Dreams of the last few nights have been about birdwatching. I even lay awake a while, eyes closed, and watched the image of a warbler flick and dart across some twigs.
As a pattern, we’ve been taking a winter break to see birds: first the Gambia, then Costa Rica, and this time
The party spirit of nearby Baga Beach is encroaching, noise often blasting through the night. People that
have known the place through the years moan about the changes: the salt pans outside the hotel are now flooded, so the birdlife is much reduced. Our own sense? We were late, but not too late. That’s truly the story of the natural world across the planet: magnificent and oh so threatened.
We saw 239 species of birds in the two weeks, on solo trips and outings with guides, including a few days of total immersion at Backwoods Camp. The owner there said the number of species remained high; it’s just that the density of birds was much lower. It took some stalking, and patience, for a new bird to reveal itself
I’m a novice birdwatcher. That patience of standing in a field, a forest, on the shore, waiting for a new bird to fly in, was new to me. It’s a form of meditation: letting the attention go wide while also maintaining focus, staring into emptiness to see what might pass across it.
Accumulating species was fun, and Goa has some crackers, from the jewel of the oriental pygmy kingfisher to the primeval weirdness of the Malabar Pied Hornbill, flying and screeching in pairs. My partner James stared at these in the field guide last night. ‘Look at these hornbills, and you can really see how birds descended from dinosaurs,’ he said.
My special moments showed birds and their behaviours (that’s maybe part of the writer in me, delighting in narrative). On top of nearby Baga Hill a rare find was the Blue-faced Malkoha, and the narrative there was tracking it from tree to tree. It stared back at us through its intense blue eyes, affronted. More common was the Indian Robin, the male black with white shoulders. At dawn one sang its way across a range of the hilltop, fanning its black tail wide in quick flashes, shaking its flowery russet rump, a female following behind as its rapt audience.
I loved the Crag Martins fluffing themselves like chicks on a temple roof; the white-throated kingfisher swallowing a prawn that was larger than itself; the Brahminy Kite divebombing an Osprey in the hope of stealing its catch. Most dramatic was the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, a dark bird with long tail streamers that are rounded by two paddles. They specialize in catching insects, but this one sat on a high branch and picked at a lizard it had caught, tugging with its beak, treading and tenderizing with its claws. My final view showed the lizard’s pink legs and feet disappearing down the upturned beak. One gulp, and the lizard was gone.
It would have made a fine photo, only we travelled light, with just just our binoculars. I wonder about bringing my camera, acquiring a long lens, but think we are right not to. For us, these times out in nature are not about capturing stuff, and they are a sweet break from computers and digital downloads. It’s a time of reconnection with the natural world. For a while, it colours my dreams.