Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Little Pratincole - Small mercies in a long dry Summer

A dead laptop and a long dry summer. It's very hard on a Woodcrawler! I haven't been out in the woods for a long while now, unless you count the weekend trip to the dry reservoir to teach a 10 year old driving. Yes, the Little Woodcrawler has learnt to drive the Duster so his papa can keep taking pictures! The best place for a 10 year old to drive is any dried up reservoir bed. No oncoming traffic or lawmen.

Birds are plenty as I mentioned in the last post. The shallow water body means easy pickings for the variety of birds that congregate along the mudflats. These are pictures from the previous weekend. Light was fading but all my friends were there.
Asian Open billed storks

Spotbilled Ducks

Large egret & Grey heron

Asian billed Stork

Asian open bill with Grey heron

Last Sunday, 22nd April, was another trip with packed brunch to our usual haunt. There was a newcomer this time, a beautiful blue jay (Indian Roller), which would take off the minute I stepped forward.

Unlike the other waders here, it wasn't used to my presence yet.

My old friends were completely unconcerned and going about their daily business in earnest! I wasn't too much of a distraction, even to the buffaloes wallowing in the mud!

Brahmini kite

As we packed up from the western end of the reservoir I saw this clown. This little egret had been perched atop a buffalo and he decided to explore the muddy water. I guess something underfoot was making him uneasy so he attempted a take off.

 Much to his embarrassment he fell face first into the water. In case you thought he was fishing, you are wrong. It seemed his foot had got caught in some invisible obstacle in the mud and he egret lost his balance.

He managed to right himself quickly and take off, only to land a few feet away. Dented in its dignity, but too proud to admit it!

A month ago, I had driven into a wet patch and had my wheels stuck in the mud and spinning. The car had been trapped for good and eventually got hauled out after a 5 hour frying session in the hot summer sun. That too, after the first truck that came to haul me out also got its wheels bogged down in the sand a few meters before it could reach my car! Eventually the tow truck that came had to struggle to get that truck out, though it only needed a few seconds to pull my car out.

I had been avoiding that patch for a while now because that slushy experience was still fresh in my mind. Though I carry the calling card of the tow truck chap I wasn't keen for another baking of my bald head! It was  my on who suggested we go there again to see how the place was now. The water in the reservoir was disappearing rapidly and the place we got stuck was looking very dry. 

As we climbed the slight rise of shingles we spied a flurry of activity. Little birds running around and swooping over us with shrill cries. There were too many to count but it would have been close to a 100 birds all together in the sky and on the ground. They were running about a small area and suddenly pressing themselves on the ground. Something was up.

These were little pratincoles or the small Indian pratincole, a little wader that was about the size of a common babbler and coloured similarly.They were superbly camouflaged that you'd miss them if you took your eyes off even for an instant.

In flight their short tails and long wings make them look more like the swallow below.

Wire tailed swallow

We stopped the car at the bottom of the shingle patch and my son got out to inspect the ground in front of us before we drove further. A movement in the periphery of my vision caught my eye. It was then I realized why there was such a buzz around us. We were parked in the middle of a small nesting ground for the pratincoles!

I could understand their consternation. Every little plant or rock was an ideal nesting spot for these little birds. Since I had been careful about avoiding protruding rocks and plants I had just avoided a carnage!
These myna sized birds lay eggs on the  ground in a small depression they create and most sources on the web seem to just copy and paste info found on Wikipedia, that these little creatures breed in Karnataka and North Kerala! There is however one article that appeared in The Hindu that records these birds nesting in Palakkad.

Both, the bird and its eggs are so superbly camouflaged that you'll miss it unless you look for it. It's not hard because the little bird keeps circling around its nest either on the ground or the air!The eggs themselves look like small pebbles.

In a 20 meter radius around my car, were at least 20 nests. Three of them with 2 eggs in each of them.

After a while these little birds got used to my pointing my camera at them and settled down in their nests.

Once in  a while, it appeared they were taking off to dip themselves in the water to wet their feathers. Perhaps the wet feathers help protect the eggs from the intense heat of the sun.

These birds have a very interesting way to dissuade predators. If they feel that any creature in their vicinity are going to steal the eggs or chicks they do the Dance of Distraction! They run around in circles splaying out their wings giving the appearance that they are hurt. Once the presumed attacker is drawn towards the 'injured bird' they keep moving away farther and farther from their nest. Bad luck for the neighbour if the attacker chanced on the nest next door!

It was a very informative morning for me and an entertaining one for the Little Woodcrawler. I was only wondering how many of the eggs and hatchling (when they came) would survive attacks from stray dogs, jackals, blundering buffaloes and humans. This particular area has been a favourite spot for families on picnic. So if someone drove in without being aware of these little bird's presence a lot of accidental deaths would happen. The only consolation is that this little bird is not on the endangered list. It is in fact classified as 'No Concern' in the conservation status list!