Three minutes with Demoiselle Cranes at Khichan

Our story begins on a warm, sunny day in late February this year.

A tourist bus turns off from the Bikaner – Jaisalmer highway at Phalodi and rattles its way towards a village called Khichan. As the bus passes a sign announcing that Khichan was just a kilometer away, excitement mounts. Sunglasses are readied as are cameras and binoculars. Soon the group will be seeing what they have come to Khichan for β€” to see the Demoiselle Cranes, which migrate here to escape the harsh winters of Eastern Europe.

Everybody in the group is a birding enthusiast. Everybody, but one person who is frankly quite bored with all the bird talk going around and trying to be as indifferent as possible to the contagious and palpable excitement filling the bus. That person is me.

As soon as the bus stops, the group tumbles out looking all around them. “Where are the birds? Where are the birds?” they demand. A local, who is passing by points vaguely and mutters “across that rise” at which the group sets off purposefully in that direction. I trail behind the group, dragging my feet and looking disinterestedly around me.

As the first of the group crests the rise, sounds of “Ooh ! Look at them, there they are”, floats back to me. My steps quicken of their own accord and in a minute I am over the rise myself and get my first glimpse of the Demoiselle Cranes. And stop in my tracks so suddenly that I almost slide all the way down to level ground.

The sight of so many live birds outside of a TV screen or a photograph is a sight that I am never going to forget for as long as I live.

Demoiselle Cranes 1

The birds are quite some distance away and I use my camera zoom to try to get a better look at them and take some photographs too. I have just taken my second photograph (see the one below), when a commotion begins.Demoiselle Cranes 2Lowering my camera, I see that some over-enthusiastic members of my tour group are marching purposefully to where the birds are grouped for a closer look. And the remaining half of the group is calling them back with loud “come back, come back, or the birds will fly away”.

And in the blink of an eye, that’s exactly what happens. A restless shuffling among the birds, a couple of fluttering wings and the birds take off. I am left looking at this.

Demoiselle Cranes 4Our tour manager is livid, but the damage is done. The local who had pointed out the site of the cranes says rather mournfully that the cranes will not return for an hour or so or till they feel it is safe for them to do so. Since we do not have the time to wait for the cranes to return, our group decides to leave.

It is an angry, diffident and rather shame-faced group that gets back into the bus. Everyone avoids everyone else’s eyes. Our group is also avoiding the angry looks of other tourists who have gathered at Khichan for crane watching and have now been cheated of it. As for me, I am still to recover from the “now-I-see-the-Demoiselle-Cranes-and now-I-don’t” tryst I have just experienced. I check my camera to reassure myself that I had indeed seen these birds.

As the bus makes its way out of Khichan to rejoin the highway to take the road to Jaisalmer, I try to recall all that our tour manager had shared about the special guests that Khichan plays host to every winter.

During the months that the Demoiselle Cranes are at Khichan, the villagers take care of the birds by feeding them grain in specially built enclosures or chugga ghars, and ensuring that they are safe from dogs and other predators. For more information on how the birds are fed and the amount of grain used to feed them every day, please click here. Khichan also receives bird lovers, ornithologists, and tourists whenever the beautiful birds are there.

Demoiselle Cranes 3I am very disappointed at having got just 3 minutes with the cranes and wish that I had got to see more of these graceful birds.

At a personal level, this sighting ofΒ  Demoiselle Cranes has kind of changed my attitude towards birds and bird watching from a polite indifference to a somewhat newly awakened interest. While this does not mean that I am going to get up at an unearthly hour to go birding, it does mean that I am interested in knowing more about the avian world and extend my limited and rudimentary knowledge beyond the world of sparrows, crows, pigeons, parrots (or is it parakeets?).

