Every now and then, even a seasoned birder must kick himself (or herself – let’s keep this politically correct at the least) for over-enthusiasm, blame failing eyesight and generally make all kinds of apologetic noises to conceal the mushroom cloud of embarrassment.
The day after Christmas I was out boating on Madiwala Lake with my sister and our respective kids. We took a pedal-boat and burned a few calories getting to the centre, where the trees of an artificial island made for a favoured roost for Spot-billed Pelicans, herons, cormorants and other waterbirds. As we watched the pelicans swoop in magnificently to roost, my eye wandered to the edge of the copse, where the shape of a raptor was discernible. My eyes are no good these days — and this isn’t an excuse, though it may sound convincingly like one — and I had no binoculars on me. So I borrowed my sister’s camera — a Canon PowerShot model with 35x zoom — and looked at the bird through the viewfinder. For the most part it remained discourteously aloof, turning its back to this boatful of gawking humans. I must have age-regressed rapidly, for I was suddenly possessed of a spineshot of enthusiasm.
“Hold on, stop pedalling,” I panted. “I want to take a better look at this bird.”
And so I watched this brown raptor even as the others on the boat marvelled at the blues on a White-throated Kingfisher’s plumage, or the way a foraging White-breasted Waterhen twitched its rusty rump, or admired the silhouette of a pelican fishing on the sunlit side of the lake.
“This is interesting,” I muttered. “Hmmm…”
“That’s an eagle,” my nephew, not yet seven, ventured.
“No, it’s a kite,” my daughter, his senior by a month, corrected him.
“Hmm,” I said, “Hmm…. looks like we’re in luck!”
I observed the bird’s hulking posture, its rounded tail and its finely down-curved aquiline bill.
“This could be that,” I said, “A Lesser Fish Eagle.”
“Eagle?” my daughter said. “It’s a kite, Achaa. You told me it’s a kite.”
“No, that one up there is a kite,” I said, pointing at a handsome adult Brahminy Kite circling over the lake’s surface. “This one looks different.”
I deferred judgement, though I was convinced this was a Lesser Fish Eagle. Why, just two weeks ago I’d spent a beautiful weekend at Kabini watching Ospreys, Grey-headed Fish Eagles and Lesser Spotted Eagles. Then, two weeks later, I’d traipsed through Jaisalmer, taking in Common Buzzards, Cinerous Vultures and Short-toed Snake Eagles. Why, this must be the year of great raptor sightings! Why can’t this bird be what I hoped it was?
Heart thumping, I got home, posted the pictures on The Green Ogre’s Facebook wall, and wrote an atmospheric note on this awesome raptor sighting. Luckily, I thought it fit to check with birders of authority about this sighting.
‘Can you confirm,’ I wrote tagging Praveen Jayadevan and George Tom (with certainty, not for a moment hesitant about the veracity of my catch), ‘if this is a Lesser Fish Eagle?’
Praveen is a respected birder and one of the editors of the brilliant quarterly journal Indian Birds. George is with the Kenneth Anderson Nature Society. Praveen, rather laconically, commented: ‘Sub-ad Brahminy.’
For good reason, perhaps, George didn’t respond (he probably will when he is finished laughing).
I’ve been birding since childhood, but I can’t believe I’m still stupid after all these years. Excuse me while I dig a hole in the ground and hide away from the world!
Here’s to growing up in 2015!
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