March has been a month of recollection, reflection, realization, learning, empathy, and focus. The COVID 19 virus became a global issue that led to all my assignments being canceled and the home became the safest place until further notice. Many countries along with Nepal went into lockdowns so that the spread of the virus could be controlled.
Chitwan National Park was on the agenda for my first week of March, before that I had the solo exhibition planned and both didn’t happen, but what materialized was a hike to Ichangu on the third day of the month with fellow birder Prakash Chettri. Ichangu has been a good place for wildlife photography as it is near the buffer zone of Sivapuri Nagarjun National Park. A perfect morning with beautiful weather unlike the other times I was there. The day coincided with World Wildlife Day, a day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants. The slow walk uphill gave me a chance to spot Crimson Sunbirds busy feeding on nectar while a Warbler jumped from one branch to the other on a nearby Utis (Alnus nepalensis ) tree. It was a great day to learn and spot the birds and also try and identify the calls. As the morning slowly passed by I could spot some Minivets, Grey treepie, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Flycatchers, Redstarts. With all these sightings I was still not able to document them as some were very far and others were too fast. The movement of people started to increase so did the noise level therefore it was time for me to leave and try my luck next time. As we started walking down the trail around one of the corners was a Maroon Oriole on a tree. First time seeing this bird up close, I didn’t want to miss the chance of documenting it. I was excited to see it and was able to take a picture of it, the day became worthwhile so we headed further down only to find out that there were more birds to be discovered. As we walked down there on top of an Utis tree was a Verditer Flycatcher. A beautiful bird with a hue of copper-sulfate blue plumage sitting on the branch that was growing some fresh new leaves which gave out a beautiful vibe. We watched it hop from one branch to another stopping for calls with a faint voice saying chwe…. chwe. Along the way, we sighted a flock of Large Cuckooshrikes as well so with a grin on the face by the last three sightings it was finally time to head home.
Another trip I made was to Dhapakhel for a walk around the fields before they were claimed for housing developments. The morning breeze with the view of the Himalayan ranges on the northern side and the trail following the terraced fields was mesmerizing. A Steppe Eagle and a hawk soaring up in the sky, while down below a Long-tailed Shrike was perched on a branch of a tree watching for insects in the field. Up ahead in the mustard fields were flies trying to swarm around the bright yellow flowers but their flight was dictated by the direction of the breeze. As the walk ended a Black Kite swooped down to its nest and started scanning the horizon for some prey while on the other side of the field three cattle egrets touched down into a field where wheat was planted.
A short mountain bike ride at the end of the first week of March towards Bhimdhunga also became another chance of spotting wildlife. As I slowly rode uphill towards the destination I was also able to notice Verditer Flycatchers, White-throated Kingfishers perched high up in the electricity poles, Common Mynas flying towards a group of houses below.
As the month progressed staying at home became more of a priority until finally, the day came when the lockdown was announced all over Nepal. While staying at home it was time to turn my attention to the insects around the place and also spot the birds that frequented a nearby avocado tree. As the flowers are starting to bud there has been an increase in the number of insects attracted to it. Hoverflies, moths, Cuckoo bees, Cabbage butterflies, Lynx spiders, etc could be spotted in the nearby White Clover flowers and other small wildflowers or around the Avocado tree. Mornings were often dictated by the disyllabic repeated calls of the Common Tailorbirds coming down to the tree and foraging for insects. Beautiful notes were being belted out by the Oriental Magpie Robins that usually perched in the nearby electricity poles. I was also able to notice that the tree was being visited by White-eye and a Rufous Treepie. As the air cleared up and the noise level drastically petered down, I seemed to be able to hear and notice birds more often.
While this was a month of very few activities, I was still able to notice and document some of the species listed below:
Maroon Oriole, Large Cuckooshrike, Steppe Eagle, Verditer Flycatcher, Black Kite, White Eye, Long-tailed Shrike, Crimson Sunbird, Yuhina, Common Tailorbird, Parakeet, Rufous Treepie, White-throated Kingfisher along with the usual Common Myna, Spotted Doves, House Sparrows, Cattle Egret, Red-vented Bulbul, etc.
Hoverflies, moths, Cuckoo bees, Cabbage butterflies, Lynx spiders, etc.
Utis (Alnus nepalensis ), White Clover, Crown flower, etc.
As I spend my time recollecting how my month has been, my mind drifts once in a while into the thoughts and prayers for the number of people that this virus has claimed and the front line health warriors who are fighting the war against this virus (many without proper equipment) day and night. So as I end my monthly segment please do consider the wellbeing of yourself and others by following the instructions as mentioned by WHO:
* Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, or clean them with alcohol-based hand rub.
* Maintain at least 1 metre distance between you and people coughing or sneezing.
* Avoid touching your face.
* Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
* Stay home if you feel unwell.
* Refrain from smoking and other activities that weaken the lungs.
* Practice physical distancing by avoiding unnecessary travel and staying away from large groups of people.
Follow the rules as per your government’s instructions when you are under lockdown. There are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19 (as of 31/3/2020).
It’s that time when compassion, empathy, patience is needed and should be practiced more so wishing you very good health and stay safe.
Ajay Narsingh Rana