Balconies are great vantage points to witness what goes in the world outside. Mine is on the third floor of my apartment building and has become the hub for a recently discovered, exciting new pastime.
Just across the road stands an Indian Laburnum/Cassia fistula boasting a riot of yellow flowers in the months of February and March, which takes on green foliage as April sets in. When the rains arrive in June, the tree seems to rejuvenate itself expanding its branches. It has piqued my curiosity over time, as I have come to realize that this tree is a popular rendezvous point for many of my neighbours. On the very top of the tree are a few scrawny twigs sans any foliage – a haunt frequented by myriad birds over the course of the day.
Almost every day, a pair of white-breasted Kingfishers spend quite some time perched on the tree. They sometimes nod at me approvingly, especially when the weather is just right after a slight drizzle. One of them sometimes breaks out in melodious tunes, and I find myself waving at him in appreciation – this fills him up with such pride that he begins to sing with heightened fervour! The other day one of them had a tiny fish in his beak. The poor fellow was swallowed in one gulp, after which the kingfisher took off with a loud screech.
When the perch is vacant, a pair of flower-peckers come to check out the seating arrangement. They arrive and depart in tandem, occasionally making short perky sounds in merriment. They play hopscotch on the twigs for a while and abort the game rather prematurely to fly away.
A Sunbird pair are also frequent visitors, their downwards curved beak unmistakable even from a distance. They trapeze between the upper branches, looking around with amazement at the kaleidoscopic patterns in the sky.
Looking dapper in his brown and white suit, complete with the stately cap, the Red-whiskered Bulbul sometimes drop by with his lady love. The couple seems content in each other’s company, occasionally treating me by engaging in duets before it is time for them to head on home.
On rare occasions, a pair of White-cheeked Barbets are welcomed by the tree. It is a proud moment for the tree to play host to the jugalbandi of Barbets. They sing the only song that they know, but in myriad ragas that enraptures all listeners.
The colourful Treepie visits the tree alone. He sits motionless on the lower boughs until he spots a butterfly that comes by. This brings remarkable agility to him, as he skips along making a beeline for his next meal.
If the Treepie’s activities are rather subtle, the Drongo cousins leave no stone unturned in announcing their arrival. The leader of the gang is a “Racket”-tailed drongo, so noisy that he does complete justice to his name! Together, they can mimic almost any sound from nature, and certainly have the most stretchable vocal cords in the avian world.
The Asian Koel is renowned for his songs but the one that visits the Laburnum tree is a reticent guy. He has perhaps already won his lady over, and so does not bother to expend energy in singing. He is a shrewd hunter, capturing tiny butterflies and dragonflies during his lone sojourns to the tree. The foliage of the tree keeps him well hidden, save for his bright red eye which gives him away.
The Coucal is slightly over-sized for the slender branches of the Indian Laburnam and is happy to sit on the fatter branches of the tree. She comes looking for a short snack and departs when she finds one, with her ‘coop-coop-coop’ on repeat.
The Parakeets announce their arrival with incessant chatter. They have little regard for social distancing and live cheek by jowl on a huge Mango tree nearby. The Laburnum tree is a resting spot while the family is out frolicking.
One day at dusk, I heard a strange sound from the tree. Scanning the branches with eager eyes, I was pleasantly surprised to see a pair of Spotted Owlets on the branches – their silhouettes looking imposing against a darkening sky. It was a quiet evening and their shrill hooting reverberated all over.
The Indian Laburnum tree is a favorite adda for several birds, and they are happy to share space as they hang out in their local watering hole. Different species have coexisted here on multiple occasions, without any trace of displeasure. The Black Kite and Brahminy Kite are the only avian brothers that prefer the taller Coconut trees or the edges of the corrugated roof of buildings over the Laburnum tree. Nevertheless, I am sure the Indian Laburnum does not miss them one bit as it already has an ever-expanding branchful’ of visitors to boast of.