characteristics and socio-biological functions, in a tropical avian species Copsychus saularis (Oriental Magpie Robin). This species has been found to use mainly six types of calls, namely territorial calls, emergence and roosting calls, threat calls, submissive calls, begging calls and distress calls in their communication. In addition, members of this species have been observed to use escape call, anger call, etc. occasionally.

Vocal signals in birds can be classified into songs and calls. A number of avian species often deliver either calls or songs or both in a variety of contexts. In general, songs are longer than calls. The former represent complex vocalizations produced by males in the breeding season. The latter are short, simple and less spontaneous. The calls are contextual and often produced with reference to a particular function1. However, there are many examples of overlaps between simple songs and calls. The study of communication not only enriches our knowledge about behavior associated with signals, but also allows us to work out the evolutionary history of any species or relationships between closely related species.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Considerate Golden-fronted Leafbird

I heard this bird first, and saw some excited red whiskered bulbuls on a tree but then that is not the call of bulbuls said I and start the search on the leafy tree. It took me some time to spot the bird-it was Golden fronted leafbird, and t

ook almost an hour to get the above pic!!. I took many snaps but the bird is so brilliantly camouflaged (no wonder the name leafbird!!) and active, add to the fact that my camera lens are manual so by the time I had focused it would have flitted to another branch. All the while it emitted a melodious cheerful whistle, it is as if saying “ok it will take a while for you to photograph me, let me keep you entertained in the meantime!!”. Quite considerate, must say.

The Golden-fronted leafbird has vibrant colored plumage depicting hues of green, orange-yellow, black, blue, and turquoise. The bill of the leafbird is slender with an upper mandible that has a slight downward curved, and encloses the spiked tongue that enables them to feed on nectar. Their diet also includes insects and fruits such as berries and figs. They are primarily tree dwellers rarely seen on ground.

Haizi the poet who became a poem
: as one blog says “Ha Zi’s life was a poem, an extremely short poem”. Haizi (originally Cha Haisheng but he named himself Hai zi meaning “son of the sea”…I like that not only the name but also the idea of naming oneself!!) was one of the most important Chinese poets of recent times. He lived for only 25years- on the day of his 25thb’day he suicided (1964-1989). He belonged to the farming community but got selected into prestigiuos Beijing University, later had a teaching career (at Chinese University, teaching Political science). Look at the brilliant imagery the boy created in this poem “ocean overheard”, stupendous. It makes you shiver. Despite the fact that it must have lost something in translation, it is an amazing piece of work. Frankly I am not surprised that he suicided. That's what happens when reality collides with abstract images, at young age it can churn you into exhaustion and physically-emotionally vulnerable. I consider myself amazingly fortunate to read his poems, this wouldn’t been possible few years back. We need to thank technology and those who created Internet.

Ocean Overhead

Primitive mother
hides from a farmer
She throws his sickle in the field
drowns her baby in the well
and lets the field lie waste

In the lamplight it seems I’ve met her
She jumps into the ocean
and the ocean hangs over the barn
It seems the snow
of my hair and my father’s is burning.

This my dedications to Hai Zi

Spilled blood

Brittle red misshaped flowers
seep into the mud

arteries sift for kernel.

Inside words sprout, liberate
the soul
that fly the sky
and sail the oceans.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An unflattering name for a miming cuckoo

Brainfever bird is a medium sized cuckoo that is a resident of South Asia, it is also referred to as Common Hawk Cuckoo. It resembles Shikra- the bird which it mimes not only physically but behaviorally too. Even a keen birdwatcher could be fooled by the resemblance- banded tails and bars on the abdomen and flanks, it even does sideways movements of tail on alighting just like Shikra. Shikra’s beak though is typical raptor type while Hawk cuckoo is straighter meant for catching insects. Like all cuckoos Hawk cuckoo too is a brood parasite (mostly babblers).

Though a secretive foragers it produces one of the famous bird calls. They produce frenzied triple call that rises higher and higher into crescendo. Now Indians found it quite romantic and interpreted the call as pee-kahaan (where is my beloved?) or in Marathi as paos-ala (the summer is coming), incidentally papeeha -the Hindi name for the bird, was favored by poets over centuries in this part of the world. Brits though had some tough time in a hot humid country infested with malaria and diseases so it is easy to imagine why they found the calls irritating, also the bird is at its vocal best in summer moonlight, just the time when sahibs were finding it difficult to sleep in the sweltering heat and tossing on the bed and lo the frenzied bird call. Things couldn’t been nastier for colonizers!. And so thought it is brain fever!. This blogger though takes serious exception to these names. Why not Papeeha?. It sounds beautiful and quite apt too.

