Archive for the ‘lakes’ category

Crafting India’s Landscapes!

20 May 2010

(An extreme view of tree plantation & a small example of practice)

Its that time of the year when civic and nature organisations in India wake up from their slumber and begin to consider tree-planting yet again. Though this is an annual affair, strangely India’s forest cover and biomass doesn’t seem to improve even where these activities are being carried out.

Typically, tree plantation begins with the collection of whatever dismal fare in saplings the forest department is willing to provide, followed by the desultory digging of holes and careless planting of trees. This activity, concluded in a couple of days in the early monsoon, will be followed by a relapse into torpor.  The final act is, of course, the appearance of a plague of self-publicised reports in the papers.

School-children plant trees as they take part in a "One day - One lakh plantation programme" on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Is this the way we should plant trees? (Click image to read more)

Over the next few months though, the thousands of saplings, thoughtlessly planted, are exposed to the harsh Indian environment accompanied by the complete neglect by the tree-planters.  The subsequent perishing of the year’s plantation by the end of the next summer (except for the miniscule few which by God’s grace actually manage to survive) should come as no surprise. And in the hallowed traditions of Hindu religious ideology, the kaal-chakra turns to bring us back to tree-planting season again. Paradoxically, all of us feel good having participated in a worthwhile activity even though it is conducted so abominably.

Not all tree-planting is conducted this way. People plant carefully selected saplings to enhance their gardens and backyards. Some corporates do succeed in giving strikingly good tree-scapes and gardens to their campuses. Children all over carry out this activity with the single-minded intensity of play. To them it is something well worth doing. A few civic organisations do exceptionally fine jobs of restoring plant cover and biodiversity to their favourite haunts. But these are a drop in the ocean when compared to the morass of carelessly contrived tree-plantation schemes in our country. Not convinced by my assertion? Please see the text box below :

Unhealthy trends in tree plantation

I am sure you would have your own “war stories” to tell.

Its not that we are cultural “philistines” as far as trees and plants are concerned.

The Pipal or Bo tree (ficus religiosa) (Image: Eric Guinther)

Hindu culture gives trees (or plants) an importance of their own. Planting a tree is said to be more fruitful than having a hundred sons. A number of trees figure in our pantheon of objects worthy of worship – the Peepul Tree (Ficus religiosa) and Banyan (Ficus benghalensis) come immediately to mind. The Kalpavrisksh which fulfils the wishes of all, the Bo tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment, the Aak (Calotropis spp) tree under which Emperor Akbar was born are some examples of trees in our culture. Fragrant flowers are offered to our Gods in obeisance. Certain plants are associated with our deities – the “krishna” and “laxmi” varieties of Tulasi (Ocimum sanctum) and the Lord Dattatreya’s fondness for the Umbar or Audumbar (Ficus racemosa) spring to mind.

Kalpataru, the divine tree of life. The wish-fulfilling bountiful tree is guarded by mythical creatures Kinnara and Kinnar. This bas-relief is the adorned wall of Pawon temple, an 8th century small shrine between Borobudur and Mendut temple, Java, Indonesia.

Above image by Gunkarta. Source : Wikipedia.

Yet, we tend to approach tree-plantation with less finesse than a three year old child.

Perhaps it is semantics.  The term “tree plantation” implies that our job is just to plant – it’s nature’s business to do the rest. The truth is, if we want to really make a difference, the business we should be in is “growing trees” not “planting trees”.  That implies a whole lot more than partial burial of an juvenile plant in unprepared ground. The successful planting and growing of trees is not a rapid paced activity but takes an enormous amount of time and effort. Accordingly, there is a need for  thinking deliberately, planning and careful preparation before we get down to the plantation which is just one event in the long process of growing trees.

Maybe the  reason is selfishness. In this materialistic world, there is nothing to be gained by labouring for unborn generations. In such a view point, tree plantation would be meritorious only as a means for acclaim (for publicity and public adulation), getting rich (through corruption or by marketing one’s products) or as an indicator of performance (X planted more trees in his tenure than Y).

