It’s neither a plane nor a superhero, it’s a vulture

I have complained about being victimized by Captain Edward Murphy’s Law. And I have felt very silly about it. Bad luck is subjective in the long run. The timing is often random too. It doesn’t deserve to be mulled over. We choose to obsess over what we are denied. We pay attention to neither love nor luxuries that come to us on silver platters.

We are all lucky in some way or the other. For instance, two weeks ago – I spotted a vulture. I didn’t know I had until a few days ago. A friendly birder identified it as the Red-Headed Vulture after seeing the photograph. It was my first vulture sighting.

I realized that the best things in my life are not free. But sometimes, lady luck has me covered.

Red-Headed Vulture, Kodaikanal

I travelled twice to the Upper Palani range this month. The first time around, I saw a giant raptor in flight – near the forest entry point of Adukkam road. I didn’t pay much heed since I assumed it was a Serpent Crested Eagle, which frequents the area.

As it flew closer towards me, I noticed it had a reddish-orange coloured head. I jogged down the forest road, panicking a little, for a better view. I saw it soar again in-between a canopy of trees by the edge of a cliff.

I managed to take a single photograph before it disappeared behind the clouds. Unbeknownst to me, it was a Red-Headed Vulture – one of the species of Old World vultures found in the Indian Subcontinent.  The widespread usage of Diclofenac, a veterinary drug, is said to have caused its sturdy decline of vultures in India.

I tried, in vain, to find out if anyone else had photographed it in the same location. Maybe my googling skills aren’t that good. For now, I would like to believe that it was a special encounter, made sweeter by the fact that it was a rare sighting. I am also glad that I wasn’t aware then of its identity. I might have comically (and tragically) toppled over the cliff in excitement and joy.

After finding out that it was a Red-Headed Vulture, I wanted to cry a little. I ran my fingers over the phone’s keypad, like a small, six-legged insect suffering a nervous breakdown, as people confirmed its identity. I even used more than two exclamation marks. I was out of control for a minute or so.

I was happy.

A lot of silly things happen too while I am birding in the wild. During the same trip, I spent over half an hour, under the sweltering sun, photographing the base of a tree. I thought it was a Spot-Bellied Forest Owl with bloodshot eyes.

I climbed up a boulder, scratched my knee against prickly bush, and baked the soles of my feet. I told myself that it had to be an owl. When the truth dawned on me, I felt silly and ignorant. And I deserved the embarrassment as much as I did – the magnificent surprise of a vulture sighting.

I don’t belong to birding communities that study and track birds to help conserve them. They do wonderful and selfless work; often unappreciated for the amount of good they contribute to a common ecosystem.

I am not one of them. I am far more selfish in my birding endeavours.

I love the process and the outcome. The failure and the success. I am addicted to how it makes me feel. Maybe someday I will be in a position to dedicate time towards the conservation of biodiversity in the Indian subcontinent. Even then, I doubt if it would be a selfless act.  But I am sure that luck still would follow me.

Hello, mister Vulture, we will meet again.

Palani range, Kodaikanal

You and I… dearest vulture,
we just aren’t the same.

You choose life, and
I chase love that
goes, each year,
by different names.

(Photographs: Upper Palani range – Kodaikanal)

23 thoughts on “It’s neither a plane nor a superhero, it’s a vulture

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  1. Luck came your way capped in red with its poised pose and flight. Luck came the vulture’s way inked in black with your words full of delight. Lady luck, she wasn’t a partial one. She blessed you with a rare eyeful and the vulture with a birder wordful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s fantastic! I know your birding is more selfish – but I do thoroughly encourage you to use eBird. Tracking birds is the most superficial aspect of it; rather, instead it allows you to record your sightings so as you may look back and recall the excitement with which you saw them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah GB, I ought to start doing so, apparently it helps (sort of) with the census too. I remember you once told me about spotting vultures in the Himalayas. I hope I got that right. Gosh, I have an inkling how that must have felt!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Vultures are amazing creatures! The Himalayas spotting was especially amazing (the first time) because it was so close… I’ve seen vultures elsewhere, too – a lammergeier in Spain, which was fantastic – it was so close – and many, many vultures in Kenya. The thrill never goes away though.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Amazing story and find! The birds are looking for water I hear. A very small step is to fill up a tray of water in your balcony/terrace/ outside your home. I am already seeing a lot of them come out and drink, bathe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Lakshmi. A tray of water certainly will go a long way to invite birds as house guests and well-wishers. It’s going to be quite a summer (in south India at least), and like the song goes – “we can make it if we try”.

      Just saw the lovely Parakeets in your blog too, beautiful! Along with koels and tree pies, I see them mucking about near the guava trees in my neighborhood in Chennai.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. When I was living in northern Spain I could observe dozens of griffon vultures. Once in the mountains, I walked to the edge of a cliff and saw one breeding pair gliding about 100 meters below me. Yet the most special moment was with a befriended woman next to a pilgrimage chapel: While having a picnic such a griffon was landing on the small chapel’s roof in order to observe us! Only when we rose he vanished.

    Liked by 1 person

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