Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The story of the new generation urban Koel

He was a hungry child sitting on the edge of a delicate looking branch mouth wide open and calling constantly. Mrs.Bulbul appeared looking pretty much harassed and weary with a big caterpillar she had scooped from somewhere. Anything to make him stop crying. "Good lord" she said " How did you grow to be so big? "  as her head almost disappeared into his mouth while feeding him.  "It is all your dad's fault" she muttered as he looked equally harassed trying to get food for the two more hungry heads yelling from the nest. "I told him to lay off the fatty diet he was on, he never listens".
" I hear you wife"  he yelled. "This big fellow is all because of the bread you have been hogging on from the last house on the road. I told you they were up to no good. Now see what you've to handle". But Mrs.Bulbul had already left to find more food for her big hungry child. "How did I even survive laying such a huge egg? Ouch!!!!" she thought to herself as she looked for more food while glancing at the last house on the road for some of those tasty bread they left out. Today there was none. the crows must have gotten there earlier.

However, she was glad to have her husband's help in feeding the smaller kids while the larger one was her's to handle. They were after all the Bulbul family and this was the first time they had been nestjacked by the neighborhood Asian Koels, but they were too busy feeding the hungry mouths to realize that. It always happened to someone else.

This she was hoping would be the last trip of the day before her brood went for their nap. She wanted to find something really special for her big hungry child she had in a weird way grown very fond of. She felt protective of him and hoped he would be ok with her other regular sized kids. "Wait" she thought to herself. "Is he really a he or is he a she. He looks so different." But her thoughts were interrupted by the grasshopper that was to become her kid's next meal.

After her last trip of the day, she sat beside him on the branch to roost. He was still too young, but he might just squish his siblings if he tried to fit into the tiny nest. So as Mr.Bulbul babysat the Bulbul kids, Mrs.Bulbul sat next to Big-Happy. That's what she decided to name him. For some reason other than being always hungry, he just seemed to be Happy and Big-Hungry sounded plain rude.

Big-Happy before he became famous, taking a break.

"Good Morning Mamma" Big-Happy said as Mrs. Bulbul almost fell off the branch. Wow, those were his first words. "Good Morning son.." His crying voice that had sounded so much like a crow's voice giving Mrs. Bulbul quite a few nightmares, had suddenly turned into a pleasant sweetness.
" Mamma, I am big now, let me help you get some food for all of us" Big-Happy said.
Before she could react, neighboring Aunty Bulbul  saw Big happy and said "Oh goodness so it is true, you have been nestjacked" .
"I've been what???"
"Nestjacked, you silly, haven't you heard? "
"I've no idea what you are talking about, have you been visiting 'those flowers' again? talk straight"
" Ok ok... I've been talking to the local Mynas. They have been watching you. Your's is a rare case. It happens more often with the Mynas. This fellow is not your child. He is an Asian Koel kid"

Big-Happy was not very happy to see Aunty Bulbul.  But she was the morning local news after all and there was no avoiding her.  He could barely understand what she was saying but his mamma was looking positively worried.

After a few minutes she came to Big-Happy and said "Ok son... I guess you've been adopted. It is official. But then don't you worry about it. You will continue to be my son". Well that was one mystery solved, Big-Happy was happy he was not a freak of nature in a Bulbul's world. Mrs. Bulbul was happy she could eat as much bread as she wanted from the last house down the road. She was not responsible for the egg from which Big-Happy was born and Mr. Bulbul could continue on all the fatty diets he wanted.

Aunty Bulbul was more than a bit disappointed. She did not deliver the news to see relieved faces, so she left to collect more juicy gossip for the next day's local news.

One day as Big-Happy and Mrs. Bulbul were getting back  from foraging, he was a quick learner and a fast flyer, his brother and sister were just getting their final flying lessons, they saw Grandpa Koel perched on a branch quietly observing all the voracious youngsters from the last breeding season around him. All the other birds had come to accept the unusual bonding between Mrs. Bulbul and her son Big-Happy who was always there for his mother.

