There has been plenty of advice on how to spend your time in lockdown, mostly using the Internet in some shape or form. While everyone is grateful for modern technology such as Zoom and YouTube, FaceTime and Skype in bringing us together remotely, this extended period of isolation may provide the perfect opportunity to discover some low-tech pleasures of yesteryear.
News channels have reported the lowering of air and sound pollution levels in large – and not so large – cities around the world, and for the first time people are sighting pumas in the deserted streets of Peru, Raccoons in Panama, Rhinos in Nepal, Sika deer in Nara, Japan and gaggles of turkeys in residents’ gardens in Oakland, California. It does not appear that Arabian Oryx have been encroaching on Sur yet, nor Arabian Leopards in Salalah, but everyone can look, listen and smell the wildlife around them. Those able to get out for an hour’s constitutional may hear toads croaking, crickets chirping and of course, many different birds singing. The sweet odour of the frangipani flower drips from its branches at sunset, rivalled only by the scent from jasmine bushes. But even without moving far from home, with less traffic on the Sultanate’s roads, everyone can marvel at the rich diversity of birdlife in Oman.
Frequently sighted garden birds could be the ubiquitous Common Myna, imported by humans from India but with a rousing song which sometimes escalates into a downright racket! Likewise, the Rose-ringed Parakeet is an introduced species, but has made much of the lush vegetation within Muscat its home. One can also see and hear the cooing of various doves (hamam) such as Laughing Dove, or Bruce’s Green Pigeon (or yellow-bellied fruit pigeon) in the trees around, tormented by huge black crows.
But stay a little longer, keep still and quiet and the curious amateur ornithologist may spot the House Sparrow or the brown, White Spectacled Bulbul in parks and gardens. A family of funny little Grey Francolins may scurry across the road, like quails of biblical fame. European Rollers may be arriving at around this time, but contrary to what the name suggests, the stunning Indian Roller is a native resident of Oman, often seen perched on roadside trees and wires. The male is known for its aerobatics displays and is why it got its English name, with dazzling kingfisher-blues and reddish-brown wings in flight.
Most native birds of Oman are small, yet quite numerous. The White-eared bulbul, also known as the black-headed bulbul, is a fairly common, iridescent songbird. It is easily spotted in date orchards and farms, while the Little Green Bee-eater is rarer yet no less rewarding to identify. These are the merest tip of an Omani iceberg of species, without going into the plethora of waders and eagles, gulls and other seabirds.
However, the tiny hummingbird-like Purple Sunbird can be quite plentiful, distinguished by its long beak for sucking nectar, while the Graceful Prinia or Warbler and Indian Silverbill finch may be heard – if not seen. All this is without even considering the butterflies which are having a field day in this early summer humidity.
Other insects may not be admired so readily, but should perhaps be acknowledged for their industrious activity and prolific numbers; subject perhaps for a later article.
While the heat of the day or balmy nights contrive to keep the weary wanderer indoors (in the much-appreciated electronic luxury of air-conditioning) how many books lie stacked on shelves, awaiting the day that never comes?
Since libraries and bookshops are closed this may be the time to liberate unread, forgotten novels and biographies, indulging in the more restful on the eyes’ activity of book reading.
Always too busy with the diversions of modern times, COVID-19 restraints have actually worked in favour of the traditional, non-electronic pastimes which humans have developed over many centuries, only to have lost in the past few decades of unprecedented advancement.