Monday, 29 February 2016

An Obsession of a Bird...

I will start by saying that the bird that I intend to hunt is a common one. Common for all expect for me. The bloody Wallcreeper - spoiler alert - the name is just 'Wallcreeper' and not Bloody Wallcreeper - though I would love to call it by that name. 

Distribution map (courtesy Wiki)

The bird is found commonly throughout the high mountains of Eurasia ranging from the elevations from 1,000m to 3,000m. The bird is contested whether it is a treecreper lineage or the nuthatch. I believe that the last word out said that it is more related to nuthatch than treecreeper. 
There are two subspecies - T. m Muraria, and the second one found east of Turkmenistan - T. m. nipalensis. This is slightly darker and the one I was hunting.

This picture is to give you the habitat and the relative size of the birds with the backdrop of stones and bare mud cliffs/plains

The colour of the bird blends perfectly with the stones etc

Its a small bird that is 15 to 17 cm long and has blue-grey plumage. The most striking past of the plumage are the beautiful crimson wings that are largely hidden when the wings are folded. I started a serious hunt for this bird in 2012 - the year I hung my uniform and took pre-mature retirement from army and took on birding as a serious pastime. That year passed with me trying to get a call from the nearest birder of Chandigarh Bird club - giving me the last location it was spotted during the monthly Club meetings. I used to - more often than not head up the very next morning and return empty handed. The habitat of this bird starts from a place enroute to Simla and was commonly reported from the road Kumarhatti - to - Nahan. The spot was roughly 85 km from my home and the stretch was about another 80 km drive from there. So roughly each trip for this bird was costing me 350 odd km up and down. The year was a washout. ...and so was the next one 2014. 

The ability of this bird to stand from stones that are near vertical is a treat to see - especially when it jumps from one rock to another with virtually no visible foothold.
By 2015 beginning I was more evolved as a birder in a sense that I was making full use of technology - used eBird and other apps sucking data from the growing community of birdwatchers in India and looking up the latest sitting of the bird and rushing up the spot whenever I could. Still every search for the bird was unsuccessful. Meanwhile our active group of birders of the club started posting the pictures as and when they sighted it - to start with - to help me tell the location - and when I used to return empty handed over and over again - it was mostly reported to 'Taunt' me. 

By 2016 the situation got fairly out of hand when I went all the way to Sikkim for birding and for every Lifer I used to report from there - I used to be replied by one of the club members putting up a picture of Wallcreeper and a lucid description of how it almost came and sat on the camera. On 26th Feb the bird club was hosted by one of the members - Ms Saroj Gulati with cocktails and there was an applause - and a dozen smart phones thrust under my nose for me to see the wallcreeper they clicked. That was it - and I declared - I am out hunting wallcreeper and if I bloody find one I will skin it and keep it stuffed on my wall (pun intended). I was given company by Mr Jasbir who too was not in limelight - but was hunting for the same bird. Next day - 0545 - well before the day break we were on the road - intending to hit the birding spot for wallcreeper by sunrise. The 85 odd km to Kumarhatti was event-less - me staring at the road and the sky that was lightening up - alternatively. We were at the intended place as the sun peeped above the mountains. The light was enough - the place right and I shifted the car to the slowest 10 km/hr possible - staring hard at the cliffs to try and sight any hint of movement, a flash of red or sound to give away the bird.

We did this for next 60 odd km and the luck seemed running out. Finally I decided and called out loud to Mr Jasbir who was accompanying me - this is the last km we do - and then turn back irrespective of the results. The next km passed as luckless as others before it and I did a determined turn back with a curse beneath my lips. Well turn back did not mean that I intended to rush back - I did want to continue back looking out for the bird. My disappointment might have been quite evident - considering what Mr Jasbir shared on the Bird Club group.  All the same the cliffs were my side and I do pride myself as a fairly good spotter and just 4-5 km on our way back I said - 'Got it' and bought the car to standstill on the side of the road. Mr Jasbir was looking out frantically asking - where? where? I reversed the car, parked it and got out - there - it was a grey speck of a bird sitting on a stone - and there - 3 years of looking for this bird and after clocking 3,500 plus km in ten odd trips made targeting this bird was all in front of me. I stared at the bird and alternately clicked it. I do not remember checking the settings on the camera other than one odd look at the play back screen showing that I was indeed getting the bird.
Wallcreeper showing off the Crimson and polka dots.

Like I mentioned earlier - do not consider this - its natural pose. These flicks of wings shorter than heartbeat that have been captured by 10 frames per second - pressed shutter with about 40-50 frames at a time.

Just could not help it but post this one more picture of the Bird flickering its wings.
The bird was hopping around for the next 15 odd minutes we were there staring at the bird and did some flip of the wings to show the famous Crimson red and the polka dots that my wife described them as - as I showed the pictures to her. after I had photographed the bird I played back some recorded bird songs of the wallcreeper - and to my dismay the bird was not interested. Perhaps the territorial fights were not the norm this time of the year. For getting the Crimson (the bird flickered its wings every once a minute or so) I clicked in rapid mode till the time the buffer of the camera (7D Mark ii) used to run out and do it over and over again. So the pictures with crimson that you see are not the norm you will see the bird as but a frozen milliseconds when the bird flicked the wings.

Colour of the bird vis-a-vis rocks of its habitat

Still cannot find the bird ? Don't despair - it may be napping in one of these crevices in the rocks.
 So here comes an end to a hunt for a bird that will remain in my memory for a long long time to come and surely I will miss the snickers of my Birding Pals.

The Birdwatch Jan 2016 Edition took out this supplement of 13 most Desirable birds to see in the world and Creeper turned out 11th on that list. Presenting here the clipping of the page.

Just came across this article in a Birdwatcher's Magazine that I subscribe. This bird is one of the 13 most desirable birds to see in the world.


Inderpreet Kaur said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Inderpreet Kaur said...

That is one beautiful and shy bird! What a dedicated search, so glad you found it. Many more birding trips to you.
Happy shots.

S S Cheema said...

Thanks a ton Shelly !!

Vinay kumar Navulla said...

Wow nice

Vinay kumar Navulla said...

Wow nice

David Gascoigne said...

One of the most desired birds by birders throughout the world.

S S Cheema said...

Thanks @Vinay. Yes @David - Its a bird that I was in love with since a long time...