Archive for June, 2015

Cedar Waxwings, Wehr Nature Park, 260615

June 30, 2015

Cedar Waxwings

are truly “can they be for real?” birds….they look as if someone touched them with paint colours, here and there!




went to the Wehr Nature Reserve, and I found a flock of these delightful birds.

The cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) is a member of the family Bombycillidae or waxwing family of passerine birds. It is a medium-sized, mostly brown, gray, and yellow bird named for its wax-like wing tips. It is a “silky, shiny collection of brown, gray, and lemon-yellow, accented with a subdued crest, rakish black mask, and brilliant-red wax droplets on the wing feathers.”

Males and females look alike.


Preferred habitat consists of trees at the edge of wooded areas, or “open” forests, especially those that provide access to berry sources as well as water. They are frequently seen in fruiting trees.[3] Waxwings are attracted to the sound of running water, and love to bathe in and drink from shallow creeks. In urban or suburban environments, waxwings often favor parkland with well-spaced trees; golf courses, cemeteries, or other landscaping with well-spaced trees; bushes that provide berries; and a nearby water source such as a fountain or birdbath. They can also be found near farms, orchards, and gardens, particularly ones with fruiting trees or shrubs.


The cedar waxwing eats berries and sugary fruit year-round, including dogwood, serviceberry, cedar, juniper, hawthorn, and winterberry, with insects becoming an important part of the diet in the breeding season. Its fondness for the small cones of the Eastern Red Cedar (a kind of juniper) gave this bird its common name. They eat berries whole. They sometimes fly over water to catch insects. Since we were near water, I was able to observe their insect-catching behaviour for a while.

The two common calls of these birds include very high-pitched whistles and buzzy trills about a half second long, often repeated.Its call can also be described as “high, thin, whistles.” They call often, especially in flight.

Here’s a video:

Mating season for this bird begins around the end of spring and runs through late summer. The male will do a “hopping dance” for the female. If she is interested, she’ll hop back. During courtship the male and female will sit together and pass small objects back and forth, such as flower petals or an insect. Mating pairs will sometimes rub their beaks together affectionately.

The nest is a loose open cup built with grass and twigs, lined with softer materials.It takes around five or six days for the female waxwing to build the nest and can take up to 2,500 trips back and forth. Sometimes the female will steal nest material from other species’ nests to save time!

The eggs are oval shaped with a smooth surface, of various shades of light or bluish grey with irregular, dark brown spots or greyish-brown splotches. Both parents build the nest and feed the young. Typically, there are one or two broods during the mating season. Young leave the nest about 14 to 18 days after hatching. (getOf course, all this is information..I didn’t see any of it!)


Perhaps one can also see drunken waxwings….the wiki says, “Sometimes, cedar waxwings will eat fruit that is overripe and has begun to ferment, intoxicating the bird.”

I thoroughly enjoyed WTW….Watching The Waxwings, and I hope you did, too!

In the evening of life….

June 29, 2015

The sun sinks westwards. The lights come on.
The day’s work may be done…
But the evening’s work is just begun.
Very soon, we will be gone.
But while it lasts, we can choose
To savour the moment, its pinks and blues.


Watching a family of Killdeer

June 25, 2015

the Killdeer


(Charadrius vociferus) is a medium-sized plover. It’s a cousin of the Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius

The adults have a brown back and wings, a white belly, and a white breast with two black bands. The face and cap are brown with a white forehead. The eyering is orange-red.


The chicks are patterned almost identically to the adults, and are precocial — able to move around immediately after hatching.


The wiki says, “During nesting season killdeer use open dry uplands, open areas where vegetation is short or absent, agricultural field, and meadows…there is… use of open wetland habitat and savannahs, selecting dry bare ground and dry ground with vegetation within wetland areas.”


This does not explain the fact that I often see Killdeer in the vacant lot opposite DnA’s home, and indeed, for the past week or so, it’s been delightful to watch a family of two adults and two babies, as they forage in the grass,


and run around on their long, clockworky legs which work as though wound up very fast! One cannot help laughing at the practically whirring motion of the legs as these birds run across the grass and the road (they don’t seem to want to fly very often.)