The pictures are taken on a morning walk at Malampuzha reservoir (in Palakkad), walk few Kms along the reservoir you get to see some picturesque scenes, huge mountains on one side and plantations on the other. Need to add here that I was terrifically lucky to glimpse this bird as it is quite difficult to locate and yes just about manage to photograph it.

One of my favorite poem is a Hindi poem by Mythili Sharan Gupt “ma kah ek kahani”, we had to study this in school. This probably the first poem that gave me glimpse of the beauty of the world of poetry. What an amazing poem!!. Its about a mother asking the child to choose what is right, ethical. Beautifully woven this simple poem still touches me. Lines like "kah ma leti he leti, raja tha ya rani" or lines like "nyay daya ka dani, tune guni kahani". Simple but profound, the conversation style used in the poem makes it endearing.

माँ कह एक कहानी

"माँ कह एक कहानी।" बेटा समझ लिया क्या तूने मुझको अपनी नानी?"
"कहती है मुझसे यह चेटी, तू मेरी नानी की बेटी
कह माँ कह लेटी ही लेटी, राजा था या रानी?
माँ कह एक कहानी।"

"तू है हठी, मानधन मेरे, सुन उपवन में बड़े सवेरे, तात भ्रमण करते थे तेरे, जहाँ सुरभी मनमानी।"
"जहाँ सुरभी मनमानी! हाँ माँ यही कहानी।"
वर्ण वर्ण के फूल खिले थे, झलमल कर हिमबिंदु झिले थे,
हलके झोंके हिले मिले थे, लहराता था पानी।"
"लहराता था पानी, हाँ हाँ यही कहानी।"

"गाते थे खग कल कल स्वर से, सहसा एक हँस ऊपर से,
गिरा बिद्ध होकर खर शर से, हुई पक्षी की हानी।"
"हुई पक्षी की हानी? करुणा भरी कहानी!"

चौंक उन्होंने उसे उठाया, नया जन्म सा उसने पाया,
इतने में आखेटक आया, लक्ष सिद्धि का मानी।"
लक्ष सिद्धि का मानी! कोमल कठिन कहानी।"
"माँगा उसने आहत पक्षी, तेरे तात किन्तु थे रक्षी, तब उसने जो था खगभक्षी, हठ करने की ठानी।"
"हठ करने की ठानी! अब बढ़ चली कहानी।"
हुआ विवाद सदय निर्दय में, उभय आग्रही थे स्वविषय में,
गयी बात तब न्यायालय में, सुनी सब ने जानी।"
"सुनी सब ने जानी! व्यापक हुई कहानी।"

राहुल तू निर्णय कर इसका, न्याय पक्ष लेता है किसका?"
"माँ मेरी क्या बानी? मैं सुन रहा कहानी।
कोई निरपराध को मारे तो क्यों उसे उबारे?
रक्षक पर भक्षक को वारे, न्याय दया का दानी।"

"न्याय दया का दानी! तूने गुणी कहानी।"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Black Drongo: the bird with an attitude

Small but wouldn’t mind taking birds double its size as they fiercely protect its territory, Drongo is known for its aggressive nature so much so other small birds (like bulbuls, doves, orioles so on) prefer nesting in the vicinity of Drongo nest to gain protection. The reason why they are also referred to as kotwal (policeman) in Hindi, in malayalam it is kakka thampuratti meaning queen of crows. Unfortunately drongo is an Australian slang for idiot or dullard, there is an interesting story behind it. It so happened that in 1920s there was a horse in racing circuit here that was named drongo and was quite rated but never won a race, frustrated punters made it a generic for their disappointment!. Nothing against Drongo but I do understand punter’s feelings!!.

Most of us have often seen Black Drongo, it conspicuously sits on the power line along the open field or grassland, with an unmistakable distinctive long forked tail (the reason why in Tamil they called erattai valan), a common sight while traveling across the country. It mostly feeds on insects by swooping on them- the accompanying acrobatics is a treat to watch. They can also be seen perched on cattle; many times farmers too create artificial perches for them as they feed on pests. The repertoire of this enterprising bird also include mimicking, they can even imitate alarm calls of birds of prey for defense as also to steal grubs from other startled species. Studies on these birds confirm that they imitate keeping the context like for instance when encounter a snake they make noise of its predator-hawk. There also a mention by Darwin on Drongo cuckoo being a mimic of Drongo.

