THE DEMOISELLE CRANES OF KHICHAN

A Demoiselle Crane comes in to land in a packed feeding compound at Khichan.

KHICHAN IN RAJASTHAN IS KNOWN LOCALLY AS 'THE PARADISE OF THE CRANES'. Once in position early next morning, on the rooftop of one of the houses overlooking the famous walled crane-feeding compound, masala chai and biscuits to hand, the first of several thousand cranes started to appear on the horizon. Each morning the cranes alight on open ground around the town until they are almost all assembled and then their leader of the past few years (at least) ‘broken-leg’ decides it is safe to land. This amazing creature has migrated across the Himalayas at least four times since I last saw him/her with a dangling leg creating what must be an incredible drag on an already exhausting migration. ‘Broken leg’ circles the compound several times before landing, this time despite a daring feral moggy that was trying to catch the pigeons, which are also attracted to the free meal of grain. Eventually the cranes are more or less all crammed inside the compound, jostling for position to eat the grain put down for them by the Jain villagers, a practice that has continued here for over 150 years (the grain is now put down in the evening after the cranes have departed for their roosting grounds and it is ready for them immediately in the morning). Their elongated secondary plumes forming interesting patterns as they fed. Images alone do not do justice without the whirring of wings overhead and the deafening cacophony of the excited cranes. Whilst ‘paradise’ is wide of the mark, the cranes of Khichan are certainly one of the most amazing ornithological spectacles of the world. As always it was time to leave all too soon and make our way to Jodhpur from where, following an unsuitable flight schedule change, we had a long and rather grim drive along a so-called highway to Delhi, ready to start the next stage of our Indian adventure.

Demoiselle Crane, Khichan