It was a typical winter morning in Mumbai. The sun had just risen and we set out to the hill located on the IITB campus. The hill, with deciduous vegetation, is contiguous with the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. We set out with much excitement as we had seen the Peregrine Falcon fly past the hill the previous day.
Green Bee-eaters sat perched together, snugly, on the power lines. Chestnut-shouldered Petronias were flitting about and a Puff-throated Babbler was skulking in a thicket.
As we climbed up, we heard a male Coppersmith Barbet calling out. It was sitting on the topmost branch of a barren tree, its mouth full of berries. As if in response, its partner arrived and perched next to the male. The male offered it a berry, and then another and yet another. It seemed to be in a rush to feed its partner all the berries in its mouth. But the female was in no hurry. Then they mated.
We proceeded further taking a narrow path leading to a fence beyond which lies the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Just a few days earlier, we had chanced upon a pair of Red Spurfowls, a very elusive bird on the campus. They were so quick that they vanished through the fence opening even before I could lift my camera. We peered through the fence hoping to see them again. A few restless Tawny-bellied Babblers were moving from one shrub to another very quickly.
As we stepped back, a bird about the size of a bulbul appeared on the fence, seemingly out of nowhere. At first glance it seemed to be a Clamorous Reed Warbler but something about it seemed unfamiliar. I frantically trained my lens on it to capture the bird before it disappeared, just like the spurfowls did.
The bird looked around for a while and then vanished into the reeds behind the fence. It had a rounded face and a thick bill. Could it have been a Thick-billed Warbler, we wondered with much excitement. There had been no records of it on the campus and we had never encountered it elsewhere before. So, were we only imagining it? We were on the fence.
We decided to call it a day and go back home as we were anxious to confirm our find with bird guide resources and friends. Just before we hit the main road, we saw the Puff-throated Babbler foraging on the ground amidst the fallen leaves. Surely there were many other birds too, but we couldn’t wait.
It did not take too long for us to confirm that it was indeed the Thick-billed Warbler, a migrant from as far as Siberia, that we had met that winter morning.