Edward Hamilton Aitken (popularly known as EHA,1851-1909) was closely involved in founding of Bombay Natural History Society. He wrote several books on natural history, including the Birds of Bombay. Here is a amusing and insightful description of drango’s tail and women’s hat !!

The drongos, which are flycatchers in habit, wear their tails very long and deeply forked; and one of them, the racket-tailed drongo, has the two side feathers extended beyond the rest for nearly a foot, and as thin as wires, expanding into a blade at the ends. I have seen nothing in ladies' hats more preposterous. It is vain to object that there can be no proper comparison between tails and hats because the woman chooses her own hat while the bird has to wear what Nature has given it. I know that, but the contention is utterly superficial. What choice has a woman as to the style of her hat? Fashion prescribes for her, and Nature for the birds; that is all the difference. No doubt she acquiesces when theoretically she might rebel. The bird cannot rebel, but does it not acquiesce? Does a lyre bird submit to its tail—wear it under protest, so to speak? Believe me, every bird that has an aesthetic tail knows the fact, and tries to live up to it. We may push the argument even further, for the motmot of Brazil is not content with a ready-made tail, but actually strips the web off the two long side feathers with its own beak, except a little patch at the end, so as to get the pattern which Nature, if one must use the phrase, gave to the racket-tailed drongo.

As I got to know him better I found he was an exceptional writer, even a short story on-line, though one need add there is a patronizing attitude towards common Indians (but I guess I need put it in context of the time he lived, the colonialists and associated imperial headiness can be dizzying). Many of his writings are amusing and sense of humor distinctly British. Here a brilliantly witty paragraph from the essay “The Indian Snake Charmer”

Scientific men aver that a snake has no ears and cannot possibly hear the strains of the pipe, but that sort of science simply spoils a picturesque subject like the snake-charmer. So much is certain, that all snakes cannot be played upon in this way: there are some species which are utterly callous to the influences to which the cobra yields itself so readily. No missionary will find any difficulty in getting a snake-charmer to appreciate that Scripture text about the deaf adder which will not listen to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.

He was amazingly observant and this blogger did get vivid glimpses of India of 19th century. On many occasion he comes out as empathetic and adorable fellow. Most amusing was that he worked for years in salt department (!!) of British India, his literary talent was recognized quite late in life and last two years of his service he was put in literary charge of The Sind Gazetteer. He is also credited with the discovery of a new species of anopheline mosquito which was named after him Anopheles aitkeni. Here is an excerpt from his writing The Five Windows of the Soul I found quite interesting

"How many times more true is all this in the case of the moral sense? When the heart is still young and tender, how spontaneously and sweetly and urgently does every vision of goodness and nobleness in the conduct of another awaken the impulse to go and do likewise! And if that impulse is not obeyed, how certainly does the first approving perception of the beauty of goodness become duller, until at last we may even come to hate it where we find it, for its discordance with the 'motions of sins in our members'!

"But not less certainly will every earnest effort to bring the life into unison with what we perceive to be right bring its own reward in a clearer and more joyful perception of what is right, and a keener sensitiveness to every discord in ourselves. How all such discord may be removed, how the chords of the heart may be tuned and the life become music,—these are questions of religion, which are quite beyond our scope. But I take it that every religion which has prevailed among the children of Adam is in itself an evidence that, however debased and perverted the moral sense may have become, the painful consciousness that his heart is 'like sweet bells jangled' still presses everywhere and always on the spirit of man; and it is also a conscious or unconscious admission that there is no blessedness for him until his life shall march in step with the music of the 'Eternal Righteousness.'"

O what a beautiful piece of writing!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Asian koel: the singer with red glistening eyes

Koel (kuil) belongs to cuckoo family and is a bird that has found a prominent place in poems and popular literature, it s one bird that most people in the subcontinent know if not able to identify-indeed they are heard more than seen. "He was but as the cuckoo is in June, Heard, not regarded" that a line from Shakespeare!!. Don’t know about being regarded but yes it very difficult to get a glimpse as they prefer trees dense with foliages. Writes Mughal king Babar (who was quite an avid birdie, same goes with his son Humayun who while fleeing from Sher Shah Suri did find time to get few birds painted. I like these guys!!. Quite Zen like. Not to forget Jehangir who had described many birds in detail and patronized great miniature painters like Ustad Mansur-who has the credit of painting dodo just before it became extinct. The above pic) in 1526 "Another is the Koel, which in length may be equal to the crow, but is much thinner. It has a kind of song, and is the nightingale of Hindustan. It is respected by the natives of Hindustan as much as the nightingale is by us. It inhabits gardens where the trees are close planted."

