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Home >> Birding Banter >> Seeing Jerdon's Courser
 

Seeing Jerdon's Courser

Apr 19, 2006 at 01:35 AM
 
Seeing Jerdon's Courser - Peter Jackson
 
I saw Jerdon's courser Cursorius bitorquatus at midnight on 3 December 1991. I was taken by Bharat Bhushan of Bombay Natural History Society to the place where he had "re-discovered" the courser, Reddy Palle village, about one hour's drive from Cuddapah, on the coast of Andhra Pradesh, and where Jerdon was stationed as a surgeon.
We were met by Chinn Aitann, the local hunter who captured a courser for Bharat, thereby proving its continued existence. As you know, it died in Chinn Aitann's chicken run before Salim Ali arrived. That night, with no moon, just the stars, Chinn Aitann took us to his hunting ground, leading with his headlight, while carrying a motor cycle battery which worked a buzzer, whose sound masked our footsteps. With two of us following in Indian file, he walked through the scrub, while he swung the spotlight around in search of the mystery bird. We walked around for an hour or so without success. But we were not very hopeful, and my companion, J.C. Daniel of the BNHS, remarked that it was like looking for a needle in a
haystack. After supper in the village, we set off again to another potential area - without JC, who was feeling unwell. The stars shone brightly and provided a useful amount of light, and making the dark silhouettes of nearby hills visible. It made it easier to walk over the stony ground in the shrub than one might expect, given that you could not see the ground clearly, and could not use a torch. Round and round we marched, with Aitann swinging the spotlight. There was a false alarm when the spot fell on a lapwing.
Black-naped hares scuttled into the bushes. After two hours, we were heading back to where the jeep was parked, but still searching. As we came round a bush, Aitann suddenly gestured to the right. There it was: Jerdon's two banded courser illuminated. It stood stock still, presumably dazzled by the light and confused by the buzzer. It was wildly exciting to see this bird. I took a picture, but the bird was about five metres away and standing almost with its back to me - not a satisfactory pose.
As I stood hoping it would turn, Aitann moved round to the right with the spotlight. He obviously knew the form. The bird kept its back to the light, and so stood broadside to me. I took more pictures and gradually crept closer on my belly, finally within arm's length so that I had to draw back
to get the bird in the frame. After days of excited expectation came disappointment - the photos did not come out, except the first, which was too distant and taken from the rear.
The earlier part of the film was okay. It occurred to me that my being able to see the bird flinch at the flash through the viewfinder indicated that the blind and the shutter had not worked. Obviously the batteries had run down. I had been walking for several hours with the camera switched on, in
order to facilitate quick action, and that first distant shot must have finished the charge. I have wonderful images in my head! Bharat said that his experience was that, in an area where he knew the courser was to be found, it could take 20 nights to get to see one. What incredible luck that I saw one after six hours on the very first night.
 
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