The leaves there were hard and vegetation bleak. The scrubland of Pishan County at Xinjiang, in China, was but a deserted land which besides being empty of population was also void of fauna. Though flora there comprised of nothing but small shrubs popping their heads out, from the places where they were least expected, the ray of sun yet was not quite vertical on that ‘treeless’ scrub of a land and thus the place had become what naturalists and geologists would please to call a ‘cold desert’.
It was there in that dull landscape, a rather fragile looking man and a woman whose hair was sliver were examining everything that looked green. It was only after I overheard them that I came to know they were looking for me or anyone of my kind. I heard the woman say-
“Oh, Charles we have been wandering aimlessly for hours but we haven’t spotted a single bird…spotting a nightjar seems a far-fetched dream.”
“Don’t worry Patrica, we have travelled far…we won’t go back empty handed. I’m sure luck is on our side.”
Their conversation, for me, was going well until they mentioned that name. Oh! For that name invokes such feelings of hate and disgust within me. I heard the man saying-
“This looks like the place where Frank Ludlow would’ve discovered the specimen of the nightjar that rests in the museum.”
Frank Ludlow! Yes that was his name. I remember it was a chilly afternoon in September. My cousin Liu and I were resting in our nests when we saw that man ambling towards our nest with swiftness of a panther. I apprised Liu to stay calm but the evil gleam in the eyes of that man and the thumping heart inside Liu’s bosom made him fly out of our hiding. It was then that I heard a booming sound that was almost deafening yet I didn’t miss the call of my cousin as he crashed on the ‘scruby’ ground. By the time I got out, the man was gone with my cousin.
The duo looked for one of my kind a little further. When they did not find anything they took shelter by a standing rock and I flew behind that rock to listen to what they had to say.
It was the man who began, “Darling I think the specimen Frank Ludlow provided the museum with was but one of a kind, for we have searched this place thoroughly and have not found a single nightjar…I am upset!”
“Cheer up, sweetie…maybe the specimen that Ludlow discovered was of a bird that in time has evolved into a species that could be identified in the wild only by one of its kind rather than by us…humans.”
Those words of that woman struck me hard. She was a genius. She was right about us. We were a species of nightjars exclusive to China and in time we had developed the skill to recognize our kind in that shrub land without being known to the eyes of our predators. I was curious to hear what they had to say next.
“You may be right honey…what you propose is possible if the animal possesses the ability of crypsis, or in this case a cryptically colored plumage…” said the man excitedly.
“Yes as is with the chameleons and so with disruptively patterned spiders!” exclaimed the woman.
I didn’t get a word. Though I could tell by the gait of the couple that they had found something and it was surely not me.
On 7th September 1929, Frank Ludlow had come to the scrubland of Pishan County at the province of Xinjiang in China. He had discovered a specimen of a nightjar which would later be named, Vaurie's nightjar after Charles Vaurie, the French-born, American ornithologist, who with his wife Patrica Wilson (An Entomologist) had come to Xinjiang sometime in the 1970’s to look for the species of nightjar whose specimen Ludlow had provided. They didn’t find another such bird but concluded that the species possessed the ability of crypsis and thus was difficult to locate.
The specimen provided by Frank Ludlow, now rests at the Natural History Museum in Tring, UK.