Asian Koel has distinctive red eyes that look like Kathakali dancer enacting enraged protagonist. They are large long tailed bird, male wear glistening back and are vocal and conspicuous while female (rare spotting, this pic taken in Pondicherry. Incidentally Asian koel is the state bird here) are heavily barred and spotted in white, muted and unobtrusive. They are mostly found on canopies feeding on berries and fruits, therefore also a major seed disperser. It is the bird whose singing heralds rain (some call it spring), the name kokil symbolizes the onset of rains. These singing of great abandon as the heavy clouds gather is what made Kalidasa devote much to this bird in his epic (very sensuous) poem Meghadhootam. And when the rain pours

'Chatak khada chonch khole hai

samput khole seep khadi hai

main apna ghat liye khada hoon

apni apni hame padi hai'.

Chatak is pied crested cuckoo, and it is believed that Chataka drinks only rainwater, I love these myths. I read these on the Net “Many of the old poetic forms in Jndian languages are short and suggestive, like Doha and barve in Hindi, Obi in Marathi, Boli and mahia in Punjabi and Thirukural in Tamil. Some of these succinct forms are very close to haiku. Buddhist thought and the Zen approach to life are also not alien to the common Indian mind. There is a long tradition of poetry in India where the real contents of the poem are not expressed in the literal meanings but are suggestive. Here one from Punjabi:

We koeläh boldiafI

Kade bol

chandara kawah


The koels are singing

Why don’t you also speak

O nasty crow!

A habit of Cuckoos that most of us are aware of is that they lay eggs in other species nest-it’s a brood parasite. Crow despite its reputation of intelligence is hapless victim (other victims include Myna, drango, magpie and many more), however mercifully unlike other cuckoos Koel chicks are not known to evict or kill the host chicks. Brood parasitism of Indian Koel is even mentioned in Sanskrit literature 2000BC or older, mentioned as anya vapa (the one raised by others). The Greeks have also written about European cuckoos.

This beautiful poem by William Wordsworth(1770-1850) titled “To the Cuckoo” is my all-time favorite

O blithe newcomer! I have heard,
I hear thee and rejoice:
O Cuckoo! shall I call thee bird,
Or but a wandering Voice?

While I am lying on the grass
Thy twofold shout I hear;
From hill to hill it seems to pass,
At once far off and near.

Though babbling only to the vale
Of sunshine and of flowers,
Thou bringest unto me a tale
Of visionary hours.

Thrice welcome, darling of the Spring!
Even yet thou art to me
No bird, but an invisible thing,
A voice, a mystery;

The same whom in my schoolboy days
I listened to; that Cry
Which made me look a thousand ways
In bush, and tree, and sky.

To seek thee did I often rove
Through woods and on the green;
And thou wert still a hope, a love;
Still longed for, never seen!

And I can listen to thee yet;
Can lie upon the plain
And listen, till I do beget
That golden time again.

O blessed birth! the earth we pace
Again appears to be
An unsubstantial, fairy place,
That is f
it home for Thee!

Wordsworth was responsible in ushering in Romanticism in English literature (along with Coleridge). Another of his poem that had an impact one me was “The World Is Too Much with Us”, its about materialism and how we are distancing from nature. So much applicable in the times we live not to forget it was written about two centuries back…amazing!!. Wordsworth defined poetry as “emotion collected in tranquility”.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

11 years of bird watching!!

This diwali it will be eleven years since this blogger took up bird watching seriously, I can’t believe it. Time flies!!. If I recall rightly the diwali of 97’ caught me on the wrong foot I was trapped in the intense smoke and noise of congested Karol bagh, I decided never ever to be in cities during these festivals. Next year I took my sack and hit the road intention being Corbett but in route to bus stand decided Bharatpur wouldn’t be bad idea. Met few foreigners on the bird trail and rest as they say is history (and future!). There is lots of fun in knowing about birds, with camera it has got further consolidated and blog has to some extend formalized it. Cheers to that!!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Little ringed Plovers: the motorized toys!!

