Wiping my sweaty brow with the back of one hand, I plonked myself down on a huge, red, dusty, chunk of laterite stone sticking out of the ground. The sun was almost up and soon it would be showtime. A few yards in front of me the lead actors had already taken to stage that was a large, misshapen, Scarlet Sterculia (Sterculia colorata) tree. There was not a single leaf to be seen on the tree – not that it mattered. Even if there would have been a full crown, it would have faded into insignificance before the spectacle that it now hosted. For, the tree was in full bloom with stunningly bright reddish-orange flowers hanging in large clusters from the branches. And, there was a mad rush of pollinators unceasingly flitting in and out of the tree in arrhythmic motions as if trapped in a trance. The jamboree of delighted insects were reluctantly making way for the sunbirds who were winging their way in to partake of the nectaries to their heart’s content.
I neither had the contraption nor the ability to capture the essence of that extravagant and energetic exhibition of excitement. The camera hanging limp from its strap around my neck, I simply wanted to keep devouring with my mind’s eye the delightful spread in front of me not much unlike those in that crazed buzz. Suddenly, the ambience was filled with a new, though familiar, soundtrack of “pree pree” and “trill trill”. And almost immediately the word gregarious explained its meaning in its full glory. Bee-eaters!
About 10 to 12 Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters (Merops leschenaulti) started criss-crossing the tree, instantly turning it into a battleground. For a moment the dense population of insects seemed to vaporise into nothingness as the bee-eaters stood true to their name. But in a matter of less than a minute they seemed to lose interest, or had their fill of the most sought after, and decided to take their forces to some other front. One, however, flew down to a branch farthest from the centre and sat around as if waiting for the show to resume. And sure enough, the performers were back on stage in no time. And now there were two in the audience – me and the bee-eater!
But, alas, his fellow bee-eaters seemed to take an exception to this – quite unbecoming of a bee-eater you see. So from not afar they seemed to call him “pree pree” and he, in turn, replied “pree pree trill trillup”, (maybe “yes, yes, coming guys”?) and off he flew in their direction. But not before I caught his few seconds of fame on camera!
– Narendra Nayak © 2019