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Herons

heron, nests, tank, egret, birds, ardea, time and black

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HERONS are classed by naturalists in the family Ardeidm, gen. Ardea, Ardeola, Herodias, Nycticorax. Those of the E. Indies are— Arden, Goliath, Tenon., the great heron.

A. Sumatrana, Raffles, the dusky grey heron.

A. cinerea, Linn., the blue heron.

A. purpurea, Linn., the purple heron.

Nycticorax grisens, Linn., night heron.

Ardeola loucoptera, Bodd., pond heron.

Butorides Javanica, Horsf., little green heron.

Herodias alba, the Ardea alba, large egret, or great white heron of Europe, Asia, N. Africa, very rare in Britain, is very common in India, though the race is considered different by some.

H. bubulcus, the Ardea russata, or buff-backed heron or egret of Europe, Asia, N. Africa, exceedingly rare in Britain, is very common in India.

H. egrettoides, Term., the smaller egret, Patang-ka bagla. of India, Burma, and Malayana.

H. garzetta, the Ardea garzetta, or little egret of Europe, Asia, N. Africa, exceedingly rare in Britain, very common in India. Three specimens observed of an egret in winter dress seemed to differ only from ordinary Herodias garzetta in having black toes.

Herons are plentiful in Kashmir, and a heronry is protected in the Shalimar Gardens. About 50 miles S.E. from Madras, and 12 miles from Chingle put, is a small village called Vaden Thangul, which means literally Hunter's Rest, from Vaden, hunter, and Thangul, rest. To the south of the village lies one of the small tanks called Thangul by the Tamil ryots, implying a water-rest or temporary reservoir, with an area of about 4} acres (30 cawnies). From the N.E. to the centre of the bed of the tank there are some 500 or 600 trees of the Barringtonia racemosa, from about 10 to 15 feet in height, with circular, regular, moderate-sized crowns, and when the tank fills during the monsoons, the tops only of the trees are visible above the level of the water. This place forms the breeding resort of an immense number of water-fowl ; herons, storks, cranes, ibises, cormorants, darters, paddy birds, etc., make it their rendezvous on these occasions. From about the middle of October to the middle of November, small flocks of 20 or 30 of some of these birds are to be seen, coming from the north to settle here during the breeding season. By the beginning of December they have all settled down ; each tribe knows its appointed time, and arrives year after year with the utmost regularity, within a fortnight later or earlier, depending partly on the seasons. They immediately commence building their nests or repairing the old ones. When they have fully settled down, the scene becomes one of great interest. During the clay the majority are out feeding, and towards evening the various birds begin to arrive in parties of 10, 15, or more ; and in a short time every part of the crown is hidden by its noisy occupants, who fight and struggle with each other for perches. Each tree appears like a

moving mass of black, white, and grey; the snowy white plumage of the egrets and curlews contrast ing with, and relieved by, the glossy black of the water-crows and darters, and by the grey and black plumage of the storks. The nests lie side by side, touching each other, those of the differ ent species arranged in groups of 5 or 6, or even as many as 10 or 20, on each tree. The nests are shallow, and vary in inside diameter from 6 to 8 inches, according to the size of the bird. The curlews do not build separate nest's, but raise a large mound of twigs and sticks, shelved into terraces as it were, and each terrace forms a separate nest ; thus eight or ten run into each other. The storks sometimes adopt a similar plan. The whole, of the nests are built of sticks and twigs, interwoven to the height of 8 or 10 inches, with an outside diameter of 18 to 24 inches ; the inside is slightly hollowed out, in some more and in others less, and lined with grass ; reeds and quantities of leaves are laid on the nests. In January the callow young are to be seen in the nests. During. this time the parent birds are constantly on the wing in search for food, now returning to their young loaded with the spoil, and again going off in search of a further supply. About the end of January or early in February, the young are able to leave their nests and scramble into those of others. They begin to perch about the trees; and by the end of February or the beginning of March those that were hatched first arc able to take wing and accompany their parents on expeditions ; and a week or two later, in consequence of the drying up of the tanks in the vicinity, they begin to emigrate towards the north with their friends. Thus, in succession, the differ ent birds leave the place, so that it is completely deserted by the middle of April, by which time the tank also becomes dry, and the village cattle graze in its bed, or shelter themselves under the trees from the scorching heat of the midday sun, while the cow-boys find amusement in pulling down the deserted nests. The villagers hold an agreement from the Nawab's ancient government, which continues in force by a renewal from the British Govemment, that no one is to shoot over the tank, and this is strictly enforced. When the tank becomes dry, the silt of its bed is taken up to the depth of a foot, and spread over the rice field.

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