“The Hidden Bird who almost got away”

A sighting which highlighted how an animal can camouflage so well!

lrk big 4 (birds: part two) – “the hidden bird who almost got away”


This is from another amazing sighting, and all that took place in December of 2019. It had been 24 hours since our time with the MacQueen’s Bustard. This was our 2nd day in LRK where we had spent the entire morning looking for this one specific bird; and to be honest, we saw all other birds while we were in search of this one species. Since day one we had been trying to see this elusive bird, which was our 2nd bird from the “Big 4” List of LRK. Almost everyone except us had seen it and not once, but some saw it twice and some even saw it thrice during this trip! After 2 “safaris” into the salt marshes of LRK, and not even a slightest glimpse of the bird, our hopes were falling a little; but as we got ready for our 3rd trip (an evening trip) our driver-cum-guide was adamant that today we will definitely see them! His words were all the motivation we needed. 

We entered the lands of LRK with a single-minded determination to sight this bird. We checked every possible location, every Prosopis grove where it was known to visit, every other grove we came across, and more. It had been 40 minutes since we had started our search and in this entire duration, we had actively seen to it that we don’t go chasing any other fauna.

"Nothing better than when your subject turns and looks straight at you!"

Finally, we decided to search around a grassy patch, and our guide was sure that maybe our luck will shine here. We had barely entered when on our right, in a small opening I spotted our “goal”, the Short-Eared Owl (SEO) sitting and basking in the winter afternoon sun! 

"Will always try for a vertical shot if I can"

It is hard to explain in words, the feeling where one would want to shout in excitement but cannot because that would for sure make the bird fly away. We were stumbling atop one another, resting our camera lenses on each other’s shoulder and clicking away. The SEO sat there so nonchalantly that just watching it made me want to relax, but what a mistake that was on my part! 

I clicked, although it flew away from me...

I had just taken my eyes off the eye piece of my camera when it took flight and flew past us. Quickly and smoothly we all panned our cameras and tried clicking some photographs as it went into the trees and grasses, assuming that this was the last we see of it. 

because this could have been my final sighting of the bird.

Just as we were slowly backing out another SEO took flight and this time; I was nowhere near prepared to even try and click a picture. I sat there and haplessly saw it disappear into the grove. At this point we were convinced that there may pe a pair of SEOs in this general area. A decision was made that we will try to sight them again before we were to head on ahead. Twice, the most we saw of this bird was when it flew past us soon after. 

mere moments before the owl would come in focus!

In all this time, without us having noticed it, one of them had flown in behind us and was sitting among the shrubs. But as mentioned before, we were clueless of this development, and not wanting to intrude any further into their habitat we decided to head on ahead for we had achieved our goal of seeing the Short-Eared Owl in LRK. As we were crossing those shrubs, suddenly my father (who was with me in the same vehicle) saw something in the grasses and at that very moment I saw it too! 

"Silently it sat in the grasses!"

We asked our guide to very slowly put the gears in reverse and go back just a few feet, enough to be perpendicularly opposite the owl who was now sitting in the grassy vegetation. The only thing that gave its location away, were those 2 beady yellow eyes. 

"It's all in the eyes, and they were looking right at us!"

They stood out from the comparatively dull grass around. The plumage of the owl is perfect! allowing it to melt away into such a habitat, and it almost had. We could barely differentiate between the owl’s body and the grass and twigs around. It had blended so well that more often than not, my cameras focusing would waver every time a light breeze blew and I would have to zoom out, locate the bird again and then zoom back in. There was a sharpness in those eyes which would cut through the hazy grass and come right through the lens.

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This sighting had barely lasted for 15 minutes, from when we first saw the Owl in the narrow opening, to finally having found it sitting down in the grasses, barely a few feet away from us. Personally, I saw many clicks where the bird sits in clear view, with a nice broad background but I prefer the almost fully hidden sighting I had. I enjoyed seeing the bird in its habitat, doing what it does best, doing what its plumage is built to do; which was to disappear in these grasses! All of us who saw it that day tried to capture this essence of the bird, and with that we slowly backed out of the area to head-on out into the more barren areas to go looking for another of the “Big 4”.

Eshaan Rao

student

A final year Zoology student, who wishes to pursue his Masters in Wildlife Conservation. An avid nature photographer.