Filming Birds from a Goan Porch by Chinmaya Dunster

I’m fortunate to live in a village in Goa, in a house with a traditional Goan porch at the front. Surrounding the house are cashew and coconut trees, a patch of remnant jungle, a stream and a rice field. An ancient cashew partly overhangs the porch, providing perching and feeding opportunities for numerous birds.

The great advantage of filming from home is having time. I work from home, so I can keep an ear open for interesting-sounding events and rush to the porch and my waiting camera whenever one presents itself. In this way I have managed to capture (with a very simple mini DV video camera) some unusual bird sequences.

Three stand out; the first was the appearance of two Great Pied hornbills on a coconut stump next to the stream. They spent a good half hour demolishing the top meter of the stump (were they searching for something or just enjoying themselves?). These birds are native to the deep rainforests of the Western Ghats thirty kilometers away, and usually to be glimpsed only in the high treetops, so I felt very lucky.

The second was a mixed flock of sunbirds, containing at least twenty individuals of Purple-rumped and Crimson-backed, hunting insects among the cashew flowers just half a meter off the porch. I have asked around, and no-one has ever heard of sunbirds flocking!

The third, in the middle of monsoon, was when I heard a female Blue Monarch flycatcher calling persistently from the cashew branches. I watched her repeatedly fly from her perch to the ground in distress and wandered over to investigate. I found her tiny chick feebly struggling amongst the wet leaves and mud. There was no sign of its nest, so I rigged up an old wooden box, with a circular hole cut in the front (and a neat little twig at the entrance to provide a perch for mum) and popped the chick in. Over the next days I filmed as the mother, in pouring rain, gradually managed to coax the chick into taking food from her. The trouble was the chick was so anxious to get close to her that it kept falling out through the hole and I needed to rescue it from our prowling cats and dogs. After a couple of days I closed the hole, took the top off the box and waited to see if the chick would manage to fly off. A couple of attempts resulted in falls, but on the third day I was gratified to see it fly up to a branch and it’s waiting mother.

I’ve had Black-hooded orioles fly right through my porch, one of them brushing my hair with its wings. There was a male Paradise flycatcher that sat on the cashew tree and allowed my wife, with her still camera, to stand directly underneath it, so close that she could have reached up and touched it. One time a pair of Blue-bearded beeeaters ensconced themselves in the bushes at the edge of the jungle and allowed me almost within touching distance. Orange-headed thrushes and Tickels flycatchers regularly patrol the bare ground beneath the cashew tree; Jungle babblers pass through daily in a riot of noise. I can climb up onto my tile roof and film Small minivets and Golden orioles in the treetops when the right blossoms are out. Three kingfisher species (Common, White-breasted and Stork-billed) live along the stream and use our telephone wires as resting spots.

In all I have filmed over a hundred species around our house. Within the general area (which includes some open grassland on a nearby hill) I’ve seen around fifty more, including Pied crested cuckoo, peafowl, Blue-faced malkoha, and White-bellied sea eagle (roaming five kilometers from the coast).

Goa’s diverse landscapes and ecosystems come together in our tiny village (the only thing we don’t have is coast or wetland, although birds from both pass through). Here anyone with a bit of time and patience (even those like me who lack expensive equipment and specialist ornithological skills) can be generously rewarded by the blessings brought by the presence of birds.

Chinmaya Dunster is a UK-born composer and filmmaker who lives in
Goa. He uses his spare time to film birds from the balcony of his
village house, using a tiny Sony TRV20 and 2X zoom lens. Over four
years he has been able to achieve some impressive results simply by
having the time to be on hand whenever something interesting comes
close enough to film!"

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