Little Egret hunting in the Noh River, Chofu, Tokyo, Japan, 2004
Whenever the Barn Swallows swoop past my head for the first time in the year I know that Spring has returned for sure. On my way along the river to the sports club yesterday the liquid chortling and twittering of this first harbinger of Spring spun out of the grey, rainy air like cotton candy, a taste of what was to come. The next moment the daredevil eye drop of its lean, indigo and rust body, wings cutting the air like scissors, flashed past my head and dove to within a finger’s breadth above the water’s surface. It banked and disappeared in the bend of the river.
All the along the river birds were preparing for the Spring Bash, everyone breaking off into pairs. The pairs of Green Winged Teals kicked the water in tiny sambas, the males complete in their Mardi Gras emerald green mask. A female Carrion Crow (similar to the American Common Crow, and smaller than the more numerous and Raven-like Jungle Crows) chuckled as she tenderly tended her new nest of twigs, in clear view among the bare branches of a Beech tree. A pair of Common Kingfishers, both flashing metallic turquoise, perched beyond sight of one another, but staying close to the tiny nest burrow in the mud embankment and keeping to their customary solitary habits in spite of pairing. White Wagtails square danced among the rocks while Spot Billed Ducks tangoed amidst the watery grasses. A Great Cormorant, dressed like a blackjack, flamencoed right through the crowd, unable to make quick turns. And in the champagne cloud of blossoming Cherry trees a contingent of White Eyes turned minuets, their wispy chirps giving voice to the Cherry trees’ ardor.
And off to the side, hunched like an old man, stood a Little Egret, his yellow feet in odd contrast to the swirling grey water and cold rocks. The wind stirred the billowy fronds of his coattails and, almost dejected, he pulled his long neck further into his shoulders and eyed the darker depths of the water for morsels. While everyone else danced, calling up sunshine that still didn’t have the strength to break the hold of Winter, the Egret remained a realist, looking at the present with still and uncompromising eyes. I crouched down along the bank of the river and tried to mimic his immovable spirit, but like all humans my mind wandered and took off with the dancers. Soon I was up and walking again, off to other, more pressing matters.