Archive for the ‘protected areas’ category

An encounter with Forest Glories

25 January 2011

It was already well past noon when we started trekking across the path near the stream in the Tambdi Surla forest. The jungle appeared to be dry deciduous. Shady trees with well-spaced chest-high jungli Tagar trees. The path was fairly good with few rocks, uneven-ness or thorny branches to stop us proceeding. Alas the forest is being completely encroached by Eupatorium which has correctly been named as “raaNmoDi” in Marathi. (Capitals indicate hard consonants.) As we proceeded we found bushes lining a hundred yard stretch on both sides.

On the leaves of a bush about 4 feet away, a large damselfly three inches or more in length with wings held high at an angle from the body was seated. The body was velvet shining green – it was a male; the female being a duller brown in place of the green.  The damselfly was extremely alert not allowing us to approach closer than six to eight feet but it would flitter away and come back over and over again. On each side we could see eight to ten such damselfies at any one time. I judge that that they held their wings between 40 and 70 degrees – but most were around 60 degrees from the line of the body.

As I lined up to photograph it, it darted away and repositioned it self a few feet away.  It led me a merry-go-round chase while others enticed me in their turn. I know, it sounds strange but the species appeared to my anthropomorphic eyes to have a mischievous personality. It had a very graceful flight – this is reflected in its name – Vestalis gracilis, or, the Clear-winged Forest Glory.

We didn’t quite get very good images but Miss Aboli Kulkarni immediately identified it for me as the Clear-winged Forest Glory. It is termed as clear-winged as it lacks the spots on the wingtips characteristic of the Glories.

There is no doubt – the damselfly is graceful and beautiful and found in the forest. From now on, its also my favourite damselfly.

I’m attaching an image better than mine by Jeevan Jose from Kadavoor in Kerala, who writes:

This damselfly has brilliant metallic shining green colours. The wings look transparent but at particular angle you can see a bluish shade on the wings.

Different from Black-tipped forest glory (Vestalis apicalis).

Most of the species of damselflies are found along the perennial stream inside the swamp. But Clear-Winged Forest glory is found in the undergrowth of interior forest areas. But there are á few in my backyard. (Dont envy me.:)”

The Clear-winged Forest Glory (Vestalis gracilis) (Image: Jeevan Jose)

(paraphrased) 

Source:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kadavoor_-_dragonfly_(by-sa)_(2).jpg

Acknowledgements

This encounter took place during a trip to Tambdi Surla arranged for me by Yashodhan Heblekar  during my visit to his Butterfly Conservatory of Goa (http://www.bcogoa.org/). Thanks to Prasad Patil of Mystic Woods who took us to this spot with beautiful damselflies.

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Mistress of her craft – Sally Carrighar

4 June 2009

scan0004She’s not an author most Indians come across. She lived a shade too long ago for most of us to have heard of her, she was a first-rate naturalist and observer of  behaviour when that field was still in its infancy. She is one of the best nature writer’s of America – Sally Carrighar.

When Corbett writes about the jungle, he takes you along with him. You laugh with Gerald Durrell as you accompany him around the world, collecting animals and looking after them. Similarly, one is at James Herriot’s elbow as he goes around treating his patients in the quiet Yorkshire countryside.

Sally Carrighar? There are no humans in her world. She writes of the animals of the wild. When you read what she writes, you live the life of the creature that she has written about. Inputs and insights abound, which can only come from years of keen natural history in the field. Indeed, she spent seven years in a tranquil wilderness in the Sequoia National Park before she wrote ‘One day at Beetle Rock’ .

‘One day in Beetle Rock’ tells of one day at this verdant clearing in the jungle over and over again, but each time from the viewpoint of a different animal.

If it sounds monotonous, its absolutely NOT. Each animal lives such a different life, looks at things so differently that each chapter finishes , leaving you unsatisfied; you wish for more. Here is where I am coming from. I have only one of her five or six wildlife books which is her lifetime work, and I am unsatisfied. Its a copy I picked up 22 years ago from a roadside pile in Ahmedabad for the princely sum of Rs 2/-. Old, pages loose, yellowed, but I never got better worth for my money.

Now trying to locate cheap second-hand copies in the US. Indian copies are very few and very expensive. But I definitely recommend this writer to you. Beg, borrow or steal; you must read Sally Carrighar.

A very sensitive review of this very book can be found here.

The book has a brilliant introductory note by Robert Miller, then Director California Academy of Sciences; it reads:

This is a dangerous book, full of disturbing possibilities. Should it fall into the hand of the young, it is extremely likely to make naturalists of them. even a hardened adult must read at his own risk…

At the risk of being lined up and shot by the copyright goons, here’s part of chapter two, the weasel being the first animal to tell us its story. She will be followed in succession by a sierra grouse, chickadee, black bear, lizard, coyote, deer mouse, steller jay and mule deer.

Enjoy!

Rambling Round a Forest Fringe

21 February 2009

This blog is about nature & nature-writing, and not about me. So here is a nice piece by a guest and fellow-naturalist.

