KILLING TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE
I have nothing against Tigers, I love safaris, I have been to every jungle repeatedly that has tiger population yet the craze and the mania for the stripes always amazes me. The usual question when you return to your lodge after a safari is, ‘did you see one?’. At the start of the safari when the naturalist shows up to take you around, his first assurance to you is that he will try his best to show you one. When will this breed ask you what you want to see ? The Safaris have become so tiger centric that the interest for other mammals & birds has waned drastically. Even while returning from a Safari, you will meet guests in other vehicles who will anxiously look at you and their inquisitive eyes will be asking the same question. I have spent thousands of hours on safaris in different Parks hoping that one of these will finish with a question about birds, but in vain. Hopefully one day when this mania goes down, someone will have some other question to ask.
I am also convinced that a Tiger is the most clicked subject, even more than the Taj Mahal in India. I have been lucky too on many occasions but capturing a bird poses a bigger challenge as it may fly off while you are still trying to adjust camera settings, whereas the Tiger poses for you and often walks right in the front for a long time, allowing one enough time for playing around with camera in different settings.
A Safari experience is much more than spotting a Tiger as the park offers foliage that is parallel to none. Then there is calmness, chirping of birds, sound of your vehicle driving over the dry fallen leaves, suspense of your eyes landing on something that others might have overlooked etc. Why do then people show strange streaks when they spot a tiger? Who can explain the ruckus that follows? Main culprits are local guides and so called naturalists, who, probably to earn good tips, start a commotion and forget all jungle etiquette. In their frenzy they even rope in the jeep driver by poking him to drive as close to the animal as possible, which often leads to a mad race among the safari vehicles.
Fortunately, the tigers have got used to this mayhem so they remain unperturbed but I wonder how long will this continue. There has to be an end to this madness. Birders like me, sharing the same jeep sometimes, are always on the receiving end. The day is not far when birders and tiger-maniacs will demand separate vehicles and different zones. After all, which birder would like to see epileptic fits on people who have been lucky to spot the stripes? It is easy to identify one against the other. While one’s eyes will be towards the sky looking for birds perched on the trees, other one will be ensuring they fly away before you spot them. Easy.
The dynamics of a park change every year, and monsoons as well as tiger corridors have an important role to play in this phenomenon. The tigers change their territory, the tigresses bear cubs. All these factors combined together too result in the influx of photographers changing loyalty from one park to another, season after season. There was a time when almost every visitor to Bandhavgarh National Park saw three to seven tigers on a single safari but then the situation changed and in the following season more sightings were reported from Ranthambore. Birders on the other hand remain focused and loyal. They are indifferent to all the fuss around them for tigers. While every birder i know is very fond of tigers also, it is not so common the other way around. Birders, hence, KILL TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE.
Birds are about color, about contrast. They are often camouflaged and it takes an effort to spot them, unlike tiger that appears majestically out of nowhere, invariably. Some birds are migratory, they follow an annual routine, a pattern. Some are prized captures, some like Marsh Harriers make their presence felt, some sing for you, some are always in pairs while others are loners. Strangely, Babblers are often seen in a flock of seven. Parks like Sultanpur outside New Delhi or Bharatpur in Rajasthan can offer every variety of this characteristics in high season. There is some mystery to bird life as each one is unique and different. No two birds have same habits unlike Tigers, who are extremely predictable which also was a cause for their poaching a few years back.
Some of the finest sightings for me have been in Dudhwa, where I managed to click more than a 100 parrots as they flew away on hearing our approaching vehicle. Then in Kumaon a Rosefinch greeted me as I opened my door at 6am. In Kanha I saw peafowls mating. The entire sequence of how the peacock danced, wooed the peahen and then their mating was a rare sight. I have seen many other elusive and common birds that continue to fascinate every nature lover.
I intend to continue my exploration of birds in different parks around the world. There are two categories of bird lovers and there is a marked difference between both. A bird-watcher will be often seen with a pair of binoculars while a bird-photographer will have a bazooka lens. It is difficult for any individual to manage both activities simultaneously hence in an ideal world, both of them should visit the Park together. Both can supplement each other in efforts in many ways and lucky are the ones who have found such a partner.
15 Feb’ 2014