It was raining heavily that 14th April afternoon. Feeling disappointed that my weekend bird-walk wouldn’t happen now I did the next best thing possible -fall asleep listening to one of the umpteen noisy but largely inconclusive debates of Indian tv channels. It was almost 5.30 in the evening when I woke up with a start as if called by someone. There was a feeling that I should go out with the camera. The rain had stopped altogether, not even a drop, it seemed, was left in the clouds. I decided to respect my instinct and was on the canal-side track within minutes.
Once on the canal track I tried to click a Tiger moth on wing but the handsome insect seems to have its own idea of how it wanted to pose for a picture. It settled on a large leaf with a rain drop dangling from its tip and offered only one of its wings and a whisker to the camera. I am happy to present it to the nature-lovers the way the winged Tiger liked it.
A rain-drenched spotted dove waiting to let the rain trapped in its feathers drain before taking to wings was a brief but pleasant distraction on the way to where my hunch led me.
There is a bridge connecting my neighborhood with the Sungei Kadut industrial area across the Pang Sua canal. One of the first things I do on reaching this bridge is to check for signs of bird activity on the farther side of the bridge i.e. the part where the Yewtee-side of the canal looks relatively wild with some natural growth of trees and tall grass bordering the banks of Kranji reservoir. This area also harbors a good variety of birds including sea eagles, herons, woodpeckers, etc. First spot I look for here is a pontoon-like floating structure that is kept close to the bridge and used, I believe, during canal maintenance works. This is a favorite perch of Kingfishers and Barn swallows.
And this is the point where my habit and my hunch converged. I saw a Collared Kingfisher perched on the pontoon and calling out loudly with its tail bobbing up and down at each note. It kept calling as I positioned myself against the railings of the bridge as close to the bird as possible.
I was wondering if the bird was calling out to attract a mate or to summon its spouse or to announce its hunger to its parent(s). I was still wondering when another Kingfisher’s voice joined the former’s. I was trying to figure out the direction from which the second bird was calling when the bird appeared, in a flash of aqua blue, beside the first one.
Bot of them sat in silence for a while looking in the same direction. Are they looking out for another family member or a possible competitor or for some danger lurking in the form of a Brahminy kite or a hawk or an eagle? I have no way of knowing but I know any one of these must be a possibility. Now, the second bird turned slightly towards my position. Oh, that’s interesting, there is something held in its beak!!
A frog? A lizard? I am sure its not a fish. Despite the name Kingfisher, these collared Kingfishers seem to subsist more on frogs, lizards and insects than on fish. As far as I know, at least. I would know what it is shortly, when this episode ends and I get a chance to view the snaps on the LED screen.
Few more moments passed when the second bird turned to the first and passed the “cargo” to it. The exchange took place with the wings of both the birds stretched out slightly. Fledgling birds stretch wings while begging or receiving food from a parent. Here both birds did it. Maybe they are parent birds and wing stretching was, probably, meant to balance their foothold on the perch while making the exchange.
Once the exchange was complete the two birds went back to scanning the horizons. Probably to detect any predators spying on the precious little exchange that was taking place. A few moments of scanning and then the first bird took off with the second one keeping the guard on the pontoon.
Bird with the “cargo” did not go very far. It alighted on the canal side railings for a minute or two of scanning the surroundings. I am sure I was one of those being scanned for the Kingfisher kept looking in my direction for a major part of those few minutes. One thing to note is that the birds stopped calling as soon as the second bird arrived with its “cargo”. That, possibly, rules out the possibility of a third kingfisher and confirms the first bird either as one of the parents or as a juvenile. While watching the bird on the railing, I detected from the corner of my eye, a movement of a bigger but slower bird. I quickly took a few snaps of it lest I miss a bird newer than the usual two, whose presence in this area of the canal is not new to me. One of them is a Striated Heron, an interesting bird to watch and the other a common Sand Piper, both cautious and funny in its behavior. It turned out be the former.
After two, three minutes of sitting on the railings, the Kingfisher 1 flew into a tree in the industrial area and started scanning skies (an me) from there. Is the Kingfishers’ nest inside the tree or else where? I won’t be able to know unless I have another lucky chance or a hunch again of watching this pair in action. I am tempted to draw the conclusion that this bird must be a parent, mostly the mother, because, had it been a fledgling it would immediately have swallowed the little reptile instead of carrying it away, taking all the care to shake off any predator or a competitor (including me 🙂 ) that might be following, before passing the “dinner”, to her offspring. The unfortunate “dinner” whose career as a frog/lizard has just culminated on a Kingfishers’ food platter, turned out to be a lizard who apparently had engaged in some confrontation with another lizard as indicated by the stub of its tail. It must have sacrificed its tail as a lure to the opponent in making its escape from some territorial conflict.