The ‘positives’ of the pandemic
N J Ravi Chander
When the pandemic forced us indoors, I embarked on a new pastime – bird watching. My balcony overlooks an African Tulip tree that serves as a haven for a host of avian creatures and squirrels.
The deciduous tree which resembled a skeleton after shedding its leaves in summer now sports a spectacular green canopy. Soon the tree’s crown will transform into a reddish-orange hue as it flowers. The kids play with the flower buds, squirting the water on to each other. Birds and bats gorge on the blooms and leave a messy residue.
A pair of copper barbets have made the tree their abode. These exotic birds live in a cavity of the tree trunk and glide in and out of their hideout. The male bird can turn hostile and will not hesitate to swoop and attack any intruder who dares to approach the nest. They feed on the nectar of flowers and make a distinctive sound, “kutrook-kutrook-kutrook”.
A family of kites are busy raising their chicks in their nest on the topmost branches of the tree. The raptors work all day tirelessly, going out in search of feed for their young. While one bird stays behind to guard the young, another goes out seeking small prey. The field glasses that we bring out before sunset help us get a close look at the birds.
Ravens, parakeets, koels, hummingbirds, wood pigeons, hawks, mynahs and bats, complete the list of avian visitors. The parakeets, boisterous as ever, create a racket at sundown before going home to roost. Dusk sees the bats launch a foray. They hang inverted from the tallest branches and resemble gymnasts doing handstands. Despite the mess left behind by our avian visitors on the balcony, their presence always delights us.
The early morning calls of the koels and the ravens serve as a natural alarm, enabling us to rise and shine. The ravens love the chapati (flatbread) that my significant other, R Shobha bakes and they keep arriving at intervals – beginning from 6 am – to pick them up from the ledge where we place them. Hesitant initially, they have picked up the courage to venture near us. The bread has caught the squirrels fancy too, leading to the ravens and crows getting a run for their money.
A pair of stray cows and a pack of dogs have also befriended us. The bovines trudge in at 11 am, while a bag of vegetable shavings and banana peels await them. They herald their arrival with loud cries of “moo-moo”. After a contended meal, they guzzle water from the plastic tub placed near the gate, sometimes knocking it over with their heads. A pack of five dogs led by their aggressive skipper, King – he succumbed to injuries a fortnight ago, and we are yet to get over the tragic loss- are the last of our animal friends who nudge us for food.
The canines, fiercely territorial, will not hesitate to pounce on any canine intruder should they decide to barge into their area of control. They hang by our gate after the cows go home, waiting for their daily meal of rice and chicken. The wolf look-alikes ever grateful for our act of kindness, keep a vigil on the house after the lights go off, and we hit the sack. They have nicely fitted into the role of best friends. We may be poles apart with the residents of the natural world, but we are glad beyond words to bond with them.
(The author is a former banker. He writes for the Deccan Herald, The New Indian Express, The Tribune, The Hitavada, The City Tab, The Hans India and Kashmir Vision)