Friday, February 13, 2015

Hornbill Saga - The Death of a Tree

Finally, it had to happen!

A little over a year ago, in the February of 2014, I had typed the first of the series of posts in the Hornbill Saga. Perhaps it was the instinctive feeling that it would be the last time that I would see a successful breeding pair at close quarters that converted an usually very non-obtrusive Woodcrawler into an person, or should  I say voyeurist,  follow the life of a pair of lovelorn hornbills obsessively throughout a season. Many hundreds of photos later I realized that I had been given a rare privilege to peek and record the intimate life of a pair of birds that are bonded for life. That series started here.

Now on a February morning in 2015, I gazed upon the last standing portion of a once proud rain tree, the one that had survived the woodcutter's chain saw. Devoid of leaves it was already looking very sickly. I say that because the other trees in the same area were already shedding their winter garb and a dense new canopy was covering their branches.

Scene on February 11th, 2015

It was only a few days earlier that I noticed the female had been incarcerated again, almost exactly a year from her last confinement. The romance, it seemed, was undiminished when I saw the male go over to the opening with some berries for her.
6th February 2015. It seemed that the next brood was well on it's way

I did not carry my camera since I wasn't keen on prying into their lives again. Unfortunately for them, their romance was to be shattered by the vicious chainsaw. Sometime in the morning of the 10th February their home for many years came crashing down to the ground!

The sight that greeted me on the morning of 11th February was not something any person who loves birds or green cover would to see even in their nightmares. The railway's engineers, in their infinite wisdom, had decided that the tree was an obstruction for electrification of the tracks being laid beside it. They had cut one of the main branches, the one in which the hornbill pair were nesting, because it was overhanging the new tracks!

The branches were in small transportable pieces

What is left of the the part of the trunk where two of the three main branches divided out.

The two main branches. The one on the right had the hornbill nest

I do not know how many birds lost their homes but my hornbills and their constant enemy, the myna pair. were rendered homeless. I had seen many crows nesting and even a barbet appeared to be using a small tree hole.Mercifully, it seemed that the female had wriggled out unscathed. She was sitting with her mate on a surviving branch and as if to tell me that all was well, they mated with their usual vigour! I was relieved. Not only were they safe but were also in a very amorous mood and not averse to showing it!

I spotted the male first.......

.......then the female flew down from a nearby tree and joined him

She seemed to be suffering from the after effects of her loss but her mate was more active.

He hopped off down the branch...... another hole nearby.
 For a moment I was wondering if he had already found a new home in the same tree. Then I was starting to think that it would be a foolish decision because that tree would eventually be cut down completely! Then I realized what he was doing.
He stuck his head in .....

...... and emerged a moment later with a beakful of something!

It was fruits for his beloved!
 They appeared undecided about their next move. This was a tree in which they had probably raised many generations of chicks and now, so late in the season, it was too late to move house. All available holes would have been occupied and it looked like the end of the road for this pair! At least this year.

 They hung about for a while before flying to another rain tree just next to my building. Almost as if to say their goodbyes. We've known each other for a long time and last year we had become good friends!

The male seemed to be contemplating his next move

It was also a rain tree he was sitting on......

.....but this was an unlikely tree for nesting.

He seemed to be searching

This tree, however, has no thick branches or tree holes.

The female seemed lost in a world of her own....

......but her mate was looking very composed. Almost as if he had made up his mind.

Tomorrow is Valentines Day. I'm not sure if I'll see the pair again, ever. If they go out in search of a new nest this will be the last time I see the pair. Maybe they will come back occasionally but there won't be a tree for them to nest.

I wonder how many more hornbills will lose their home in the name of Progress! I hope this loving couple will find a nice new nest tomorrow. After all Valentines Day is for people in love. I'm sure they'll find something more exclusive.

Good bye and God speed, my friends.

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