— x — x — x —

Jamuntola is a typical one-horse, many-cattle Indian village nestling on the border of the Kanha National Park. A well-kept jungle road skirts along a sal forest, bumps across the bed of the Banjar Nadi and wends its way past the village to Thakur’s home. The river has been dry for the past few months. Its huge boulders stand naked, awaiting the gush of the monsoon waters to embrace them. It has rained, unusually, during the “nau tappas” – the nine hottest days of summer and the sun is pleasantly strong.

Birendra Singh Thakur, as his proudly displayed certificate states, is a Bachelor of Arts from Allahabad University. He is employed as a Forest Guard at Kanha. A chance meeting has resulted in our being invited as his guests. If the name brings to mind a big, gun-toting, bristly-moustached character, our real life hero is quite the opposite. He is short, wiry and fair-skinned with eyes that twinkle with animation.

As Ketan and I alight from the jeep, a welcoming smile lights up his face. His abode consists of two rooms, a kitchen, a fenced-in courtyard and a verandah. Towering over the mud-thatch roof are fourteen different species of trees. Thakur rattles off their names with practiced ease. He hustles us through a steaming mug of tea to a pond nearby, anxious to fulfil his promise of showing us wildlife.

On the far side, two Sarus cranes are visible, their grey bodies and maroon heads providing a perfect contrast. Thakur explains that not only is the Sarus India’s largest bird, it also occupies a proud place in jungle lore because of its legendary fidelity to its mate. In fact the Sarus’ attachment to its mate has been commented on even by Emperor Jahangir in his Jahangirnama .The sight of a pair of Saruses bowing and prancing, spreading and closing their wings, reminds one of a graceful polka dance.

Unison! Fidelity and coordination - a Sarus pair!

Unison! Fidelity and coordination - a Sarus pair!

Our hopes of seeing like Noah, a procession of animals is belied. Only the ubiquitous cheetal – the spotted deer, it seems is thirsty that evening. Thakur offers to accompany us again after dinner. We walk back in single file with Thakur reminiscing about life in the wilderness and childhood in his beloved Allahabad. Dinner is everything one would expect a rustic meal to be. The rotis are large and thick, the dal and vegetable hot and spicy and the onions and green chillies pungent. Beyond the wooden fence the trees and bushes acquire ghostly dimensions. The moon has not yet risen and a gentle breeze has sprung. Burps done with, Thakur leads the way, torch in hand.

Far away, a sambar calls. There is no other sound except for the dry leaves crackling underfoot. Thakur cautions us to remain silent as we near the bund overlooking the pond. He trains the torchlight along the periphery of the water. Apart from the gently-swaying water-lillies, nothing disturbs the stillness. The beam moves further inland. No sign of life. Suddenly from out of the darkness, two shining eyes are reflected in the light. Except for the eyes, not even a dim form is distinguishable. My heart thumps – just a deer or could it be a tiger? The eyes are startling blue. They gaze into the light, turn away for a few seconds and then appear to move towards us. We continue to crouch behind Thakur who holds the torch unwaveringly focused on the eyes.

Suddenly, like a man possessed, Thakur screams, turns around arms flailing, and bolts. The beam weaves crazy patterns on the forest floor as Thakur’s yells shock us into action. We race after him. It is some moments before we realize that his cries are ‘ Reech! Reech ! Bhago ! Bhago !’ (Bear! Bear ! Run! Run!). This only spurs us onto greater speed and I quickly out stride Thakur as the dim glow from his hut becomes visible.

Breathless, Thakur explains, whether for dramatic effect I don’t know, that the colour of the eyes and the animal’s movement towards us, are sure signs that it was a bear. He however hastens to reassure us that bears notwithstanding, there is no danger in sleeping in the courtyard. I look up at the star-laden sky and fall asleep thinking of the animals immortalized above by the ancients – Ursa, Taurus, Leo, Pegasus, Lupus ….. Bears and Bulls, Lions, Horses, Wolves ……

Waiting for father! Bears hunted in the Seoni hills - these stories may have inspired Rudyard Kipling's works. Originally captioned waiting for father - this was about a family of bears waiting for their father that was killed. The next day the mother bear was also killed.

Waiting for father! Bears hunted in the Seoni hills - these stories may have inspired Rudyard Kipling's works. Originally captioned waiting for father - this was about a family of bears waiting for their father that was killed. The next day the mother bear was also killed. (Drawn by Robert Armitage Sterndale. Denizens of the Jungles, 1886.)

Morning breaks. ‘ Ku-sum-pa-kha, ku-sum-pa-kha’ – the haunting melody of the kusumpakha awakens us. It is still early by city-dweller standards but the forest has been alive for some time. Small groups of tribals are busy collecting mahua flowers, tendu leaves and other forest produce from which they eke out a living.

Mirror and shaving kit in hand, Ketan and I walk to the well a kilometre away. And while Ketan has a shave, mirror perched precariously among the branches of a tree, I pull a bucket of water from the well and dump it over my head.

