Friday, November 20, 2009


Just about a month ago as I came back from my Office, my wife exclaimed loudly, "The bandit back". Lest readers get alarmed I must inform them that the the Bandit is a name we have given to the shrikes that inhabit our Garden and the surrounding Tea Estate. I rushed out to see the bird as it happened to be one of my favourtites. Sure enough there he was, sitting quietly on a bougainvillea bush some 80-100 feet from us.

Shrikes had been a common sight when I first started birding some 8-9 months ago but had disappeared during the monsoon. The band of grey-black covering the eyes reminded us of masked bandits. The species that I have seen so far are the Grey-backed Shrike, Long-tailed Shrike and the Brown Shrike. I still have great difficulty in distinguishing between the first two. These birds were a boon for a novice birder cum photographer like me as they often perched on middle level branches and gave me an opportunity for those all important eye level shots. Although I must hasten to add that they can be an absolute pain as they act as sentinels and warn all other birds in sight with their harsh calls. The Grey-backed Shrike is the one with the harshest call while the brown shrike is relatively silent.

They are also quite shy and take flight easily. In the last 8-9 months of my rather limited birding experience, I have noticed that the predatory birds are quicker to take flight on approach as compared to others. The shrike also gives you a fair warning before taking flight. The moment it is alarmed, it suddenly makes its body horizontal for a second or so before taking flight. I have also noticed that it poops before taking flight. Maybe it makes the body lighter before taking off!! I have also observed this in other bird species.

They have been here since September now and can be seen all over the Tea Estate. Territorial fights often broke out in the first month of their return. These are noisy and full of energy. They seemed to have settled down and one can be sure to find them in the same location every day. I am hoping that, as they get used to my presence, they will allow me to get closer for better photos. I am also hoping to observe some of the behaviour which adds to the reputation of cruelty that these birds have.

Here's to the Return of the Masked Bandit!!

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