After years of living in the clouds in Landour, I daydream of the rarest Himalayan quail, popping up on a grassy khet near me. And the lissom leopard sauntering by my front door nonchalantly, its elegant three-foot tail in tow. Well, the truth is, if they did, and that’s a real possibility in these enchanted forests at 7,000 ft., I wouldn’t have the faintest clue. Unless they absolutely sought me out. I’m sort of betting on it.
There has hardly been a day in eight years when I haven’t been inspired to walk out onto my porch to capture an unusual call or species. There’s ample wildlife out here to justify investing in premium hard disks. Never you mind my recordings are 75% heavy breathing and a fuzzy pan over oak and deodars smothered with dangling caterpillars, or glossy monsoon ferns followed by pinecone seeds-with-wings spinning like dizzy drones.
But ever so often, when I am not too frantic and I least expect anything to happen, our benevolent wild universe works with me, sending wildlife right up to my porch front.
Listening, waiting, observing repeatedly, till it becomes second nature, is all it takes for wildlife to emerge. In the blink of an eye, wide shadows cast by raptors direct my gaze at the sky. I see griffons flying so low, I can watch their heads move as they survey the landscape. The beautifully backlit whorls on a buzzard’s wings take my breath away every single time they glide over my home. Often I’m treated to a noisy onset of tiny warblers, tits, flycatchers, shrike babblers and nuthatches in mixed hunting parties establishing their chirping and feeding rights on the oaks. It’s hard to predict what booty the day will produce. It’s not ever disappointing for sure. That keeps me optimistic.
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. - Henry David Thoreau , in Walden, or Life in the Woods
Under the cover of floral curtains, I have pried on nesting woodpeckers skilfully carving out their home like master craftsmen. A year later, I witnessed collared owlets evacuate these poor peckers from their annual burrow to start their own dynasty. Little did I know one little owl (Asia’s smallest) could emit three assorted calls, or that birds weighing 10 grams are fierce driving-off parties when they target owls on their perch. When I hear the blue whistling thrush hopping on my roof at dawn, it automatically brings a smile and the promise of a delightful melody.
Stranger things have transpired on my porch. Langurs return every year to munch on my orange nasturtiums and lick the moisture off my sewer pipes with equal relish as if both meals scored five stars on the “Langur-Michelin” scale. I used to think yellow-throated martens were cuddly and cute till I observed them practise cannibalism between chasing neighbourhood cats, robbing nests on the tallest trees and looking for garbage cans they could raid. The sight of these vicious weasel-likes makes me feel protective about other creatures on my turf.
Chingoo, my dog-child and partner in crime, is witness to more goings-on in the neighbourhood; his movement alerts are invaluable. I suspect he recognises and tolerates some langurs and they him; oftentimes he’s under the same tree they forage in, catching forty winks in the mist. He and I are usually in sync except when he finds himself behind locked doors when I am out.
Then he sabotages my shoot, scattering every life form within a mile with his recalcitrant yowling.
If only my railings came with camera traps. Cicadas, moths, butterflies, huge grasshoppers, crickets, seasonal bugs, resident and migrant species of birds, squirrels, toads, langurs and martens use them as stops or corridors every day.
I am close to naming the skinks that live in my little garden patch. I watched them eye me as a no-threat before chasing a prey or each other to mate.