The Corner Office, one of the most sought-after places in the workplace, is not exactly what comes to mind when one tries to picture a Naturalist’s office.
Most people when confronted with the term, and if I may be permitted to say with a not so gentle push from a Naturalist, immediately think of the wild, of the jungle, or the wilderness. A weather-beaten figure striding across a vast landscape with an endless horizon is usually what springs to mind. While this could be true some of the time, a Naturalist, especially a professional Naturalist employed by the many wildlife resorts in India also spends an equal amount of time in a conventional office. As luck would have it, mine was tucked away in a quiet corner. While it was my pride, it was definitely not my neighbour’s envy.
A conventional office is, apart from its location, usually judged by its size and contents. When we think about an office, the first thing that comes to mind is the size and type of desk, the number of chairs, does it have a separate seating area for visitors, a bar, etc? After we satisfy ourselves with the furniture and fixtures, we start thinking about the décor. Nice curtains, leather upholstery for the chairs, a couple of potted plants, and one or two paintings or other fetishes peculiar to our individual tastes.
My office is no different; it has the usual office equipment and some peculiar to my profession, like walkie-talkies, binoculars, cameras, etc. I have also placed a nicely framed photograph of a tusker taken by me to add a bit of a personal touch. It is, however, nothing remotely like the office described above, in fact, it is relatively spartan in comparison. But it does have something that makes me spend a lot of time there- it affords me a ringside view of life around me.
There are two large windows, one on my right and one directly behind me. One looks out onto a narrow strip of grass and the tarred driveway whilst the other looks onto a Silver Oak tree. Many would consider this nothing to write home about, but I realized that there was a lot was going on outside my windows, if only I made an effort to observe. The first step was to neglect all office work which I did quite happily and was justly rewarded for doing so.
Sitting on my chair looking out of the windows and occasionally taking a stroll to stretch my legs, gave me a ringside view of the many visitors and residents who called my office home. Two of the most common and frequent visitors were a male Pied Bushchat and the numerous White Browed Wagtails. The Pied Bushchat would come and perch on the lanterns next to the window and would then regale me with song. This he would do about twice or thrice a day depending on his mood. On special occasions, he would be joined by his prospective mate. The White Browed Wagtails are more numerous and they were the more entertaining of the two. They would be going about in pairs furiously wagging their tails. They have a very pleasant call and I soon became adept at recognizing their calls.
The other favourite, the first bird I was able to recognize in my life, I nursed one baby to adulthood when I was down with jaundice during my childhood — the House Sparrow — now unfortunately not so much ‘House’ anymore. There is a healthy population on the resort and I often see them either dust bathing or cruising past my window. They never fail to lift my mood as they remind me of my childhood days when they were found almost everywhere. Seeing an old friend from the past is the best it can get.
The two camp followers of man are around too — the Crow and the Myna — and they make an occasional appearance near my window. However, they seem to prefer the open agricultural fields adjoining the village and are not very frequent visitors to my office. The Red Whiskered Bulbul is another resident and is frequently seen from my window. They are extremely common and even when I don’t see them I always can hear them.
During the cusp between the summer and the rainy season, the view from the office is inundated with juvenile Scaly Breasted Munias, who roam around in flocks moving from bush to bush and sporadically alighting on the ground. Just a few months ago their parents would come and collect thatch from the roof for building their nests. Young animals are a delight to watch and the young of the munia are no exception.
Apart from these feathered residents I also get long-distance visitors who make their appearance during the winter. Greenish Warblers and Blyth’s Reed Warblers take it in turns to come and perch on the Silver Oak tree behind my chair. They have a very sweet call and they come like clockwork on the hour (11 a.m.) day after day and give a fine exhibition of singing. They have been doing this year after year. They sing beautifully and their performance is the highlight of my day during the winter.
A few days ago I got a real treat. Barn Swallows, another winter visitor, decided to pay me a visit. They came in a group and pushed the Pied Bushchat off his perch. They made themselves quite at home and I was able to photograph them at leisure. After they left the Pied Bushchat came and regained his perch with much chattering and muttering.
It is also at this time that the Yellow Wagtails make their appearance. Like the White-browed Wagtails, they too can be seen furiously wagging their tails as they dominate the available open ground in large flocks. I would spend a good hour or two staring out the window practising my identification skills as they come in a variety of plumages- I have a strong suspicion that most of my hotelier colleagues were of the notion that I probably required some kind of help.
Once I step out of the office the skies would open up. I have seen Black Shouldered Kites and Common Kestrels hover overhead. The ficus tree, a little distance but in plain sight of the office, is veritable who’s who of the avian world when it is flowering and fruiting. Occasional a Honey Buzzard and once a Red-Necked Falcon have graced me with their presence.
All my friends are not of the feathered variety. I have had some reptilian and amphibious visitors too. A Cobra and his doppelganger the Rat snake, all varieties of Keelbacks, and even Russell’s viper have on occasion passed by, never making a nuisance just quietly and unobtrusively going about their business. An Indian Bull Frog lives close to the drain beside the office and I usually see him when he emerges during the mating season.
The action continues well into the night, I have encountered House Geckos and Bull Frogs in an amorous embrace while leaving for home. Occasionally, when I have the enviable honour of being on night duty, I have spotted Mottled Wood Owls. During my first year, there was a Barn Owl who would come and stare at me as I left my office every night- during those early years when the resort was just starting; we would invariably leave the office late.
And then there were the flyby visitors- Flying Foxes flew overhead on their way to the fruit orchards for their nightly feats. Pipistrelles would dart around me as they went about hunting insects, and once a Painted Bat crashed into my fan and died on my table- the only time when I wished my office did not have those windows.