Sunday, June 11, 2006

A tryst with Jerdon's Courser

Aitanna would hear none of it. He had to attend the wedding in the neighbouring village and the Kalivi Kodi would simply have to wait for another night. A hired truck waited ominously, ready to carry the wedding party and Aitanna away from Reddipalle. After some more cajoling, he said that the batteries of his miner’s lamp were discharged. We had four-celled torches. He couldn’t find the rattle that distracted the bird. We were willing to take that risk. As his resolve broke, I asked Richard to step out of the car and told Aitanna that he’d come all the way from England to see this bird. Would he have to return disappointed? Aitanna’s self-esteem would not allow that to happen.
Aitanna led us into the pitch-black night, warning us not to switch on lights or talk. Our pavement-friendly feet had problems negotiating invisible stones and sudden depressions. But the heart pounded with anticipation and eyes strained after the dancing torch beam that Aitanna flicked haphazardly here and there. Two hours of this and we were trudging hopelessly. Then it happened. The needle glinted in the haystack! Cursorius bitorquatus crouched on its long legs and stared at us with its abnormally large nocturnal eye. All our torches found their target. With bated breath we crept forward, afraid to blink lest the apparition vanish. A brilliant white supercilium separated its scalp from the face and neck and a double lined necklace adorned its chest. We stood transfixed. As Richard reached for his sketchpad, Aitanna, the conscientious forest guard, motioned us away. It took us a while to get back our breath, as we sat in silence, lost in thought. We had just seen the rarest bird in India, on one of the oldest geological real estate in the country, indeed the world. As I realized that this terrestrial endemic had survived here for more years than our imagination allows us to register—and now faced an uncertain future—time stood still.
First published in 1999 as: A tryst with Jerdon’s Courser Cursorius bitorquatus (Blyth). Newsletter for Birdwatchers. 39(6): 83-84.

1 comment:

shteller... said...

Good notes. You may want to describe Aitanna in more detail.