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No Fly Zone!

Asian Paradise-flycatcher, Kabini

Whether you’re part of the Dragonfly Squadron, the Butterfly Command, or the Bug & Beetle Corps, you’d do well to steer clear of the airspace around Kabini. This is a biospheric Bermuda triangle, where identified flying objects fly in but don’t fly out, and nothing’s heard of them ever after. This ‘No Fly’ zone is zealously guarded by an avian patrol known by the Latin name of Tersiphone Paradisi or ‘the sweet voice of paradise’. Now, those naturalists of a bygone era must have had a rather droll sense of humour, or at the least, been tone deaf. The Asian Paradise-flycatcher referred to, has a voice that’s anything but sweet, and is a noisy chatterbox with a raucous skreek that definitely doesn’t evoke visions of paradise. But when you come eye to eye with him, you begin to understand why the old naturalists went weak-kneed and poured out their approbation in poetic Latin. The adult male, after its colour morph in the second or third year, is a thing of rare beauty, and soars like a messenger from the heavens, with snowy plumage and gorgeous tail streamers trailing along like bejewelled ribbons. Watching these streamlined studs chase after flies is a sight for the gods, as they twist and turn mid-air, with their tail ribbons looping and creating exquisite patterns that signal both a predatory as well as amatory intent. For, while most birds use their tails as a rudder, the male Asian Paradise-flycatcher uses it as a flag of virility to catch the attention of lasses who’re single and willing to mingle. The strutting male, however isn’t the only one in Kabini who’ll be hoping the tail show works, for it’s only in the interregnum of a romantic interlude that the beetles, bugs and other flies can safely fly across the Line of Control.

Photograph: Jayanth Sharma Story: Rajesh Ramaswamy



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