By Sahas Barve
On a cool May morning, I was recording bird song along a fire-line (see pic) that runs through the Kadwapani Reserve Forest, a short walk from the Wildlife Institute of India. The recording equipment is pretty odd looking. I have a recorder and a large microphone that looks like a giant woolly bear caterpillar. In addition, I was carrying a large speaker to do song play-back experiments to understand how cinereous tits, a small Indian chickadee, there respond to the song of cinereous tits from higher up in the Himalayas. All in all it all looked pretty amusing I am sure.
Trundling along the fire-line came an elderly gujjar gentleman on a motorbike with his milk cans. Gujjars are a community of pastoralists that live in forests, raise cattle and sell milk for a livelihood. He screeched to a halt next to me and started questioning me about all the equipment. I explained to him what I was doing, told him how important it is to be quiet and how the bike noise drowns the bird’s sound and destroys the recording. He was very intrigued by the whole thing and was apologetic for the noise. Happy with his investigation he putted along.
Next day, the friendly gentleman saw me again on the same road. He graciously cut his engine to reduce the disturbance he created but gave me a booming “hello” as he drove by, negating his previous effort. The third day, I was recording a pale footed bush warbler, a little-known, highly secretive Himalayan bird, song when I saw him coming down the road from far away. I signaled him to be silent, he cut the engine and rolled to a halt next to me. He quietly got off the bike and stood next to me smiling broadly. I continued recording, completely still, microphone held out for several minutes. He desperately searched in the bush I was pointing the microphone at for the bird, craning his neck this way and that. Maybe irritated at the fact that he couldn’t see the bird, he farted really loudly.
Shocked, I looked at him not being able to say anything as I was still recording. He acted as if nothing had happened in a way many old people do around the world. I continued to stare at him with wide eyes as I recorded. After about 10 seconds he realized what had happened and broke into a sheepish smile, looking down. I continued recording just to make him feel awkward a bit longer. We later laughed about it.
In the Macaulay Library, along with the song of a pale footed bush-warbler is immortalized, the low drumming fart of an old gujjar man. Click here to hear the whole recording. The flatulence incident occurs between 1:19 and 1:22.
Sahas Barve is a post-doctoral associate at Old Domion University. He studies the biology of Acorn Woodpeckers in California. For more on his research and blog about field stories where this story originally appeared, visit www.sahasbarve.com.
Photo by Sahas Barve