The Battle at Hamelia
A perennial shrub with vivid fiery orange-red flowers, the hamelia patens is the scene of a fierce battle of dominance for territory between a crimson sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) and a purple sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus) out to impress a mate.
After inspecting the COVID L1 Hospital, Fatehpur in Chutmalpur in last week of May, I decided to drive up to Mohand border to see the Police border check-post. It was a day when Saharanpur received light showers. On the way back, I stopped over at Mohand FRH for a cup of tea. The levelling of undulating open space in front of FRH was finished in that very afternoon and it looked neat and tidy. The caretaker, a Sardarji, told me with a gusto that the pair of ‘Neela Murga‘ were turning up regularly and he had even spotted the pair with two young chicks a few days back. He said they were reluctant and cautious in bringing them in open and to the newly built waterhole in broad daylight. He offered me some sweet juicy watermelons, while he went to prepare tea.
I was checking messages on my mobile when I heard the hysterical call of Sunbird. I came out in the verandah and began to look for the Sunbird in the big sized beautiful Hamelia tree, just a few metres away, with loads of succulent flowers. Soon I spotted a pair of Purple Sunbird. The male wasn’t behaving normally as he hopped and took erratic flight and charged at, which I thought to be another competing male hiding in the thickets of Hamelia.
Soon I spotted the other bird when it came out in open, only to be rammed by the furious Purple Sunbird. It was a gorgeous Crimson Sunbird, with incredible bright red colour and shades of numerous others. It was bigger in size and had a longish tail and longer curved beaks than Purple Sunbird, but was made to run for cover. The Purple Sunbird was a regular visitor and when suckling nectar in the company of female in the breeding season, he had to show his heroics, prove his male virility and impress the lady audience.
Within seconds I spotted the two go up in the air and poking at each other with pointed curved beaks, entangled claws and falling by gravity taking somersaults on way down. They parted ways and the more aggressive Purple Sunbird chased away the Crimson Sunbird to little distance away. The Crimson returned only to face the wrath of hyper-charged and exasperated Purple Sunbird, and within seconds the scene of the fight played a little while earlier was repeated. The tenacious Purple sunbird was vehement on not allowing Crimson to suckle nectar, even though thousands of flowers were blooming on the large Hamelia tree. The chasing, vociferous rattling, aggressive & combative postures and entangled fight in flight while trying to poke at each other with curved beaks continued three more times. I didn’t rush to collect my camera from my vehicle but rather stood to witness and enjoy this incredible & rare spectacle of nature.
I had never seen two cantankerous nectarivores fight like crazy, eyeing for each other’s throat. As both males fought, the female Purple Sunbird stimulated the male with low pitched rapid calls. The grumpy and more belligerent Purple Sunbird was the winner hands down and Crimson Sunbird went hiding in a Bottlebrush tree 20 metres away. The male Purple Sunbird with glitter in his eyes, returned to the female, who was enjoying the battle between two gladiators from a distance. He raised his head glistening in multitude shades of Purple, blue and black, singing with a rapid rattle in his inimical high pitch voice followed by ringing tones, as if announcing his victory. The pair thereafter continued with nectar suckling maintaining little distance away from each other. The Crimson Sunbird made another cautious silent entry on the far side to feed. This time the male Purple Sunbird only attempted to mock charge, when the Crimson male tried to come closer to the area where the greater density of flowers was prospering.
Soon the truce was reached and the Purple Sunbird with his queen was feeding on almost 2/3rd of the Hamelia tree and Crimson Sunbird was restricted to feed on the periphery. By now my staff had brought my 400mm lens and I could click some decent shots of Crimson Sunbird, who was suckling nectar on farside closer to where I stood in the Verandah.
It was 10 minutes past 6 pm and caretaker Sardarji stood next to me pointing fingers saying “Sahab ‘Neela Murga’ (Khaleej Pheasant) nikal raha hai.” I spotted the Khaleej pheasant 30 metres away gradually coming down the hill slope, out in open to feed and quench thirst at the waterhole. Few quick shots of the brilliantly coloured Khaleej pair and I were about to put back my camera when Sardarji shouted again “Sahab pahari bakri aa raha hai“. A female Barking deer was walking on to the scene from behind the bamboo thickets and bushes around 50 metres away. Generally shy and cautious the female was at ease and made the way straight to gulp few sour mangoes, which had fallen down after thunderstorm a night before. She looked like a regular visitor and walked straight to the waterhole on the farther side and satiated her thirst to the full before she scampered into the gentle slope of the hill.
In a matter of 30 minutes, I was treated to an amazing wildlife opera. Witnessing the testosterone-driven, the battle for territory between two varieties of brilliant coloured Sunbird was a blithesome experience and another fabulous memory to cherish from the wilderness of the Shiwalik landscape.