And maybe, just maybe, the next time someone shouts “look, look” or “look at that… yellow-footed, green-tipped, purple-bellied, orange-collared, blue beaked, red-eyed, white-cheeked, black-shouldered… bird”, I just might turn around to see them, instead of rolling my eyes. πŸ™‚

32 thoughts on “Three minutes with Demoiselle Cranes at Khichan

  1. lovely post, Sudha!!!! welcome to the world of birdwatchers!!!! the awe at seeing so many birds together, is so understandable. That was just how I felt the first time I saw so many birds… it was on the way to Dwaraka,, and at the time, the only birds I could identify among all those present, were pelicans!!!! i didnt even have a camera with me then,…. but then I got the same feeling the first time I saw the flamingoes at Sewri too! i think its high time we make a trip to Sewri together…. and Samhith can have the pleasure of showing off his bird knowledge to you πŸ˜€

    that said, the behaviour of bird enthusiasts is indeed disturbing at times. I can understand when kids like samhith want to go closer, but adults doing that is something i cant understand. also, i have heard instances of how birdwatchers disturb birds to get that perfect shot, climb up trees and put the eggs in danger just to get a shot of the nest… imitate bird calls to the extent of disturbing the entire flock… i can go on and on and on… its a pity that access to a dslr makes everyone think they have to be wildlife photographers, instead of simply sitting back and enjoying the sight of these beautiful birds which fly all the way, year after year/

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    1. A very cautious thank you to your warm welcome, Anu. As I have told you many times, I have all the patience in the world for studying sculptural panels, but zero patience for bird watching πŸ™‚ Let us see how this newly awakened interest proceeds.

      I know what you mean when you say that the behaviour of bird enthusiasts can be disturbing. Let me share something with you here. Some members of the group that I have mentioned in this post here would scream out to the driver of our vehicle to stop each time they thought they saw significant bird. The first couple of times, the driver came to a screeching halt from full speed on the highway, pretty certain that something had happened to someone on the bus. You can imagine how livid he was to find that he was putting the whole bus and its passengers in danger by braking suddenly. He would just not listen after a point !

      The flamingoes must have left Mumbai by now, right? I will definitely catch up with them next year πŸ™‚

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  2. Oh! that was so so disappointing na..glad you caught at least a glimpse and captured it right for us with your camera πŸ™‚

    I am not a bird watcher at all honestly…I just listen to the crows, sparrows and koels early in the morning when I open the window to water the plants ..There are some morning walkers on the road, going ‘Hari Om’ to each other..and not much traffic..so I can hear the birds chirping and asking the world to wake up πŸ™‚

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    1. I am not a bird enthusiast, RM. I just know the birds around me and if I do spot something out of the regular set, I try to ask someone. That’s about it.

      But having said that, the sight of so many birds at one time (and not pigeons) is really something. I’m glad I got to experience it.

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    1. As I told, Anu. a very cautious thank you to that welcome. Let us see how this interest develops and sustains itself.

      And thank you also for your kind words of praise. πŸ™‚

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  3. I could visualize the “quite bored” and “disinterested Sudha” walking towards the birds, which brought a πŸ™‚ on my face and Yes welcome to the world of bird watching, not only birds but any creation around us is worth watching and I love to watch squirrels even for hours.

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    1. Looks like you had a good time visualising my boredom and disinterest, Asha πŸ˜› I love and appreciate creation in passing and around me, but do not have the patience to watch and observe them for any length in time 😦

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  4. I enjoyed reading the reluctant bird-watcher’s rendezvous with the cranes.
    It is unfortunate that you could not see the cranes dancing, and their courtship. Even though you could not take a closer picture, you have managed to capture the contrasting colours beautifully. The grey birds against the red-gold mud and vivid green shrubs is really stunning – not to mention the lone cow munching away.
    Well! although I had always loved watching birds, I learned more about how and what to observe about birds after my marriage to a bird watcher. He can spend hours observing birds with binoculars.

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    1. With the group around me, I’m glad that I at least got a glimpse of these beautiful birds ! I have also heard and read about the dance of cranes, but have yet to see one. Hopefully, I will see it one day.

      And tell me, how come your dear husband has patience for bird watching? πŸ˜€

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  5. Lovely post! Hopped here from Indiblogger and I am glad I did! πŸ˜€
    I have a few bird lovers in my friend list who keep on posting pretty pictures and I am more than satisfied with seeing them on my computer screen. Maybe I need an experience like yours to bring out the bird watcher in me. But like you say, I won’t ever get up at an unearthly hour to watch birds. Hell, I hadn’t even ever got up during my exams πŸ˜‰
    http://www.akankshadureja.com

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    1. Hello Akanksha and a very warm welcome to here. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.

