Balcony birding

ashy drongoOne of the attractions of birding is the fact that birds (at least the common ones) are everywhere, and a birder can indulge her hobby practically anywhere on earth. Of course, the rare species are usually in remote areas, far from crowded cities, and to get to them photographers undertake difficult treks carrying kilos of camera equipment, donate considerable amounts of blood to leeches in dense forests, and wade through waist deep slush for that perfect picture. However, as a beginner, the best place to white throated kingfisherstart birding is in your own neighbourhood – a park or playground that you frequent, or, if you are lucky, from the comfort of your own home. I am fortunate (perhaps I should say “was fortunate”) to have a large 7th floor balcony which overlooks an abandoned factory overgrown with lovely trees, right in the middle of the city, and it is perhaps one of the reasons for my renewed interest in birding after moving to Bangalore.

Asian paradise flycatcher femaleObserving the birds from my balcony is a most relaxing way to start my morning. I don’t often spend a long time birding (I do need to get to work at a reasonable hour!) but sometimes sneak moments of birding in between the newspaper and shower. If I hear an unfamiliar call, I grab my binocs and rush out. Last winter was glorious, being woken up by the call of the paradise flycatcher practically every morning!

Greenish warblerIn 2007 I participated in a programme called MigrantWatch, the first citizen science initiative of its kind in India. Its goal was to track the movement of selected migratory species by asking volunteers throughout India to report their sightings. I learnt a lot from it, due to the fact that I signed up to keep daily notes from my balcony. I started noticing birds I hadn’t seen before, the arrival of the migrants for the winter and their departure in the spring. Other seasonal variations such as breeding times of the resident species also started making sense. At certain times of the year some birds were very vocal, and completely silent at other times.

Jungle mynaI signed up to keep track of the greenish warbler. I had only recently learnt to identify this bird, and quickly learnt its distinguishing features and its call from the Migrantwatch website. I was delighted to find that it was a winter resident in the trees around my house, and in the process also discovered several other migrant species which were regular visitors – black-naped orioles, ashy drongos and chestnut-tailed starlings. I once saw a brown shrike and even a verditer flycatcher!

Chestnut-tailed starlingThe summer/monsoon residents too are numerous – I routinely see purple and purple-rumped sunbirds, jungle mynas, laughing doves and spotted doves, screeching groups of rose ringed parakeets, greater coucals and Asian koels, and the “kutroo kutroo” of the white-cheeked barbet lends music to our surroundings throughout the day.

There is a beautiful poem by Tagore (for the trivia lovers – this poem was penned by Tagore in Satyajit Ray’s autograph book when he was a child, making it doubly special) which captures this beauty-in-the-backyard phenomenon:

Ashy drongos in the rain“Bohu din dhore, bohu krosh dure
Bohu byay kori, bohu desh ghure
Dekhite giyechi porbotomala
Dekhite giyechi shindhu

Dekha hoye nahi chokkhu meliya
Ghar hote shudhu dui pa pheliye
Ekti dhaaner shisher opor
Ekti shishir bindu”


A nice translation is here:

black-naped orioleAs I type this, I can hear the woodcutters chopping away at this bird paradise across my balcony. They have been at it since yesterday, while I was away at Nandi Hills birding. This morning I noticed that they had wiped clean half the compound, and in a panic called some friends and got in touch with Hasiru Usiru to find out what to do. The volunteers were fantastic with their advice, promptness and concern. The chopping has stopped temporarily thanks to the commotion created, but I fear that the powers-that-be have given their tacit approval to this mass murder. There is sadness in my heart and moisture in my eyes as I contemplate the harsh reality that I may no longer wake up to the paradise flycatcher or record the arrival of the black-naped oriole in winter. And the juggernaut of “development” rolls on.

An update – 25 Oct, 2009

White-cheeked barbetSince the above post in April ’09, a number of developments have occurred. Talks with the builder of the next door plot have led to the formation of a group for the greening of the neighbourhood, with a monetary commitment from the builder. The plot will see luxury apartments coming up, but no more trees will be cut, we hope. Construction will likely start soon, as they are clearing the sheds and buildings.

