Fernweh

There is a word in German which expresses my feelings today, after I woke up early in the morning to the intense humidity and heat of late October in Mumbai. The word is fernweh, and Duden describes it as (in translation) a longing for far away, for distant countries. I long to be in the Himalayas. This is the time of the year when we used to do this in other years. New birds are arriving there now, you see a Siberian rubythroat (Luscinia calliope) in the featured photo.

But its not just the wildlife I miss. I also long for a drive along new highways, stopping at a roadside dhaba, admiring the local artwork on doors and sides of passing trucks, watching overloaded tractors treating a highway as just another country road, children in buses waving at us as we pull past them. I miss being away from home, having forgotten the discomforts of traveling in the months that our horizons have shrunk to, um, the horizon.

I miss looking out of the window of a plane at unexpected sights, at peaks that I will never climb. It’s been three years since I caught sight of Chomolungma. I pine to take a flight to the Himalayas, perhaps drive up to the Kanchenjunga massif, or just spend a couple of hours walking through a high pass, a chilling breeze insinuating itself through my jacket and gloves. I miss the feeling of cold hands welcoming a warm glass of tea in a windy shack up in the mountains.

Strangely enough, I also miss the unfriendly look that old men and women in small villages reserve for plainsmen who dress and behave differently. That is balanced by the welcome given by monks, and the casual indifference of the young, busy, as everywhere, with their own lives.

But today what I miss most of all is biting cold, the gusts of wind freezing your face, making you hunch your shoulders, puff yourself up like these snow pigeons (Columba leuconota). My ears can remember that cold wind blowing up a narrow valley as I stood next to a little shrine called Tiger’s Nest (there are several which bear this name) high up in the Arunachal mountains, and saw a tree full of these birds. I remember my fingers freezing as I took off my gloves to work my camera. Mumbai is wonderful, but it is even better when you come back to it, and rediscover the pleasure of a shower that does not freeze you.

Birds of Nameri

grayheadedpigeon rubythroat

Waking rested at 5:30 AM on the first morning of our holiday surprised me. The previous day had been long, and I’d fallen asleep before 10 PM. The Family and I were ready for our first morning’s birding when our local guide, Sushil Ngate, arrived at 6. The sun had risen about the same time as us, and we could hear many bird calls as we stepped on to the road to the Jia Bhoroloi river.

Almost immediately we saw some pigeons foraging. Sushil and The Family immediately stopped to turn their binoculars on them, and started talking about the colours. I’m only armed with a camera on such occassions. I found the birds, but against the bright sky, the colours were muted. Only later with my laptop could I see the bright colours which you see above. These are the Grey-headed green pigeons, lifers for both of us. Sushil was quick to pull out his copy of the 4th edition of Grimmett to check. The Family turned as green as the pigeons with envy; we have only the 3rd edition.

We’d barely walked a few paces when Sushil came to a halt. We saw him turning towards a trilling bird call. This little bird was in the bush nearby and I could spot it with my camera immediately. The red throat moved as it sang. I caught a few clear shots of another lifer.

A third lifer came immediately: an Indian pygmy woodpecker pecking away on a far branch, too far for a good photo, but near enough for us to see it clearly. In an hour’s walk we also had views of other old favourites like Imperial green pigeons, black-headed orioles, long-tailed shrikes, common stonechats, Indian cormorants and large cormorants. Finally, as we reached the river we had another lifer: a black stork circling lazily overhead.

cormoranttreeAfter breakfast we met the Victors and went rafting down the river. There were a few water birds around: the cormorants and the ubiquitous Indian pond heron, some egrets. We had our fifth lifer: the crested kingfisher which zipped past us just above the water. Apart from the lifers, we saw about three trees full of cormorants (a photo on the left). Can you count the numbers sitting on this single tree?

A walk in the forest in the afternoon gave us views of the lovely black bulbul, bright in its yellow and black feathers, the bright verditer flycatcher, and close views of two oriental pied hornbills flying above us. We got the sixth lifer of the day: a velet-fronted nuthatch. All in all, it was a small bird-list, but full of lifers.

Bird list for Nameri (6 November, 2015)

The bold-faced entries are lifers.

  1. Ashy-headed green pigeon
  2. Siberian ruby-throat
  3. Olive-backed pippit
  4. Black Stork
  5. Crested Kingfisher
  6. Velvet-fronted nuthatch
  7. Common stonechat
  8. Peregrine falcon
  9. Common kestrel
  10. Black-hooded oriole
  11. Gray-capped pygmy woodpecker
  12. Oriental pied hornbill
  13. Great cormorant
  14. Indian cormorant
  15. Common sandpiper
  16. Indian roller-bird
  17. Black-crested bulbul
  18. Red-vented bulbul
  19. Red-whiskered bulbul
  20. Long-tailed shrike
  21. White wagtail (formerly pied wagtail)
  22. Oriental magpie robin
  23. Lesser adjutant stork
  24. Imperial green pigeon
  25. Verditer flycatcher
  26. Spotted dove
  27. Oriental turtle-dove
  28. Jungle myna
  29. Chestnut-tailed starling
  30. Large cuckoo-shrike
  31. Crag martin
  32. White-throated kingfisher