Excitedly, I woke up at 4:30 AM. It was my first visit to the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary. I was there because of the Malabar Trogon – a brightly-colored creature that looks like the afterbirth of a psychedelic experience. With a spring in my step, I walked out of the cottage – as jolly as I could be. I was going to meet a local birder at the tea shop outside the sanctuary.
By 6:00 AM, though, the excitement was gone. Sipping on a cup of watery tea, I thought about what a shitty morning it had turned out to be. First, I was stung by a wasp that was hiding in my left shoe. Then, it dawned on me that the skies were way too overcast. To make things worse, four other people, who had hired the same birder, were going to accompany me. So, I dragged my feet past the front gate. There were banners all over that showcased the brightest, the bluest and the most bewitching of endemic birds. Each one looked like it fell out of a dream.
At a distance, a mynah sang an eerie tune. I tightened my grip on the camera and took a deep breath. Spoiler alert – Everything is going to be okay.
Having taken his own precious time, our field guide – jostling a cup of the sorrowful tea in-between his thumb and middle finger – walked up to me. I wanted to leap into the air and crash down, butt-first, on his stomach; my fists pounding on the ground, near the sides of his head, as I screamed at him – “Will we see the Malabar Trogon today? HMMM?” Instead, I wore a sad smile and pointed at a banner, which boasted of a beautiful painting of a trogon. He did a little Beatles head-shake, and said “no problem, 90% chance sighting”.
I could not fathom his sense of optimism. But I knew that numbers could not lie. How is that even possible? We made it all up anyway. I felt like leaping in the air once again. This time, I wanted to click the back of my heels together, joyously, with my knees half-folded and my toes curled up.
By then, the sun was trying to beat the dark clouds into yellowing pulp. It was growing in confidence, as were the teal-blue skies. Also, the family, who had joined me, were untalkative yet friendly; and they had to leave much earlier to catch the evening train.
Things were looking up.
Over the next few hours, we had the privilege of seeing several endemic and migratory birds. From Malabar Barbets, Sri Lankan Frogmouths, Plum-Headed Parakeets, Brown-Capped Pygmy Woodpeckers and Jerdon’s Leafbirds to Dollar Birds, Crimson-Backed Sunbirds, and Crested Goshawks. They broke my heart in such beautiful ways that it wouldn’t need fixing again.
Right before noon, we were nearing the end of the trail. We were walking on a muddy pathway that connected the town to the reserve forest. I was having such a nice time that I had forgotten about the trogons. Thankfully, my field guide hadn’t. He told me that it was a regular nesting area for them. Intently, he cupped his ears, hoping to hear their calls. About 45 minutes flew by, and the sun was scorching down mercilessly.
Suddenly, he tapped my shoulder and asked me to follow him, as he started to briskly walk through the canopy of trees. He had heard the sound of a male Malabar Trogon calling out to its mate. Soon enough, we spotted a couple perched in the shadows of a tall tree.
We had to tip-toe like cartoon burglars to get a clearer view of them. When we did, I was overawed by how gorgeous they were. Dressed in chestnut-brown, crimson, silky blue and ivory-white, they looked magical. They hardly stuck around for a few minutes. And they flew away without giving me the chance to bid farewell to them.
I couldn’t take any good photographs of them either because of the low light. But the thrill of having seen them in the wild taught me something about the fragility of perception.
Sometimes, I take for granted the enormous role that luck plays in my successes. I complain, at times, how karma screws me over. And I keep forgetting that a large number of people, across the world, need a bit of luck to even afford a square meal. Or go through the day, without being afflicted by water-borne diseases, rogue militant groups, governmental apathy or infuriatingly counter-productive social activists.
I only needed some to be in the midst of Malabar Trogons.
Sounds like a good deal.
I will never
fit to describe
how it really feels
to see a Malabar Trogon
sing to me,
from atop a tree.