Saturday, August 8, 2009

Yellow-rumped Honeyguide

Kakdagad (~1000m), near Keadrnath, Uttarakhand, India.

YS Negi and I, a month back on 4 Jul 09.

"It's 5 PM, time for the Honeyguide."

"How far is it?"

"Just 300 m away."

Construction of a bridge on the mouth of a narrow river (at best a

small tributary stream now, with scanty rains and all) which merges

with the main river Mandakini, was creating a commotion. However, 100

m on we lost sight of the workers as we walked along the abundant

boulders down below to our left with water flowing by. The rock

beehives were now visible on the other side of the river at the same

level, a steep hillside with a few intact and a few broken bee combs

abandoned by the wild bees.

Negi looked over the valley through his binoculars, "Can't see the

Honeyguide, let's wait for it."

"When were you here last?"

"Three days back; it's sure to come."

"There it is", he whispers in muted excitement, his enthusiasm as

fresh as someone on a lifer. We suddenly see a dark finch like bird

with a clear yellow rump circle the area and fly back towards the

cover of the jungle ahead.

"It will come back, it likes to wait in the nearby trees and then

finally goes to the hive."

An hour passes by and we see no sign of the Honeyguide. Nor of any

other bird, I think of the Cheer Pheasant, but on a local report,

higher elevations of Madmaheshwar may hold them. No sign of Kalij

either, which normally is barely happy far away from the din of

humans. Monal I knew I would find at Tunganath and one hardly expects

a Koklass at lower, shallower and disturbed forest.

"It's getting dark now and I am afraid, we might not get a shot." I

sounded meditative if not altogether dispirited.

"It's because of these noisy Ashy Drongos that our bird is not coming

near. I can also see a Blue Whistling Thrush nest just two meters from

the combs." He finds a reason.

Stealthy Blue Whistling Thrush, not a raptor, yet a slayer of young

birds, not sparing even a large juvenile Long-billed Thrush. Once,

however, on a quiet morning, after a stormy night, I saw it whistle by

the Nainital Lake. It continued for a long time with its sweet and

melodious whistle.

Just then, our Honeyguide flew in and perched right next to the

Drongos on the other side. A casual look would not have revealed the

bird now resting quietly in the dark woods, the likeness of the bird

being much like the stem of its choice. The compact flash cards of the

camera worked overtime to record clicks of the bird, which was nothing

more than a speck.

After a while, the Honeyguide rose and at the same time, by chance, a

pair of quarrelling Ashy Drongos created a commotion which made the

bird divert its flight to a tree just meters away from me. Now I could

see the ruffled bird in breezy surroundings and magnified proximity,

much more clearly. The dark bird in the green umbrella of the trees,

the creepers, the mossy sheaths on the tree trunks; magical moments

held forever.

The bird playing hide-and-seek behind the swaying leaves threw a lot

of challenge to my camera. Shoot as you will and be overwhelmed as

much, but the expectation of a better shot never goes away.

The impassive but alert Honeyguide, secure in the knowledge of

available food, soon flew to a bee nest attached to the mossy reddish

grey rocks and remained hidden from view. After ten minutes or so, it

flew back to the jungle.

It soon was dark and I walked back in an unusually warm evening in the




Devashish Deb

New Delhi

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