Little Old Men

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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.

10 Responses

  1. Sounds more like Walden pond than Tokyo…
    It seems that you have wildlife to rival us here in West Nowhere, although I am sure that you are a little short on bears and wild boar out that way. ;-)
    One thing about the city, is that the wildlife tends to congregate out of necessity. They favor the rivers and parks, and as such seem to be in abundance. In the country they are able to spread out, each Egret gets his own river or rice paddy, so sometimes it seems like there are so few.
    You are blessed to have found such a spot, as in the city you need a higher dose of nature to find that balance. Enjoy your aviary, and take more photos like this one if you can find the time!

  2. That Egret is beautiful. Birds really are beautiful creatures. I never thought about them until I started reading your blog. Spring is coming but not fast enough here. We still have over five feet of snow on the ground. The other day I saw a little bird on the power line, just sitting there peacefully. He was really pretty, and one I’ve never seen before. He had grey wings with a dusty yellow tummy. He sat there for a while then flew off.

    Thought-provoking entry.

  3. PS: When do the cherry blossoms come out?

  4. This picture, and the previous one, took my breath away.

  5. Butuki: Here in California we’ve been treated to the push-me-pull-you courtship of the mourning doves and also the aerial subtleties of Swainson’s hawks. And Friday we saw at least one of the pairs of golden eagles doing mid-flight courtship. Everything is nesting here; they need to be well underway before the baking summer would fry their babies.

    The barn swallows you mention have just started getting in here; they’re one of our latest migrants, and, like you, I love their “liquid chortling and twittering.”

  6. Thanks everyone for your comments. I always appreciate them. I’m really sorry that I haven’t been around much for the past two months, including not leaving all that many comments on your sites. I’ve been so busy that I barely have enough time to think… getting in the occasional posting is at least a relief from the absence. I realize that I’ve missed some really interesting and involved discussions, some of which upon looking at them now make me feel that I can never catch up (like what is happening at Commonbeauty).

    Joufy, the cherry blossoms have already started. It moves like a wave from southern Japan to northern Japan, with the peak in this area sometime at the end of this week.

    Steve, I guess photographs are like little liers, they only tell you what they want you to know. If I had lifted my camera a fraction you would have seen the banks strewn with white plastic grocery bags and other garbage. Nothing like Walden Pond… though, when I visited Walden Pond in 2001, it had been closed down… due to a saturation of urine from too many summer swimmers! Makes me rethink all those balmy summer evenings when I used to go swimming there after work with my girlfriend. I’m sure Thoreau would flip over in his grave…

    Beth, thank you! Getting a compliment from you about beauty in my pictures is especially flattering: I value your opinion and sense a lot. Your blog is still one of the standards upon which I judge a good blog.

    Pica, lately I’ve been really getting into birding again (well, as much time as I can spare during my walks to the sports club and back and forth from my evening work). It’s been a long time. I’d almost forgotten how mesmerizing it is, and just how close you feel to the world around you when you allow yourself to be taken up in the lives of birds. I recently discovered “digiscoping”, using a spotting scope with a digital camera to take extreme telephoto shots of birds, much higher magnifications than can be achieved with regular SLR telephoto lenses. I don’t have a spotting scope yet, but hope I can save up for one by some time next year. I’ve wanted to take candid, close-up shots of birds since I was a child. This shot here of the egret was taken by being very careful and slow in my movements, about as close to the bird as I could get.

  7. PS: Denny, the Snowy Egret and Little Egret are very similar, both have the characteristic yellow feet, crest feather, and tail fronds, but they are different species. The Snowy Egret is “Egretta thula” and the Little Egret is “Egretta garzetta”. I’m sure they speak the same language, though, just different accents, perhaps!

  8. Another beautiful photo from you. Wonderful. No swallows here yet, but i’m waiting. :-)

  9. Photos are indeed little liars, but there’s a kind of lie you tell in order to tell the truth.

    In the right hands, as here in the egret photo, it is a resonant glory. Thanks.

    Spring is coming to New York, and I am looking forward to walks in the park.

  10. Thank you for this post – what a richness of birds you have, beautifully described.
    Here in Norfolk UK I am waiting each evening at dusk for the first flight of the woodcock. His call precedes him on his ‘roding’ flight which is always at the same trajectory over my garden. Spring has not properly arrived until I’ve seen him.

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