There was also a bit of jealousy and maybe a few To-let boards for Koels going up in a few nests. If the new generation of Koels was going to be like this, they all wanted to have their share of one.
The crows looked a bit confused. "Has our work been outsourced to the Bulbuls?, are the  Koels laying off crows?"  But Big-Happy was oblivious to all  the commotion he was causing. He just wanted to help his mamma the way she had taken care of him.

"Go talk to Grandpa Koel" she said. "He will be able to tell you more about being a Koel than anyone else, he has been around a long long loonnnngggg time". He did look that way. So Big-Happy went and said " Good Morning Grandpa, can you tell me all about being a Koel?"

 "Sing, have fun, distract the crows when your wife wants to lay an egg in their nest, Sing, Have fun". said Grandpa.

"That's it? but then why is my mamma a bulbul? what about building nests? raising kids?"

Grandpa laughed "Now I've finally seen it all" he said. " Kid, you are a Koel,  Koels do not build nests and raise kids and your mamma is a Bulbul because your Koel Mother missed the Egg laying class in school. She did not know the difference between a crow's nest and a Bulbul's nest. Now Goodbye" .

Wise old Grandpa Koel

Big Happy sat next to Grandpa Koel as he snored and thought for a while. He then flew to Mrs. Bulbul and said "Grandpa Koel asked me to learn to build a nest from you".  Mrs.Bulbul's mouth opened wide. The Mantis she had caught for lunch hopped away with a second lease of life. This is not what she expected of Grandpa Koel. She would have to have a word with him tomorrow.

But Mr. Bulbul who was now comparatively relaxed reacted rather positively. "I've got just the thing for you." he said. "I've used this all my life and now seems to be a right time to hand it over to you" as he handed over a well worn copy of "Nest Building for Dummies" to his gleeful adopted son.

Mrs. Bulbul was changing all sorts of colors much to excitement of the local bird watchers and photographers. She would be the star of their facebook page that evening.  Grandpa Koel could wait. Her husband would be the one at the receiving end tomorrow.

Big-Happy was very very happy and excited as he read, pondered, devoured, digested every word in the book and started building prototypes and models. The other Koels around looked at him wearily. "Hope this is not a new trend." After all we are supposed to "Sing, have fun, distract the crows when your wife wants to lay an egg in their nest, Sing, Have fun".

But Big-Happy had no friends in the Koel world and was lost in his world of building nests, perfecting them, giving them roofs, nurseries, food storage areas, play areas, kid proofing the corners as a sweet voice above him said "what are you doing? " He saw the most beautiful bird he had ever seen with voice that was as sweeter than the sweet bread from the last house on the road.

 "Who are you? " he asked .

"I am a koel' she said.

"But I am a Koel and you do not look like me, nor like old Grandpa Koel sitting on that branch"

"I am a girl, you silly, did you not go to the Koel school? now tell me what are you doing."

"Well, Girl Koel, I am building a nest."

"My name is Soft-Flight and Koels do not build a nest we Sing, have fun, you distract the crows when we girls want to lay an egg in their nest and we Sing, Have fun".

He rolled his eyes, uff what is with all the singing and having fun, he had work to do. But she was so beautiful and he was a bit curious about her, so he said " Hey, would you like to see my prototype of nests, you can then judge for yourself ."

"Hmm Interesting" she thought while glancing around for the nearest exit and mentally scolding herself for walking into this one. But her curiosity of a Koel who builds nests got better of her.

 "So which one is yours'" she asked glancing at all the various nests of all shapes and sizes all over the tree.

 "All of them" He said. "I've been practicing."

"But they are all occupied" she said

"Yes, been renting them out, and that on top" he said pointing to the most grand looking nest of all, "that's the one I made for my mamma and dad".

"I'll be back" she said as she took off to clear her head and possibly pinch herself a bit to return to reality. All this was so way off from what they taught at the Koel school, "Sing, have fun.........." so simple and this fellow had to turn the whole Koel world upside down?