"Monocultures are ecological deserts. Tree plantations are not forests." (click image to learn more).

Another malaise in tree-plantation is mono-culture. It could be that most people do not realise that the planting trees of a single species, termed as mono-culture, is harmful. But the gaurdians of Indian forests should know. Invasive trees take away more from our environment than their successful propagation. Yet it is the bureaucratic forces which have championed the cause of ecologically harmful  exotic trees which grow quickly  –  such as Australian Acacia (Acacia auriculiformis), Kubabul (Leucaena leucocephala) or the various forms of Eucalyptus – or even worse, the highly poisonous Jatropha curcas, purportedly for “bio-diesel”.

Jatropha curcas, the Physic Nut tree, is a poisonous, semi-evergreen shrub or small tree. Useful for biodiesel, it is ecologically useless. (Image: R.K.Henning, http://www.jatropha.org, CC-BY-SA 2.5)

It is the banal attitude towards tree plantation which reduces such a worthy activity to a pedestrian one that irks me greatly.

The highest form of appreciating nature is in growing exotic trees - Alexander von Humboldt. (Public domain image)

A great scientist of the nineteenth century, Alexander von Humboldt stated that the highest form of nature worship was engaging in one or all of the following :

  • Writing Nature poetry.
  • Painting landscapes.
  • The rearing and planting of exotic trees.

I find that I agree broadly with Humboldt. This blog showcases some of the finest nature poetry. You can read about Frederic Edwin Church and his “Heart of the Andes” over here. I agree that growing of plants is a really worthy activity but I would replace the word “exotic” with the adjective “right”.

As far as growing trees is concerned, my own humble opinion can be summed up as :

Tree-planting is a craft. We should be “tree-smiths” – carefully crafting the environment in the manner that we make a Japanese garden, with each tree carefully chosen for effect, harmony, utility, importance, i.e. for a purpose. Growing trees is not meant to be hedonistic or banal. It must be done spiritually – a kind of zen activity.  It must be done to completeness. And the result must be healthy trees that give us the benefits we hoped for and more.

For that, we really need to know and love our trees. I love to recall the feel of the bark and leaves of the Banyan, the smell of flowers of the Neem (Azadiractha indica) or the crushed leaves of the Kadi Patta (Murraya koenigii) , the visual extravaganza that the Laburnum (Cassia fistula) provides in summer. Once we get a feeling of love and appreciation of trees, then and then alone can we make quality choices about the best or most appropriate shrub or tree to be chosen for a spot.

Umbar or Audumbar (Ficus racemosa) - one of the trees best suited for biodiversity. (Image : Dinesh Valke, CC-by-NC-ND)

If you want to attract birds, the Umber or wild fig (Ficus racemosa) is your best bet. If you want a red avenue in summer, it’s the exotic Gulmohar (Delonix regia) you need to choose. For lots of shade with few trees, opt for the Rain tree (Albizia saman).  You can never go wrong by planting Babul (Acacia nilotica) for the welfare of the poorest of the poor – it’s firewood has the highest calorific value.

Babul has the highest calorific value of Indian trees and is consequently of great importance to the common man. (Image credit : Dinesh Valke, under CC-BY-NC-ND)

On the other hand, if you don’t do the learning yourself and rely on the “experts”, expect to find that you have created yet another tree-covered barren landscapes by using Kubabul provided by the Forest Department or orchards of stunted Jatropha if you believe the agro-industrialists.

The real challenge in growing trees is not planting trees but keeping them alive. We can tackle this is many ways.

One is commitment. Choose carefully based on what level of care you can commit. In other words,

“Bite off only what you can chew”

or

“Cut your coat to suit your cloth”.

