Lesser Florican-a bird lesser than none!
The lesser floricans (labelled as “Endangered” by IUCN) were estimated by Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun to be only about 264 individuals in the year 2017. The author ponders about their conservation status while trying to capture the leap of a florican in the frame.
I was eager with anticipation. Anticipation as to where would I see it, how far would it be? How long does its leap last? I had seen pictures and knew about its endangered status. My last thought before going to sleep for weeks was solely focussed on seeing this mesmerizing creation of nature: the lesser florican (Sypheotides indicus), the smallest bustard in the world. Unafraid of the monsoons, it dwells in grasslands, ever vigilant with its inky black head and curlicue crests—a feature which instantly made me fall in love with this fascinating bird. The males give memorable performances in order to attract mates and are truly a sight to behold.
So there we were, scanning the jowar fields and the fields of moong pulse—fields which were once grasslands. Through the binoculars, at about 300 feet from us, a speck of jet black amidst the verdant green I am awarded my first sighting! My hands trembled as I struggled to get a grip on my camera: perhaps the only tool to freeze this moment. And suddenly, it was gone! The bird ducked back into the grass to hide from danger and then walked—rather quickly—under the plants only to emerge at a different spot. Thus it is a challenge to locate it if one is not paying attention to the moving leaves and branches—the telltale sign of the bird in motion.
Soon enough, it raised its head again – but seemed nervous: a farmer from far away was approaching. Sensing danger, it flew up in shades of black, brown and white and quickly settled on the other side of the field, again hidden from view. I was lucky to take a picture of it in flight, although its shy face was not visible. But now at least the whereabouts were sure: causing the binoculars up to scan again.
This time it was closer: I could see the black head in the green fields with my bare eyes! Excited, I focused my camera lens on the subject—albeit still too far—and captured it in its stillness. Checking the photo, I zoomed in, and through the blurred picture, I saw its inquisitive eyes and beautiful crests. The biggest smile came across my face. I resumed.
And before I could focus the camera again, something marvellous happened: it jumped! Something out of a fairy tale, something miraculous—a rattling sound, an athletic leap, a quick triple flutter of its wings to stay midair for a fleeting second, and then a quiet free-fall back on the ground. I had finally seen what I had only heard of; the almost fabled antics of this adorable bird. For a second, I forgot my camera, I forgot all the sounds, I forgot my existence. There was just that spectacle: the grace of a ballerina and confidence no words can describe. Only the bird mattered in the universe at that particular moment, no observers, just the observed.
I snapped back, sighed and thought—can we do nothing to save this marvel? However powerful we claim to be, however potent and all-enterprising to reach our goals, and yet relentlessly the population of this bird falls every year. I held back tears and decided to attend the present. The black head had ducked, ready to jump. I quickly focussed my camera. And then it jumped: and I clicked once, twice and thrice—capturing its jump at three positions. I zoomed to check: the photos were perfect.
And again it jumped. And again it leapt. It went ahead for nearly two dozen jumps in about half an hour so and didn’t look exhausted in the least. Gleeful and free, oblivious to any trouble or its existence, the bird’s heart and joy in flight seemed one—that is what the bird symbolized for me. And that is the memory I carry: a bird of mirth, a bird lesser than none, a bird that begs us to look and to be astounded. There is still time and I believe that with awareness, compassion and active monitoring, we will see that this bird is conserved. We will not risk losing it, and another reason to smile, forever.
The lesser floricans (designated as “Endangered” by IUCN) were estimated by Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun to be only about 264 individuals in the year 2017. This is a nearly 80% reduction from the population as reported in the year 2000. The primary reason for this alarming trend is the loss of the birds’ habitat: the grasslands. These less-understood ecological niches are either being overgrazed by cattle or being converted into agricultural land, typically comprising mono-culture crops. This results in drastic reduction of biodiversity, change in natural fertility of the soil and disruption of food web involving a plethora of flora and fauna. The author photographed the bird in Shokaliya, Ajmer District, Rajasthan where it breeds every year. The locals who call it “likh” or “kharmor” are well aware of it, and have acknowledged its continuous presence in the last nearly 20 years. The bird has been recently seen in Velavadar, Bhavnagar district, Gujarat and also in Rollapadu sanctuary, Kurnool district, Andhra Pradesh. A recent survey has concluded by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) in the state of Maharashtra and the results are being compiled. It is important to note that the bird has shown adaptability while breeding in agricultural lands, which were once grasslands. These areas are particularly important and require minimal use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers, which can create feeding problems for the existing lesser florican population. Awareness programmes with the help of state forest officials, local governments and NGOs such as BNHS can immensely contribute to raising awareness among the local population in order to conserve and monitor the lesser floricans.
Read also: Revisiting the moments in the wild
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