Thursday, May 9, 2019

BNHS Goregaon (May 2019) - Avian Adversaries Vanquished

The Indian Scimitar Babbler and Rufous Woodpecker. Two absolutely beautiful members of the avian clan. Who provide many quality sightings and photographs to many people. Except yours truly. Both of these species, especially the former (and his other Scimitarian cousins), have given me acute pain and nothing else in the recent past. A glimpse here and a sighting there have given the birder reasonable joy, but the photographer has only endured torment at his inability to get even a half decent photo. Which is why when word went around that the beautiful CEC Campus of the venerable BNHS was playing host to these two fellows, a trip (or three) was duly planned. The first two trips went through without me, but I finally made it with Sriram one Sunday afternoon.

The Conservation Education Centre (CEC) of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) stands in the middle of Film City, bordering the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. This area is wilderness interspersed with large shooting floors for films and television serials, so one can get a rather motley bunch of sightings here, from leopards to leotards, kingfishers with and without wings and barking deer to men barking orders on megaphones! The CEC itself is nestled in a nice wooded area and they have a waterhole right next to their office building. It is this waterhole that attracts all the birds (and more than a few mammals and reptiles) in the scorching heat of summer. To get access to the waterhole, you have to set yourself up in the CEC's kitchen and peer through the two small windows that look into the waterhole. And so, this Sunday saw Sriram and me occupy these coveted window-seats with our cameras in tow.

White-browed Bulbul
No sooner had we settled in than 3 bulbul species turned up for a visit. The Red-vented and Red-whiskered are pretty common all over, but the speciality was a White-browed Bulbul. While not rare, this bird is more heard than seen in forest and scrub, so to get it in the open while it drank and had a little bath was really special. A refreshing mid-afternoon dip, and it made off to pursue more productive business, no doubt. Oriental Magpie Robins, a Jungle Crow and Common Mynas all flitted in and out of the area, just about keeping us honest and not dropping off to sleep in the sultry heat of the afternoon. But the little fella who really got our attention was a beautiful Tickell's Blue Flycatcher. This gorgeous bird perched on the branch closest to the kitchen window, turned this way and that, flicked his little tail to and fro and generally posed grandly for his portfolio. This little flycatcher is often not given as much attention as it is due, probably because it is quite commonly seen. That doesn't take away from the fact that it is an absolutely spectacular looking representative of his species. And we got our fill of this beauty.

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher
He was followed by a Black-naped Monarch, another beautiful bird. He may be called a Monarch, but this particular specimen was anything but imperiously regal. He nervously checked out the waterhole and zipped in and out a couple of times before hastily legging it. Probably the better half had given him a talking-to for spending too much time hanging with the guys over a drink on previous weekends. Even a Monarch has to answer to someone else! After that there was a bit of a lull in proceedings; the stifling heat of the afternoon casting a lethargic spell on birds and humans alike. But things picked up as the sun began to make its way down. In a couple of minutes the stupor was dispelled because the action had well and truly begun.

Rufous Woodpecker
It all started with Sriram spotting a largish brown colour bird and whispering 'Rufous Woodpecker'. That was enough to get the juices flowing. The bird duly arrived and sat on a perch not very far from us. But in reasonably poor light. We pushed our cameras to their limits even as we experimented with a combination of settings to get this frame right. But the bird proceeded to spare our blushes by coming into the open and perching at the edge of the water as it drank its fill. It was followed by its significant other as both birds came out in the open for a drink. The White-browed Bulbul came back for another sortie and two Puff-throated Babblers came out for their afternoon bath and drink.But of the Scimitar there was no sign. And then I heard him...

Indian Scimitar Babbler
The Scimitar Babbler called from the bushes some distance away. And from whatever I have learnt from my birding gurus, this bird usually calls when on the move. The game was indeed afoot, Watson! We waited patiently, amusing ourselves with more photos of the Tickell's Blue and also of a couple of White-browed Fantails that made an appearance. And then I saw him, emerging from a dry thicket. Finally, he was within range. But he still didn't come into the open initially. He kept flitting this way and that in the foliage, with me wondering if he was every going to come in the open. And then he did. To a tree closer to us. And I had my photos, a reasonable effort given the lighting, but photos nevertheless. My struggle had finally ended. A stubborn adversary had finally been conquered. After that initial excitement, I settled down to watch this magnificent bird right in front of me; it drank water, tiptoed across little stones on the waters edge, disappeared into the thicket and then reappeared. Many times over. And then the Rufous Woodie came back to join the fun. I was in heaven twice over.

And then it was time to leave. If someone would have told me that there would come a time when I would exit a birding trip leaving two of my dream species who were  right in front of me, I would have asked them to get their head examined. But that is exactly how it panned out as Sriram and I took our leave and wrapped up this most remarkable of birding trips.

BNHS CEC Trip Guide

The BNHS' CEC is located within Film City, within the northwestern suburb of Goregaon in Mumbai. It's a beautiful little place with a butterfly garden as well and plays host to a remarkable number of animal, bird and reptile species. The waterhole behind the kitchen is the place to be in the summer.

How to get there
The easiest way is to drive straight into Film City and make your way (thanks to pretty good signage) to the BNHS gate (Gate No.1) There, if the gate is padlocked, you need to call the number given on the board and someone will come up and open the gate for you. Free for BNHS members, non-members have to pay a fee of Rs. 150.

You are virtually in the middle of nowhere and if you are at the centre on a holiday, there is no one except a caretaker. So you'd be better off carrying some food and water if you plan to spend a significant amount of time there.

Other tips
Carry a bean bag to rest your camera on the window-sill, especially if you have a big lens.