But she did return, she was curious and as she saw more and more of what Big-Happy had created, broken the tradition, she was impressed and soon Big-Happy was more happy as Soft-Flight joined him in making nests.

Soft-Flight, she appears so suddenly out of nowhere.

Oh yes not to forget, all the bird watchers and bird photographers were having a field day. Koels building nests, now that was something huge.

 "Who are these people? " asked Soft-Flight to Big Happy. "Not sure" he said.. "but they seem to have no where to go and they keep the crows away. Maybe we can build them some nests after we are done with ours."

Finally Big-Happy and Soft-Flight had their own nest perfected and ready. Mr & Mrs. Bulbul were impressed and rather proud.

Aunty Bulbul was turning a pretty shade of green with envy as the bird watchers desperately tried to look up the bird books to figure out what species she belonged to.

Mr. Bulbul had the perfect housewarming gift for the young Koel couple - Raising Kids For Dummies- as Big Happy and Soft-Flight officially became the first Koel couple to build a nest and raise 3 beautiful kids.

So what next for Big-Happy and Soft-Flight? Last I heard they were touring the country conducting workshops for a new generation and breed of Urban Koels.

Aunty Bulbul still has a To-let board in her nest.

Mr & Mrs Bulbul are enjoying their retirement and the tasty bread from the last house in the road.

Disclaimer - The events, birds and people depicted in the story are totally absolutely and completely ficticious, all existing only in my mind and imagination. Any and all similarity to any Koel, bulbul, Mynas, Crows, person, living or dead is purely coincidental and frankly a miracle.
No offense to any photographer ,bird watcher or entrepreneur is intended in any manner ( me being all three, I should know).

If you have had the patience to read through all this, I salute you. If not, then you may have not reached this sentence, so it does not matter.

Dedicated to all the Koels and Bulbuls all over for entertaining us with their sweet melody.
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Photographs and work by Tharangini is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Intoxicating nature and magical ruins at Hampi

For someone like me who is accustomed to traveling at least once a month the past year has been drier than the dunes of Sahara. So when the opportunity came to visit a place that I hold really close to my heart, it was like a much needed shot in the arm. Hampi was beckoning again and I was ever so ready...Well I was, but little did I reckon that I would still have to face the jinx that has kind of really active in blocking my travels for a while now.

We had made plans to leave by 6am, to reach there by lunch at least. We= me + Friend A +Friend B.
( Oh, I am not withholding names to protect anyone's identity, just respecting their privacy and space.)
Alarms were set, bags were packed, all I had to do was get ready and leave.
But my dear phone decided it was time to drain the battery and shut off. I woke up in alarm to realize the alarm had not alarmed me and I had a dead phone and a Friend with no directions to my place. All the numbers were safe in my phone which refused to boot up. It was 6 a.m.

I guess those were the most productive 45 mins of my life and we were finally out by 6:45am..(avoiding all details for the highest good of all concerned... :) ) Whew it did feel good to be out on the road again. Thanks to some excellent driving and the mercy of the universe to keep the traffic at an minimum, We did manage to reach our destination by 12:45pm.

On the way Friend A asked for some Fevi-bond to fix a loose sole and Friend B said "I also need some to fix a loose sole" and I hid a smirk and a sigh of relief that my footwear was brand new, bought just the previous evening so that was one less thing I had to worry about. Sigh!!!Little did I know.......

Stepping into the Nature camp, we felt like kids entering into a playground. This was home. We were greeted with an amazing lunch and the most beautiful Coppersmith Barbet which Pompayya Sir pointed out to us. He was our guide and companion for the next 3 days and I am sure everyone who has been there would agree that a trip to Hampi would not be the same without Pompayya sir around.

Coppersmith Barbet was waiting to welcome us into the nature albeit against the light.

Post lunch we took off for birding to click some of the treasures of this region.

