Singing bird alarm clock

Last Monday, a colleague after a business trip to Hong Kong brought a thoughtful gift. “It’s a singing bird alarm clock, wakes you up with beautiful bird sounds,” she said excitedly, “As someone who loves nature I am sure you’ll like it in your new house.”

“No, thanks, lady,” I said, “I already have a ‘natural’ bird sounds alarm system going. I surface each morning at the crack of dawn to the sounds of birds and their cheerful song.”

So it was the very next morning. When I went from bed to window, it was there, the magic on the raintree. As day’s first light gradually formed, life was up and going in the foliage. The common myna from its communal roost was the first off the block. As more of its ilk joined in, there was a chorus of bird song — a koel’s repeated koo-oo, a distant kotroo-kotroo, a low-pitched song with trills, down-sliding at the end or a lovely two-part harmony. For most part, it was sweet duets and melodious whistles as birds skirted from one branch to another, celebrating the dawn.

A friend who knows birds says, “They are busy chatting, connecting with each other, sending out signals. When you hear them in small or large doses, the varied birdsong is spatial realism of the jungle, nature. They remind us that we are part of the delightful unfathomable mystery known as nature.”

After a few days out of town, I returned late last evening and woke up early after an unusual night of gale and thunderstorm. I found the sounds of birds were not the normal. Instead of song, there was a lot of frenzied chatter and activity. Looking out of the window, I saw agitated birds landing, some ready for take-off and many riding swaying branches. Keen to know what was happening, I got out.

The answer came almost as soon as I got outdoors. Last night’s rain had twisted trees out of shape or had severed branches. Then there was ‘man-made’ disaster — tall majestic giants lay on the street biting dust. Some were already converted into logs, numbered, ready for the timberyard. Stumps, scattered leaves, and squashed orange flowers lay everywhere. “Road widening, saar” chipped in the newspaper boy, lifting bicycle over a trunk blocking his path.

As I turned back homewards with heavy heart, it struck me. Maybe that was why the birds had gathered in such large numbers on the tree outside. It was an emergency meeting, an EGM, to take stock of the situation, discuss the next move, new abodes…
In addition to poor care and maintenance, the urban forest that improves the air, protects our water, saves energy, and improves economic sustainability was getting the ‘axe-effect’? Like many hapless citizens who have few options other than talking to the forest department or running to the media or finding sympathetic shoulders of like minded tree-huggers, I found myself punching in numbers on the mobile. A sleepy, groggy voice answered. “Sorry for interrupting your beauty sleep, lady,” I said, “Something urgent cropped up this morning and I need to re-consider your gift offer. Do you still have the ‘singing bird alarm clock?’”

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