A Forest Walk, and Birding

Winters have almost ended. Over the last few weeks, I was able to get a lot of things in order at home and garden. The fruit trees are now covered with blossoms and some lazy ones are still to wake up from their winter hibernation. Today, after a long time, I got up early for a trek in the forest and for some bird-watching.

trishul in the morning

(With the winters coming to an end, the snow-peaks are also starting to get covered with haze. Nowadays, only the tops are visible. Soon, they will disappear behind the haze, only to become visible again during autumn.)

Sharp, by the clock, our resident Blue-Whistling Thrush woke me up. It was still a little dark outside and the warmth of the bed was intoxicating. Yet, I managed to throw the sheets aside and get up. I opened the window a little and took a deep breath, filling my lungs with a cold forest breeze. This works better than even a strong cup of coffee. Try it if you feel lazy in the morning.

My old Sigma 150-500 mm was also quietly resting in the almirah. Somehow when I took it out and mounted the lens on the camera, I could sense the lens thanking me. Maybe, I have been reading too much of Marie Kondo.

Tugging the heavy lens and camera, I got out of the house and was soon trekking around in the forest. The air was crisp and cool, though very dry. Lately, there have been no rains and the winters saw very scanty snowfall. The leaves crumpled under my feet. Too much noise can scare the birds away. In the forest near my place, they are still not used to too much human activity and so, are easily scared.

Coming to this point of walking quietly, there are two very different schools of thought. One is to walk as quietly as possible and learn to approach the birds. This school of thought believes in the fact that birds are easily disturbed and so one has to be very careful. The other school of thought is that the birds are now used to seeing humans and human activity. So, walk as you normally would and chatter along with your friends. This helps the birds know that you are approaching and they don’t suddenly get spooked. They are aware of your approach. In the forest near me, I have seen that both approaches work. Small shy birds fly away regardless of how frequently they may have seen me. Foxes and martens on the other hand stay put and sometimes observe with some curiosity. Jays and magpies seem to be happy in ignoring my presence. So, when photographing small birds, I try to be as quiet as possible and I try to approach them so that they don’t get scared by any sudden noises or movements. However when in the forest, I walk as I normally would and the forest dwellers know my approach and don’t get scared.

I spotted an early riser. A Rufous Breasted Accentor was happily chirping away on top of a wild rose bush. Looking towards the sun, it seemed as happy as me, bathing in the early morning sun. One of my friends tells me that these are not quite common, however here they are plenty.

Rufous Breasted Accentor

(The little fella was enjoying the early morning sun. Captured at f/11 at 1/500 shutter speed and 800 ISO. I used a f/11 aperture to compensate for the softness of my lens and to hide any focusing errors)

I prefer going as much uphill as I can initially so that later on I won’t get tired. My neighbor loves to go walking down the hill first and later slowly walk up. Blue Whistling Thrush that wakes me up loves to fly downhill when the dawn starts to break but only in the winters, and uphill when it’s summer-time. Bees also like to fly uphill for collecting nectar. Foxes are crazy though. They go running along the road, sometimes uphill, sometimes downhill, and then suddenly they would stop to look around, and then continue on their crazy morning run.

By the time I reached the top of the hill, I had walked around a KM. The sun was up and bright. The light filtered through the tall trees and the birds were starting to become more and more active. Magpies, six of them, flew by me and settled on a tree about a meter from me. My lens could not get the whole of the bird in its frame even when completely zoomed out and I didn’t want to capture just their faces. They did create quite a racket with their loud calls, totally disregarding my close presence there. After a few seconds, they all flew away to another distant tree. Though there are lots and lots of magpie photos out there, still it is very hard to imagine the adrenaline rush spotting them at such close quarters gives. And, oh boy, these orange and red billed blue magpies are huge!

I saw some acorns lying on the pathway. They always remind me of the squirrel from ice-age. Maybe some day, I’ll also sit somewhere close to these acorns with my camera ready. And maybe, a cute red squirrel will come and pose for me! Though it’s quite probable that instead of a squirrel, a wild boar may come for these. They too are equally fond of these, and when in a group, they can be quite dangerous too.

I moved on. Slowly walking on, enjoying the forest, hearing the various bird calls, crackling leaves under my feet, gusts of wind fluttering the leaves on some of the tall trees, and that distant noise of gurgling water of some mountain creek nearby. Call me crazy, but I am in love with the forests. They revive me and make me happy.

Some distance away, I spotted a Grey-Bushchat. Their bright underbelly and grey-blue hue of the wings is quite attractive to look at. These are also not easily scared. I approached quietly. I was able to grab a couple of nice shots before it flew away.

(Grey Bushchat – Early spring season is a good time to spot birds. The lack of leaves on many of the trees makes spotting them easy. Captured at f/11, 1/500 sec, 800 ISO.)

Sometimes, when I indulge in photographing birds, I feel like purchasing a sharp lens. Maybe something fast and sharp with a fixed focal length. Maybe another camera body with higher resolution, lower sensor noise, to mount that camera one. Maybe I’ll also buy an island in the sea and build my second home there… there’s no end to wants! The lens will have to wait. I still can’t justify buying a long and expensive lens when I still hate the weight and size of these howitzers (a word I occasionally borrow from one of my street-photographer friends)

The sun was getting hot. It was time to start my day back at home. Lots of work to be done. Watering the plants, repairing the fence that fell off yesterday night when some wild animal banged against it, one of the storm-drains also needs cleaning, the lawn needs fertilizing, and some of the new apple plants need stakes… I hate these dwarf cultivars but then these are the only ones available in the plant-nurseries now a day. A lot to do. I bid farewell to the forest and walked back. Tomorrow again, I’ll venture out and explore more of the wonderful world of the forests.

Further Reading:
A Morning Trek in Natadol
Bird-Photography : The Ethical Way!

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