In pursuit of the Scarlet Finch

Scarlet Finches are one of those birds which you will never tire seeing. They are like Peacocks, they are bright, vividly coloured and always manage to get your attention (Wait, don’t google it yet!). Scarlet Finches are not rare birds, but are very sought after by birdwatchers given its exquisite look. They can be locally common in some regions, so one knows where to look for the bird. But at other times, you come across it by chance.

This was the case when we were doing the Dodital trek in 2018. As we passed through the village of Agoda, a movement in a nearby short tree caught our attention. After observing it for a while, we saw it, it was a Scarlet Finch…. female. Why mention the female? Well, in most birds, there is distinct sexual-dimorphism where in the male and female of the species look distinctly different. In the avian world (mostly), males are more brightly coloured than females. To say it plainly, the female of the scarlet finch has not even a hint of scarlet!

We kept a close watch on the female for it is not uncommon for this specific species to be in pairs. The male must be close by. After several minutes, we did catch a glimpse of that fiery scarlet.

Image: Scarlet Finch Female (left) and Male (right)

But that was all. I had never seen the bird before but that colour remained etched in memory. How could the bird be so red! After that, I had decided that I will make more attempts to look for the bird in my future trips up north. I got one such opportunity in the winter of 2020. We visited Uttarakhand, a place called Makkumath, close to the famous Chopta. Scarlet Finches are seen there and our guide Mr. Yashpal Negi took us to the usual locations where the birds are seen. But we had no luck.

Image: The village we kept revisiting in the hope of catching sight of the Scarlet Finch.

“Let us try earlier in the morning… before the grass cutters come. When they come and head to the long grasses, the birds tend to get disturbed and move away”

said Mr. Negi.

But still no luck. In fact, we dropped by the village almost every other day in the hope that we would see it. We knew the birds were there, for one evening, this young boy said he saw the birds in the morning and showed us a cell phone capture of the bird! Another day, a few other locals told us they saw the bird in the same place we were looking. Ironically, a traveller who happened to be staying in the same place as us, stumbled upon the scarlet finch while she hiked to a nearby place, and this was very close to where we were staying! Again, I missed it!

But still the birds did not show themselves to us. So I considered this my fate. It was not meant to be. So we stopped looking for it. Our trip was coming to an end and we were leaving Makkumath to our next destination where we were to spend one last day. We packed our bags and sat in the car. No more than 15 minutes in our journey, our guide’s son stopped the vehicle. And Mr. Negi stretched his arms and said- there you go! It took me about 30 seconds to realise why we stopped!!!

Image: No prizes for guessing where the birds are!!

And there it was…. about 200 metres away in the valley, perched on a leafless Indian Walnut tree: 2 male Scarlet Finches and 1 female. Everything about that scene was just surreal. The three birds were busy preening and resting on the tree. After a good ten minutes, they flew away. They had come to say goodbye. It was almost like they were teaching me a lesson: Don’t pursue us. Let it happen on its own.

Image: Scarlet Finches at Makkumath.

I will leave you with this amazing video of the three birds who bid us farewell as we left Makkumath.

Video: Three Scarlet Finches from Makkumath (Winter 2020)

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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