Saturday, 14 January 2012

6.    Animals and Birds we see  from Saaremaa  
(written by our younger son, an avid bird watcher)
                          From this heavenly abode we see a wide range of animals and birds all year long. Our favourite past-time in the evening is just to sit out in the veranda and listen to the numerous animals and birds outside. Every night, without fail, we hear the coughing call of the Barking Deer which moves up and down the steep mountain slopes effortlessly, barking in order to warn its fellow species of any predators or danger. However this species of deer is very small and is perpetually hidden in the densely forested mountain slopes near our house making it hard to spot. However, once we spotted one while drinking our first cup of tea in the morning on the back verandah. It gingerly walked on just beyond our makeshift badminton court and started nibbling at some leaves there. We sat absolutely still and watched it for quite a while, while it lifted up its ears and head every now and then to see if anyone was looking. Once it spotted us, it scampered off as fast as possible. 

The barking deer who visited us at Saaremaa..

Another time, when we were returning to ‘Saaremaa’ from a late night Diwali get-together on the motorcycle, we almost knocked a scared barking deer off the road. It was pitch dark and it suddenly came out of nowhere, scaring itself and us too. It brushed against the motor cycle and then bolted into the night. This was on the ‘perilous’ forest road very close to Saaremaa.
Our two acre land is very often visited by Wild Boar, which often dig holes in our yard and eat whatever few crops are available in these patches! These animals do not make much sound and hence are not heard at night when they invade our field! The wild hare or ‘jungli kharghosh’ as our Chowkidar calls it, is another common visitor. Much to the chokidar’s chagrin, it has eaten up all the lovely ‘dal’ (pulses) he painstakingly sows season after season on the flatter areas of our land.
On a few occasions, we have also heard the handsaw grating call of a leopard deep into the night, especially during the winter months! We did not believe daddy when he made us wake up and hear it once in the wee hours of the morning and I came back to Delhi to actually check the sound on the internet! It proved to be uncannily and eerily accurate! Garhwali folklore is full of stories of leopard eating farmer’s cattle, dogs and at times their children as well!  These animals are made out to be extremely horrid and vile, seeking every opportunity to attack a human settlement. On the contrary, they are extremely shy of ‘homo sapiens’ and only once in a blue moon attack humans, unless threatened. They do, however, love the opportunity to gorge on cattle and dogs leading to despair among farmers. The chowkidar nonchalantly often tells us stories of villager’s cattle being taken away by leopards and claims to see leopards every month or two! Unfortunately, for us, we have never had an opportunity to come across this majestic big cat.
Some other rare animals we spot at this altitude in the forest are the yellow throated martens, porcupines, civet cats, ghurals( which is from the deer family but looks like a mountain goat) and flying squirrels. We are yet to come across these animals, but as usual, our chowkidar claims to have seen each and every one of them and more on our property and we hope to be lucky enough to also see them someday.

The Rock lizard whose family lives behind one of our Rain water tanks

However, here I have to mention that we have acquired two pets over our years of stay at Saaremaa. The Rock lizard is one which lives behind the rain water tank on our first floor terrace and keeps climbing up and down with various members of its family. The second and more fascinating is George’s family of spiders. They are large, unwieldy and rather solemn looking creatures which stay hidden behind furniture and paintings until one begins a cleaning spree and spots them scurrying away sideways. We saw one with a huge sac of eggs attached to her body and realised we will soon be inundated with George’s family as we had named the first one we saw ‘George’. The name sounded grand and apt. In reality, they stay to themselves and have never caused us any trouble at all.

George's relative crawling along our kitchen!
Even more than the wide array of mammals here are the innumerable species of birds. We often call our home ‘A Paradise of Birds’. Every time we walk out of our house, at least half a dozen birds are either seen or heard in the vicinity, the most common one being the Black headed Jay which can be seen literally nearly every time without fail. During the summer evenings, all of us hear the wonderful, yet monotonous cry of the Indian cuckoo chanting a four syllable tune. 

Himalayan Indian Cuckoo seen outside our window
The black and ashy Drongos are both visitors to Saaremaa and can be seen perched on the branches. We see flocks of both the plum and slatey headed parakeets all year long, flying from tree to tree. The red and yellow billed as well as common Magpies are also seen near the house during our morning and evening walks. The Rufous tree pie is a member of the magpie family and a regular visitor to our abode.  The bushes and thick undergrowth on the land are also overflowing with tiny birds such as the Sparrows, Munias, Tits, Warblers and marvellously coloured purple and crimson Sunbirds. All these tiny creatures create a ruckus in the bushes. Due to this, a ruffling noise can nearly always be heard during our morning and evening teas on the verandah. Once we saw a beautiful Khalij pheasant strutting right up to our back verandah and luckily had our camera ready for a photo!

Our photo of the Khalij pheasant we saw from our back verandah

The Oriental Turtle Dove perched on the Oak tree outside 'Hiiumaa' - our other cottage  above 'Saaremaa'

Another major attraction to our home for bird watchers are the various Birds of prey (raptors) which reside in and around it, the crested serpent eagle being the most abundant of all. I have seen this bird of prey a few times, the most memorable occasion being when it swooped down and picked up a frog from the ground. On winter mornings and afternoons we have often seen the majestic Himalayan Griffon high up in the sky doing imaginary laps in the troposphere. The Griffon’s wingspan is between five and six feet and it looks magnificent from down below.

Himalayan Griffon Vulture flying above Saaremaa

We have a varied library of books on animals, plants and birds, and sit with our binoculars, ready to catch a closer glimpse of any bird, common or rare. Then, we rush in and check the name in our book of “Birds of Northern India’. We try hard to memorise it so we recognise it by its name the next time we see it!

 One of the beautiful species of lilies growing in abundance at Saaremaa

1 comment:

  1. I have decided to take many more pictures of the abundant flora and fauna we see from our windows and verandas of Saaremaa. Will definitely upload them after our next trip there :)