Wildbuzz: The poor man’s swan | punjab | Hindustan Times
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Wildbuzz: The poor man’s swan

punjab Updated: Feb 11, 2017 23:20 IST
Vikram Jit Singh

Great egrets face off like gladiators in the air during a territorial fight.(PHOTO: SUMIT M. SINHA)

Eyeing birds through a camera lens to bag a picture may be an end in itself as the intricacies of bird behaviour may be lost on the photographer. However, watching it carefully through binoculars and expending the patience of many hours fetches us a richness of result: knowing the bird as it is. At the Sukhna lake’s rowing canal, a particularly fascinating aspect is the territorial clash over fishing rights between great egrets, grey and purple herons. The egrets stand tallest (90-102 cm), and in flight and fights are almost swan-like in appearance. Though popular culture has not deified them like swans, egrets observed with a keen, indulgent eye are, if nothing else, ‘the poor man’s swans!’

As they feed on fish, frogs and invertebrates by standing belly-high in the Sukhna’s waters, they lend the observer a precise estimate of how shallow the waters are. All the gobbledygook furnished by the UT engineering department to newspapers of the lake’s rapidly-increasing depth due to infusion of ‘seven tubewells’ can be discounted at first glance of an egret’s belly scale!

The egrets at Sukhna are perpetually engaged in chasing off fellow specimens, a clash that often results in the stronger one flying after the other for few hundred yards. But the clash that took my breath away on Thursday was a purple heron that chased away an egret, despite being substantially smaller than the Sukhna’s swan. The heron had erected its black-striped neck just as a massive cobra and it stalked the egret on the canal’s shallow margins with a slow, menacing stride. The egret initially chose discretion as the better part of valour and walked away calmly, but the heron’s persistent hounding soon had it fleeing into a lovely flight of snow white.

Paintings of wildlife by Devinder Ajnabee, oils on canvas. (PHOTOS: IQBAL KAUR)


For an artist who softly strokes such vivid colours into his nature paintings, it would startle the viewer to know that the creator himself would be found lurking in the shadows of an exhibition’s limelight. Devinder Ajnabee’s painting of a giant turtle, whose famed sturdiness of shell is draped in Ajnabee’s soft yellow shades, charms the eye. Not too many wildlife painters explore the mysterious, threatened world of such creatures as they do not enjoy the brand image of such species as tigers. Turtles and tortoises are the ‘invisible vultures of the depths’ who scavenge water bodies and keep them clean. However, some turtle/tortoise species are endangered because of habitat degradation and poaching.

‘Ajnabee’ reflects this painter’s preference for reticence and his reluctance to sell his works, but it also excites a viewer’s curiosity over who ‘exactly created such rainbows of colour’. Ajnabee is a retired employee of the Haryana Vidyut Prasaran Nigam and resides in Panchkula with wife Iqbal Kaur, who is also an artist. The couple’s paintings were on display at last week’s exhibition, ‘Vision 27’, at the Kalagram organised by the North Zone Cultural Centre and Unique Society of Artists.

Ajnabee has been painting for the last 40 years and two years back, took to wildlife art. Bright colours --- be they be on canvas, in nature or couture, or in any other manifestation of life --- help heal a ravaged soul, says this painter. His bent of mind is spiritual and religious, and the turtle painting draws inspiration from a Ramayana episode. “I paint in bright colours to make myself and the viewer happy,” is Ajanbee’s simple philosophy of colour.


In these columns of January 15, I had highlighted the global odyssey of a Dutchman Arjan Darshuis, who broke the world record for maximum number of bird species seen or heard, recognisably, in a year. Arjan recorded 6,833 species in 2016 by jet-setting across 40 nations, breaking the American Noah Strycker’s record of 6,042 set in 2015. I wrote to Arjan and sought his perspective on the India leg of his ‘Big Year’ and his message for conservation.

“The India leg was something special. It was the first ‘big birding country’ of the year 2016 for me. I checked off more than 600 species in three weeks, including some highly sought after Indian specialties. One of these was the critically-endangered Bengal Florican. We were lucky enough to encounter these species on the grassy plains near Mishmi Hills (Arunachal Pradesh). I felt hopeful after observing that there are some efforts to conserve this habitat and the endangered birds that live here. However, much more is needed if we want to safeguard this ecosystem for future generations. The key lies with education and collaboration with local communities, that depend on these grasslands. They need to be associated with eco-tourism,” said Arjan.