Friday, July 01, 2011

Birds and Butterflies

The past week has been one of the most relaxing and fulfilling since I returned home in March.

The monsoon has set in- in a way- and waking up to grey skies is a major delight of my life. There is something promising about rainy mornings; the birds seem more active than they usually are, too, and butterflies run riot in the overgrown, weed-infested garden.

The heavy rains have rejuvenated the earth, and their abundance is in evidence all around this 53-year-old house. What I know from hearsay is that it was constructed for the British employees of the steel plant, and they wanted plenty of space in and around their houses. So our kitchen comes with a pantry attached to it, and opens on to a large courtyard generously shaded by neem, guava and mango trees.

Last morning, wiping sleep out of my eyes at a not-too-respectable hour, I was surprised to see a pair of woodpeckers hopping on our slightly mossy wall; one of them then flew noisily away into the jackfruit trees next door, while the other balanced itself comfortably on the wall, then realising that damp cement wasn't exactly to its taste, hastened into the branches of the neem tree overhead. You could spend hours watching the birds and butterflies at play. There are the birds with black-and-white plumage that alight on gates and electric wires, but hardly stay still for a couple of moments. The parrots seem to have abandoned us for the present, but other birds come and go, a flash of colour, a rustle and a chirp being all that I register in the tiny fractions of time for which they present themselves in a clear, unobstructed fashion.

The butterflies, surprisingly, are easier to keep track of. I know of five different varieties in our garden, by colour: pale green, yellow, a lovely violet (whose wings are black-and-white when closed in the act of sucking nectar), a brilliant black-and-blue, and black-and-orange. Perhaps some of them have grown used to my presence- they don't fly away in a hurry, and sometimes even stay still as I steady the stem of the gently rocking flower they're working on. Watching their little limbs grip the flower, their wings slide slowly as they suck nectar, is breathtaking- they're a marvel of biology and nature. The rains have been a real blessing: wildflowers have sprung out of nowhere, mauve, magenta and yellow, and the butterflies visibly have a tough time picking their hosts. The wet earth has also disgorged some not-so-attractive worms, caterpillars and abnormally large toads, but I'll save them for another time.

Mucking about in the garden, watching butterflies and trying to take pictures of them, has reminded me how little I know of lepidopterology or photography. I apparently have a lot to do over the coming week, and I'm looking forward to it. I just hope the rains are on my side!

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