Our children of the Painted Storks Nature Club wanted to plant trees in the Sarvatra Bird Sanctuary. But it is not possible (or realistic to expect) for the children to come  and water the plants since the sanctuary extends over many acres, has lonely corners, and very little access to water. So we decided to plant in close vicinity of the Middle Lake Garden which is frequented by the children, where water is nearby and where the gardeners can help water these plants.

Sunset at the lakeside Mandir - a picture of serenity.

The Lake Garden provided little scope for useful addition, so we decided to plant some trees and bushes around the CME Lake Mandir where except for a Tulsi plant (Ocimum sanctum var krishna) in front and a Tamarind tree (Tamarindus indica) above the temple, no other plants were present. It is just 30 meters from the garden and on the lakeshore itself.

We chose our plants carefully. Since we were planting around the mandir (temple), the emphasis was given to shrubs with bright flowers or having perfumed flowers. We tried to choose those which are commonly used for worship in Maharashtra. We also decided to plant three small-statured trees which would highlight the mandir’s background. We chose well-developed saplings for plantation which were sturdy enough to survive (unintentional) neglect and which already had some flowers so as to enthuse the children and give them a foretaste of how the garden would look. It was more expensive but worth it.

Children plant a shrub with rapt concentration.

The Painted Storks planted the following shrubs on the side of the temple :

* “Juhi” (Jasminum auriculatum)
* “Mogra” or “Madanbaan” (Jasminum sambac)
* “Tagar” or Crepe Jasmine (Tabernaemontana coronaria)
* “Anant” (Gardenia jasminoides)
* Red Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
* “Raj Chameli” (Jasminum nitidum)
* “Chameli” (Jasminum flexile)
* “Zai” (Jasminum officinalis)
* “Sarpagandha” (Rauwolfia serpentina), a medicinal plant.

"Juhi" (Jasminum auriculatum) (Image: Dinesh Valke, CC-BY-NC-ND)

"Tagar" (Tabernaemontana coronaria) (Image : Himanshu Sarpotdar, CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0)

Behind the temple we planted three saplings of small trees having beautiful flowers :
* “Parijaat” (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis).
* “Savni” or Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica).
* “Sonchafa” or “Champak” (Michelia champaca).

"Parijaat" (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis) (Image:JM Garg, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

The first tree being planted - a "Parijaat".

That is it – exactly twelve plants, but well chosen, well planted and well-located. What do you think are the odds of survival of these twelve than the desultory planting of many more? And when they do survive which will give the better effect?

A child nails an Aluminium name label to a Neem tree.

One could of course say, don’t confuse gardening with tree-plantation, but the principles are the same.

Problems and dilemmas will arise in this activity, as it does in all of mankind’s ventures. The most important one would that as to how to water the plants regularly. In my opinion, this would be the most difficult of all tasks associated with nurturing trees. When we know that we cannot come often to water the plants, should we not plant?

We could choose to plant drought resistant native species such as Neem and Babul. We could jury-rig  drip irrigation with plastic bottles and tubes which would need less water and give a longer effect. We could mulch the saplings – the mulch helps retain the water, reduces erosion, suppresses weed growth and seed germination and adds to the fertility over time. We could water in the evening where our water loss due to evaporation will reduce. We could choose to come at a fixed intervals as per our convenience – say once a fortnight or month, to water the plants accepting the triage due to the environment. We could plant hardy two-three year old saplings rather than very small saplings.

By applying our mind, and by matching our effort to our thought, we can increase the chances of survival of the trees.

If I were to plant a few hectares of arid area in Maharashtra, for example, I would choose native species such as Babul and Ber  (Zizyphus jujuba) for the general backdrop, add a few Ficus to form the focal points and plant many interesting but scarce trees. A few Agaves would help prevent soil erosion in the monsoon run off along with some simple landscaping, a few legumes would help improve the soil condition. There would also be a few creepers, many shrubs (both perennial and annual) and definitely useful grasses and bamboo. Maybe a few exotic Gliricidia trees to provide ready-made green manure for the caretakers. Amidst these, a few trees or shrubs carefully selected to provide all kinds of resources (nectar, food, shelter, nesting etc) to the typical biodiversity of that place.

