You can handle the truth about Swamphens

Sometimes, I literally can’t see the forest for the trees. Only when I sit down to rest do I realize how tall they are. I start noticing how the branches bristle with life, death, food and music. I scratch my forehead and wonder why it took me so long to experience their grandeur.

The first time I spotted a Swamphen up-close, I saw an ugly side of me. It was a moment of realization. A fresh perspective. And I felt terrible about it.

Like someone once said – “the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off”.

Grey-Headed Swamphen, Pallikaranai

I saw Grey-Headed Swamphens from afar during my first year in birding. They were always surrounded by larger and more colorful waterbirds. I was oblivious to their beauty. Because they weren’t as photogenic.

They lost interest in me too. They showed up, rarely, at safe distances. We remained strangers for almost two years.

My brain can be fickle. It isn’t enough for me that beauty exists. I have to take photographs of it. Try to bottle it up. Put them in little boxes. Arrange them in alphabetic order. So whenever a Grey-Headed Swamphen appeared, I just ignored it. Because I wasn’t able to label it in some superficial category.  Simply put, it wasn’t pretty enough.

The last time I had been that wrong, I fell off a motorbike – after having mistaken a kidney stone symptom for a gastric problem.

I felt like an imbecile when I spotted Swamphens in close quarters. They had paint-brushed patches of the darkest colors of the rainbow all over their plumages. With long and slender talons, they fox-trotted along shallow lakes.

I saw one coolly perched high on a branch. It looked like Zoe Bell in Death Proof. Bad-ass and beautiful. Just waiting for a bully of a House Crow to enter its safe zone.

And of it had known how obtuse I was as its beholder, it would have drop-kicked me in the face.

You can’t
invest in real estate
along her cleavage or
ask for her love
on a temporary lease,
but you will find a home
in her plumage, if you
can house your heart
in-between her beak.

(Photographs: Sholinganallur, Kelambakam)

18 thoughts on “You can handle the truth about Swamphens

Add yours

  1. You preach my previous birds life, Christy! As my love for them grew more deeply, I too wondered how it is I never noticed our Purple Gallinule (an equivalent American species) until I was actively LOOKING for her to check her off my list.

    Wanna know something else that will blow your mind? If your swamp hen was a super hero, her power would be her TOES. Talk about a superb kick to the head. All birds walk on their toes (their ankles are pointed backward midway up the leg), and yours has some of the longest toes in the bird world.

    Loved your poem. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Longest toes?! The world? (picks up brain matter from the floor) I never knew that! I would like to see one of them kick Chuck Norris, just saying.

      Just saw your Purple Gallinule, my golly she is a pretty polly. She can kick Steven Seagull maybe? (I like Van Damme, let’s get him to play nice with the penguins or something)

      Thanks again Shannon ❤


      1. I was lucky enough this year to get a close-up of her. There’s another one further up in the album where you can see those long digits wrapped around a reed.
        Purple Gallinule

        I don’t know if she holds the record for longest toes in the animal kingdom, but those digits as a percentage of body length sure are impressive!! I don’t know of a single other bird like her.

        Liked by 1 person

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