I only discovered that I liked birds on my first trip to India. I was on a tour of Rajasthan and part of the itinerary included a visit to a bird park. Admittedly at first I wasn’t that enthused. I thought tiger spotting or sari shopping would be much more interesting. But after catching a fleeting glimpse of the iconic electric blue kingfisher, I realised I did indeed like bird watching. I just felt a little young to start admitting it!
Since then my interest in birds has grown and I have noticed how much I enjoy their presence. One of the things I like to do when I arrive in a new country is to take notice of the different birds I see and hear. The sound of birdcalls specific to a particular place can trigger a flood of memories. When I have lived in concrete jungles, sometimes listening to birds chirp in the morning and evening is the only way I feel I can connect to nature in someway. When I hear birds singing, it becomes my cue to listen attentively, drop my thoughts and enjoy everything that comes with that exact moment. Here in Dubai, surrounded by high-rises and highways, walking to the studio in the early morning and listening to the birds is one of my favourite moments in the day.
When I lived in Hong Kong, I was able to regularly see beautiful kites soaring high between the mountains. Maybe this was where I started to develop an affection not just for birds, but birds of prey specifically. Majestic, powerful, free and clever! What’s not to like!?
When my family came to visit me in Singapore, my sister and I went to the “Birds of Prey” show at the Singapore Bird Park. I was selected from the audience (after volunteering with great enthusiasm) to hold out my gloved hand, containing a piece of meat, for a vulture to fly in and land on! Amazingly I have a photo capturing the moment! See below.
I was also lucky enough to see vultures in the wild in Mongolia as well as eagles and falcons.
But last week I had an unexpected encounter with these birds that I will remember forever!
It all started with attending a photography exhibition of falcons at a swanky hotel here in Dubai. Falconry, the training of falcons for hunting, has a 4000-year old history in the Arab world, and the photos captured these stunning birds wearing the leather head-dress which keeps the bird calm so it can be handled.
On returning home from the exhibition, I received facebook message from a man who wanted to attend a workshop we were running at the Yoga Room. His profile picture was a photo of him with a falcon! His profile said he was the director of the Dubai Falcon Hospital!
Antonio Di Somma, originally from Naples, has lived in Dubai for 12 years. A former marathon runner turned Ashtangi, he runs the Dubai Falcon Hospital, the first of such a clinic established in the world. He graciously organised a wonderful day for Roberto and myself to meet some of the falcons under his care. I knew I was going to see the falcons, but I never expected to have the chance to hold them and even feed some baby birds less than one week old! Thank you Antonio, you made this bird lover very happy!