Mother of Cacao (Glyricida sepium) a green manure tree. (Image :Kim & Forest Starr, CC-BY-SA 3.0, click image for source.)

That’s all I can come up with off the cuff. But in reality, the tree plantation scheme for this otherwise hypothetical scheme would be worked out carefully in much greater detail and perhaps even plotted graphically on a map. The location, aim, species available would all be considered. A planting schedule over two-three years would be considered. The civil engineering works would be restricted to a bare minimum. Nothing more than a fence, water tank or supply. A shed for the forest guard and perhaps minimal amenities in a place under a shade tree where the nature-lovers can sit, rest, enjoy nature, have their meal etc.

However, I would expect the record-keeping and science to be top class. None of the careless generalities thrown in by so-called experts. The practice of science in even such a routine activity as tree-plantation should be second to none.

That then is my view of tree-planting…

Let’s not just plant trees, let’s craft Nature.

Credits:

My sincere thanks to Mr Nandan Kalbag of www.gardentia.net who dotes on his son-in-law (yours truly) and fielded telephone calls on asking what plants to choose at all times of the day and night.

Members of Indian Tree Pix/EFlora India such as Mr JM Garg & Mr Dinesh Valke (and others) who made images available on the internet with Creative Commons licenses.

Century Post & World Biodiversity Day tomorrow

This post is the 100th on this blog. Tomorrow is World Biodiversity Day. I hope that I have done justice to these landmarks with this post/

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The Lake Isle Of Innisfree

3 August 2009

The  Lake  Isle  Of  Innisfree

by

William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

This poem draws an enchanting picture of an idyllic place where Yeats yearns to be – it contrasts between where man is and where he would like to be. The feeling of time standing still, which is shared with the previously posted poem ‘Adlestrop‘, is a rare quality in a poem.

William_Butler_Yeats_by_John_Singer_Sargent_1908

In Yeats own words.

“my first lyric with anything in its rhythm of my own music”

Hear Yeats recite it in his own voice here.

But be prepared for the Irish accent which, considered musical by many, jars my unlearned Indian ears.  Each of us hears poetry recited in one’s mind very differently from the way some one else would recite it.

Credits – See embedded links. The lake picture above, taken from Wikimedia Commons,  is not Lough Gill in which Innisfree resides but another beautiful Irish lake.

A vigil in the dark

9 February 2009

Things change after dark! The harmless hedge in your garden that beckoned you with its fragrant blooms by day, now threatens to harbour snakes and other myriad creepy-crawlies by night. The dull, noxious neighbourhood nallah suddenly metamorphoses into a romantic riverine rendezvous by moonlight. So it is with the CME Lakes.

Sitting by the lake late at night offers an experience radically different to the familiar scene during the day. At first when you wait on the lakeside culvert, it is dark and cold, the senses seek light desperately and your mind rebels at this seeming waste of time. It takes a good quarter of an hour for the mind to settle down. You get used to the cold breeze, the pupils of your eye enlarge and amplify the scant night-light. Your ears attune to the sounds. And then, imperceptibly, you plunge through the rabbit hole and enter wonderland. Slowly, the world comes alive by night.

You are alone but not lonely. The full moon shines down delicately scalloped by the cirrus clouds high in the stratosphere. A large yellow Venus and a small Jupiter shine high on the horizon. The stars are veiled by the clouds; most will appear once the clouds have crawled past. A soundless blinking pair of lights reveal the path of an aircraft making its way across the peninsula to some magical destination in the Far East. In the distance, around the lake shore and slightly above the waterline, a beautiful necklace of yellow and white pearls amongst the dark trees trace the industrial area around CME’s perimeter.  The shadowy outline of trees on the far bank are silhouetted against the night sky brightened by urban glare. The lake water is dark, patterned with varying shades of black and gray with wavelets in the gentle breeze rippling the moon on the water.

