Bulkana, Mandal-Chopta road.
It is very rare to witness predation events in the wild. Predators are swift and efficient and predation pressure shapes the behavior, abundance and distribution of prey. Watching a predation event unfold at close quarters is a deeply impactful experience and the few times I have seen it has left me stunned at the awesomeness of it all.
As part of my fieldwork, I record bird vocalizations. For a bird nerd like me, this is an immensely fulfilling experience. I am out in the forests alone, with recording equipment, listening, observing, solo nerding out!
I was recording along the Chopta road in late March of 2014. Koklass pheasants are notoriously difficult to see. They are shy, skittish and really well camouflaged. Their call however is very distinct. Himalayan mornings above 2100m often emanate with the hoarse coughing of Koklass males announcing their territory. Around a bend in the road, I heard a Koklass calling. It was barely light. It sounded very close, just above the road may be 20 feet from me. Excited at this great recording opportunity I raised my mic towards the sound and hit record. As I recorded, I stared hard into the dark forest from where the pheasant called. Then I saw a white dot flash behind a rock. Every time the bird called it stretched out its neck above the rock, flashing its bright white cheek patch which is all I could see in the poor light. May be the bird hadn’t seen me but I can’t be sure. It called for many minutes. In the frosty morning, my mic hand was freezing. I soon stopped recording but stood there, hands in warm wonderful pockets, and listened. It was quickly getting brighter and I could now see the head clearly. The bird’s crest shook vigorously as it called. It was amazing watching a shy bird, behave naturally right in from of you.
Then everything happened in a flash. The pheasant saw me and ran uphill. It had barely gone 20 feet when a mountain hawk-eagle crashed down from a low branch on to the Koklass killing it instantly. It was so sudden! How long was the eagle there? Why had I not seen a giant eagle sitting there for so long! Why hadn’t the Koklass seen it? How could the eagle kill such a large bird so instantly? Feeling weirdly responsible for the Koklass’s death I walked away silently letting the eagle enjoy his quarry. Would the eagle have killed the Koklass anyway?
The whole thing was so unreal. It was so raw. So stunning. I had recorded the last calls of that individual (click here to listen). How do animals manage the stress of possibly being eaten any moment? It’s a jungle out there!!