Still waters

In October 2015, Flightpathproject revisited India.

Migrants in Madhya Pradesh

Flightpathproject spent a morning birding at the 600-acre Sirpur Lake, near Indore in Madhya Pradesh. Winter migrants are late this year, waiting for the weather to cool down, but some early birds, including cotton teal, have just arrived.

cotton pygmy

Cotton teal (Nettapus coromandelianus, aka Cotton pygmy-geese) among lily pads.

Image at

Still waters at Sirpur

Reed beds line the lakeshore: a filter system for water and feeding ground for birds.









More of these extraordinary images of Sirpur’s reed beds at

More information about conserving Sirpur at

Words about wetlands

Flightpathproject was again tracking the movements of poet Laurence Hope. The 1895-1900 diaries of Scottish writer and painter Violet Jacob, who was in central India at the same time as and spent time with Laurence Hope, brought Flightpathproject to the lake. The lilies of Sirpur – then known as Sherepore – had the same effect now as then.

20 July 1896: I heard the other day that the great pink lotus was to be seen in flower at a place called Sherepore tank a few miles from Indore…the creek was full of lovely rose-coloured flowers standing with their heads raised above the thick masses of leaves…it was most wonderful to me who have only seen it in pictures.’

Violet Jacob Diaries and Letters from India 1895- 1900, Canongate Publishing, 1990

violet jacob



Birding by ear

Making sense of sound

One of Brazil’s best birders is blind. Watch award-winning sound recordist Juan Pablo Culasso at work at

juan pablo

Image at

Sight unseen 

The Michigan Bird Brains are a team of young blind birdwatchers, lead by Donna Posont. Read her essay about birding blind at

Where Song Began

where song began 2Australian biologist Tim Low traces the discovery that Australia was the first home of the world’s songbirds (published by Penguin,2014).

He describes parrots – including the kooky palm cockatoo pictured on the cover – as having ‘aptitude with attitude’.

Film clip taken from the documentary Australia Land of Parrots. See

land of parrots

Read more about the palm cocko’s DIY drumsticks and use of drumming at

Recordings of palm cockos (and birdsong from around the world) are available online at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library


Palm Cockatoos

Illustration by the late, great Australian bird artist William Cooper (6 April 1934 – 10 May 2015).

Image at




Hearts in hiding

‘…my heart in hiding/Stirred for a bird’

from Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins

A story of love, grief and wilderness, of inner and outer landscape, of hearts stirred by a bird.

Published by Vintage 2014; winner of the Costa Book Award 2014

The Song of the Caged Hawk

High in the hiss of shrill chill winds, in league with roughneck frost,
The skyward-striking scouring goshawk veers through dawnlit day.
Thick mists are riven, closed clouds cleft, the rainbow hacked in half.
He thunders by, bolts, blazes, skims low hills and is away.

The fell swoosh of his killstroke quills cuts through the thorn and bush,
He falls to poach a fox or hare then soars, long gone, in gray.
With fur-flung claws and blood-drunk beak, scourge of a billion birds,
He stands alone, and scans the world- the fierce, proud Lord of Prey.

Then molten months and blistering winds burst on him unawares.
His moulted feathers fall. Hewn in the heart, he broods at bay.
The grassborn rats and cats he prized become his persecution.
Ten times a night he stares about in shellshock and dismay.

by Liu Kongyuan, 773-819AD

Words on the wing

How poets write about birds


Image and info at

Why poets write about birds

‘What is that draws poets to birds? And why have so many turned to them at critical points in their own writing? The collective nouns we all remember from childhood speak of language’s innate fascination with all things avian: a murder of crows, a murmuration of starlings, a parliament of fowls. And it’s no coincidence we afford them the most poetic collective nouns: right from the birth of literature birds have been present…’

Read Adam O’Riordan’s article at


Portrait of Keats listening to the nightingale by Joseph Severn, c.1845, image at

A murmuration of starlings

Nightflights in Mussoorie

Moths migrate along mountains:

Death's-head Hawkmoth in Mussoorie

Death’s-head Hawkmoth in Mussoorie

Photo by Peter Smetacek

Markers of climate change:

Almost eighty years after the first hawkmoth survey in Mussoorie, a second seeks to compare information. Lepidopterist Peter Semtacek wonders if warmer, wetter winters – which mean moister soil for the moths’ pupation period – are enabling moths to migrate west along the Himalayan foothills.

Read more at and

Listen and watch Peter’s TedX talk at

smetacek roof of world

Butterflies on the Roof of the World, Peter Smetacek, Aleph Books 2012

the lesson of the moth

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself

by Don Marquis (1878-1937)

Listen to the poem:

Flightpaths in the foothills

Flightpathproject is in India, heading up into the foothills of the Himalayas as winter altitudinal migrants head down:

transcend topography

by Nawang Norbu & Sherub; see


Early birds:

Maroon oriole

Maroon oriole

In early November, an early Maroon oriole in Landour, Uttarakhand.

Image at

Even earlier birds:

Hume's Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds

Hume’s Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds, 2nd edition, 1889

For more about this extraordinary Victorian ornithologist:

Image of the volumes is courtesy of the equally extraordinary Maria Brothers, booksellers since 1946 in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

Maria Brothers Booksellers

Maria Brothers Booksellers

To hear an Oriole sing

To hear an Oriole sing
May be a common thing—
Or only a divine.

It is not of the Bird
Who sings the same, unheard,
As unto Crowd—

The Fashion of the Ear
Attireth that it hear
In Dun, or fair—

So whether it be Rune,
Or whether it be none
Is of within.

The “Tune is in the Tree—”
The Skeptic—showeth me—
“No Sir! In Thee!”

by Emily Dickinson

Still waiting

Waders that stay

white egret nla

White Egret (Egreta alba) 1938

Ebenezer Edward Gostelow, Australian naturalist and artist (1867-1944)

From the collection of the National Library of Australia:



Once as I travelled through a quiet evening,
I saw a pool, jet-black and mirror-still.
Beyond, the slender paperbarks stood crowding;
each on its own white image looked its fill,
and nothing moved but thirty egrets wading –
thirty egrets in a quiet evening.

Once in a lifetime, lovely past believing,
your lucky eyes may light on such a pool.
As though for many years I had been waiting,
I watched in silence, till my heart was full
of clear dark water, and white trees unmoving,
and, whiter yet, those thirty egrets wading.

 From Birds: Poems by Judith Wright, National Library of Australia, 2003


Egrets in another country, in another century

Egrets are one of several species commonly called ‘rice birds’: these are cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis). The title of the poem below refers to Feroke, a small city surrounded by rivers and wetlands in Kerala, India.

 egret in paddy webImage at

The rice-birds fly so white, so silver white,
The velvet rice-flats lie so emerald green,
My heart inhales, with sorrowful delight,
The sweet and poignant sadness of the scene.

The swollen tawny river seeks the sea,
Its hungry waters, never satisfied,
Beflecked with fallen log and torn-up tree,
Engulph the fisher-huts on either side.

The current brought a stranger yesterday,
And laid him on the sand beneath a palm,
His worn young face was partly torn away,
His eyes, that saw the world no more, were calm

We could not close his eyelids, stiff with blood,–
But, oh, my brother, I had changed with thee
For I am still tormented in the flood,
Whilst thou hast done thy work, and reached the sea.

From Last Poems by Laurence Hope, William Heinemann, 1905; also in Selected Poems from The Indian Love Lyrics of Laurence Hope, William Heinemann, 1922