But it is not very quiet. No, peace and quiet comes much later on a Saturday night. The night-wind carries sound faithfully across vast expanses of land. The rattle of a goods train crossing the Mula River and the plaintive hoot of its engine are as clearly heard as the DJ mixing numbers in the Officers Institute or the racy Hindi songs at a marriage in Dapodi. The barking of dogs in faraway Se La road provide a contrast to the miniature fireworks display far away beyond Kasarwadi, no doubt to celebrate a marriage, festival or a cricket victory. But these noises can never drown out the whine of mosquitoes which hover around you. Down the road toward the Cadets Training Wing, a pair of cicadas serenade each other through the night.

The concrete culvert feels hard, rough and cold even through the thick denim of your jeans. You turn up your collar to reduce the prickles and shiver the breeze brings on. The nose wrinkles first at the odour of Odomos that surrounds you to keep the rapacious mosquitos at bay. The faint stench of decaying vegetation in your nostrils now penetrates through you. It is only if you walk along the shore that you can partake of the delicate aroma of a night-blossom  beckoning its lover-moths to pollinate her.

The fish are the first living things to draw your attention. A large splash, followed by a black stain on the water indicate where a large Rohu, probably in his second year, comes up by night to draw in oxygen through his mouth. Confident of safety from the legions of herons, storks and cormorants who wait for them by day, the fish surface every few minutes. That itself is worrisome, is an  oxygen deficit building up in the lake?  A small plip on the water surface followed by a flickering little flying shadow is the only indication of some small insect bats hawking flies and sipping water from the lake surface. The water birds, who are a riot by day, are quiet except for an occasional squawk from the lake which tells us that the favourite jester of CME, a purple moorhen, has just offended his neighbour.  Now, a pale streak across the sky shows the path of a small meteorite burning to oblivion as it enters Earth’s atmosphere.

A few birds can be seen dark stationary silhouettes perched on stumps or on a lonely vigil among the reeds. The duck sleep on the shore with heads turned back and bills shielded in the feathers of the back.  A soft chuk, chuk, chuk churrr behind me in the grass beyond the road, tells tales of an Indian Nightjar, a secretive and nocturnal resident of CME. There is harsh kwiirik chuk in the trees by the roadside. Their author is not hard to find despite his small size. The pint-sized Spotted Owlet is perched on a branch with a commanding view over where his prey, the metads and field mice, could gambol. A pair of dark animals with long snouts and long thick tails must surely be a pair of palm civets out to trouble the denizens of Bhosari. They pause at a wet trail by the river, but the water-snake which made it has long gone by and they turn away – they have bigger fish to fry. A soft whirring tells of hawk-moths which have finally arrived at the night-blossoms, plunging their extra-long and thin proboscis deep into the corolla of the Raat-ki-Rani flowers to get at the sweet nectar and leaving behind a few grains of precious pollen for the plant. An ominous shaking in the bush turns out to be nothing more than a cow grazing in areas where she is normally driven off by day.

The symphony of shadow and sound continues throughout the long vigil and the ambience mesmerises the senses. The soul begins to meditate and just as you reach a state of bliss, rude reality bursts into your presence. In this case, its the increasing screech of a Dhai-Ton truck, carrying the armed patrol of the College on its nightly round. The vehicle soon recedes with a dull roar, but takes along with it the very special moment. No doubt, you will experience something like it some other day, but today’s deed is done. You will have to return home to a different set of pleasures.

As you move off, the lake and its life continues in its endless cycle of existence unaware of the happiness they have given you.

Notes

  • CME – the campus I stay on.
  • Nallah – a stream or dry streambed. Water not necessarily fresh.
  • Rohu – Labeo rohita, a freshwater carp often cultivated in Indian water bodies and very good to eat!
  • Dhai Ton – a light military truck. (Dhai = 2.5 in Hindi)

The winter visitors are here!

