I am from India - well that's a kind of obvious statement for a lot of us who know me. Anyway, the story goes like this. We have this small bird in India called Goldcrest and I have missed seeing it so many times. It is present all along the Himalayas and fairly common. But it is tiny, tiny as in tiny really - at just 9 cm, a bare cm larger than the smallest bird of India. To appreciate the beauty you have to be close, really close. The bird is a small plump bird with greenish appearance, a plain face and two wing bars like so many warblers. Its scientific name is Regulus regulus.
|First sighting of the Goldcrest on a chilly and foggy morning in Vergiate, Italy|
Well, inspite of everyone going for a visit to the Himalayas sighted it here and there and I was the one still struggling. The reason perhaps was that the bird was easily mistaken for some unidentified warbler if not seen well enough/or photographed and identified. So, all in all, India - never gave this opportunity of a sighting. I was in Italy for some time and went out for birding with this bird on a very high priority list. There I met Mr Luca Giussani, who readily became my mentor and bird guide. I was staying in Vergiate, some 50 odd km North of Milan. He assured me that this is one bird that is almost a confirmed sighting and I started to wait and dreaming of sighting this bird.
One fine day - it was the day we decided to hunt our Goldcrest and that morning - unfortunately was Chilly like hell with temperatures dipping -3* C. And as if that was not enough the daybreak was foggy with a visibility of a few yards. The start was not as great as I was hoping for and I was busy keeping my hands warm enough to change the dials and click pictures on my half-frozen camera. Just to get the feel of a picture - I took my camera to my eye and my breath froze on the viewfinder screen - it took me a few minutes to wipe away the fog. All this was immaterial as there was no sound, no movement of any birds as we walked scanning the bushes in front. The crunching frost beneath my feet was making sounds as if I was moving on dry leaves. I was too busy with this when Luca froze. He whispered - 'I can hear it'. One of the problems with getting old with each passing year is that the high-frequency sounds are more difficult to pick up and this bird was perhaps a female - chatting in the higher frequency band.
But now after trying to listen out what he was referring too - my senses were all at heightened reception and there, there was a small flicker in the pine trees ahead. The pine tree is the favourite haunt of these birds and soon enough we were sighting two birds, a pair moving around. The birds, like most small birds, were restless and though I could peer through the binoculars and get some good sightings the fog, thick bush of the tree and a hidden sun made it impossible to get a worthwhile shot of the birds. The bird too was wet, due to hopping around in the frosty leaves. I tried clicking pictures but soon gave up and put my binoculars to my eyes to pear at the beauties. That the birds were beautiful needed no convincing and we decided to move back thanking for such beauties to have shown themselves on such a boring day.
Just as we turned back, Luca again stopped to whisper - Firecrest !! That bird, though not found in India, would be a beautiful addition to my lifer list and I was once again peering hard in the direction he pointed. This time I too heard the birds. It was just a moment before the birds popped up in from of us. If I was 'awed' by the Goldcrest then I was stumped by the beauty of the birds of the size somewhat same as that of the Goldcrest. The firecrest too was a pain to appreciate as the birds were hopping around in the bush chasing each other in what seemed like a mating ritual. That was confirmed by Luca who pointed out the crest of the bird that was raised from an otherwise flushed position on the head - a thin line of bright orange. Presenting here TWO OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL birds that I encountered in Italy.
|Goldcrest on the frosty Pine tree|
|Yeah - I am a little bit wet too - the Goldcrest.|
|The appearance of the Firecrest - notice the broad crest on top - this is normally flushed and a single line when not too excited like in the next picture.|
|Firecrest in a little better light...|
|Yeah! the raised crest is that looks like oozing fire is the excited Firecrest - Ummm the female is around somewhere...|
|Ah here enters the female on the lower left side of the frame...|
|Had I had more time I would have spent staring these beauties... but alas... had to move on...|
The was of the tiny beauty was won finally by the Firecrest ;-)