It has been a two decade long wait for the most beautiful and endangered bird in the Indian subcontinent….The Great Indian Bustard! Several years ago I made an attempt to have a glimpse of this most elusive bird at the Desert National Park, near Jaisalmer. After considerable efforts with the forest officials, I was able to secure the most valued permission and as I was walking out of the forest office, I was greeted with the first drop of rain and thereafter it continued to pour in torrents all through the day! The unseasonal, heavy rain ensured that the parklands were mired in slush, ending our much anticipated foray into it. It was a deeply disappointing moment.
I have had to wait for a very long time for a tryst with this enchanting bird. I will desist from providing details of the place I visited, since such information often invites the attention of marauding photographers, who don’t seem to cast their glance beyond their digital equipment, which these days are more akin to long range firearms! I had the privilege to have the company of affable BC, whose fund of knowledge about the grasslands and their fauna and flora is amazing. It is such a pleasure to find someone who is dedicated to the cause of conservation, working diligently with such commitment.
We ventured out under the blistering sun, walking across dry grass lands and savoring their riches, with hosts of larks and sandgrouses to keep us company. Finally we ensconced ourselves in the hide provided by the forest department and just waited for his majesty to arrive. Soon we were joined by V, who has been researching the GIB. I was struck by her passion for these birds and the industriousness with which she has been pursuing her interests. Walking miles and miles every day across the vast dry landscape in search of the most enigmatic bird is not an easy task but one that seems to have energized her intensely. It was a rich learning experience to listen to these two ardent lovers of nature!
We just waited….
It must have been several hours before V slowly whispered that his majesty has arrived. I cannot forget my first glimpse of this beautiful bird, sauntering across the dry grasslands, in slow measured steps. With head held high above the grass, it was gliding across the landscape. For me it was a moment of intense exaltation….almost spiritual in nature. The last time I had such an experience was in the sanctum sanctorum (Chit Ambalam) of Chidambaram Temple, where Akasha, the primary principle of nature from which other natural elements like fire, water are created, is symbolically worshiped. Quite often we forget that we are nature. Nature is inseparable from ourselves. And in that moment of glimpsing the bird, I was reconnecting with myself. It was an ethereal experience.
The male bird walked across the barren land several yards in front of us where there was a small pool of water. It was also the most elevated part of the terrain used by the male for the display of his finery to catch the attention of the female during the mating season which extends from March to September. This preferred site is often referred to as the lek. Quite often, the display might go in vain. As we resigned ourselves to this possibility, we were pleasantly surprised to see a female makes its appearance.
What happened in the next few hours was an experience to cherish. The male stood with its head held back as much as possible, its tail cocked, wings drooping down. It slowly started inflating the gular pouch which was now hanging like a balloon in front of the legs. It produced a deep moaning call to further highlight the effect. But the female didn’t appear to be too interested and kept a safe distance. As the male wandered off into the grasslands, the female kept pace. We lost sight of the female soon after as she went deep inside the grasslands. Meanwhile the male was engaging in elaborate displays. Time was ticking by and the sun was setting in the horizon. In that magical moment in fading light, the female walked out and laid herself down on the ground. The male started tapping her on the head a few times and after a brief while mated her. I was engrossed in watching this enchanting moment choosing not to capture it digitally. After the mating, the male walked away. V informed that the female will lay one egg in about eight days and after finding a suitable place, will incubate it for about twenty eight days, without any cooperation from the male in guarding the nest! Often the female is not sighted after this and it is not known whether she migrates to yet another grassland.
I had finally managed to see these elusive birds, standing proud and tall, indifferent to the eyes fixed on them from afar…
It was also my longest foray into the grasslands. They are often relegated to the status of wastelands in India. Grasslands are routinely converted to agricultural lands or degraded by excessive cattle grazing. The dwindling numbers of GIB is an indicator of these threats. There are other jewels in the grasslands too which have adapted themselves to these arid conditions. The watchful eyes of BC introduced me to a wide array of bird species in this habitat.
The Great Indian Bustard is considered to be the indicator species of the grasslands. If it is critically endangered, it also means that the grassland ecology is also under great threat. We cannot protect the bird in isolation. I was informed that in that vast area spreading across several hectares, there were less than twenty Great Indian Bustards. That I was able to see two of them in their most intimate moments, was a source of immense joy for me and yet a reason of deep concern and dismay. The fact is that the Great Indian Bustard is more endangered than the tiger, but unfortunately it doesn’t get the same attention that it richly deserves.
The memorable tryst with the Great Indian Bustard reminded me of a story by Vilas Sarang titled An Evening At The Beach. It is a captivating little story about a person called Bajrang. One of Bajrang’s beliefs is that he was the Great Indian Bustard. “You think you can catch me easily,” Bajrang said to himself as he ran” but I am the Great Indian Bustard. He is a slow bird you say to yourselves. We’ll have him in no time. But I am gone before you uttered those words. Try as you might, you can’t lay hands on me.” Bajrang knew that it was his duty to protect his own life. Pride welled up in his heart as he ran…”
Glimpses At: https://www.flickr.com/gp/24876955@N02/1Nz4fK