Little ringed plovers are diminutive wading bird found around tidal mudflats, shallow flood pools or river banks. I found these at Pulicat lake (-located at an hour’s drive north of Chennai. I took a bus to Red hills-contrary to the name it is quite a desolate place. Funny part here is nobody knew where this place was even the co-passenger in the bus, after much deliberation and I trying to figure out what exactly is the word for lake in Tamil- I tried a mix of rudimentary Tamil- Malayalam-Sanskrit…words like thadakam, perishu thani edam etc were some starters, finally found that pulicat is actually pazhavilkadu!!. The route was spectacular and climate very agreeable having rained heavily a week earlier. Unfortunately the place turned out to be quite dirty with fishes strewn around haphazardly to dry, clumsy buildings and human wastes. The chaos was accentuated by the construction of bridge across the lake. It’s only when you walk few Kms to the outskirts that the beauty of nature unfolds. Most people must have seen Pulicat in movies- the shallow lake stretches to ocean, it is an amazing sight. I saw some painted storks fishing…some pics are posted in my photos link.
Little ringed plovers have distinctive yellow eye-ring around the eyes and one or two black bands (“rings”) across the breast. These are active birds that are suspicious in nature and quick to give alarm calls and take flight. They were found scampering on the mud bank then stop, peck and scoot, giving an impression of motorized toys. I read that they also do “foot trembling” that is standing on one foot while rapidly vibrating the toes of the other foot, this vibration is supposed to disturb prey and so betray their presence. They nest in shallow scrape and like stilts are known to fake ‘broken wing’ to distract the predators. In some countries their numbers have declined and they are included in the Red List where they were previously abundant, their breeding sites are affected by man-made changes.

This a poem by Pablo Neruda (translated), frankly this not really my favorite of Neruda but some lines are spectacular. Like this one “How out of its throat, smaller than a finger, can there, fall the waters, of its song?”

Ode to Bird Watching

Let's look for birds!
The tall iron branches
in the forest,
The dense
fertility on the ground.
The world
is wet.
A dewdrop or raindrop
a diminutive star
among the leaves.
The morning time
mother earth
is cool.
The air
is like a river
which shakes
the silence.
It smells of rosemary,
of space
and roots.
a crazy song.
It's a bird.
out of its throat
smaller than a finger
can there fall the waters
of its song?
Luminous ease!
of music
in the leaves.
Sacred conversations!
Clean and fresh washed
is this
day resounding
like a green dulcimer.
I bury
my shoes
in the mud,
jump over rivulets.
A thorn
bites me and a gust
of air like a crystal
splits up inside my chest.
are the birds?
Maybe it was
rustling in the foliage
or that fleeting pellet
of brown velvet
or that displaced
perfume? That
leaf that let loose cinnamon smell
- was that a bird? That dust
from an irritated magnolia
or that fruit
which fell with a thump -
was that a flight?
Oh, invisible little
birds of the devil
with their ringing
with their useless feathers.
I only want
to caress them,
to see them resplendent.
I don't want
to see under glass
the embalmed lightning.
I want to see them living.
I want to touch their gloves
of real hide,
which they never forget in
the branches
and to converse with
sitting on my shoulders
although they may leave
me like certain statues
undeservedly whitewashed.
You can't touch them.
You can hear them
like a heavenly
rustle or movement.
They converse
with precision.
They repeat
their observations.
They brag
of how much they do.
They comment
on everything that exists.
They learn
certain sciences
like hydrography.
and by a sure science
they know
where there are harvests
of grain.

Pablo Neruda (July 12, 1904 – September 23, 1973) real name Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto was one of the most influential 20th century poet and writer from South American country Chile. He was very popular in his country and when he died Dictator Pinochet (yes the same scoundrel who also happened to be personal friend of Thatcher) didn’t allow public funeral but people disobeyed the curfew. Few months after Allende was toppled (famously supported by US) when soldiers came to search his house he is famously have said “look around—there's only one thing of danger for you here—poetry”. I like that!!. To be fair one need add Neruda did slide into regressive form of communism (even praising Stalin at one point, nearly came to blow with Octavio Paz over this). A trivia about Neruda: he always wrote in green ink because it was the color of Esperanza (hope). His love poems had measure of eroticism, that was considered controversial (this blogger though liked it when I read it more than a decade back). Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1971 (incidentally the year I was born!!). Neruda’s favorite poet was Whitman (anyone who reads Whitman will love him), so much so that he used to keep a framed photo of his!!. There is a mention by Borges "We did meet forty years ago. At that time we were both influenced by Whitman and I said, jokingly in part, 'I don't think anything can be done in Spanish, do you?' Neruda agreed, but we decided it was too late for us to write our verse in English!!”