Wednesday, 14 March 2012

News from the field

A text received seconds ago from Sujan, leading the next Brahamputra Cruise in Assam: tiger from country boat. Jealous? Who me?

News comes too from friends DTH and Roger Tidman in Norfolk, of winter merlins and peregrines stirring the starling flock at Cley. Meanwhile, spring warblers are the news from Chris in Cape May:

Pine warblers were back today, trilling happily in the sun. So nice to see green and yellow birds again. I also saw a female yellowthroat, which, while new for the year for me, I feel sure was an overwintering bird that had been reported on and off.

Here the starlings are rose-coloured and trail over the city in large flocks in the early morning. In a market garden I see my first this year of the peninsular Indian subspecies of long-tailed shrike. These look rather like grey-backed shrikes, and nothing at all like the gorgeous northeast Indian birds of the same species. What's more, in the northeast, grey-backed tends to be a bird of gardens and the edges of fields, as long-tailed is here, whereas there long-tailed seems in my experience to be more a bird of grassland, the sort of tall grass that hides elephants. That's my story and I'm sticking to it; though I have no idea what it means.

Women in long gaily-coloured skirts, whom I take to be Rajasthani gypsies, emerge from tarpaulin hovels on the street as I pass. Palm-squirrels (five-striped here) flick their tails on the tops of crumbling walls, purple sunbirds chip out their songs in every tree, beaming children in immaculate uniforms scurry to school through sewage pipes waiting on the pavement to be laid, and India peels herself away from sleep to face the throb and clamour of another day.

And then, last, what should’ve been first, I saw how beautiful they were: the women wrapped in crimson, blue and gold; the women walking barefoot through the tangled shabbiness of the slum with patient, ethereal grace; the white-toothed, almond-eyed handsomeness of the men; and the affectionate camaraderie of the fine-limbed children, older ones playing with younger ones, many of them supporting baby-brothers and sisters on their slender hips.

Gregory David Roberts


long-tailed shrike
Lanius schach erythronotus

2012 Totals
Mammals: 44
Birds: 396
Reptiles: 11
Amphibians: 3
Fish: 2

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