This world is full of surprises – and some surprises hit you hard for you, never in your wildest dreams, could imagine something like that happening before your eyes. The human mind is accustomed to patterns – over time the happenings get etched into our psyche and remain imprinted on our memory chip. This conditioning of mind doesn’t allow us to believe anything that is not in that chip even when we are staring at the spectacle in our full senses.
As usual, that day I was on my early morning expedition outside my colony with my trusted companion – my camera. We were scouting the edge of the wetland formed by the backwater of a small dam on a stinking stream that carries all sorts of effluents, and household refuses dumped into it by the “conscious and responsible citizens.” Despite the grime and the muck this wetland is rich in birdlife and also has crabs and water snakes, rats and voles, spiders and dragonflies and sometimes, in winter, I meet a cute garden lizard orienting itself towards the sun high up on the trunk of a date palm tree. So, you can guess, it is a pastime worth relishing in the early hours of the morning – looking at the crimson sun pushing itself up the horizon and flocks of cormorants, rock pigeons and ducks floating in silhouettes against the mellowed sun rays. I get transported to a heavenly world, and the feeling that permeates my soul then is impossible to describe in words as words have their limitations like the humans who have invented them. It is a Godly affair. Such a soul enriching sensibility makes me feel very small in the universe – just a speck of a speck bathed in the aura of the divine.
Now, let us come back to the mundane, and let me tell you what I saw that morning sitting on the parapet of that culvert by the road. Like any other day flocks of baya were adorning the clumps of Typha and picking up leaves for their nests, purple moorhens, water-hens, and a group of bronzed winged Jacana were busy in the shallow water , wire-tailed swallows were flitting past over my head as I was looking into the wetland scanning for something new and suddenly I saw a purple heron foraging at a distance in an Eichhornia patch. I began observing it. For several minutes the heron remained motionless like a lamp-post, and then in a flash, its neck went down into the weeds and then I couldn’t believe what I was looking at – a brown crake dangling from its long beak, fluttering frantically to wriggle out. My FZ-200 sprang into action and I began clicking photos. The hapless crake had already lost steam, and now only its feet hung from the beak of the heron, and within seconds the crake vanished in the abyss of its belly. I was in a shock as my memory was unable to retrieve any previous record of such an incident.
Though I knew that the purple heron feeds on insects, crabs, frogs, reptiles, rodents and small birds but that brown crake was by no means small – I would consider warblers, munias, and tits small birds but not this crake. So, was it a turf war in which the winner devoured the vanquished? The purple heron is known to defend its territory fiercely but, in this case, there was no display of warning – it was an ambush for prey. After this episode, my memory-chip had recorded – “A purple heron eats big birds too.”
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