In The Quest of a Nightjar
What got this fervor onto me, I remember not; what set me crazy after this, I know not: but I had to see the Nightjar in the day, in the heat of the day and that too without disturbing it. Usually, going about in thorny bushes of dry deciduous forests, unaware of the presence of this bird, a little far away something flies up from the ground suddenly and you then realize-that: was the elusive Nightjar which was as deceptive as ever. But I don’t want to see it that way. My eyes should discover it when it is sitting steady: This was the craze that set over me in the summer of 2015.
For those who don’t know about the Indian Nightjar (Family-Caprimulgidae): it’s a most wonderful bird commonly known in my homeland Gujarat as “Dashrathiyu”. In the darkness following the sunset it starts declaring its presence with a chak chak chakarrrrr call. When walking along at night, if you come across a pair of red eyes floating mid air, that, is your Nightjar. This bird, owning a length of 24 centimeter, is found in almost the entire state of Gujarat. Nature’s real marvel lies in this bird’s colours. Accustomed to sit on the ground and lower branches of trees, the colours of this bird merges so well with the background that it can’t be spotted very easily. Coloured grey and dusty, the Nightjar owns a golden neck and collar and a white patch on the sides of its neck. Its flat head and white ended tail immediately identifies it. Evolutionary pressures have endowed it with a wide buccal opening which enables it to catch insects on flight and the bristles around its beak aid in holding on to the insects. What’s bizarre is that this bird doesn’t make a nest at all. Like lapwings, it clears some part on the ground where it lays 2-3 creamish pink eggs.
Now, coming back to me. Following completion of my graduation, when admissions for postgraduate programs were still underway, I used to wander about in my village, observing birds. I had seen Nightjars before in my village but in the evening. I had not seen them sitting stable in their day time abodes. One evening it occurred to me that so many of these were visible at dusk and not a single could be seen in the day. This thought troubled me and I decided to find its day time abode.
Having decided so, I left home with a bag on my shoulders and ardor in my heart and a pair of binoculars and a field guide for company. It was a scorching summer and this bird breeds between February and September. So the probability of finding it at this time of the year was pretty high. Reaching the outskirts of the village, there were thickets of Acacia as far as eyes could see. I moved ahead looking everywhere with sharp, alert eyes. Sometimes a Dove or a Bulbul would peek out, a Francolin or a Lark would lurk about but the Nightjar remained as deceitful as ever. Walking along I sifted through borders of two more villages, but there was no sign of the Nightjar. That does not mean it was not there. Just that my untrained eyes were still learning and hence had not spotted it. That is nature’s scheme of working. Every bird and animal is endowed with such colours as to keep it hidden in its abode. Thus, it is hidden from predators. But I was no predator! Why would it not show itself to me? But nature does not discriminate and I could not catch sight of my quarry. In one day, I scoured the borders of four villages to no avail. This continued for a week. I guess it was my mistake: I had no proper acquaintance with this kind of search but hoping to learn along, I kept looking. All alone with only the borrowed binoculars and a rucksack with a field guide and bottle of water to keep company. Roaming around in the heat all day the straps of my bag left marks on my back and shoulders. For a fortnight, having to work on my farm, my quest got sidetracked. When I started again, I had a ten year old boy-the son of the owner of the neighboring farm-for company. The boy was curious to know where I go and what I did. We went through the same landscape. We were passing by the bottom of a hill, with the boy walking ahead of me in his own rhythm. I was lagging behind making observations. Suddenly something flew right next to the boy. I felt it should be a Nightjar, but could not find it. My patience was being tested. But after having looked this long, I was now adamant to see it. After some two to four days, I returned to the same spot. I scanned every rock at the bottom of the hill. Doing so, my eyes fell on the rocks surrounding the small check dams built to collect rain water and Eureka! Sitting there in the shadows of a rock was an Indian Nightjar. With its eyes half closed and peaceful stance it seemed to be worshipping the Lord and seeing it so was soothing to my eyes. I was, at last, successful in seeing a Nightjar after all these days of effort. In those days I used to use a Karbonn phone whose camera was not very good. I tried to take a photograph but the bird sitting almost 15 meters away could not be captured in the picture. But I wanted to take a picture after having had spent so much time after it. Then I got an idea to keep the lens of the camera in the eyepiece of the binoculars and take the photo but that again was very difficult. If the binoculars moved even a little bit, the bird was lost and when it was stable, the camera would not focus. At last, I took a video instead with the help of the binoculars. For this video of 30 seconds, I roamed for 20 days in scorching heat. But even today, the joy I feel on seeing that video is greater than any HD photo taken with my Nikon P900 camera.
Special Thanks to Aditi Prasad (aditiprasad9.blogspot.com)for translating it !