Conned by Heron

Last November, Ankur and I led a small group of Adivasi children to a butterfly walk in the forests of Nilgiris close to the Tamilnadu-Kerala border. Nilgiris is home to rare butterfly species like the Nilgiri tit. The rich flora here harbours hundreds of species of butterflies. We hiked down to an Adivasi community owned eco lodge through the tea, coffee and pepper plantations peppered within the tropical evergreen forests of western ghats.

Children hiking down the valley as tea pickers in the distance watched us march in excitement

After briefing on the etiquette of the walk, we organised into small groups and walked towards a stream down in a valley. We walked through a narrow serpentine footpath among the bushes and thorny plants. The enthusiasm of the children and their inquisitive nature kept everyone’s mood in high spirits. Prasad, the eldest among the boys, keen to learn photography was handling my camera, while I used Amrita’s, a medical student from Australia interning at the Gudalur Adivasi Hospital.

Children could spot the tiny grass blue, the smallest butterfly in India. The thrill was unmatched when I spotted a Southern bird wing, the largest butterfly in India, which quickly fluttered into narrow labyrinth-like spaces into the thick woods. The other colour winged insect friends we spotted were, Four ring dry season form, Four ring, common rose, Smooth eyed Bush-Brown (Nigger Medus brown), Lemon pansy, Sailor, Skipper, Southern bird wing, Rustic, Steam glory, Common serolia, Evening brown, Common grass yellow and Glad eye bush brown.

Smooth eyed Bush brown (‘Nigger’ Medus Brown)
Four ring dry season form

Finally, we reached the end of our trail at the stream at the bottom of the valley. As I made myself to the sandy bank, I was greeted by a magical view. The shaft of light slitting through the tree shyness colouring gold on everything that came in its way. The sight was tranquillising. The view reminded me of William Wordsworth’s poems on nature.

Some girls treated their aching legs to the chilling water in the lazily flowing stream, Prasad and other boys found a Common Pond Heron sitting idly by the stream. Some of them ran towards to it to catch it. The bird didn’t move an inch. It appeared still. I began to wonder what could have gone wrong. Train of thoughts filled my mind. Siva crouched slowly and held the heron in his hands. I was worried that he might hurt it. He grabbed it by both of his hands and brought it to Ankur. The other boys followed Siva and swarmed around Ankur. The girls didn’t seem to be interested.

Common pond heron standing idle

I was standing close to Ankur and captured the Heron on the camera, while Prasad was on the opposite side and was capturing the unfurling events that followed. Ankur closely examined for any injuries, he lifted the wings to check for bruises and found nothing.

Siva sighed and told,

“It might be possessed. Someone must have done something to it”.

Vishnu claimed that it could have been attacked by an eagle in the sky and it fell down here after the fight. This claim was brushed off by Rajesh.

‘Nothing like that happens’,
he said. Others murmured. I couldn’t help but appreciate the keen observation of the children.

Ankur was still watching the Heron on his palms as it slowly raised. It made crawling steps. It scanned all around and turned towards the stream. It suddenly leapt and immediately flapped its wings and hurled away expeditiously. It lifted and dragged in a straight motion towards the sky rising gradually. It then flipped backwards and flew over us as all our heads followed in sync with Heron’s flight. Prasad who was on the opposite side captured the exact moment when the Heron leapt.

We were all in utter shock. It took few seconds to realise that Heron which looked dull and still until a few minutes ago, flew away swiftly. We all wore a puzzled expression. We were conned by the Common Heron! All that diagnosis from witchcraft to eagle attack were a sham.

Siva looked at all of us like he was searching for a clue of what happened. My mouth still dropped at what happened, gasped, and closed to smile. Everyone smiled and then laughed at it.

The dusk was falling over us. We all returned to the lodge and discussed the butterflies. While the sunset leaving a crimson hue over the vast sky, my thoughts still lingered on the Heron. Nature will take its course of action. We can only attempt to help.

Golden ball fading away welcoming the night sky
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