September 13, 2016

Smitten by the mockingbird!

Thinking back on my 6-week trip to the US during June-July 2016, I realise that it is moments of discovery, mostly of the natural world, that formed the high points of my trip.

We were in San Diego, with Vijay's cousin and were about to leave on a road trip to San Francisco in the morning, when I heard a bird song from their backyard. I ran to see if I could spot the bird. I did spot it and then followed the most amazing conversation between this bird and its mate on another tree close by! The song was not monotonous like that of other birds...these birds made all kinds of sounds! I excitedly called Vijay and asked him to listen. I had no idea what the bird was, and was later told that it was a mockingbird!

For people living in the US, it may be common, but for me it was novel. Apart from the title of Harper Lee's book, I never really thought of the mockingbird or read about it. Yes, on an earlier trip, at Three Sisters Island near Niagara Falls, I did hear a bird sound like a the tring-tring of the telephone. I was fascinated but had not explored further. Maybe it had been the mockingbird!

The mockingbird is not very attractive - small and grey, with long legs and a tail. Males and females look alike. BUT this is what it sounds like. Just listen to it!

I opened a book I own titled, "Why birds sing" by David Rothenberg and found a whole chapter - 'Listen with the mockingbird'.

This para, among many others, captures the essence of this bird:

"The real bird imitates all in his path, with clear and graspable rhythms. Evenly paced clicks. A break. The same thing sung higher and faster, faster, then a quip, a turnaround, a stop. Space. Another melody, a game played with that. Rules you think you almost catch - twists you don't expect, like a fine jazz solo. It's all alone, at the edge of the field. He's got his territory, he's looking for his mate. Then he finds her. Then he doesn't stop. He keeps on singing. Singing on when there's no more need. If it's taunting anyone, it must be us - Fool, you think you can explain me! You think I tease you with my abilities? I sing the song of the world, the recombination of all that I hear. Listen in and listen good".

They sing to woo their mate. And they sing as they mate, the song of the male lasting far longer than the actual mating! "Shall we respect the song as an end in itself?" asked Rothenberg.

Then there's this delightful para: "What happens when he imitates clocks, car alarms, and barking dogs? He cannot use the same method to make those sounds as their sources do, but he does translate those sounds into new challenges for the syrinx (voice organ of birds). Why, why, why does he go on in threes, fours, and sixes? Ask him that. Ask him that. Ask him that. That that that. Ask Ask Ask."


Rothenberg apparently asked Partha Mitra, who works on sound comparison software and on rules of communication that govern the brain, "Do you think a detailed notation of this mockingbird music will help us make sense of it?"

"Listen", Partha said, "Indian music has gotten by without notation for thousands of years, and it is deeply complex. I think the mockingbird is much closer to improvisation than written composition."

Since we live in this amazing virtual world where one thing leads to another, I browsed around and chanced upon this song composed by Septimus Winner, composer of several of 19th century's most popular songs, and who published under the pseudonym Alice Hawthorne. His biggest hit of all was "Listen to the mockingbird", which spread faster than any song of its day. It actually sounds like the song of the mockingbird!

I'm dreaming now of Hally
Sweet Hally, sweet Hally
I'm dreaming now of Hally
For the tho't of her is one that never dies;

She's sleeping in the valley,
In the valley, in the valley,
She's sleeping in the valley
And the mocking bird is singing where she lies.
Listen to the mocking bird
Listen to the mocking bird...

So goes the song.
Listen to it here by Dolly Parton and Stuart Duncan and here by Brother Bones and his Shadows and here by Louis Armstrong.

As for me, I am truly smitten by the mockingbird!

Related link:

September 05, 2016

A thank you note to my government

In February 2015, I had written a worried note about some announcements made by the Telangana government, a few of these being building a stadium in NTR grounds, bringing the Osmania Hospital building down, emptying Hussain Sagar and building skyscrapers, and replacing the outer periphery of KBR Park with a road, which meant cutting down several trees and blasting beautiful rock formations.

So far, so good. None of these threats have been carried out. Perhaps the decision makers are busy with more important issues! Let's hope they never have the time to do these terrible things.

On the other hand, I must give credit where it is due. This is a thank you note to the Telangana government for some of the improvements I see around me. Except for random outages, power cuts have become a thing of the past, Mission Kakatiya seems to be a huge success, and in my area of interest, the parks in Hyderabad are getting more and more beautiful by the day, and open spaces have, so far, been left alone.

There's something new in Sanjeevaiah Park every other day, and it has expanded even! Earlier, I used to see the typical blue wall cordoning off a large area, and I was sure some horrible constructions would come up there. So what a pleasant surprise when I found the wall gone and a new garden in its place, complete with trees to suit various zodiac signs. It is in this area that the huge flag has now been installed, instead of the world's tallest tower announced earlier (shudder, shudder!).
The 291-ft high flag set up to mark the 2nd birthday of Telangana. The flag itself is 72-ft high and 108-ft wide, making it the second largest in India (the tallest is in Ranchi, Jharkhand at 293 ft)

The butterfly garden in Sanjeevaiah Park is awesome...the number of butterflies you see there in season is unbelievable!

I spotted a young peacock and a peahen in this park for the first time!
KBR Park: We are so lucky to have a natural forest in the heart of the city. This park, apart being a fantastic lung space, also gives an opportunity for urban dwellers to walk in a forest, spot small animals and birds, and plenty of peacocks. Let us please keep it this way.
Thank god there is no landscaping done in this park! It is very important to retain wild plants, which are often referred to as 'weeds'. 
There are peacocks aplenty in KBR. Porcupines too have been noticed by quite a few people. 
Indira Park is closest to my home and I go there often. While I get depressed seeing the state of the water body in this park, there have been other improvements. The government nursery, that was in a bad state, is now lush and has a wide variety of plants.

The nursery looks green and well cared for.
There's supposed to be water here! And facilities for boating.
In general, the water bodies in Indira Park and Sanjeevaiah Park need to be restored.
The other side of the bridge is lovely, though!
 Thank you, Telangana, for these small, but very important improvements.

Now that I am feeling hopeful, how about doing some smart planning
to ease the traffic situation, guys :)?