Better than all the treasures found in books…

The patio of our cottage at Navilu Kaadu is spacious, almost the same size as the small cottage itself. A canopy held in place by a latticework of hollow metal pipes shelters the patio.

A pestle and a pair of young neem trees flank the house on either side. We have a Mysore trumpet vine that spans a bamboo trellis beyond the awning, and a purple allamanda that climbs the metal pole on one side of the patio.

Whenever I take a break from the busy schedule on the farm, I sit on the patio with a book, my binoculars and a camera by my side. Guess which ones get used to the most!

The winged fauns are a serious obstacle to my reading activities on the farm. I’ve barely read a paragraph when I’m distracted by the trill of a bee-eater, the wispy tune of a lark, or the soft tsee-tsee of a sunbird, and compulsively pick up one of my two gadgets optics.

Purple-rumped Sunbird (Zeylonic leptocoma) hunt for nectar among the sparse blossoms of our young Mysore trumpet vine. They plunge their long, down-curved beaks into the tubular red-yellow flowers to suck them.

These birds exhibit sexual dimorphism, which means that males and females of the same species are as different as chalk and cheese. Males are dazzling and sport a metallic green crown and shoulder with a purple throat, dark rusty coat and purple rump with creamy yellow underparts.

They shine like jewels in the sun. Females are plain in comparison, with dull gray-brown bodies and pale yellow underparts.

In December 2019, a pair of scaly-breasted munias (Lonchura punctulata) made a nest under the eaves of the chalet, just above our main door. These sparrow-sized birds have chocolate-brown upperparts with black spots on a white, scale-like breast, hence their name. Their large conical beaks are designed for a diet rich in grass seeds. Munias also love insects, making them seed-eating and insect-eating birds. The lovely couple twirled between the drumstick tree and the canopy to put the finishing touches on their brand new nest. The male is usually a shade darker than the female. The pair may have laid a clutch of four to eight eggs.

In July 2020, another species of cute finch, a pair of Indian silverbills (Euodice malabarica), occupied the same nest. It was the season of the native pink grass, and the male bird was courting his beloved with a gift of a single, delicate, pink-hued blade of grass clutched in his pale gray beak, made for an ethereal sight. They are also called white-throated munias.

Like all finches, these small birds are also equipped with short, sturdy beaks and feed on seeds and insects. Silverbills are monomorphic, meaning that both sexes of the species look alike. They are known to be communal nesters, and it is likely that the eggs in a nest belong to more than one silver-billed mother.

At the beginning of April this year, while I was sitting on the terrace and valiantly trying to read, another feathered diversion flew. This time, a gray tit (parus cinereus) actively explored one end of the hollow metal pipe supporting the canopy.

The bird plucked the dried grass from the ground, flew to the Neem tree and sat on a slender branch for a few seconds. He then made the short dash to the metal pipe near the tree, swinging on deft wings while wedging the grass into the hollow of the pipe.

Just as our cottage shelters us, its nooks and crannies are home to many avian households.

With gripping natural history moments like these playing out all day in Navilu Kaadu, should I be chastised for ditching my book for the camera?

Rooting for nature is a monthly chronicle about an offbeat urban family’s encounters with nature on a natural farm.

The author started a career in software marketing before moving into freelance consulting and natural farming. She posts as @ramyacoushik on Instagram. Contact her at [email protected]

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