Raipur is bustling city, capital of Chhattisgarh State of India. So much so, to cope up with the population and infrastructure requirement, New Raipur city is being built in its vicinity. In the middle of this old city, in the posh civil line locality, is located the ‘New Circuit House’ – a six story, huge building with rooms for visitors, conference halls, restaurant etc. This is comfortable. This is third time I am staying here, in last that many months. What amazes me most here is the canteen – there are more than 500 dishes listed on the menu including ones from all corners of India, particularly south and north, as well as Chinese and Continental! But, I least expect any other excitement in staying here.
But no. In my recent visit, I am located on top floor in room no 506. In fact, coincidentally, I have been located here all the times! Its natural with me, when I enter a hotel /rest house room, I prefer to open the balcony door /window to get some fresh air and to take stock of surroundings. Presently, as I open the balcony door I hear some noise of birds and see some egrets flying. As I reach the railing of the balcony and look around from this high ground, I tell myself with great pleasure, ‘Oh My God, in full and not OMG, a heronry!’ I am hugely excited. What a change, what a luck. I realise, I am going to spend good time at the rest house.
I forget plan to prepare for the meeting. Quickly I fix my camera, take out a binocular, keep a dairy and pen ready, pull out a chair and get all set to watch action.
Four medium size trees with spread out canopies are laden with nests. Most conspicuous nester is cattle egret and in largest number. True to its name, I have seen cattle egret commonly, following cattle in village fields and herbivore e.g. deer, elephant, bison … in forest, collecting insects and other such food as they are stirred by the movement of animals. It’s a white egret with a yellow bill and greyish-yellow legs. But here at the Circuit House Heronry, it has exotic plumage – orangish-golden plumes on the back, breast and crown. I notice some birds have bright red bill as well, while other continue to have yellow bill. I find all this dressing up is for pairing and breeding. So much so, that bill colour change happens for the short three-four days pairing period! Cattle egret looks still more beautiful with its buff feather all blowing delicately in the breeze – Adding a romantic feel to whole atmosphere in the heronry.
God is great. It has developed a natural mechanism for birds to look extra beautiful for the occasion, while men rather for that matter women, have to cough out huge sums and spend lot of time in boutiques to get them artificially painted though it’s not a guarantee that one would look beautiful.
There are around 200 odd nests. Nests are built close to each other as are the houses in the locality. They are located at different levels in the tree like multi-level Circuit House.
Maximum number of nests are that of cattle egrets, followed by that of little egret. Little egret is not that little either. I recollect, it is so named as there are two larger (median and large) egrets found in India. Otherwise, in size and weight it is somewhat larger than cattle egret.
I can see a little egret nest quite clear and in the forefront of the tree down there, bang opposite the balcony. I can count three eggs in the nest when the egret rises from them probably to exercise legs. It very softly adjusts the positions and sides of the eggs with its beak so that they are evenly warmed by the touch of the body. What complexity the breeding is…
It’s monsoon time. The sky is overcast, drizzles now and again. Cool breeze blows. Branches of trees swing softly. So are the nests. It seems the tree as well as nest position are selected by design. Probably this prevents the predators e.g. cats etc to reach the nest.
The little egret has geared up the look of a bride – with flowing and flying feathers all around the body. Technically, in the breeding season, the bird has ‘two long, pointed and very narrow plumes on the nape that form a crest. There are similar feathers on the breast, but with widely spread barbs. There are also several elongated scapular feathers that have long loose barbs.’ All said and done, it looks fairy. In the evening, I even see matting of little egret, right there on the nest. The male lands right on the female and all that…
There are about dozen, or may be more, pairs of night herons also nesting in these trees. They are generally in the top layer of the canopy. Night heron does not look like heron though – relatively stocky with shorter bill, legs, neck … Night heron, as you may know, has a black crown and back with the remainder of the body white or grey, red eyes, and short yellow legs. This bird has conspicuous two-three white long plumes emerging separately from back of the head. These plumes stand out – literally stand erect in greetings and courtship.
I notice, while one partner attends to the nest, the other one is either busy taking care of other cores or hangs around on nearby trees.
Oh My God, there are Ibises also. I notice one pair of Black-headed Ibis. Later, I notice, there are two more pairs behind, which are not clearly visible. The nest is on top most layer of one of the heronry trees. I may add that Ibis not an egret or heron but a wading bird. It is much larger bird and more so because of thick, long down curved bill. It’s largely a black and white bird – white plumage, with some greyer areas on the wings & bald head, neck and legs are black. In the fading evening light, they are busy grooming…
Watching heronry absorbs my free mornings and evenings during the two days stay in Raipur, while the bird’s come true to Darwin’s theory of propagation of species with utmost dedication, love, leisure…
(P.S. : I visit Raipur for 7-9 July 2016 for attending a meeting for development of Policy for Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) for the Forest Department of the Government of Chhattisgarh. Heronry at New Circuit House in Raipur is the clear indication of invasion by human beings in to the wildlife habitat. I am also told by my forester friend, Mr Manoj Misra, that this place used to be a wetland.)