Mesmerized by his account, I was keen to have a glimpse of this often elusive bird.
Next day, early morning we drove down to a thorn forest where the bird had been sighted. We searched the terrain in early morning light for some time and suddenly we could hear the characteristic sweet melodious call of the White naped Tit.
We started scanning the trees and there it was, a little bird, scuttling busily among the branches.
It was a sight to behold. Photographing it was an extremely difficult task due to the speed at which it was moving through the branches in search of food. But watching it delicately making its way with an occasional musical whistling note was itself an enthralling experience.
On the way back, Mr Tiwari spoke to me at length about the travails of the White naped Tit. With little importance given to thorn-scrub forests, the globally threatened White-naped Tit is getting pushed towards extinction. Cutting thorn-scrub forest for fuelwood and illegal charcoal making, clearance for agricultural land and settlement construction, and over-grazing are principal causes for its habitat loss. The species nests in cavities in old trees, many of which are now being razed down, leading to nesting failure. In Kutch alone an estimated hundred Acacia trees per day are felled for the collection of twigs for toothbrush manufacture.
There are two separate populations of the bird in India. One is found in the thorn forests of Gujarat and Rajasthan and the other in the states of Karnataka, Kerala & Tamil Nadu. Endemic to India, recent surveys have found the species to be scarce and declining (maximum 3,500-15,000 individuals) across its range and absent from many previously occupied areas.
Despite intense efforts to look for the White-naped Tit even Salim Ali was unable to locate the species in its South Indian range and he wrote: “Unfortunately, the survey failed to come across this tit in spite of a very special look-out for it, and the species is obviously very rare in S. India”.
Recently, retracing Salim Ali’s “Mysore Birding Diary”, Dr Subramaniam and colleagues made an effort to locate the elusive bird in the Sathyamangalam range. Even though they heard what sounded like the call of the White naped Tit, they were unable to find it.
In Tamil Nadu, the White-naped Tit is known to occur only in Salem district till date.
It was indeed a precious moment to sight this dainty little bird,,,
As you urgently flit
High among bare branches
My heart flutters
With your wings
Watching your joyous, undulating flight
A strange sense of stillness
Settles within me