Friday, August 7, 2009

The colorful Lady Amherst

First thing first female Lady Amherst are quite dull looking, it is the male that is one of the spectacular flightless pheasant bird (ideally Lord Amherst!!). It is riot of colors -black and silver head, a long grey tail, and striking plumage of yellow, white, and metallic blue, red, and green- quite an overwhelming bird with what looks like 'lawyer's wig'. This blogger took the pic of the bird at an aviary in Mysore. This is not only my first visit to any aviary (it is an amazing place to be in) and yes I have never seen this bird before. Aviaries are excellent conceptions wherein the birds have much freedom and also easy to observe. This blog is meant for birds in wild but I include Lady Amherst here since I wouldn’t really call aviary less wild and yes this pheasant bird adapts well in these environment (I found it quite active around the shrubs). All this factors are enough for this blog.

Like me most readers might be intrigued by the name of the bird. Well it so happened that wife of William Pitt Amherst, Governor General of Bengal (not India as some website refers) was responsible for sending the first birds to London in the early 1800s. And so it came to be referred to as lady Amherst bird!!. Those were heady days of imperialism wherein world was waiting to be discovered and named by Europeans (geez my forefathers may never have been discovered. Terrible!!). Anyway I am least happy with these names I would rather prefer the name ‘natives’ use and not some colonialist.

This bird’s status is uncommon but not endangered; they originally belong to the thick forest of south China and north Burma, well adapted to high altitude. Lady Amherst though seems to be on the verge of extinction in Britain as reported in a daily a year back. Excerpts from the newspaper: “Lady Amherst's will become the first bird species since the great auk to be lost from the British countryside. Its gradual demise over the past decade is thought to be related to a steadily expanding fox population. Another factor may be culling by gamekeepers who believe they endanger fox hunts because they run rather than fly”. Ah the great tradition of hunting of uncivilized brits.

Incidentally one of my all time favorite poet Emily Dickenson was born in Amherst (Massachuset, US). And yes she wrote this incredible poem ‘A bird came down the walk’. This poem is any birdwatchers delight, probably the best ever.

A bird came down the walk

He did not know I saw;
He bit an angle-worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw.

And then he drank a dew
From a convenient grass,
And then hopped sidewise to the wall
To let a beetle

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all abroad,--
They looked like frightened beads, I thought;
He stirred his velvet head

Like one in danger; cautious,
I offered him a crumb,
And he unroll
ed his feathers
And rowed him softer home

Than oars divide the ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or butterflies, off ba
nks of noon,
Leap, splashless, as they swim.

“Then he drank a dew. From a convenient grass. Hopped sidewise to the wall. To let a beetle pass. He glanced with rapid eyes”. This is typical behavior of bird- could be a sparrow or a magpie. The best is yet to come !!. The bird rejects the food offered and “unrolled his feathers. And rowed him softer home. Than oars divide the ocean”. These amazing lines one can associate with corvids (in particular crows) the languid flying like an oar dividing the sea ‘splashless as they swim’. You have to be an amazingly observant to write these lines. Even from birdwatchers point of view it is an absolute delight to read. The reason why Emily Dickenson was one of the best ever, it is meditative just like a haiku.

The painting herein is by Theo van Rysselberg (1862-1926), a Belgian painter who was pivotal in neo-impressionist movement in Europe at the turn of the century. He was one of the pioneer in pointillism (painting with dots). The stamp is from china.