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The Hovercraft!

Common Kestrel, Kabini -

What would you consider the greatest virtue of a species whose very name conjures up visions of high speed diving attacks? Certainly not motionlessness, but that’s exactly what makes the Kestrel stand apart from all other raptors. If you’ve been to Kabini between October and March, you might have spotted a brown robed, smaller version of the Falcon hanging mid-air almost as if in suspended animation. This optical illusion is achieved by the expedient method of ‘wind-hovering’ above a point on the ground; flying into the wind at a speed equal to that of the head wind. Lest you think otherwise, the Kestrel is also a long haul champion, flying all the way to holiday in Kabini from her distant mountain home in Afghanistan and Bhutan, and sometimes from as far as Europe. So why exactly would an action heroine like her adopt the mien of a Zen monk, and hover contemplatively over a seemingly barren patch of open land? Since we are not blessed with the sophisticated surveillance system she possesses, we can be forgiven for not understanding that patience can also be a form of action. For the Kestrel has chosen her spot well, and her special telescopic vision gives her the ability to spot a small, plump field mouse scurry out of cover, long before we lesser mortals are even aware of any movement. As for the poor mouse, even before he’s aware of his karmic connection with the Kestrel’s dinner table, it’s all over. A sharp dive at high velocity is invariably followed by sharp talons clamping down, and then it’s time to ease off and find a quiet corner to enjoy the repast. To happily misquote Milton, the Kestrel’s flight is a timely reminder that “…they are also served, who only hover and wait.”

Photograph: Kiran Poonacha Story: Rajesh Ramaswamy

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