Sunday, September 27, 2009

White-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)

It was just about the beginning of the pre-monsoon in Dibrugarh (27° 29'N, 94° 54'E). A group of us had just finished lunch at a nearby dhaba when I heard this trilling bird cry. It was coming from a bird perched high up on a cell phone tower and since I was not carrying my binoculars, I could not identify it. A more knowledgeable friend identified the bird as a kingfisher, White-breasted Kingfisher to be precise. Although I respected her knowledge, I doubted that it could be one as there were no water bodies nearby. In any case the bird looked quite drab and I had always thought, no doubt aided by the Kingfisher brand of a prominent corporate group, that Kingfishers were brilliantly coloured birds.

My first view of the brilliant blue back of the bird came just a few days later as I was trying to photograph some pipits on a nearby paddy field. Just beyond the field there were two artificial ponds carved out during excavation of earth for a railway project. On the edge of one of the ponds stood a tree which made a perfect perch for kingfishers. Although the ponds were quite dry due to the monsoon not yet having started, I could see that this tree was being used regularly by a pair of these birds. Upon further scouting I discovered that they were nesting on the banks of one of the ponds.

I found these birds quite shy in the beginning but as the season progressed more of them could be seen in the area and I got good opportunities to photograph them. Soon mating calls became more strident and desperate and they could be seen on telephone poles, wires, bamboo fences and even on the roof of my law college right in the middle of town! In fact, during the monsoon, they would be one of the commonest birds to be sighted as one drove along the highway. A high degree of adaptability and a diversified diet ensures the proliferation of these species.

The other species that I have seen here is the pied kingfisher but it is extremely rare. Sadly haven't seen any of the other species.

Somehow this bird has always fascinated me since my childhood and seeing them at close quarters has dispelled the wrong notions I had of the bird, but the sense of admiration for this beautiful but deadly bird remains.