The return of Gangtok`s swallows

Last Updated: Friday, April 29, 2011 - 13:21

Gangtok: For bird lovers here one swallow indeed makes a summer! After several years the migratory birds have been seen again in large numbers in Sikkim`s capital city, returning to nest and hatch their eggs.
Gangtok: For bird lovers here one swallow indeed makes a summer! After several years the migratory birds have been seen again in large numbers in Sikkim`s capital city, returning to nest and hatch their eggs.

Heralding the arrival of spring-summer season, the swallows distinguished from the martins and other smaller birdlife by their characteristic deeply forked tail appear in the city around the months of March-April when they almost immediately set to nesting.

"This is the third year in continuation that the swallows have raised a family in the ceiling of our shop," says 58-year-old C L Kandoi, who owns a shop on MG Marg here.

In 2009 the shop had four chicks, in 2010 there were another four and this year the shop ceiling is home to the nest of a swallow couple and five recently born chicks wait with their beaks open for their parents to fly in food.

"We have been living here in Sikkim for the past 130 years and our family has been running this shop for the past 50-60 years. Earlier swallows used to come and make their nests here frequently.

"After some time they suddenly stopped and now again over the last 5-6 years they have begun returning and nesting and in the last three years they have been hatching their eggs right here," he says.

He points out that it usually takes the eggs about 15 days to hatch, about another 15 for the chicks to learn how to fly and after a few days of practice, they take off.

Slicing through the air in graceful swoops and darts, snapping up unsuspecting midges and flies along the way, spiritedly pursuing aerial game only they?d know the rules of or simply perched meditatively on wires and edges of rooftops, this twittering avian life was once a familiar sight along the capital`s MG Marg stretch.

While the swallows can still be sighted, their presence has dwindled among the bazaar residents. While earlier, they could be seen adding to the exuberance and bustle of the town in the thousands, over the past few seasons even a 100-200 count was hard to come by.

Gregarious by nature, the swallows are known to keep close to human habituations and civilizations and their local name `gaonthali` connotes this fact roughly translating as belonging to the vicinity of a village or ?gaon`.

This is most clearly manifested in their choice of location for the nest, which, over time, has travelled from overhanging cliff faces and caves to manmade structures like barns, bridges and dwellings which offer easy accessibility and are yet sheltered from weather and predators.

Also, their insect-feeding habits make them more tolerable to man, insectivores being beneficial to famers especially.

The mating season is usually from May to June-July during which they lay eggs at least twice and fly back to warmer climes towards the end of August. MORE PTI CORR ANS

Apart from the distinctive tail, their physical features include steel blue upperparts and a chestnut coloured throat patch separated from the off-white under parts by a blue-black breast band.

"These highly social birds have always been a pleasant feature around MG Marg and other parts of the capital; sadly, they are getting raw deal with modernisation and it is shocking that one has to actually search hard to be able to even sight them, but thanks to a few establishments in town like Sikkim Medical Hall, you still do," says Usha Lachungpa, senior scientist at Department of Forest Environment and Wildlife. Lachungpa, has her own swallow tryst each year with the nest right inside her residence.

Indian ornithologist and naturalist, late Dr Salim Ali, the "Birdman of India", gives a vivid account of the swallow presence on the MG Marg of yore, according them a near-heritage status in his book, The Birds of Sikkim (Delhi: OUP, 1962) which establishes two kinds of swallow species frequenting the "Gangtok, Aritar" hills.

"Gangtok town and bazaar, it is a familiar sight to see numbers of swallows shooting up and down at high speed close over the road surface in pursuit of midges and flies, twisting and dodging their way in amongst mules and, loiterers and other obstacles with the utmost dexterity and confidence of safety...birds take possession of traditional sites within bazaar shops and dwellings, perching on brackets, wall clock and the like, and twittering spiritedly an arm`s length above the heads of noisily haggling customers!" he writes.

"In April 1955, there was an occupied nest in the Dewan`s office in Gangtok. The pair of owners flew in and out freely all day long regardless of the noise of the telephone and typewriters and the bustle of chattering clerks and visitors in the low ceilinged little room. The building was shut up every evening after office hours and not opened again next morning till well after sun up, so that the birds had to co-ordinate their daily chores closely with the working hours of the Government Secretariat!"

Apart from various modernisation, urbanisation and beatification projects that have gradually transformed the town`s landscape over the years, other factors like climatic variations, the trading of the wooden structures that donned the town face of then, for the swankier glass-and-concrete wonders of now, has compelled the swallows to relocate their summer haunts to less concretized habitats.

While earlier times saw nearly every shop or residence sheltering at least one swallow nest nowadays, only a handful enjoy the rare privilege of annual swallow house calls, that too due to efforts by a few families who have tried to ensure that the birds return the next season.

PTI

Srinagar: Security has been tightened as
tension prevailed in Maisuma and Lal Chowk areas of the city where markets remained closed following the arrest of JKLF
chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik.

Shops, schools and business establishments in Maisuma and
Lal Chowk areas remained closed and a large number of security
force personnel were deployed there to maintain law and order,
officials said.

Malik was arrested yesterday as he tried to stage a sit-in protest against the arrest of a youth by police on Wednesday on charges of snatching money and beating up a cab driver.
The JKLF chairman`s arrest led to stone pelting in the
area and closure of the markets.

Apprehending fresh protests today, the authorities
stationed a large number of police and paramilitary personnel
equipped with riot gear in Maisuma, the officials said.
Police vehicles fitted with water cannons and other
non-lethal equipment of crowd control have also been put on
standby in the area, they said.

PTI



First Published: Friday, April 29, 2011 - 13:21

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