8 February 2009

The CTW Lake, CME, Dapodi in Oct 2008

The hottest thing happening in town is that hundreds of really good-looking birds are here all the way from Russia, Siberia and Central Asia and having a great time at our very own lakes. And with the decline of Pune’s traditional wetlands of Mula Mutha and Pashan, for Pune’s wildfowl, CME is the happening place in town.

A flight of resident Spotbill come into land.

A flight of resident Spotbill come in to land.

Our staid resident community of a three hundred Spotbill duck have been enlarged by the arrival of almost a thousand migratory duck. The first which you will notice when peering over the embankment of the CTW Lake are the bright chestnut Ruddy Shelducks, known in India as Brahminy Ducks, the giants of the duck community. Faithfully organised in spouse-pairs, they stand uneasily amidst the hoi-polloi of hundreds of Northern Shovellors with brown heads down into the water, their boat shaped bills trawling relentlessly for snacks and their tails wagging as they go about their dodgem race to get at the good stuff.

The ruddy shelduck in full splendour over the CTW lake.

The ruddy shelduck in full splendour over the CTW lake.

Interspersed amongst them are the Northern Pintails with purple necks and a beautiful white stripe running down their seductive neckline and pointed tail feathers which give them their names. Smallest of all are the Common Teals, their males looking anything but common with shining green and brown heads.

In between the crowd, a few strays – a forlorn female Nakta or Comb Ducks, her white-woolly body peppered with black spots, looks all around in vain for the prominent combed beak of the males of her species. Someone didn’t give her quite the right directions! And all around this fish-market are the cheeky brown Little Grebes or span Dabchicks who dare each other as to how close they can get to this frightful human who thinks he’s invisible to the birds by being half-defiladed behind the bund. Amidst these, bob the plump-staid Coot, residents of CME, looking distraught at the riff-raff which arrives each season. Over head, the Grey Herons and Painted Stork are unimpressed, they have seen all this before. What is much more important is to decide whether he/she should invest in a time-share at this fish-abundant but crowded spot or go to another beckoning shallow with uncertain fish and no jostling neighbours. The Black-headed  White Ibis have no such qualms about fratenising with their cousins, a flock of Glossy Ibis.

The Purple Swamphens who entertained us all summer by their bumbling antics are now joined by the more prim and proper Common Moorhens. The Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, always a treat to watch, are now mostly gone; they don’t like the wood and leaf-smoke which is the characteristic odour of winter in our campus and do not hesitate to make their displeasure known.

The clearing of brush-wood by the roadside has deprived many dozens of Great and Little Cormorants of privacy, shade and perch and they have moved out of CME to the Mula river. However, their absence was not missed as a new bird appeared on the scene in Pune – the Darter or Snake-bird, a pair of which were recently seen at the Middle Lake opposite the Sailing Club.

Record shot of  Darter at Upper Lake, CME by Girish Vaze

Record shot of Darter at Upper Lake, CME by Girish Vaze

The hottest chick in town was undoubtedly the solitary svelte Greater Flamingo which daintily trawled her upside-down head waggling her pink body in the tasty swallows in the upper lake. But her arrival put a frown on the foreheads of the bird-watchers – are the CME lakes turning brackish, as every-one knows flamingos are only found at sea-shores and brackish lakes.

However, where duck are plentiful, the birds of prey follow, in our case a pair of Marsh Harriers with gorgeous chestnut coloured neck head and shoulders, causing waves of duck to alarm and fly off as they carry out a low vigil over the reed-filled shorelines.

The Marsh Harrier on patrol.

The Marsh Harrier on patrol.

It is getting late now. A flight of elegant Black-winged Stilts resembling the chic models of Vogue as they cross their legs in the shallows, are disturbed by two pesky Green Sandpipers who buzz them as they spot the raconteurs. A flock of 150 Wire-tailed Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows hawk insects in the reddish glow of dusk as some birds take off – a few for their nightly outings for feed, others en-route to communal roosts on the riverside, while the rest settle down in a low muttered squabble for the night.