The parents often call their young, as they wander here and there. I am sorry to say that over the years, I have never heard anything from any Killdeer that sounds like their name (“It is named onomatopoeically after its call”) The call I’ve heard is always a fluting kind of cry. Maybe the “killdeer” is its song?

They are migratory in northern areas and winter as far south as northern South America.
The wiki says they are found in rural and urban areas: “These birds forage for food in fields, mudflats, and shores, usually by sight. They mainly eat insects. In built up areas they will forage in large parking lots. If those lots are well lit, they may forage at night.”

So I am enjoying the Killdeer family that’s made this street its temporary home, and it’s great fun to see one or the other looking up at me from the front lawn or the crown of the road. This year, I haven’t seen the “lame-wing” behaviour (it’s called a distraction display) that they are known for, but that’s because the babies are already out of the nest, wherever it was.


They certainly are not dangerous to deer, but these pretty birds are entertaining me very much for the past few days, and I will miss them when they finally go off!

A visit to a Gurudwara, 210615

June 23, 2015

Not being familiar with the customs and rituals of a place of worship, and a religion different from one’s own, often inhibits one from visiting such places. But when our friends Laxmichand and Vandana told us that they were visiting the

Gurudwara (Sikh place of worship)

in St. Peters, Mo, we decided to go, too.


We dressed for the occasion (heads have to be covered in the gurudwara)


though of course some of our expressions might have left a lot to be desired….


We crossed the Missouri river, which seemed to be at an alarmingly high level.


When we reached there (about 45 min drive), I was very impressed by the beauty of the building:


Here we are…


Going in…


The minarets were beautiful lotus buds!


Of course I could not avoid a little birding, especially when an I-know-you-from-India

Barn Swallow


sat in front of the minarets, with water dripping from its wing


We sat meditatively through the calm, peaceful ritual of worship (having missed much of it…we reached at 1.10 pm and the “kIrtan” came to an end at 1.30pm). The text of the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book) that was chosen was displayed on CCTV’s, with transliteration and a very good translation too, so that everyone could follow. I feel that every religion can be followed to the path of Godhead or self-realization or mOkshA; one can call it whatever one wants. Less and less do I understand the discord between humans in the name of religion. It is true, though, that extremists often take over the manifestations and rituals of a religion…but they are the ones we have to wage war against, not the peaceful followers of any belief system.

After this, we adjourned to the dining hall, where a lot of excellent food (called “langar”) had been both brought, and prepared on the spot, by Sewaks (volunteers). “Swallow” was, indeed, the operative word that afternoon.

Here’s the kitchen:


Here we are, sitting cross-legged on the floor, eating and enjoying a wide variety of excellent dishes:




That’s Kabir, the Fatnanis’ son, playing with K1 and K2.


There are 3 generations of Fatnanis….grandfather, father, and son, and D and K2, for Father’s Day:


(There are 3 mothers and 2 daughters, too!)

We also visited Aarti and Mallik, at their beautiful home:


Prema, Aarti’s mother, introduced us to a hilarious video about Google:


You want the video? Here it is!

Here’s a closing shot of that Barn Swallow….


Peregrine Falcons: Urban and Suburban! St Louis, and Alton, Mo., 13 and 160615

June 17, 2015

It’s been two occasions that I’ve been given great opportunities to watch the fastest birds on earth.


The first time was when a pathologist at the Washington University School of Medicine, Dr. Caitlin Andrews, posted on the MoBirds listserv that she could see a nest where a Peregrine Falcon pair had three babies. I emailed her immediately, and she was kind enough to offer me access to a building, from the passage of which I could see the ventilator of the building opposite,


where the falcons were nesting.

When I went, there was one baby still sitting just outside the nest.


As a little time went by without either parent appearing, the little one (not all that little…it’s nearly full-grown!) decided to snack on the ex-pigeon (I think) that was left in the nest:


The other one was trying his wings out, a few floors above, on the top of the building:



The mother came in briefly while we were there, to check out the nestling (and possibly get it to fledge, too.)


A few days after this, I got a message from Danny Brown, and along with Barb Brownell, Brenda Hente, and him, I went to the banks of the mighty Mississippi at Alton,


to watch the birds. Danny said, “You’ve seen the urban falcons, now come out and see the suburban ones!”

