April 24, 2007

Where Scarecrows Walk

I do not remember how long it took me to get these pictures that summer day in Carambolim. However, what I do remember is waiting by the side of the road under the shade of coconut palms and mango trees while a light breeze blew across the paddy fields carrying with it excited chatter of Purple Moorhens flocking in the lake behind me. I had walked across the road after the Bronze Winged Jacana that I was watching while it glided on ungainly legs, deftly stepping on Salvinia weeds in the lake as it went about looking for fishes, had moved further back until it became a dot in the far distance, in the direction of the church at Old Goa. I found it rather surprising because on my bird watching trips to the lake over the years I was used to seeing the Bronze Winged Jacana fishing in the waters by the side of the road that split the lake into a 'water catchment' at one end, and paddy fields on the other.

Letting the breeze run over me, I sat on dry grass facing the rice fields on the shoulder of the road that led up to the railway tracks to my right before bifurcating into two; one road ran east in the direction of Neura where Joseph once drove Ajay and me to the church that sits on the hill overlooking a vast stretch of open land cut by narrow slivers of water that I believe draw sustenance from the Zuari, and the other ran on to Old Goa in the opposite direction.

From the parapet of the wall that fenced off the church from the sloping hill I gazed at the scene opening out in the distance. It is rare to see large open spaces in Goa amid what is essentially Western Ghats territory; mountains and hills largely shaping the terrain even as the topography levels out as it descends to the West Coast by the Arabian sea.

Portions of wetlands around Goa were converted into farm lands years ago, drawing water from wetlands. At Carambolim sluice gates control the flow of water from the lake to the paddy fields across the road, and while it sustains the farmers it drains the lake of water, turning the wetland at Carambolim (also spelled Karmali) into soggy landmass by winter when the first of the migratory birds begin to land in the lake. Their numbers have reduced over the years from the thousands in the 1980s to a straggling few at the turn of the century. By February it runs dry.

An occasional vehicle passed by on the narrow road behind me. The paddy fields were empty of farmers who had recessed for lunch in the shade at the base of the bund where I sat watching Cattle Egrets poised attentively over water channels irrigating the rice crops, their eyes peeled out for fishes floating in the water sourced from the lake behind me.

A scarecrow stood in the middle, set off by the green of the paddy crop. For a scarecrow I thought he was dressed well. Peering through the lens I waited for the Cattle Egret to move into the frame before letting the shutter land. I believe the scarecrow did not take too kindly to someone picking off from under his nose even if it was only fishes that the Egret was after and not grain because no sooner had I snapped the lever back to load the next frame the Egret took off.

In paddy fields around Goa you can hear stories of scarecrows that take their jobs seriously even if it means that they have to come to life to hustle out winged folks who challenge their authority.

If you've heard it before, you've probably heard right. Scarecrows can walk, and in Goa they do.

18 comments:

Charu said...

absolutely lovely! in the first one, the bird is sneaking around the scarecrow s watching quietly. and in the second,(perhaps you have included a bit more of the "head" of the scarecrow), it does feel like he has mved - and caught the egret by surprise!

Arun said...

Nicely written as usual.

Are you sure the egrets find fish in the paddy fields? I presume it is worms. I have rarely seen fish in paddy fields, except in a few cases in peak rainy season.

Anil P said...

Charu: Thank you. They've life of their own :)

Arun: Thank you. Since Khazan lands in Goa draw water from wetlands using sluice gates, fishes make their way into paddy fields like this one. I distinctly remember sitting by one such water channel in a paddy field in Bicholim watching small fishes journey down the water channels. It may not be the case elsewhere where farmlands may not adjoin wetlands. Those Egrets have mighty patience unless hustled by scarecrows :)

mark said...

nice post Anil, and great photos.

Keshi said...

u write very well!

Keshi.

bluemountainmama said...

what a great description, anil! and i love the blue of the scarecrow against the green grass...

i used to sit with my grandmother in her screened-in porch in Florida, and watch the egrets in the river behind her house. it was her favorite thing to do....

why are there less birds now?

Anonymous said...

Hi Anil,

Your last three blogs are the best... I think USA is bring out the best in you.

BTW when are you returning back.

Take Care,
Sachin

Swetha said...

When I was a kid I used to wonder how would a scare crow which stands in one place everyday scare birds away. Now after reading your post, I know why! :)

Anil P said...

Mark: Thanks.

Keshi: Thank you.

Bluemountainmama: Thanks. The same crop turns a shade a gold when it's time to harvest.

Either because fewer people are into farming now, or maybe the pesticides have done the fish in where they percolate into water bodies, or just maybe the Egrets have had enough and do not want anything more to do with humans who shoot all things that move.

Sachin: Thanks. Hopefully sooner than later :)

Swetha: :)

Smalltown RN said...

So wonderfully written....you definetly have a gift...both for writing and photography....fabulous...thank you for sharing...

thanks for visiting my blog and for your insightful comments...

cheers...

Anil P said...

Smalltown rn: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

Sam said...

I wa alway fascinated by the sacrecrows and as a kid i used to believe that they become alive in the night or when they see a bird around them ...your post brought out all those memories ..nice one :)

Anil P said...

Sam: Thank you. They're magical, these scarecrows.

Sam said...

Hahahahah!! I hope they are magical...I still wait and watch if a scarecrow would speak...:) Wizard of Oz style..:))

Anil P said...

Sam: They do speak :)

Smita said...

Gosh! You have some eye!

indicaspecies said...

Beautifully written. Could sense the scarecrow moving just enough to 'hustle out' the winged creature that challenged the 'authority' given to it.
Good blog here:)

Anil P said...

Smita: Thank you.

Indicaspecies: Thanks :)