Sunday mornings of late are devoted to a stroll, camera at the ready, through the untrodden paths within the Aarey Forest in suburban Mumbai. At the far end of the path downhill from New Zealand Hostel is a tiny pond which remains slushy at this time of the year, trying to manage with an insufficient supply of water from some depleted underground source. Besides a handful of tadpoles and guppies, and some hopeful pond herons, there is rarely any excitement seen around this water body. Yesterday though, I was pleasantly surprised to see small congregations of egrets plodding through the grey waters. The feeling turned to delight and I suddenly felt nostalgic when I saw that there were two species of egrets, the Cattle Egret and the Little Egret.
The memories of those early days of my initiation into birding, nearly forty years ago, suddenly came flooding back. Those were the days of reluctantly heading to school at the crack of dawn, the only incentive being the pond opposite the school playground which, with its profusion of water hyacinth, eichhornia and pistia, was a hot spot for both these species of birds.
And the only way for that young fresher to distinguish which was which, was that the Cattle Egret had a yellow beak and the Little Egret a black beak. And the mnemonic that I made up to remember it was “yellow cattle”, and believe me, the wild imagination of a mooing cow with a nodding, yellow head still occupies a tiny niche in my ancient grey cells!
[Caught in a single frame: Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) and Little Egret (Egretta garzetta); both non-breeding adults; Aarey Forest, Mumbai]
– Narendra Nayak © 2019