Hush, night falls in paradise!

( First published in CME Weekly in Nov 2008 )

(Note: Text available under GFDL or Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 . Images  are copyrighted by the authors. Email addresses of Gaurav Purohit and Girish Vaze available on request.)

The Living Lake

8 February 2009

The Upper Lake at CME, Dapodi, Pune.  May 2008

If  you approach the Upper CME Lake cautiously on the Nasik road itself and halt a few metres from the culvert right next to the lake, you can see a plethora of bird life on the banks. What appears to be a melee soon distinguishes itself into a large number of interesting objects each asking for your attention.

The grass bank teams with Egrets, completely white with fine feathers on head or chest. Plump Purple Moorhens with basketball shaped bodies and red wattles on their hands gambol around on the mud. Staid Grey and Purple Herons with sharp spear-like beaks and long eyelashes which extend backwards beyond their heads stand immobile with S-shaped necks coiled like springs. Suddenly the bird strikes forward and comes up with a frog which is summarily gobbled up before they strike another pose.

Girish Vaze)

The lake is well stocked with fish and supports a large community of resident fish-eaters such as cormorants, herons and storks. (Photo:Girish Vaze)

The piece de resistance of this view point are the Painted Storks, the largest birds residing here, with long beaks slightly turned at the end, egg yolky in colour, red eye patches and with delicate pink feathering on their backs reminiscent of the flamingo. It steps forth with measured step of an arthritic delicately probing as it goes for delicacies in the mud. Sprinkled amongst the storks are the Black-headed White Ibis, with curved beaks, resembling undertakers. Silently the birds plunge their beak in the morass for titbits for Ibis, unlike other birds, do not call.

The associated reedbeds and grass patches of the CME lakes support inordinate populations of Purple Swamphens!

The associated reedbeds and grass patches of the CME lakes support inordinate populations of Purple Swamphens! (Photo: Girish Vaze)

The water gently ripples from the breeze of crystal clear air causes the lake to band the landscape. Above the blue-grey water is a green band of grass and rushes. They are punctuated with water birds. Most prominent are the completely black Cormorants which dive into the water, upturn and fish coming up for a breather with body underwater and only the neck above the surface looking like a snake-bird. When the fishing is done, they return to their congregation on a tree next to the culvert or stand on dead tree trunks with wings spread wide open to dry their wings for as you know cormorants lack the oil glands possessed by ducks which prevent their feathers from getting waterlogged.

Speaking of Duck, there are very few on this lake. They are to be found on the CTW, middle and lower lakes with a few skeins at other ponds in the campus. We shall meet them next when we visit the CTW Lake. The black duck-like birds with white on their faces on their foreheads and beak floating amongst the water hyacinth are Coot, a different kind of water-bird. Some of the browner and smaller individuals among them on the shore are the juveniles of the last breeding season which are yet to strike out on their own.

The setting sun hangs a while poised above the horizon as a whiff of the cloying smell of decaying vegetation is whisked on the cool breeze. In the peace punctuated by the squawk of a heron above the low pitched rumple of the rowing channel machinery can be heard coming back to laager after a day’s work. A large fish jumps well out of the water, showing off its scales, confident that there is no danger from the ubiquitous Kingfishers so late in the day.

Slowly darkness falls, the cormorants fly off in batches, aligned in oblique lines to their nesting place across the River Mutha. Occasional Vs of duck can now be seen as they move to their night time foraging in the fields. The storks, egrets and herons settle down on the bunch of trees which they have selected as a heronry on the other side of the lake. It is now time for us to go home having enjoyed some of that quality of life which so many aspire to, so few get and which is already there within reach only requiring us to open our eyes and drink it all in.

(This writeup first appeared on CME Weekly in Jun 2008).

Photo Credits: Girish Vaze. Copyrighted. His email available on request.