A Short Story From The Tree of Life

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I was on the second floor of Biology Lab in my university, when some strange crowd took away my attention. There, right across the lab’s corridor, stands a big fig tree with some flying shadows jumping around on its branch, screaming various calls and songs that will attract any nearby birder’s curiosity. I recognized them as a bunch of Sooty-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus aurigaster) and Yellow-vented Bulbul (P. goaivier), two common urban birds frequently seen in this area. However, it was unusual that they gathered in a big number in a single tree like this.. so I expected something bigger in it.

As I took a closer look using my camera, I saw this little, squishy red ball squezzed between the bulbul’s pointy bill. It is the fig, the magic fruit that teases the desire of every hungry bird in the world. As my eyes got wider, I saw the very similar little balls hanging off on almost every branches of the tree, filling it with the cherry red dots among the bright green leaves. So my suspicion was true.. It was the time again, when the lab’s courtyard suddenly became a paradise for every birds and birdwatchers. The “Tree of Life” has released its magic to the world!

Sooty-headed bulbul (Pycnonotus aurigaster)

Sooty-headed bulbul (Pycnonotus aurigaster)

The mowhawk bird, Yellow-vented Bulbul

The mowhawk bird, Yellow-vented Bulbul

Somehow, it is very hard to get a picture of bird eating the fig!

Somehow, it is very hard to get a picture of bird eating the fig!

It was over a year since the last time I came to this university, right after a long off from my academic activity and focused on my new job. When I came back there, I brought my new camera all the time, knowing that there will be a lot of birds waiting to be shot by this nasty long-zoom prosummer. Yet I still had no time to check the birds in the whole area since my college activity becoming surprisingly busy. But every time I visited the lab, I know that I didn’t have to be worried. I just need to wait for the blooming time and let that tasty fruit do all the job upon calling the birds around.

The fig tree itself seems to be quiet old, about 30 meters tall, and most of its canopy are on the same level with the 3rd floor of our Lab. It stands on the western part of the courtyard, right in the middle of the lab’s business. Its canopy was not that thick, full of bright green leaves that being trimmed at least once in a year. The tree blooms once in a year, only in some couple days around the wet season, right at the breeding time of most bird that lives here. Usually there are not many birds that visit the tree , just some insectivores trying to catch flies and caterpillars on its branch. But when the fruiting season comes, you can expect much more bird coming, filling its every inch of silent canopy into a bird paradise.

I set my foot to the third floor, trying to get a better view at the same level to the canopy. There, right among the endless wave of bulbuls, I heard the distinct “khu..khu..khu..” voice from the Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala), which I found a couple minutes later thanks to its distinctive red face (special for Javan race). The party was joined by the fast moving Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker (Diaceum trochilleum), another red-faced bird with slightly hyperactive habit. These two red-headed bird seemed to not liking my present, as they only perch the lowest branch and never stop moving. The flowerpecker only perch for a couple seconds before flew away, while the barbet never perch close enough for me to take its picture.

The only "decent" picture of bird eating a fig. This is a lucky shot when the Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker decided to stay a second longer before moving fast as usual

The only “decent” picture of bird eating a fig. This is a lucky shot when the Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker decided to stay a second longer before moving fast as usual

I hate that leaf!

I hate that leaf!

The only "decent" shot of Coppersmith Barbet that I got!

The only “decent” shot of Coppersmith Barbet that I got!

Somehow, I couldn't get a clear shot of Coppersmith Barbet here. It seems like they always choose the densest, darkest, or farthest branches to perch!

Somehow, I couldn’t get a clear shot of Coppersmith Barbet here. It seems like they always choose the densest, darkest, or farthest branches to perch!

I was scanning the canopy for a more prized (and more beautiful) bird, the male Pink-necked Green-pigeon (Treron vernans).  He was sitting on a higher branch, very close to veranda, so I could take some good pictures. His green plumage blended perfectly in the canopy when it was sitting quietly among the leaves, but its orange breast and beautiful pink head made him possible to spot. It seemed like this bird was taking a nap and still feeling sleepy, so I decided to move away and try to find other bird.

Pink-necked Green Pigeon dozing off the midday heat!

Pink-necked Green Pigeon dozing off the midday heat!

When you ate too much and just want to sleep

When you ate too much and just want to sleep

What a stunning, colorful bird!

What a stunning, colorful bird!

Once you find a green pigeon, there is a strong possibility you will find much more. Just a couple meters from the first bird, I spotted another 3 green pigeon sitting on the fig trees. Two of them were males, and seemed like they were fighting over the best place to eat the figs. Another one was a female with the green plumage all over its body, without pink neck or orange breast. Just like the first male, this female didn’t move when I took dozen pictures of her, which made me thought that it was sleepy or tired. However after a couple hours, it still stood on the very same position, made me wonder if she was actually sitting on a nest (I confirmed this a week later when she still perch on the very same branch, and the clutches were spotted by my friend about 3 weeks later).

Wake up!

Wake up!

Interestingly this female sat on the very same spot for the next couple days. Nest?

Interestingly this female sat on the very same spot for the next couple days. Nest?

I stood less than 5 meters and it didn't wake up at all!

I stood less than 5 meters and it didn’t wake up at all!

Apart from frugivores, I also spotted some other bird that visiting this tree of life. A family of White-headed Munia, whose nest is located on a pine tree nearby, frequently came to the upper canopy of this fig before set off to its feeding ground. There is also a couple Javan Munias who came every 15 minutes, jumping around the inner canopy, and then flew away to somewhere behind the tree. An Ashy Tailorbird was spotted feeding on some insects around the crown canopy, before set off to the inner canopy where I lost the view of it. On the lower branch, 5 Zebra Doves perched quietly whilst looking to some grass patches below, waiting until it was safe enough to fly down and find some food.

Zebra Doves, always perch so far away below. Funny little bird!

Zebra Doves, always perch so far away below. Funny little bird!

The only picture of Plain-throated Sunbird. They are very wary, moving quickyly between the branches

The only picture of Plain-throated Sunbird. They are very wary, moving quickyly between the branches

Sub-adult White-headed Munia. A family of them live in a nearby tree

Sub-adult White-headed Munia. A family of them live in a nearby tree

This amazing scenery reminded me on how awesome nature can be. There is a reason of why the birds synchronize their breeding season in the beginning of rain season, where the fig trees started to bloom. The trees give abundant fruit to eat  so the bird can survive and raised their chicks, some of them even make a nest on the tree itself. At the other way, the birds help the tree to spread the seeds inside the fruit across the city, made it possible to grow into a new tree and make sure that they will survive for the next generation. And that’s why I called them “the tree of life”.

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