Well, it was a thrill not to be missed…and though we might not have seen the hurtling top speeds that the falcon is capable of, we still enjoyed seeing a family of two fledglings and the parents,


who took turns sitting on a snag of wood at the top of a bluff, with the babies atop a dead tree above them.

While we were there, two other people joined us, too…and we exchanged a lot of information about the falcons.


The male, Brenda said, when we could see the band on his leg, had been banded last year: and on FaceBook, Lori told me that he’d been banded at the World Bird Sanctuary in Nov 2014 and released. How lovely to know that he didn’t go far at all! Here’s the band, showing:

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Peregrine Falcon,Alton, 160615

Posted by Deepa Mohan on Tuesday, June 16, 2015

As the “I’m hungry” noise of the babies increased, the parents went off and though we could not see the hunt, they both returned with food; each parent fed one fledgling. We could not see the third at all, probably it was a way off, being more adventurous.

Here’s the bluff (without zoom) that we found the falcons on:


Here’s the falcon in flight, coming in to land near the fledglings:


Here’s the falcon plucking the feathers out and “prepping” the meal for the babies:

Off she flies to feed her children:

Here are a few shots of the meal (the other one was fed later by the male)




The two children after the meal:


Here’s the male with his catch.



He dropped down below our line of vision to feed the other fledgling. We were looking right up the bluff, and I learnt that Falcon Neck is the same complaint as Warbler Neck!

If you look carefully, you can see the two young ones on the dead tree and one adult on the ledge to the right, below:


Here’s an adult, preening:


Here’s Danny of the Mighty Lens:


Here are Brenda and Barb. The lady on the right is a birdwatcher, too, and stopped when she saw us looking upwards!


Though it was an overcast, muggy day, we were still grateful that it was not as hot as it could have been. Danny complained about the female bird sitting facing the trees, asking it, “Behind you is the Mississippi, the mightiest river in the world,


… why don’t you sit facing it?” I pointed out that it was only following our example; we too had our backs to the river, looking up across the road at the steep limestone bluff where the fastest birds in the world were!

In fact, I hoped, as I stepped backwards, trying to find a place where I could get the birds above the tree-line, that I wouldn’t be making news by falling into the Big Muddy and becoming a Bit Muddy myself. Brenda more prosaically pointed out Poison Ivy growing behind me and I became even more careful.

My photos of the Wash U falcons are on my FB album,


and those of the Alton trip are on my FB album,


I’ll say bye to the falcons with a final shot of her, with her beautiful eyelids closed as she relaxes a little after mealtime:


I’m not kidding, as I walked down the road to the station to see the Wash U falcons, here’s a number plate I got:


A tale told by KTB…

June 14, 2015

KTB: “I’ll tell you a story, instead of you always telling me one.”

Me: “OK”. (After this I could not say a word.)

KTB: “There was a girl called Kavya who were very mean to her. A fairy godmother called Deepa appeared and said, ‘Make a wish!’ Kavya wanted her parents to become nicer. But they became a bit nicer and she became a bit meaner. Then a brother appeared who was super mean to them. The fair godmother came again and asked Kavya to make a wish. ‘I want him to become nicer,’ she said. ‘Granted!’ said the godmother Then Kavya wanted a house in the clouds, and they also had a tree house. (in a final rush) Theyallivedhappilyeveraftertheend.”

Wellness (why is it no longer plain old “good health”?) and diet…

June 12, 2015

Email to my friend Mayank, who posted about some “cereal-free porridge” made by someone.

Once again. I must enter an objection to this “cereal-free porridge”. Why does everything have to be “XYZ-free” to be “healthy”? What’s wrong with cereal now? Gluten? Or have they discovered some new danger-buzzword?

I repeat…I was brought up on all the “wrong” things…polished rice, refined oil, crunchies, sugar..and brought up my daughter on them, too. We were, however, moderate in our food habits (ok,ok, I used to make pizza from scratch at home because back then even pizza bases were not available!) She had fudge regularly at Corner House. In fact, I must own to one excess…I am a confirmed chocoholic, and firmly believe that it brought me through several bouts of depression! When I cheer up, my need for chocolate automatically comes down.