Brahminy kiteThe good news is that the greenish warbler is back and I hear its call every morning. No ashy drongos or black-naped orioles have been seen yet, but a few weeks back I was delighted to find a grey wagtail and a shikra keeping a watchful eye on each other. This morning, a pair of spot-billed pelicans circled overhead, and M thought she saw a paradise flycatcher! I have my fingers crossed and will be watching out for it and other familiar winter visitors next door.

More pics clicked from my home:
Vodpod videos no longer available.

4 Nov, 2009

verditer flycatcherThis week it seems a flycatcher festival is in progress across my balcony! Yesterday morning I was amazed to find a rufous male Asian paradise flycatcher, a male black-naped monarch flycatcher and a verditer flycatcher in the trees outside my house. And all this while demolition work continues, to clear the plot for the construction to come. The verditer posed for me for a long time while I clicked away to my heart’s content. And this morning, I could make out the silhoutte of a red-throated flycatcher in the trees, identified by its long wings and the occasional upward flicking of its tail while perched. A pair of black-naped orioles were also seen flying past. The long-awaited winter visitors have finally arrived!

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27 Responses to Balcony birding

  1. Vamsee says:

    Hey, Garima,
    You have a great blog here. You write really well and of course take great photographs.
    What luck to wake up to paradise flycatchers every morning!
    We get to see waders from our balcony, but none of these forest birds.

  2. Raj says:

    It is a gr8 blog for our children who are not exposed to such hobbies. FYI John Fowler compound will see either Row Houses or Flats as I heard the deal has been finalized. Hope you are aware that Raheja Residency Land also belonged to John Fowler.
    Cheers and keep up the good work.

  3. joyeeta says:

    Loved reading this. I only wish I knew the names of the numerous winged creatures I can see from my second floor balcony overlooking the kestopur canal. I am unable to answer the questions of my daughter regarding names, habits and habitats. We are thinking of getting binoculars.

  4. Embellisher says:

    Just discovered your blog thanks to the RR yahoo groups.Wow what an array of birds in our backyard. I only heard the owls. What a shame ifthe spac is going to be concretised. Shall visit again.

  5. bonerpakhi says:

    Vamsee – Thanks! Will have to see if paradise flycatcher sticks around amidst the tree cutting and construction… I am not hopeful it will.
    Raj – I heard that the land was sold but did not know about the row houses/flats. Depressing… but I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. 😦
    Joyeeta – Buy binocs, and I’ll put you on to the Kolkata birders who are a fantastic bunch of people.
    Embellisher – Thanks for visiting. Yes I have seen amazing variety from my home, not sure for how long now…

  6. Anshu Bajaj says:

    This made a wonderful and very informative reading. I had no clue of this treasure so close to our houses, yet we all are so ignorant about it.I read abt it in the RR group.
    Thanks for highlighting this.

  7. Kartik says:

    Nice article Garima. Being able to bird from one’s balcony is one of life’s pleasures. You have a treasure trove of birds that you can see from yours. There are not a lot of trees near mine, so nowhere near the same variety. But fun to watch nevertheless.

  8. Uma says:

    Hey Bonbibirmeye, fantastic post! I know how you feel… there was one solitary gulmohur behind my apartment on the edge of a railway embankment – on which I saw and heard many a koel, bulbul, sunbird, great tit, tailorbird, prinia, shrike and myna… then one day the railway guys chopped it down for some unknown reason 😦 Now I hear the odd bulbul… but it’s not the same…

  9. Archana says:

    Lovely article and superb pictures, Garima! Thanks for posting the link on RR e-group. It reminds me of my childhood in Mumbai, where we had managed to retain plenty of trees around our apartment. Watching birds throughout the day and exploring the empty nests was a favourite summertime activity.

  10. Thomas says:

    Garima : I have seen you posts in INW. A friend of mine who lives in Raheja sent me the link to your blog.

    You have a beautiful blog and its unfortunate that I discover your blog when those trees are getting chopped off.

    I like your blog for the well written posts, nice pictures and the sheer variety of bird images.

