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The land of travelling falcons

by Swati Sidhu

 

The sunlight was weakening and the cool of an advancing night was creeping into the air. We stopped to ask a young man where we were. “In Tyrso”, he replied. Marshall, Nick, and I had been driving for three hours and had watched the road gradually deteriorate the further we got from Shillong. We had been searching the skies and checking every bird on the way, hoping to see a falcon. We were in Meghalaya in November, a place of clouds, torrential rains, and travelling falcons.

Some houses had appeared in the distance as we came upon an old man. His weathered face lit up when we spoke to him, and in Khasi mixed with gestures, he told us that the falcons could be seen flying over the mountains ahead. We travelled on, but not a falcon was to be seen. Again, we stopped to ask a woman on the road-side. She was carrying a basket full of pineapples and wore Jansem, a traditional dress tied over her shoulders. She too pointed us towards those mountains. Ten mintutes later, we reached a small village shop where a few old men stood talking to one other. Marshall asked about the birds and once again we were pointed ahead towards the mountains! Everyone seemed to be confident about these birds but our hopes were waning with the light in the skies.

We finally came to a point where the road ended, and an earthmover was working to level the path ahead. A few men and several children stood watching the soft earth being turned and exposed. We walked up to them, exchanged greetings, and asked about the falcons. A man told us that they would come soon, we should just wait. I found it hard to believe that birds who have travelled for thousands of miles would appear at the appointed time, as though they were dinner guests expected in a little while.

 

The search ends

The sky seemed empty but for a few wisps of grey cloud. As I waited, some dark specks appeared against the clouds. I raised my binoculars. There they were, Amur falcons! One. Another. Then more. We were told to follow a path ahead where more falcons could be seen. As we walked, the falcons were flying in from everywhere and filling up the air above. They were moving with an effortless purpose. The path in the narrow valley led upto a small clump of houses below the darkening hills. A big white cloud hung over the horizon where the path led. As I watched the falcons fly toward this fluffy cloud, I also noticed many smaller clouds streaking the sky, all pointing towards the big cloud. It seemed to me as if the whole earth and sky, hypnotized by the falcons, was moving with them to a single point in the horizon. I felt overwhelmed as time seemed to stretch out and meet the vastness of the space around me. Standing far below, the reality of it began to dawn on me. I was sharing a tiny moment in the very long journey of the falcons. As the birds moved slowly on, and disappeared beyond the horizon, a pinch of sadness touched my heart. The sky too had grown dark, as though gently grieving their departure.


Seasoned travellers

  • The Amur Falcon is a small bird of prey that migrates from its breeding grounds in Siberia and northern China all the way across India and the Arabian Sea to spend the winter in southern Africa.
  • These falcons travel a distance of nearly half the earth’s circumference during migration.
  • Researchers have fixed tiny satellite tags on some of these birds to learn about their journey and migration routes.
  • Starting 2013, one satellite-tagged Amur Falcon, Naga, has undertaken this long journey every year, a tremendous feat for this small bird.

 

Photo: An Amur Falcon on a long migration journey, flying from northern Asia to southern Africa. He will be traveling back again when winters end. Credit: P Jeganathan

 

This article appeared in the Hindu in School on 30 November 2016.

 

 

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