But certainly we’ve taken regular (in my case, moderate there, too) exercise, and led not-too-sedentary lifestyles. I cannot presume to say that it will suit others. I can only say that it’s suited us. My daughter runs half-marathons regularly. I actually gave up running, but walk everywhere, and have survived…so far. I have not developed the many ailments that I should have developed, congenitally. Oh yes, I eat a lot of the “good” foods as well as the “bad” ones…I make my phulkas, and yes,my general diet is a light one. An Indian diet is far lighter than a “western” one…but we are getting there fast with the burgers and fries. I need only to see the queues at the local “McD’s) to realize this.

Fads do come and go. I remember when it was so cool to have only “bottled” or “mineral” water, and drinking water from the tap was uncool. (So was cycling, when I took it up in the early 90’s in Bangalore.) I continued with the tap water right through this phase, and now mineral water is taboo in some circles, though the convenience of it still makes it very popular (along with the snob-price factor!) It became cool to offer “cooldrings” when someone came home, full of sugar…and now it’s uncool.

I remember when our “traditional” vegetables became uncool. I wonder if that trend has reversed yet, or we are still after exotic vegetables. I don’t know, because I have stuck to the traditional baingan-bhindi for decades.

Seems to me that people always need to feel that what they are doing (something different from the “uninformed average”) is right, and what “other people” are doing is wrong. “How can they live like that!”

Hmm…this is going to become a blogpost. But thank you for making me think about diet and nutrition.

Major de Light….

June 11, 2015

I took her to the public library, and she cuddled up to the teddy bear in the children’s section.


She meaured her own height, too…


Very reluctantly posed in front of the reading frame:


At home, she wanted to hide and have her father “seek” her. Her idea of hiding, first in this way:


When I told her she could be seen, she retreated a little up the steps…. with the light casting her shadow before her!


Finally, here she is, watching the “chainyyA chainyyA” video…


Here’s the video (the song has no causal connection with the movie, but made it a hit!)

She’s that French military gentleman…Major de Light!

KTB and her spelling, 090615

June 11, 2015

I am thrilled with KTB’s creative spelling. In a country where “unnecessary” vowels were deleted from words like “colour” and “favour”, this girl goes out of her way to “olsoe” do her own thing on words!


Certainly, the one thing she’s doing in sumur scool is learning Original Spelling!

Circus Flora, 2015: “A Summer on Second Street”

June 10, 2015

Dawn Kimberling and I volunteered for

Circus Flora 2015

(Anyone who wishes to, can sign up as a volunteer

here )


and yesterday, Harald, one of the House Managers, assigned us our work.


We willingly went about our duties (clean all the seats that are made very dusty by the show horses running around on the sawdust, show people to their seats, help with any difficulty, hand out programs anything that may come up which we can handle ourselves…more serious matters to be referred to Scott or Harald, the House Managers.) Wewere done within a few minutes of the show starting.

We then went up to the top row to sit on some empty seats, and enjoyed the show. It was a theme of “One Summer on Second Street”,


with a predictably loose tale linking the various acts…trapeze, trampoline, horse-riding, juggling, acrobatics, gymnastics, performing cats and pigeons (er, not together!) and some hilarious clowing by

Adam Kuchler

He actually orchestrated the clapping of the audience to gales of laughter!

For many similar acts, you can see my blogpost about the time I volunteered in 2013,

click here

and you can see many videos, too. Here are some photos from yesterday:






I was especially happy to watch my favourite high-wire artists, the

Flying Wallendas

who are now performing in their seventh generation. I started reading about them in “Life” magazine, in my childhood!

I’d met Alex Wallenda on a

flight that I wrote about here

and had sent him and Claire greetings on

their wedding,

too. Considering the thousands of people he must have met all over the world, I am amazed that yesterday, too, he recognized me…and remembered my name! I told him he could do another circus performance for a great memory. Here are Aurelia (I think) , Alex and


(who is nearly 65, and has performed in so many places, including prisons!),yesterday:


I looked up at the Big Top, and was very impressed. So I got the circus brochure and went through it after I came home. I realized that even the circus tent is an extraordinary work of architecture. It was designed and erected by

Erik Jaeger

and here’s a video of the Big Top going up:

So it’s not only the immense talent, unrelenting practice, and dedicatio of the artistes, but even the circus space, that is very impressive!