Lesser Floricans in greater numbers

RARE SIGHT: A Lesser Florican incubating her eggs at Dhamotar in Chittorgarh District of Rajasthan.

RARE SIGHT: A Lesser Florican incubating her eggs at Dhamotar in Chittorgarh District of Rajasthan.  

JAIPUR OCT.3. Lesser Floricans, the rare birds of the grasslands, are thriving despite an otherwise debilitating drought in their traditional habitats in southern Rajasthan and the neighbouring areas of Madhya Pradesh. As many as 30-35 male birds were spotted during July-August this season and breeding also was confirmed as females hatching eggs could be located.

Thakur Dijvijay Singh of Damotar, an avid Florican watcher spotted 15 males in the territory once formed his `jagir' in Pratapgarh tehsil of Chittorgarh district this time. He has been observing them for years together during the monsoon which is the season for the birds to make their appearance.

This time Mr.Singh crowned himself with glory among the wildlife enthusiasts as he managed to click the picture of an ever shy female Florican at her nest. He claims that this is the first such snap in the history of the species, which he has handed over to The Hindu (see picture).

Lesser Floricans belong to the Bustard group of birds, which prefer open areas, grasslands and crop fields as their habitat. Their characteristic trait is to remain individualistic about their territory and to breed in privacy. In Rajasthan the species have been reported in Kota, Tonk, Ajmer, Bhilwara and Chittorgarh areas. They have been studied extensively by Shankaran of SACON, Coimbatore.

Forays into the territories of Lesser Floricans this monsoon season by Mr.Singh and environmentalist, Harsh Vardhan proved fruitful to allay the fears that the drought would have had a serious adverse impact on the birds. The birds not only breed during this season but also make their appearance this time of the year, presumably assisted by the north-west currents.

A few hundreds of kilometres on a four wheeler in Chittorgarh, Choti Sadi, Pratapgarh and the adjoining areas in Madhya Pradesh took Mr.Singh and Mr.Vardhan to the maize fields where the Lesser Florican males sprang up in the air for their characteristic show of plumes to attract the females. Mr.Vardhan said that spotting of the males was possible due to this ritual while the females mostly remained hidden in the grass or bushes.

Capturing of the female bird in the camera was a task in itself after spotting it at the end of the fortnight's search with the full support of the villagers. Mr.Singh could take a photo using a 400 mm lens after making a set of villagers to stand at a distance --so the female bird was forced to keep a watch on them and missed the lens wielding wildlife enthusiast.

Dr. Shankaran's recommendations on conservation of Lesser Floricans stress on protection of the grasslands as poaching is not a big problem when it comes to these species. However the Florican habitats are fast vanishing with the grasslands taking the shape of agriculture fields. What is intriguing about the birds is that they disappear from these areas after the monsoon. R.S.Dharmakumarsinhji, a renowned wildlife expert, who ringed 500 Lesser Floricans between 1943 and 1949 reported that 18 of them had been recovered out of which 10 from the same area where they were ringed. The others belonged to areas within a radius of 50 kms.

According to Mr.Vardhan, Dr.Dharmakumarsinhji held the view that even after the ringing operations during the pre-Independence period, the location of the birds after monsoon remained obscure. It was with Dharma's support that a symposium on Bustards could be held in Jaipur in 1980 which proved a land mark in the conservation of the species.

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