When one says the word tree, the trunk of a Neem tree darkened by rain comes to my mind. The canopy is so far above that I only see its shadow, and the air is filled with a mild but definitive aroma of its leaves. A significant memory of my days growing up is four such Neem trees that I played around for years. Another significant memory I have is of a Drumstick Tree across my window, where I would frequently spot two Indian Grey Hornbills on their daily rounds. There have been countless evenings when I would sit and watch the sky from my balcony. A somewhat bright shadow would at times streak across the night sky before taking perch on a Neem tree (again!), a few feet from where I stood. I would carefully scan the branches till I could make the silhouette of a Barn Owl, sitting and watching me silently.
The trees grew and the birds flew as the years went by. From playing around the Neem trees to watching the Drumstick tree, I could now tell my Banyans and Peepals apart. I knew the thorny barks of Silk Cottons and I knew the colourful shades of Bougainvillaea. But that’s where my understanding of trees ended. Like many others I began seeing through them, pausing occasionally to observe how soothing their canopies felt but mostly oblivious to their grandeur.
Around the same time, I began noticing birds a lot more often, to the extent that I would walk looking up at the sky and often bump into people or things. Soon I was more than just spotting birds, noticing their behaviour and habits. It began again with Grey Hornbills, and how they frequented fig trees, especially close to nesting season. So the trees they took to were fig trees. These same trees would attract Brown Headed Barbets and Coppersmith Barbets, Yellow Footed Green Pigeons and Rosy Starlings amongst other birds. These same birds would also take to Peepal and Banyan Trees, in my immediate surroundings, which bore certain similarities to the fig tree I saw. On further scrutiny, I realised that they were both different varieties of Fig. For the time I invested and the observations made, I remember this better as well.
Amongst all the birds I saw, the Purple Sunbird is my favourite bird. In breeding, under good sunlight, the male dazzles like a jewel. For a bird as tiny as it is, it has quite the call, one filling the air through much of spring and summer. The female, though not as brightly coloured, is still a beautiful bird that is just as restless and keeps moving perch to perch, flower to flower. They tend to favour flowering plants with brightly coloured flowers (as nature labels the nectar-rich). This is how I noticed how beautiful the flowers of a Gulmohar can be. You can also find other small birds such as Tailor-Birds and Indian White-eyes frequenting these trees.
Lesser Goldenback Woodpeckers are common around Delhi, as are Neem Trees. In many parks, you can find the two together, often near the older trees. There are trees I do not fully know about but remember thanks to the birds I find around them. I know of a tree with a scaly bark that Yellow-Crowned Woodpeckers frequent for insects. I know of how Mulberry trees get busy with Common Rosefinches, Rose-Ringed and Plum Headed Parakeets during flowering time. There are trees with Yellow Flowers that I would wear on my fingers as a child and where I find many Sunbirds throughout the year and the list goes on.
As seasons changed and the same patterns of skies came around, I got more chances to observe our world more closely. Between sightings of birds, I would see more insects and snakes and even antelopes at times. I would notice how certain rocks were picked for roosting and others rejected. Of how different trees were chosen by birds, some for their dense canopies, others for the girth of their trunks, and still some for the very thorns they had. Of how water was essential to list the birds we may see that day and I realised the depth of my oversight. To think I would only see the birds without the world they belonged to, much like us humans as separate rather than a part of nature. And that is nature, from trees to rocks, from birds to insects, from the wild to us, is; around us all. It is all around us.
Photo credits: Rajagopala Rao S
About the author: Rajagopala Rao Srinadhuni is a bird watcher and photographer, based in Delhi. With the aim of making bird-watching easy and raising awareness about birds, primarily found in Delhi, he made his Instagram page – dillikepanchi. A developer with over 6 years of experience in AI, he is also a blues guitarist.