The SoloMan Series - Quest for the Jeweled Dwarf

8th Jul 2016

A curious combination of events came together and the outcome is my endeavour to be outdoors on any and every possible occasion. Be it a weekend, holiday, festival... any day that i do not check into the office; you’ll surely find my check-in someplace off the grid :)

Photo of The SoloMan Series - Quest for the Jeweled Dwarf 1/4 by Pravin Subramanian

A recent spate of illness rendered me too weak to travel. Thankfully the rains came in just on time and with it returned my energy and enthusiasm for the great wilderness that’s just beyond the city’s frontiers. As a rule, it’s always advisable to scouting in forests and wooded areas with company. The inherent danger isn’t what we think it is. The predators and other megafauna will surely sight or smell you long before you make an appearance and will give you a wide berth. But the floor dwellers ranging between the venomous snakes and the ferocious Tiger Centipede (do not underestimate the potency of it’s venom) might bring harm your way. That means you step on them and they bite you in return and you’re in the doldrums to say the least...

Photo of The SoloMan Series - Quest for the Jeweled Dwarf 2/4 by Pravin Subramanian
Bright orange, black stripes, red head and hot headed! The Tiger Centipede

But all said and done, there’s precious little that i can do if people’s temperament and schedules do not align with my own. And so, instead of waiting for a benefactor to tag along with me, i have decided to go scouting on my own. With due caution and carefulness, chances of an untoward incident ought to be minimal. And if one does occur, i will hold myself to blame if i survive. But then... fear shouldn’t hold you back from exploring life to it’s fullest.

Photo of The SoloMan Series - Quest for the Jeweled Dwarf 3/4 by Pravin Subramanian
I'm not alone! Me and myself make excellent travel companions...

Enter the SoloMan Series; this is my account of forays into the wilderness all on my own. And without further ado, i will jump into today’s first episode. The hunt for the Jeweled Dwarf.

The Jeweled Dwarf in question is a bird, a breeding visitor that goes by the name Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. The bird lives in the Western Ghats and migrates to Maharashtra with the onset of the South Western Monsoon. Shy by habit, it prefers wooded groves (preferably forested) as sites for hunting and nests in the walls of mud banks in the same manner as other Kingfishers. Kingfishers retain the nesting sites year after year unless there has been some serious redevelopment of the locality. An Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher was spotted in the leafy realm of Pali Hill in a garage. Interestingly, legendary birdwatchers Salim Ali and Humayun Abdulali had recorded a nesting site at the spot just over 50 years ago...

I knew of one such site at the Karnala Wildlife Sanctuary near Panvel, 50 kilometers from the city as the crow flies. Today being a free Friday on account of working on a holiday found me jumping out of bed at 0600 AM all kitted up for the hunt. Although i initially woke up at 0500 AM, procrastination almost succeeded in making me wrap up the warm blanket again and go back to sleep. But then there’s so much more to life than simply sleeping...

A train journey to Dadar and thence a bus to Panvel and i was at the ST bus depot by 0820 AM. Had this been summer or winter, there wasn’t any point in going birding. It would’ve been too late. The skies were overcast today and there was little sunshine. The Jeweled Dwarf would be hunting today beyond the normal hours.

A slight misadventure almost landed me offtrack. I boarded the wrong bus only to see the bus turn neatly northwards instead of south. Jumping out of the bus leaving behind an irate conductor, i walked back the half kilometer this bus had traveled to the ST depot to get the bus that would take me to Karnala. I had anticipated some time lapse in waiting for the bus, expecting to eat something in the meantime but a bus all set to head to Alibaug meant otherwise. Evidently i would now have to survive on the coffee consumed at 0630 AM.

Photo of The SoloMan Series - Quest for the Jeweled Dwarf 4/4 by Pravin Subramanian
Any words...? i can't think anymore

Within 10 minutes of entering the forest, an all too familiar streak of blue flashed in front of me, with a high pitched squeak, darting from one side of the forest into the other. Fortunately for me, it wasn't an impenetrable wall of green. A distinct trail led me into the thicket of wait-a-bit thorn and mosquitoes.

A tree's root stuck out from the earth and offered a good place to squat. Now it was a game of patience from hereon. The bird has passed by me and will surely return. And that's when i drew out my secret weapon. A recording of the bird's call. The birding community has split itself into two factions and an unknown number of sub-factions over this topic and yet the debate rages. I could very well skip this confession and move on with the story... but i want you, my reader, to have a full closure of what transpired. That i'm only too human and not a falcon to spot the bird through a thicket with no help of any form. i played the call once. It worked, the bird came flying in, took a perch a little less than ten yards from me. The camera simply wouldn't focus on account of the foliage and the branches that kept coming in the way. Time was running out before it discovered the ruse!

What seemed like an eternity ended in 3 seconds. The camera finally captured the bird in focus and bang, bang, bang! Three shots. The bird had taken to wing. But not without a photograph etched into a digital device...