The screaming guarantees

I first spotted the Coppersmith Barbet on a chilly morning, outside a bird sanctuary in Chennai. I followed its metronome call to a large berry tree. I saw the barbet feasting on wild berries in one of the branches. The long winter shadows had cast a spell over the leaves, and I was unable to revel in the barbet’s gorgeous features.

When I caught a better glimpse, its beauty took me by surprise. Its plum-red head shone, like lost treasure, as the tufted yellow rings around the eyes gave it a scholarly appearance. The upper part of its plumage was bathed in green and rinsed in grey. There was a streak of crimson near its throat too.

I could not help but mumble oohs and aahs in appreciation. I even made that sub-erotic hissing noise which comedians use in Kollywood movies when titillated via double-entendres. By the time I pointed the camera towards it – the Coppersmith Barbet had flown to another tree.

Coppersmith Barbets - Vedanthangal, Chennai

Then, I saw it land on a deadwood branch. And I squealed. Like children do when they meet adult-sized versions of their favorite cartoon characters at the mall. But the barbet did not fly away. I managed to take plenty of photographs of it, as well observe its intricate actions.

I used to scream whenever I saw a new bird. Unable to contain my excitement, I have scared them off their perches. After year one of birdwatching, though, I graduated to squealing while spotting lifers. These days, I palm my mouth to stifle the elation. Even so, a shrill cry escapes the corner of my lips. I cannot seem to limit my movement, and lower my voice.

Coppersmith Barbet, Vedanthangal

I break the rules of birdwatching because I feel like a clay-animated puppet around them. With every move they make – a string is pulled. Losing track of what else I am supposed to be doing, I end up colliding with bystanders, slipping down ridges and stepping on poop.

Since my first encounter with the Coppersmith Barbet, I have seen it hundreds of times across southern India. Each time was special. It was not just because no two barbets looked the same.

The thing is that – no two squeals sound the same either.

She took with her
plum-soaked kisses,
some pickled love and
a few other precious things
that she could use
to grow herself
a fresh pair of wings.

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16 thoughts on “The screaming guarantees

Add yours

  1. Your first paragraph sums up not only my firsts with birds, but my firsts for just about everything! No one ever wonders whether I’m happy about something. My body language — dancing with squeals and smiles — tells the story.

    Congrats on your lifer. Another beauty of the bird world! Another reason to give them our eyes, ears, and brains (and actions of conservation).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a funny description of your first sighting of this gorgeous bird. I was recently in Bermuda and saw birds new to me, one of which was a “Great Kiskadee”, an invader of the island and regarded as a nuisance but I thought he was beautiful. I didn’t exactly squeal but I did go “Oh! Oh! Ooooh!”

    Liked by 1 person

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