Tuesday, February 5, 2008


The common tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius) had come back. This time I could only see the mother making so much fuss about something, hopping from a flower tree to another a few feet away from the car porch. Sometimes I saw small insects in its beaks. I was sure that mom was feeding its chicks somewhere.

I searched high and low for its nest, but failed. Just I was about to depart for the land office for a meeting with the newly elected Deputy Chief Minister, there they were, two tail-featherless chicks jumping out of their nest! They tried their best to escape us, but their flying ability failed them miserably. I finally caught them and put them back into their nest.

The nest was built, of all the places, on a tree in a flowerpot near the entrance to the administrative building. It was expertly concealed between two broad leaves beautifully knitted at the lower end with natural threads forming almost a cone and filled with dry blades of grasses, bird feathers and cobwebs.I had been searching high and low for such a nest in the laboratory's compound for a long time, but failed to find any.

Suddenly, there they were in between the broad leaves just a few feet away from the door. The mother was frantic as its well-hidden secret was finally uncovered. It continuously called out for its chicks. I quickly summoned our photographer, Chef Ibrahim to record my finding on film. According to Zullina, she knew about the nest for quite a while. She had witnessed the entire process of nest building, egg laying and hatching. I was so frustrated that she did not inform me about the nest. If not, I would for sure have the entire beautiful process recorded on film. No matter what, welcome back my dear common tailorbirds!

Up the acacia tree across the hoarding bordering the soon-to-be-demolished pig farm, I saw a pack of dusky leaf monkeys (Presbytis obscura) busy foraging for tender acacia shoots and flowers. As I made my way for a closer look, they one by one jumped onto the hoarding and scampered onto the pig houses.

Altogether there were seventeen adults and juveniles and six babies tightly holding on to their mothers' bellies. They were breeding all right, but I was sure that inbreeding was rampant in such a small flock. I wondered how long these monkeys would survive in their seriously diminishing domain. The imminently looming construction works of the new laboratory would further aggravate the already hopeless situation they were in. Trees that all these whiles were their foraging grounds would soon be felled down to make way for the new laboratory. Their only hope then was the thin forest lining the Juru River, but that too was not a guarantee.

In the grasses of the former cactus corner, a meager five to six White-rumped munias (Lonchura striata) were diligently gathering grass seeds. Gone were the days when we could easily see these munias foraging for seeds by the hundreds. The munia's weight barely bent the slim stems of the overgrown grass. A metre or two away on the badly rusting and crooked chain-link fence, a lone Brown shrike (Lanius cristatus) gave out a warning shrill and flipped its tail up and down defensively as a pair of Yellow-vented bulbuls flew in its direction. The bulbuls meant no harm to the shrike. They were just flying by the fence, probably looking for breakfast.

On the still-wet brownish earth deposit making up the embankment of the drain, a juvenile, barely one foot in length, monitor lizard stayed still in the freshening morning sun. It was well camouflaged. Its rustic skin blended well with the recently dug silt from the earth drain. The non-stop stream of passing road did not seem to disturb it in any way. It just stayed theremotionless, collecting enough solar energy to increase its body temperature to an optimum level, suitable for its metabolism and otherbodily functions. Once in a while it extended its forked tongue out tocatch the passing flies and gnats.

Under the shade of the yellow bells, a shy Swinhoe\'s snipe (Capellamagala) flew in and sat still with its long slightly curved beaks almost touching the bare soil. I simply loved to observe the snipe resting. It would just sat there as if it was the only creature around. So peaceful, relax and tranquil. It would only fly away if youmoved in too close. But, I wondered why it was alone. Where were itsmate and family members? Why was it left alone like that?

Suddenly my eyes were attracted to something brown flying towards the windowpanes.It was that Pied fantail flycatcher (Rhipidura javanica) again. Itwent straight to the glass and using its fantail as a break, it stopped as its feet touched the glass. It was chasing after a moth. By the look of things, it was successful. The moth was clearly seen dangling from its small beaks.

A Yellow-bellied bulbul flew away in disgust as it failed in its hunt for the moth. The flycatcher was faster this time. As I was walking around the old condemned building, I heard something scratching against a metal surface. I went into the former registration room and went straight to the old-but-still-useable incinerator.

There was a large monitor lizard in it. It was probably going after the chicken carcasses. The smell of rotting carcasses had probably enticed the lizard from its normal dwelling area in the swamp nearby. I tried to coax it into escaping, but it seemed reluctant.Leaving the lizard to figure its way out of the incinerator, I walked away.

The silence of the morning was broken by the sound of an old lawnmower. It was Azahari mowing the week-old grasses, mostly Imperata cylinderica. A pair of ingenious Common mynahs (Acridotheres tristis)was following closely at the back of Azahari, combing the freshly mown grasses looking for exposed grasshoppers.

On an old wooden stool beneath a fruiting jackfruit tree, two Greater coucal were enjoying the half-ripe jackfruit. They did not seem to be a bit disturbed by my presence. Up the acacia tree a singing Asian koel sat restlessly on a twig as it realized that I was watching its every movement.

Satisfied with the birds that I had seen around thelaboratory, I made my way back to my room to prepare for the coming laboratory meeting.

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