The residents of Khichan—a quiet village in western Rajasthan, India—have a special affinity for demoiselle cranes (Anthropoides virgo). Every winter, the migrating birds flock to this spot at the eastern edge of the Thar Desert to escape the chill of their breeding grounds in the north, primarily in Mongolia and Kazakhstan. The Khichan villagers refer to the cranes as “Khura” and consider their boisterous arrival a sign of good fortunes to come. To welcome the birds, they set aside millet, barley, and other grains from their harvest to feed what was originally only a few dozen individuals.
Over the past few decades, the number of cranes visiting Khichan has increased dramatically. Nearly 15,000 birds now darken the skies each winter, turning the sleepy village into a destination for tourists hoping to witness one of India’s greatest wildlife spectacles. The smallest of the crane species, the demoiselles (so named by Queen Marie Antoinette for their maiden-like feathers) make up for their slight stature with raucous dance performances. The elaborate routines, which include leaps, runs, deep bows, wing flapping, and stick tossing, are an important part of the species’ courtship ritual. But since these dances take place outside the species’ breeding season and cranes of all ages participate, scientists think the balletic displays also serve to improve the physical and social development of the flock’s younger generations.
In an attempt to capture this spectacle from the ground up, photographer Yashpal Rathore dug a hole in a field where the birds typically perform and placed his camera inside. Before long, the cranes surrounded Rathroe’s camera trap, exploring and pecking at the exposed fisheye lens. Three months and many lens replacements later, Rathore finally captured this fresh perspective of the famed feathered visitors of Khichan.
Khichan, Rajasthan, India
Yashpal Rathore bought his first SLR camera in 2004. Since then, he has traveled to the far-flung corners of India and has visited nearly every one of the country’s major national parks to experience first-hand the astounding diversity they have to offer. Rathore strives to capture images of wildlife in new and interesting ways and from unique perspectives. To do so, he has developed innovative camera-trapping systems as well as remote-controlled wide-angle “ground cams.”
Katie Jewett is a Bay Area science writer, previously at the California Academy of Sciences and now at the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions, where she loves learning something new about our planet every day. Previously, she spent winters in the Colorado Rockies and summers living and working on the water.