The papaya tree in the neighbor’s yard has been under my surveillance for a while now, ever since its first fruit ripened and I saw the Rufous Treepie and a Woodpecker have an altercation over who should have first go at it.
This is good, this is really good, I told myself, adjusting camera controls and focusing.
In reality, it wasn’t good at all. I found to my dismay that the tree is too far for even my zoom lens to get a good enough shot. Besides, the light was all wrong, the tree being in the shade of the house in front and the brightness coming right at you from the other end, silhouetting the tree.
Still that doesn’t deter me from hanging as far out as I can from the terrace of my house each day for a better view of proceedings, if not for that perfect shot then at least for the different stories that unfold.
Today is no different. I am out on my post with the camera slung around my neck and the sun beating down on my head. The headache from the sun could be dealt with later. The birds come first.
The Rufous Treepie didn’t disappoint. There it was, black and brown and white, and so easily visible. What makes it easy to spot is not just its color. The constant chatter it keeps up as if announcing its arrival in advance is a dead giveaway. Today noon it is different. No loud and raucous calls. It quietly glides over to the papaya tree and hops from one leaf to another till it reaches the ripe papaya and starts pecking.
Suddenly a White-cheeked Barbet manifests as if out of thin air. That’s how it always happens. One second, no barbets anywhere on the scene, next moment, there’s a barbet right there. The reason is quite simple, White-cheeked Barbets are a beautiful green in color and difficult to spot in the foliage. You inevitably mistake it for a leaf. Anyway, this White-cheeked Barbet (WB) says something to the Rufous Treepie (RT) and a conversation ensues. I’ll translate the whole thing for you here:
WB1: You there, RT. Get moving.
RT: (coming up for air with ripe papaya all over face) Eh? Wha….?
WB1: I said, ‘Get moving’. Our tree.
WB2: (hopping down from the upper branches where it was biding its time) Yup, our tree. Get lost!
RT: (well versed in Bird Law and not about to give up without a fight) I disagree. Yup, absolutely disagree. This tree is common property of all birds of the Bird Kingdom. I have every right to be here.
WB1: Shut up!
RT: (indignant) Are you trying to intimidate me, the bully? Perhaps you haven’t heard. I have a reputation of being a bully! Look at me. I am bigger than you, don’t forget. I can easily take on the pair of you and send you both flying.
WB2: (in bored tones) You and who else? Pah. You are a juvi still. Come back when you are older.
RT: (even more indignant) I am not a juvenile. I am a full grown adult.
WB1: Hey you! (points to itself) Meet the new bully. ME! Howzzat?
Two more White-cheeked Barbets fly in just then and stand around threateningly. Outnumbered, the Rufous Treepie realizes it is unwise to take any action and so retreats to nurse a bruised ego and mull things over.
The four barbets are pleased at the turn of events.
But something unexpected happens next. The barbet couples have a fall out. The second couple want to have first go at the ripe papaya. The first couple outright disagree with the suggestion. We were here first, they say. First come first served, they insist. They chase the brash newcomers off forgetting they helped in scaring the Rufous Treepie. The coast is now clear and one of them stands guard while the other eats its fill.
The Rufous Treepie having thought things over decides to return and assert its bully-rights. What’s more, this time it wasn’t going to give up so easily either. The barbet couple their stomach full with fresh juicy papaya of kindness sloshing inside couldn’t care less. Your turn, they call out in cheerful tones to the Rufous Treepie who is amazed at this turn of events. All its carefully worded threatening speech of no use now! Sheesh.
The barbets fly away in a flurry of wings waving a cheery goodbye. The Rufous Treepie settles down for its meal in peace.
There is a lesson in all this for me. Can you guess what it is? I bet you can’t. It is that I must plant a few papaya trees in my own backyard. 😉
©Shail Mohan 2016