Environment

Notes from a balcony

A munia cocks its head curiously. Photo: Prem Palanivel  

I have been taking a lot of bird pictures during the lockdown. From my balcony I have a good view of a mini marshy pond, around which there are trees, shrubs, creepers, kind of a small patch of woods. Small but woody enough to attract many birds — bulbuls, magpie robins, sun birds, cuckoos, greater coucals, etc.

About a fortnight or so ago, I saw a dark blurry ball-like thing fly past with something long trailing below it. It happened so fast it took me a few moments to register that a bird had flown by. It had appeared from the trees below and it flew straight to the terrace of my apartment block.

Ten minutes later, another one flew past, again something trailing from its beak. A small bird carrying a long piece of grass. But what bird? I got all worked up. I knew I had to photograph this bird zooming past.

I set the camera for the shot and waited. It flew past again, and I couldn’t even get it in the frame. This happened many times. The bird was so small and flying so fast, I had only a few seconds and a very narrow angle of vision. Even before I registered it, it flew out of view. This was turning out to be quite a challenge.

For the next couple of days, I kept trying. Then, on day five, I figured out its path of flight and I stood with my camera pointed at the spot where the bird would emerge into view. I stayed there, for 30 minutes at a time sometimes, my face in spasms, my left eye twitching.

Finally, I got a few shots. Not good and not clear. But enough for me to identify the bird. It was a munia. More precisely a Scaly Breasted Munia or Spotted Munia. I was encouraged.

Soaring high with grass. Photo: Prem Palanivel

Soaring high with grass. Photo: Prem Palanivel  

Over the days, I managed to identify the spot among the trees where the munia pair took a half-minute break on their way to my terrace. Once or twice, I even spotted them as they flew to the trees.

Photo: Prem Palanivel

Photo: Prem Palanivel  

Photo: Prem Palanivel

Photo: Prem Palanivel  

It has easily taken me 50 or 60 attempts over 15 days and often six hours of waiting to get a set of decent pictures. I must have clicked more than 250 burst shots, mostly just tree and sky. I was fascinated to see these small birds flying past 30-40 times a day for 15 days or more. How big a nest were they building? After all, the munia is only four or five inches long from beak to tail, weighing about one-fourth a tennis ball. ‘Munia’, I later read, is also known as ‘munnikin’ meaning ‘little man’ in Dutch.

Photo: Prem Palanivel

Photo: Prem Palanivel  

One day, the bird sat on a projection and looked down curiously at me. As if asking what I was doing. I wanted to say, I have figured out so much about my camera and the best settings to shoot birds in flight. I have learnt patience and perseverance. I feel I have become a better human being. I feel accomplished. All from wanting to click you in flight.

The writer is an enthusiastic photographer and incidental birder. Instagram: prem.palanivel

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 10:03:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/notes-from-a-balcony/article33038581.ece

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