Seven minutes under a fig tree

“20 Grey-fronted Green Pigeons at 18 meters” cried Shashank, “and another 12 at 26 meters”.

“Add five more of those at 60 meters and four White-cheeked Barbets on the same tree” said Omkar.

And then the two of them start listing out a whole lot of bird species from Malabar Grey Hornbills, Malabar Barbets, Asian Fairy Bluebirds, Red-whiskered Bulbuls and so forth.

“Hold on! Hold on!” I exclaimed. “I cannot possibly write down that fast. Repeat it to me slowly”.

My story begins in October when the Wild Kaapi team began wildlife surveys at a coffee estate near Melpal village in Chikmagalur. On the first day we marked the point count locations where we would be observing birds. There was one particular spot that excited me. It was directly under a fig tree that was groaning with ripe fruits. As expected, the tree proved to be a great favourite of the birds.

Among our most exciting observations- we spotted two endemic Malabar Grey Hornbills that sat feeding very close to us on a neighboring tree. We watched in fascination as they craned their necks this way and that way, while their ridiculously large bills swayed right and left. They picked and swallowed the ripe blackish fruits with finicky accuracy and ignored the green ones. These birds were on a Maesopsis eminii tree, which is a native of the African continent but was brought to the coffee plantations as a good shade tree. Its berries have now become a favourite of the Hornbills.

As the days went by, we began to both looked forward to and dread surveying that particular spot. Every morning, there were so many birds sitting amidst the dense leaves of the Ficus tree that it was often impossible to get counts unless the flocks flew off to another tree. Apart from having to try and spot all the birds, we were also constantly being rained down with bird droppings full of fig seeds!

Over the course of our surveys we recorded 30 bird species from this spot alone. As we continued our wildlife surveys in coffee farms across Chikmagalur we never again saw such high densities of large-bodied frugivorous birds. This experience taught us to appreciate the value of fruiting trees planted by coffee farmers and their importance for birds and other wildlife.


Author: Vishnupriya Sankararaman

Wild Kaaapi Vishnupriya
Vishnupriya Sankararaman graduated with a MSc in Wildlife Biology and Conservation from India’s leading wildlife program run jointly by the National Centre Biological Sciences and Wildlife Conservation Society-India program in 2012. Her Masters dissertation explored the impact of fishing on hill stream fish in Pakke Tiger Reserve, Arunachal Pradesh. She has been associated with the Centre for Wildlife Studies and Wildlife Conservation Society-India on various research projects since 2009. Vishnupriya has worked on a range of studies examining ecotourism, voluntary resettlement and biodiversity in agroforestry landscapes. An avid naturalist with a deep passion and fondness for frogs, she wants to work towards the conservation of freshwater ecosystems. Vishnupriya plans to do a PhD on amphibians of the Western Ghats.
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