So, on Sunday the 5th February 2017 evening, when my son and I were going, to what some of us call the 'nightjar valley', the pitta was the last thing on my mind.
While the thrush had me engaged for a little while, the pitta seemed to have no interest in the proceedings. It was hopping about from one side of the track to the other, as it went forward, lifting up leaves and peering under them. It seemed it wasn't having a good day as we didn't see it catch anything. Since it wasn't appearing disturbed by our presence, I asked my son to walk ahead slowly with me rolling along behind him. The pitta had reached the end of the track and turned to fly back but realizing that there were some obstruction in its path, it chose to skirt us and land on a tree behind us, instead.
Now, the car and I were in the way of my son who had the camera. On the narrow track, he couldn't cross to the bird unless I reversed. I decided that reversing the car would spook the bird so I killed the engine and took the camera. As I stepped out from behind the car, the pitta decided to fly back onto the forest floor again!
The Indian Pitta is a ground bird, found foraging in leaf litter or in the under bush. They do roost on trees but make a nest on the ground or lower branches.Their call is a distinctive, two note whistle (whee - tiu) , that sounds like someone is choking the bird! They call at dawn or dusk, and the Tamil name, "aarumani kuruvi" (six o'clock bird) is apt for them. You can listen to the call here on the link from Xeno-Canto. They breed in the north-western Himalayan foothills and central India, but migrate south for winter. They are tiny birds and flying long distances exhausts them and sometimes they end up inside homes or offices!
In the meantime, our pitta decided that it was getting too crowded and uncomfortable for foraging, with two-legged creatures and four-wheeled contraptions running around in its territory. Passing motorists had also started stopping to see what I was up to, hopping around among the leaves on the forest floor! I had no sort of cover and was stepping from tree to tree, trying to hide as much as possible, till I got sufficiently close. Unfortunately, the dried leaves crackling under my feet as I walked wasn't aiding my cause! The bird flew off again but this time, as if taking pity on us, it landed on a thick vine. The perfect perch!
I positioned myself as best as I could behind a thin tree, hoping it would hide my bulges! The bird was getting skittish with all the disturbance and I did not want to spoil its dinner any more than I already had. Cranking up the ISO, ( I had no time to dig out my monopod) I clicked as it posed for me, in all possible angles. Profile view, rear view and front view; I couldn't have asked for more.
I had finally got my pitta. An unexpected bonus, on my search for more nightjars, in Malampuzha. So tiny but packed with so many colours. In Sri Lanka, apparently, they interpret its call as a complaint by the bird of the theft of its clothes by a peacock! ("The Sinhalese interpretation of its call is that the bird is complaining about the theft of its dress by a peacock: “Evith giya, evith giya, ayith kiyannam, methe budun buduwana vita ayith kiyannam,” which translates as: “Came and went! Came and went! I’ll still be complaining when the next Buddha comes! I’ll still be complaining!” - Source Wikipedia)
I wouldn't doubt that. It still is a beautiful bird, one of the prettiest around and perhaps any more colours would have made it too gaudy.