Chestnut -Bellied Sandgrouse in a brilliant camouflage and so far away. We were lucky to get this beauty.

 Something just did not feel right as I stepped out of the car for a closer look at a yellow wattled lapwing. Something was flopping around and dragging me back. Hey wait, that was the sole of my less than 24hrs old footwear. Grrrr..... It flopped , swayed and came right off. Wow so much for the smirk on my face. The other's faces were painted with the widest grin ever as they had the most gala time watching me drag my feet around. Friend A promptly offered the Fevi-Bond to me, but my smirk was going to cost more than just that.. Well this trip was going to be different.

Who cares about a broken footwear when this beautiful female painted sandgrouse posed for us with such a delightful Background.

Where there is a female can her guy be far back. He was there as well, with the evening light fading off, they were ready to have the last feed before the roost.

Hey wait, this is my good side, get that on the cam too.....

A Baya weaver female steps in for her evening meal

And is soon joined by her friends the scaly breasted munia and the silverbill.  Unity in diversity.

Ashy Crowned sparrow lark joins in for a quick pose.

How do these guys hold on to their woolly necks in such a warm weather? Don't sweat the small stuff - he seems to be saying.

 It was late and getting dark, so we bid the birds goodbye, but we still had some time before we could roost for the day. That was when Pompayya sir suggested we could visit the Virupaksha temple. Having never gone inside the temple in any of our previous visits, this was going to be a new experience. The temple at night is so different from the temple during the day. It was so silent and the serene energy from the every stone in the temple was so vivid. The priests were preparing for the daily night ritual before the deity was moved to the resting chambers. The temple elephant was brought in, the deity was taken around in a palanquin, the resident macaques of the temple were ready for their dinner of rice that was a part of the ritual. Everyone seemed to know exactly what they had to do and where they fit in, as we and one visiting foreigner couple sat and absorbed the whole atmosphere in. The whole process took about an hour and for people who are not regular temple goers, this probably would be the best time to visit, do nothing, just sit, watch and soak it in. The energy in this temple is immense, it still holds the energy of the bygone era. If you are ready to feel it, it is there.

 End of day 1.
Day 2 - Friend B had earlier tried to help and fix my footwear with the Fevi-Bond, ( I still have to repay for that) but to be on the safer side as we started our day I took my bright pink bathroom flip-flops as a back up. It proved to be a wise decision. But then maybe bright pink was lucky as we came across this beautiful bird soon after.

What an incredible perch and pose - Eurasian Eagle Owl

And this one with babies. One of the little ones is already sitting on its parent's head. That's called starting early.

This beautiful Bronze back tree snake was rescued a day earlier by Pompayya sir and this was while releasing back into its domain.

We were mesmerized by its beauty so some more pics.

And a lifer for me to end the morning session with.

 After the morning session, we were in for a surprise. A visit to the Daroji sloth bear sanctuary was lined for us. It was a hot, well super hot afternoon to say the least and there was no saying how long we would have to wait for our hero to show up, so we headed for the sanctuary armed with all flavours of soft drinks and a prayer for an early sighting. Oh yes, I did visit the sanctuary in the bright pinks flip-flops too. I am sure all of are glad I am not posting a pic of those here.

Charlie's angels - Yellow Billed babblers sharing our sentiments about the heat.

Our hero was taking his time to show his presence, in the meanwhile we were in for a treat. Rufous treepie making a quick appearance.

Of course the beauties of the sanctuary - Painted sandgrouse Male

And his pretty lady.

Francolin doing the catwalk

The cool dudes adding the cool colors to a really hot afternoon and still no sign of our hero.

and I guess this guy needs a bit more footage too....

Ah at last the hero of the sanctuary made his appearance. So so so very handsome, how does he keep himself so well groomed.  This fellow can easily add us to his list of fans.

Sloth Bear scape

The afternoon was really productive at the sanctuary,but we were ready for more. So after a quick break it was time for an evening session of birding.

Yet another glimpse of the handsome guy, but somehow I could not manage to get a shot of his pretty necklace.

