Of the many interesting experiences during the recent survey in Meghalaya, this is probably the one that I managed to photo-document the best. It is a prime candidate for an independent post!
We were surveying the Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary in the Ri-Bhoi district of Meghalaya. It remains the only sanctuary in the Khasi Hills and is one of the best areas for bird-watching in northeast India. The Range Officer had advised us to camp inside the sanctuary along with a team of Forest Department staff. It was almost as if he had read my last post (Surviving Surveys) and wanted to disprove the 3 forbidden C’s theory! Although our survey for the nocturnal Slow Loris meant that our walks were to start only after the sunset, I couldn’t resist early morning bird-watching walks. It was during this time that we came across one of the most diligent and yet careless animals I have ever seen.
We were walking on a forest path and the particular area in question had plenty of bamboo. We could hear the ‘tok tok tok’ noises of a woodpecker in the vicinity. From the sound, it seemed really close. I was with Wanphai Lyngdoh, a good natured and intelligent Beat Officer and colleague Swapna. We stopped in our tracks and tried to identify the direction of the sound. As we tiptoed towards it, the sound kept getting louder and louder until it we felt that whatever was making it must be within an arms reach! But we just could not see a thing! Try as we might , we just couldn’t see any movement. It was then that I noticed the hole in the bamboo. Watch the video below.
After several confused minutes, the truth finally hit us. The bird was inside the bamboo! We were standing right next to the hole and it didn’t have a clue about our presence. Of course we still had to verify it. Wanphai and myself spoke in signs and quietly approached the bamboo. He then put his hand on the opening. Finally, the woodpecker stopped its drumming. It seemed to have finally woken up to the circumstances with the absence of the only light source.
We placed the bamboo on the ground and wrenched out a piece. And there it was. Sure enough, there was a Pale headed woodpecker (Gecinulus grantia) sitting inside. We took it out slowly, frozen as it was in complete disbelief and shock, took a few pictures and let it go. I had never seen a Pale headed woodpecker from so close. Actually, I had never seen any woodpecker from so close! As we saw it fly away, I couldn’t help whisper a word of advice to it : “ Dude, it is important to build a nice house, but you really should watch your neck. Its a jungle out there!”