Thursday, July 16, 2009

Black crowned Night Heron: the twilight hunter

It is a very rare to see night heron hunting in the daylight, they generally laze around the day and active at dusk through the night, so it was a pleasant surprise to see this bird hunched (its typical posture), alternatively stretching out its neck and concentrating on its prey on a bright morning at lal bagh lake (Bangalore). I had postponed photographing black-crowned night heron for later date when I get a better lens since daytime it rests on faraway branches and canopies (the latest is I am having some serious near misses at turf club, one of these days I am going to hit the money pot, then for lens, laptop!!) next to marshes making it difficult to photograph. Black-crowned night-heron has a scientific name Nycticorax nycticorax, which literally means ‘night raven’ in Greek. Night obviously for its nocturnal feeding habits, the second half of the name has a corvid connection not in relation but the vocal similarity to guttural calls of raven. Adult black-crowned night-herons have black caps and back therefore the name.Black-crowned night-heron are unlike any herons as they have short neck and legs, this stocky bird has long thick black bill. Hunting technique is standing still (let me add unnaturally still) at water edge to ambush prey. They are also known to employs another hunting technique called ‘bill vibrating’, whereby it opens and closes its bill rapidly in water and hunts upon any small creature attracted to the disturbance. These birds are solitary hunters but gregarious in their nesting colonies shared by other birds however they have the tendency to steal eggs and young hatchlings during breeding season, the reason why black-crowned night-heron is disliked by other species of herons. They do their best to discourage this heron from nesting in their colonies. The flight of the Night Heron is steady, slow and protracted.
White-eared Night Heron a Chinese bird listed on the IUCN Red List as one of the world’s most endangered species. The white-ear even made the list of the Fifty Rarest Birds of the World (the painting is from Audobon collection and stamp from Sri Lanka).

I was going through the Net and found that Judith Wright had written a poem "Night Herons"; despite many hours of scrounging through the net I just couldn’t locate it. I hope someone would download it at the earliest. Judith Wright has written many poems on birds and wildlife. In her poem “Birds” (1953) she writes “all are what bird is and do not reach beyond the bird” she ends the poem with the line “Be simple to myself as the bird is to the bird.”
Judith Wright was a prolific Australian poet, critic, and short-story writer, an uncompromising environmentalist and campaigner for Aboriginal land rights. In her essay 'The Writer and the Crisis', she quotes the following from poet Francis Ponge: You have but to fix your attention on the first object to hand; you will see immediately that no-one has ever examined it, and that the most elementary things about it remain to be said ... I propose ... the opening of trap-doors in the inner self ... an invasion of qualities ... Thus the best path to take is to consider all things as unknown...and begin again from the beginning.
Writes Wright in mid-1950s: "The two threads of my life, the love of the land itself and the deep unease over the fate of its original people, were beginning to twine together, and the rest of my life would be influenced by that connection”. These lines from “Australia 1970”

I praise the scoring drought, the flying dust
the drying creek, the fu
rious animal,
that they oppose us still;
that we are ruined by the thing we kill.

"In The Two Faces" (1955) she took Hiroshima as an example of man's power to destroy even the cycles of nature. These lines from “Notes at Edge”…
Rhyme, my old cymbal, I don't clash you as often, or trust your old promises music and unison. I used to love Keats, Blake; now I try haiku for its honed brevities, its inclusive silences.

Last few days I have been reading and re-reading some of the poems and essay she wrote (as also blogs of her admirers), I think she was incredible and so wrote this poem for her endearing memory.

Role play
Uncertain discordant echoes, chaotic new path,
languid past diminishing like shadows in flickering candles.
Conceded space encroached by strangers
who speak idiom
I find difficult to understand.
These days every thought seems to be slipping
into abyss so deep
I cannot retrieve.
Is it loss of words, the language?
An old woman from past once said
alphabets don’t construct words
it is the thoughts
(a critique on western model of development: it is not what you build but thoughts behind the building)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

White-breasted waterhens can walk on water !!

White-breasted waterhens are found across south Asia from India and Sri Lanka to south China and Indonesia. They have dark upperparts, white face and underparts, with yellow bill, thin long legs with very long toes. It moves tail feathers up and down. Stepping tenderly from one lotus leaf to another as it forages for food is a sight to watch, seems as if it is walking on water. Its body is adapted for this: long toes helps in distributing its already light frame.

A very common bird found wherever water bodies have thick vegetation cover. Being highly territorial it is a vocal and quarrelsome bird. Their constantly flicking tails and inquisitive suspicious nature make them very interesting birds to observe; highly vigilant they are easily alarmed and run into undergrowth. They nest in a dry location on the ground in marsh vegetation. White-breasted waterhens are often seen out in the open as it feeds on insects, mollusca, small fishes, grain. They have adapted well to human activity and are not endangered. In north India they are called Dawak or Dahak (stamp hereby from Australia).

In this context I thought it would be pertinent to discuss about some great guys from Poland: Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885 - 1939) also known as "Witkacy", wrote the play The Waterhen (the reason why he finds himself in this blog!!). When Soviet troops invaded Poland he killed himself as a protest. Witkacy tried to divest the theatre of his time of the bothersome naturalism that he felt was squelching its true nature. He believed in connecting audiences with a communal and individual "metaphysical feeling", that all the great works of art of the past were based upon this principle but that modern creators, as a result of their quest for the perfect reproduction of reality, had lost sight of it. He tried to bring in the pure form that Stanislavsky influenced theatre of the early 20th Century had been trying to keep out.

Tadeusz Kantor (1915-1990) an internationally renowned Polish theatre personality was inspired by Witkacy and stage produced many of his plays including The Waterhen. Kantor was known for experimenting with the juxtaposition of mannequins and live actors. His most renowned work was Dead Class (Andrzej Wajda a renowned Polish director made a movie on it). Czesław Miłosz framed his argument in The Captive Mind around a discussion of Witkiewicz's novel, Insatiability.

The Captive Mind has been described as one of the finest studies of the behavior of intellectuals under a repressive regime. Miłosz observed that those who became dissidents were not necessarily those with the strongest minds, but rather those with the weakest stomachs; the mind can rationalize anything, he said, but the stomach can take only so much. (I like that logic!!!!). One of the basic ideas put forward in Czeslaw Milosz's extraordinary book is that even the best-informed Westerners in reality know nothing about what goes on behind the Iron Curtain. They are fundamentally ignorant, not because of lack of factual data but due to failure of imagination. Milosz (who also happened to be Nobel laureate in literature-1980) writes in “My Intention,” the opening essay of To Begin Where I Am I have written on various subjects, and not, for the most part, as I would have wished. Nor will I realize my long-standing intention this time. But I am always aware that what I want is impossible to achieve. I would need the ability to communicate my full amazement at “being here” in one unattainable sentence which would simultaneously transmit the smell and texture of my skin, everything stored in my memory, and all I now assent to, dissent from.”

These lines from the poem Child of Europe:

The laughter born of the love of truth

Is now the laughter of the enemies of the people.

Gone is the age of satire. We no longer need mock.

The sensible monarch with false courtly phrases.

Stern as befits the servants of a cause,

We will permit ourselves sycophantic humor.

Tight-lipped, guided by reasons only

Cautiously let us step into the era of the unchained fire.