Large Grey Babblers - I'll watch your back bro while you feed.

Could we get any more luckier? Jungle Bush quail Male coming in for a quick bite.

Hey look, his wife joined in too.

And they brought in their kids - Yup family who eat together stay together...:)

End of evening session with a Pied Kingfisher on its evening hunt.

Oh the day was not yet over....there was one more session left for the night, we still had to look for nightjars who for some reason were very silent this trip.

But we got the hunter himself in action.

and we got the nightjar too...:)

Maybe I should wear those bright pink flip-flops more often on birding trips. This by far had proven to be the most productive and fulfilling day ever, though Friend B made yet another attempt to fix my footwear. (His reputation was at stake.. :) )
We retired after the most amazing dinner. The night was warm, the insects sang their lullaby, clouds obscured the stars. Mercifully the electricity stayed put and the fan circulated the warm dry air with a monotonous drone as we dozed.
End Of Day 2.

Day 3 was reserved for the essence of Hampi, where the ruins never grow old (Pun intended). Mornings always are so pleasant and we chose to make the best of it by heading for the Matanga hills. How could we leave Hampi without a glimpse of the Yellow Throated Bulbul.
We heard them, saw them dive into the shrubs but just not for long enough.

One of them was kind enough to oblige for a precious few seconds, not before leading us on a merry dance jumping from rock to rock that would have made any macaque envious.

The market area - Geometric precision of the beautiful ruins. Missed the perfection of the shadows by a bit.

Worn out stairs from the river lead to a small Mantapa. How did they make this among so many boulders, so simple, fitting right in and so elegant.

Same 'mantapa' different view.

A view of the Virupaksha temple with the Tungabhadra in the foreground.

Not inside any temple, nor in any "mantapa' just tucked away in a niche is this simple yet beautiful carving on a rock that still attracts devotees to worship.

In the land of the talented the river becomes an artist too. Naturally carved holes by the river.

Surprisingly the only plum headed parakeet we could get a shot off in this trip, in Achyutaraya temple. Technically half a plum headed Parakeet.

and presumably mother and young Rose ringed Parakeets.

The tank outside the Achyutaraya temple with the pavilion in the center.

The pavilion in the center of the tank where idols of deities were kept during the annual boat festival.(presumed)

We were so caught up with the architecture that we almost walked into this Sirkeer Malkoha , who probably was so offended at not being noticed, decided to come and sit right in front of us, till we clicked a few pics.

A Blue Rock Thrush is true to his name.

Firangipani tree adorning the entrance of yet another temple

Open Billed Stork enjoying its flight in a scenic background

Mothers and Kids Gather around in what might previously have been a shop in the bygone era. Some respite from the sweltering afternoon heat.

Huddling to its mother, it is amazing to see the proportion of the young one's tail and paws to the rest of its body.

The shopping complex still attracts so many visitors, a white wagtail, winter migrant, hanging around for some last minute shopping perhaps

One of the last shots of our trip, a lone pipit to bid us good bye.

We were forced to wind up early due to the unexpected rise in temperature. Cool coconut water was devoured with frenzy.They can be real life saver. Much needed lunch at the 'Mango Tree' to restore the energy levels and a much more needed quick visit to the cobbler later we were back at the nature camp. This time there was no remorse about having to get back, since the whole trip was so satisfying and fulfilling. Our hearts were full and we would be back.
If I can describe Hampi in one word, it would be 'addictive' . No matter how many times you visit the place, it always has more magic to offer, more questions to think about, more curiosity aroused and more things to notice which have been missed in all the earlier trips. You can visit Hampi for a day, for a week, for a whole month even and can still have the most precious experience. the rocks still have those vibrations, lean against one, run your hands on any of the carvings, feel it with your heart, just listen, the magic comes alive. It is one place where the number of footfalls has not diluted any energy. We felt it and hope you can too.
Creative Commons License
Photographs and work by Tharangini is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.