    I m subscribing to your feed to keep in touch…Cheers

  11. bonerpakhi says:

    Anshu – Thanks for the feedback. The tree cutting seems to have stopped for a few days. There are some of us in RR trying to do something about it. Do join us if you’re interested!
    Kartik – Thanks and you are so right about it being one of life’s pleasures. I haven’t seen the paradise flycatcher since the destruction started, though… 😦
    Uma – Often the “reason” is nothing more than greed to make a quick buck. Few things can be worse than watching a beautiful tree grown over decades being hacked down in a matter of minutes.
    Archana – Thanks! I am now thinking of doing an intro to birdwatching session for RR, since I’ve got a lot of responses from the group.
    Thomas – Thanks for the nice comments. I’ve seen your blog and the pics are simply fantastic!

  12. Arun says:

    All the images from your balcony? I would die to see Ashy Drongos/PFC or BNOrioles from my window. The picture of the startling is lovely.

  13. bonerpakhi says:

    Hi Arun, Thanks for visiting. Yup, all pics on this post were clicked from my balcony.

  14. Tabib says:

    You are fortunate to live in that wonderful environment.
    Beautiful pictures, many of the species look similar to what we have over there in Malaysia.
    I love the colour of that paradise flycatcher.

  15. bonerpakhi says:

    Thanks Tabib! Yes many of the birds are similar. I have never been to Malaysia but have birded in Singapore last year.

  16. Andy says:

    Blogged over from “Walk in the Wilderness”.
    Excellent post

  17. Larry Jordan says:

    What a great post Garima. I love your blog. Your narrative and photos are excellent. Being able to spot all of those birds from your balcony is fantastic.

    We have several “citizen scientist” bird projects over here sponsored by Cornell Labs. These are always a great help to ornithologists and help citizens learn about birds in their own backyards too!

    I hope everything works out with your neighborhood and you are able to keep some of the bird habitat around your building.

  18. bonerpakhi says:

    Thanks so much for visiting, Andy and Larry, and for your nice comments.
    Larry – I lived in upstate New York for 2 years, and can’t tell you how much I regret that I wasn’t a birder then! In India birding is slowly becoming more popular as a hobby, and projects like Migrantwatch are getting more attention, but we have a long long way to go!

  19. lakshmi says:

    wow..where do you stay ? i would love to have a view fm a balcony like that

  20. jason says:

    Beautiful! What a profound magic it is to see such extraordinary splendor right outside your door. And I’m moved deeply to learn this habitat is being destroyed. Let’s hope someone acts responsibly by seeing what will be lost.

    It’s thrilling to read in one of your comments that birding is now becoming popular and popularized in India. That’s often the key factor between indifference and protection for these marvelous creatures.

    Thanks for sharing the lovely view from your balcony!

  21. bonerpakhi says:

    Lakshmi, I live in Koramangala. Still some greenery here though I saw a news report today which said 50,000 trees have been cut in Bangalore over the last few years… 😦
    Jason, thanks for visiting my blog. You’re so right, awareness is the first step towards conservation. Hopeful that some of the habitat next door will be saved…

  22. flowergirl says:

    I love your balcony!!!

    I have a favourite window too Garima, from where I see all sorts of stuff, but nothing as varied as yours!

    Will be back definitely!

  23. ramesha JS says:

    Very Informative blog. for the persons like me who doesnt know the birds name can easly understand while doing the photograph. Hope to see U in BNG birds outing some day…Well done.
    -ramesha JS

  24. dsmanohar says:

    Saw all the pictures – khoob bhalo – amazing. It is a feast for my eyes. Keep up the good work. I will be reverting to the blog
    from time to time to see additions.

  25. bonerpakhi says:

    Thanks! Was great to meet you all. Glad you liked the blog 🙂
    Regards, Garima

  26. Pingback: Around the world in 66 blogs – I and the Bird #112 | Walk the Wilderness

  27. Anurag Jaiswal says:

    Just saw this post, its amazing to see Asian Paradise flycatcher in Koramangla!! Are they still around ? I am yet to spot one. I compiled a similar list from my balcony, Glad to see that most of the birds are constant in these two lists 9 years apart.

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