Non-birding outings are the best birding outings.
They totally are! Because you’re not expecting anything in particular, you’re just there to relax and have fun. Anything that you see is just a bonus, because you’re not really looking for wildlife. There’s no scope for disappointment at all.
I was out with my friends on The Hill. You guys remember The Hill, right, from my previous blog (‘The Invisible Bird’). The Hill is a hill around my place in Pune city where I’ve been going since childhood. It’s the place where I started birding and photography. Read more about it in my previous blog, but after reading this story of course.
So we were sitting along an old, abandoned stone quarry on The Hill, chatting, talking about random stuff, laughing. It used to be a stone quarry many many years ago, probably before I was born, I don’t know. Over the years, a beautiful scrubland habitat formed inside the quarry that became home to a variety of wildlife. We were just enjoying the peaceful atmosphere, facing the lovely valley view. There were two Peacocks on the opposite end of the valley, chilling on the edge of a dry deciduous forest on the other end. They were sitting at the same spot for hours, just like us, chatting and laughing maybe. We could also see a pair of White Breasted Kingfishers doing something in the forest. They were far away. There was a Black Redstart, male bird, jumping on the walls of the quarry. Out of no where stepped in a completely melanistic(black) domestic cat in the quarry. We were watching it from the top. It looked like a mini Black Panther walking into the scrubs. We moved on, completely lost in our conversations. After a while, I saw the same cat looking at us from a close distance. I don’t know when it climbed the hill, but it was like a wild experience, a mini Black Panther looking towards you through the dry grass. However, there was a stray dog playing around us who also spotted it and chased it away.
We carried on with our talks. All of a sudden, something dived from the rocks of the quarry and flew right over us with astonishing speed. That was the time when the birder in me woke up. The bird took a U-turn and came back and I realised that it was a falcon! A Peregrine Falcon! A rarity! The fastest flying bird in the world! I crossed my fingers and started chanting ‘please perch perch perch perch perch…’ and it perched! On a short dry tree at the top of the hill, along the edge of the quarry. I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, I wonder where my luck is going today! Thanks to all the superpowers out there’.
We weren’t exactly at the top of the hill though. Rather, it was the edge of the quarry, just a few meters below the top. I never usually pick up the camera and chase a bird when I’m with my non-birding friends, but I had to do it this time for it was a Peregrine Falcon! I immediately started clicking photos but it was far away and it was actually sitting diagonally upward to us. So the background was completely white due to the sky. But I couldn’t complain because this was the first time I saw a Shaheen Falcon perched! Yes, I realised that it was not a Peregrine Falcon but it’s twin brother, the Shaheen Falcon. But it was still a rarity!
I tried to click as better photos as possible, though all were just record shots. A record shot is an okay-ish photo, just a proof that yes I saw the bird.
Record shots of the Shaheen Falcon from where we were sitting (uncropped)
One of my friends asked me, “why don’t you go up the hill?” It hadn’t clicked to me before! Without saying a word, I immediately turned my back and ran to find a way to climb to the top. I had to go in a huge circle to make my way up the hill through the forest behind us, without the bird being able to see me. When I was finally on the top, I slowly crawled towards the bird. Clicked photos, crawled again and the same.
The first few photos I took of the bird when I climbed to the top (uncropped)
I took my time to approach the bird very carefully, very patiently. I didn’t want to startle the bird. You never know when and if at all you’d get an opportunity like this again. And that too on The Hill!
This is how I slowly approached the bird. (Uncropped)
Now, the situation became very tough. I was on the sloping edge of the quarry with the slant towards the valley. The grass below me was not grass, it was just ash as people had already burnt it. The bird was right in front of me, almost in an open view, just a small shrub covering me. I was unbelievably close. But I had a choice to make here, either to crawl straight where the bird would be on a completely open perch without any obstructions, but the sloping way would narrow down even more and I would actually be on the extreme edge of the Valley, one wrong foot and I’m gone. Or, I could climb to the other end of the slope and crawl from there, but then there would be a lot of movement visible to the bird and the bird would also not be in complete open sight to me. It was a tough choice and I had to make a quick call.
Ofcourse I went with the second option, I love my life. And as expected, the bird noticed a lot of movement and took off. But I was completely satisfied with this entire episode of around 40 minutes! Yes, it sat there for almost 40 minutes! This was one of my best approaches to a bird, that too a Shaheen Falcon, that too on The Hill! I had seen this bird many times on The Hill since childhood, but in flight. It was my long wish to see it perched someday on The Hill, but I never expected that it would be such a close encounter! I mean, look at this photo, it was clicked at just 300mm.
I’m sure this is one of the best photos of the bird from The Hill. My birding friends from Pune city went crazy after seeing this photo, they couldn’t believe that it was from The Hill.
When I left my home that morning to chill with my friends on The Hill, it never crossed my mind that something like this would happen. But here I am with this photo and a lovely story behind it to narrate 🙂
Life is unexpected. However hard you try, how much ever you run behind things, somethings just won’t happen. And, one fine day, when you least expect it to happen, life opens all doors for you. 🙂
With that said, I’ll see all your smiling faces again in the next blog with some more new stories. Till then, take good care of yourselves and your close ones, remain isolated, follow all the instructions issued by the government and other authorities and wash your hands 🙂
(If you wish to read more about The Hill, you can read it in my previous blog here- https://kswild.video.blog/2020/03/11/the-invisible-bird/ )