      I’m not sure that I am fully converted to a bird watcher. Like you, I’m happy seeing bird pics on FB and reading blog posts on birding. But when people like one of my sisters-in-law start their bird talk my eyes glaze over. πŸ˜‰

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  6. I visited a similar place on Bangalore-Mysore road a couple of years ago. We were luckier since cranes were high up in trees and going below the trees to look at them did not disturb them!

    Clicking good pictures of birds is really tough, I hardly try it! πŸ™‚

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    1. I have seen cranes on tree-tops too in Mumbai. πŸ™‚

      This is the first time that I attempted any photography involving birds and it was more for memory than quality. And I prefer photographing landscapes and buildings to birds, animals and human anyway πŸ™‚

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  7. How disappointing! 😦 Sometimes, yes, I have wished that tourists should be better behaved, especially around animals and birds. Sometimes, I feel it was good that the Supreme Court decided to ban tourism around tiger reserves. That ban was lifted later, right?

    Lovely pics! They are indeed graceful birds. I wish you could have had the chance to watch them for longer.

    I am not a very avid birdwatcher, but I do love the activity. I love the way nature adorns each bird with its own unique set of features. πŸ™‚ I have LOADS to learn, but I am learning. πŸ™‚

    Like you, I have never seen so many birds together out of a photograph or a TV screen. I wish I get the chance to do that sometime too. πŸ™‚

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    1. Let’s not talk about tourists, shall we? Particularly Indian tourists. This topic always arouses my base instinct to rant !

      And if wishes were horses, well there would be so much happening around us. That said, I hope you get a chance to see so many birds in one single frame. It is something that everyone must see at least once in their lifetime πŸ™‚

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  8. I am not a bird watcher but loved the pics… I have a friend who clicks wildlife and I can imagine how it feels when you miss that precise moment.

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    1. Hi Jas, Lovely to see you here after so long. Welcome back πŸ™‚

      I am no bird watcher either and I didn’t even want to take too many pictures of the cranes. I just wish the bird enthusiasts had left them alone.

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        1. I have been struggling with writing and reading blogs for better part of a year now, so can understand the “not uploading, very little reading” part. Will catch up with your posts soon. πŸ™‚

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  9. Take heart Sudha, in another 10 years, the birds will get used to gawking tourists and will not fly away. Indeed they may choose to gawk back and wonder what species of animal is this – that creates such cacophony, has stuff hanging off of its necks and generally travels in packs.
    Interestingly the Smithsonian has a live butterfly exhibit. You’d think such delicate beings such as butterflies would cower in the presence of large groups of humans. Despite being asked to be quiet and gentle, noise levels are fairly high within the exhibit. Now though, the butterflies are immune to all the visitors. They routinely fly out of hiding places and land on the overexcited junta causing them to get noisier. πŸ™‚

    http://www.mnh.si.edu/education/planned_programs/butterfly_pavilion.html

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    1. Maybe, maybe not. I would rather that we change our behaviour than expect the birds to get used to gawking tourists and so-called birding enthusiasts. Well, I can dream, can’t now?

      And the Smithsonian experience is on my list of museums to visit before I become too old to travel πŸ™‚

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  10. They are beautiful birds, I had seen them in Salt Pans in Tal Chapar last year. We had a very good sighting. Birdwatching can test ones patience like nothing else. and then the lady luck smiles on you… Thanks

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    1. I barely got to see them, Desi Traveler. 😦 I saw what I had missed only after I checked out their photographs on the internet. I can spend an entire day studying a wall panel on a temple, but can barely stand still for 5 minutes for a bird. But with this sighting, maybe there is hope for me yet. πŸ™‚

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  11. Great narration as always πŸ™‚

    While I was in Khichan recently for bird watching, what really interested me was an entire lane of abandoned havelis with intricate doors. Currently making a blog post with them, although I have scant idea of why and the history about it.

    travelshoebum.com

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    1. Thank you, Shubham.

      Yes, I had noticed the old havelis and had planned to look at them after the bird sighting was over. But you know what happened and how we had to leave in a hurry. 😦

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