Wild rendezvous amidst lockdown
News of wildlife sightings continue due to the lack of human presence as a result of the lockdown during pandemic. An interesting take on the experiences of frontline forest staff and the denizens of the wild during the lockdown.
While returning from a routine inspection of border checkpost in Uttrakhand, during COVID-19 lockdown, I decided to have a cup of tea at the newly renovated Mohand Forest Rest House(FRH) and also handover some grubs and hand sanitizers to hard-pressed forest staff at Mohand and Chillawalli gate of Rajaji Tiger Reserve, just across the road. While sipping my tea, I was talking to a forest guard and enquiring if birds and wildlife visited the newly made shallow water pond. He shared that herds of cheetal have started visiting after dusk and many birds come down to drink, especially two types of “Junglee Murga”, one red and the other one blue with a crest. It was almost 5.45 pm by the time we finished our conversation, and I was about to start back to HQ, when he vehemently pleaded with me to wait a bit longer, as it was almost time for them to come out.
Looking at his confidence and urge to show me I decided to stay longer, but was rather confused about the blue junglee murga. I guessed he might be confusing with a peacock or was it a really the shy Khaleej pheasant. I was totally relaxed and enjoying the cool breeze and sweet calls of barbets, drongoes, coppersmiths, blue-bearded bee eaters and hornbills, when the forest guard suddenly came rushing, pointing fingers over my left shoulder saying “Sahab, murga nikal gaya hai“.
I turned around and was pleasantly surprised to see a pair of Khaleej pheasant slowly walking their way out in open from the steep slope 40 feet away, just across the barbed wire fence of FRH adjoining the jungle. He suggested we should move away on the side and be silent, and they shall come out and graze leisurely. They were initially cautious, but soon went about doing their daily chores. They came as close to 20 feet and never seemed to be worried or scamper for cover. They grazed, had a hearty drink one by one in the newly made shallow pond. I quickly pulled out my 400mm lens and clicked few pics. Only a shriek call by the crested drongo alerted them for a while.
I spent a good 30 minutes with them before they crossed over the earthen track leading to FRH from the National Highway, to forage in the undergrowth on the other side within the campus, where I could see a pair of Red Jungle fowl foraging and the matured male calling once in a while to ward of any other competitor. The forest guard insisted on waiting another 20minutes, as they again return from other side to open patch in front of FRH, graze the last bit before dark and walk up the slope of hills to rest for the night. I gently declined the invitation as I had a meeting to catch up. The plucky guard told me that he has been watching this pair since 2008 and they visit the open space in front of the FRH every morning and evening. He said, “Sometimes I watch them hiding behind the window of the common room of the rest house and the pair climb the stairs without a hitch to check out the verandah hardly 5 feet away.”
My guess about his blue murga was right. But I couldn’t believe I had such a close and amazing encounter with the most colourful and majestic pheasants of the Shiwaliks, when I least expected it. What luck and sheer chance to cheer up in such moment of melancholy during a National crisis.
Sitting out I even spotted the blue-bearded bee eater and chestnut-headed bee eater, many yellow wagtails, pairs of peafowl and plum-headed parakeets.
The moral of the story is that the Frontline forest staff is a repository of many precious information which he gathers by sheer observation over many years, which should be tapped to understand and discover the denizens and nuances of the Jungle.