Shadows over the Lake

Clicking the cap into place on the telephoto lens, I whipped off the sweat-soaked camera strap off my neck. The sun had already committed itself to rising in some other distant place, and was contemplating its final exit moves. In a few minutes no amount of tinkering with aperture or ISO would give me flash-unassisted pictures. Not that I hadn’t had a fruitful evening – there were those final clicks which completed my jigsaw of the nesting habits of the Black-Crowned Night Heron (my post “Nest of Luck” of March 19); and that one shot, which took me a good twenty minutes and halfway around the lake, trotting after three ducks in the water (my upcoming post titled “Trio”), pleading with them to give me the pose I needed. But the sticky, sweat-soaked shirt on my back, the result of spending an oppressively hot and humid breezeless afternoon out by the lake, had finally caught my attention.

Taking a final sip of my dwindled sustenance, I cast one last glance over the lake – calm, undisturbed waters, slipping slowly into deepening shades of grey – and began to pack away the paraphernalia. Suddenly a gentle splash, and the photographer in me instinctively reached for the about to be stowed away camera body. Turning around I was met with tell-tale ripples on the water surface, the centre undulating with a bobbing motion. A bird had dived! And then even before the executor could surface, a sleek, dark bird swooped down from somewhere above me, headed for a smooth landing on the water in front. Making a small jumping action the bird dived underwater and surfaced just as suddenly with a small fish in its hooked beak.

Muttering to myself… cormorants…cormorants… I mounted the telephoto lens onto the camera body and locked it into position. Suddenly there were some more of the birds swooping down upon the lake, diving, resurfacing, and then taking off the surface, with a strange hopping action, awkwardly flapping their wings. I stood momentarily transfixed, captivated by these rhythmic manoeuvres. The bulk of the lens in my hand suddenly drew my attention to the camera. Hoping to catch some of the action I raised the viewfinder to my eye and squeezed off a few frames in the now-poor light. And then, I lowered the camera.

Somewhere behind me the moon had already taken to stage, and the moonbeams, mixed with the stray remnant light of the long departed sun, were casting a dull silvery pall over the murky waters. The birds continued to home in, circling over the waters and landing with a splash at various spots on the lake, diving and resurfacing – some distinctly seen with fish in their beaks – and some still submerged in the waters – their bobbing heads the only indicator of their presence – before quickly disappearing below, presumably for another attempt at hooking fish. Those satiated were quickly taking off with flapping wet wings, all headed for one large tree some distance away, which I could distinctly make out silhouetted against the dull skies, cormorants growing on it like a decked up Christmas tree!

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The waters were now inky and the cormorants reduced to darting shadows over the lake; and yet the whole atmosphere was riveting and mesmerizingly alive, with the deep guttural grunts and croaks of the roosting cormorants adding an aural dimension to the visual treat. Only when the action began to tone down in intensity with the night having set firmly in, and the birds seemingly having done their deeds satisfactorily, did I reluctantly pack my gear all over again and set out to face the harsh realities of my existence. What had to be retained for posterity was successfully captured through the human eye. The sticky sweat had come back into existence, but there was a cool breeze blowing now, and the ride back home would be that much more pleasant…

– Narendra Nayak © 2019

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