We tumble into the jeep and decide to scour the countryside. A stream of villages with exotic names pass by – Khursitola, Sarekha, Chargaon, Kumadehi. The previous day’s weather is now a memory and as midday approaches, the heat builds up relentlessly.

Thakur motions us to stop as we cross a small thatch-roof hut protected from the sun by the shade of a huge mango tree. Inside is the local hooch shop. A grizzled old woman who is proprietress, barmaid and bouncer all rolled into one, welcomes us warmly.

We are given pride of place – an ancient looking ‘khatia’ that probably shares birthdays with the woman. Thakur indulges in light-hearted banter. The woman asks what we would like to drink. The choice of poisons is clear – the starchy, colourless liquid distilled from the flowers of the mahua tree or the milky trappings of the sulfi tree. The latter should be drunk early in the morning as fermentation sets in by midday. So we settle for the mahua. It is common knowledge that bears are partial to the mahua flower, seeking them out with the all the single-minded dedication of a red-nosed tipler weaving his way through the bars of London.

Kanha - Chital in a forest glade!

Kanha - Chital in a forest glade!

Thakur recalls an old tribal belief regarding the sulfi tree – that only one person should do the tapping and if someone else does, the tree dies prematurely. Each tree is therefore zealously guarded and tapping rights strictly enforced. The woman passes round a dried peepul leaf on which rock salt and crushed green chillies are kept. Caviar may go well with champagne, but there is nothing to beat apna desi sharab and mixture.

The morning after all will, of course, look after itself. Two starchy rounds later, the world starts looking a decidedly better place. We wisely refuse a third, realizing that it is time to be moving if we want to reach Jabalpur before dark.

Thakur appears sad that we have not seen a tiger in the heart of Kipling’s India. But as with all wildlife viewing, the reward lies not so much in the quantum and variety of wildlife seen as in the totality of the experience. It can be as exciting learning about an anthill’s intricate ventilation system as in coming face to face with a tiger in the wild. And for us, the memories – of an encounter with a bear, of warmth and friendship and sharing – will remain forever fresh. But Thakur’s wistful eyes do not seem to understand as we say goodbye.

Guest post by : Sarabjit Singh (sabusingh2003@yahoo.com)

Image Credits:

  1. ”Unison – Sarus pair” – Image by J.M. Garg from Wikimedia Commons used under Creative Commons Sharealike attribution 3.0.
  2. ”Waiting for father!” – Public domain image available at Wikimedia Commons .
  3. ”Chital in a Forest Glade” – Public domain image available at Wikimedia Commons, (cropped & reduced).

Dark Clouded Yellows amongst the Rhododendrons

7 May 2007

Singba rhododendron sanctuaryLachung is characterised by the high mountains with snow covered slopes bordering both sides of this beautiful Himalayan valley. The snowclad summits give way to dwarf junipers, to bubbling streams amongst rockfalls, large snowbanks where the steepness ends and finally onto Rhododendron covered valleysides. The sun shines crisply, there is a brisk cold breeze and wild flowers of various kinds abound with alpine butterflies.

As you climb up from Lachung town, after three kilometers you come across the Dombang Mod. If you choose to accept this alluring invitation, you follow a winding path amongst large conifers and huge boulders on which are to be found ‘rock gardens’ and which ends in a miniature paradise. We turned resolutely from the inviting detour towards the main road for we were after the Big Fisshh…the Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary. My father-in-law Mr Nandan Kalbag, is a plant person – he loves plants, studies them, both wild and domesticated, and they reward him for his attention and affection with a living. And this is why I have chosen Lachung for our holiday – his first meeting with Rhododendrons.

Singbasanctuary gateYou dont need to carry maps to reach Singba. The road from Lachung goes straight through. After Singba, it leads to the hotsprings, and then to the alpine meadow of Yumthang and terminates in a series of hair-pin bends at Shiv Mandir. Ahead of this, the status of the road is uncertain. There is a kutcha track which leads to the border outposts of the ITBP under the shadow of the majestic Paunhunri massif. Ahead of this is the Chumbi valley, which is part of Tibet and China.

Rhodo 00An arch across the road indicates that you have reached the Singba Rhodo sanctuary. An inviting notice finds you stopping the vehicle to know more about the sanctuary, but sadly, it is the usual govt bureaucratese…Singba is a boulder ridden slope punctuated by wide fastflowing streams. In between the rocks are interspersed the Rhododendrons.

Rhododendrons come in glorious variety. At first glance, you notice nothing but the flower bunches which adorn the bushes and trees. The rich red colour seems to directly nourish the soul and it is difficult to draw your eyes away. After feasting awhile on this sight, you now begin to notice that amidst the red swathes, are  bunches of white, pink, mauve, yellow and purple flowers. You realise that the Rhodos are everywhere – trees, bushes, shrubs and herbs, all with oval dark green leaves of various shapes and size. The trees are well spaced apart, about fifteen feet high at the most. Sunshine and cool breeze wafts through.

Primula with DCY 1We wander around, Papa looking at the flowers, Aashay and Aditi are thrilled at the snow banks which have come onto the road, and they begin throwing snowballs. Amita and Amma lounge by the Gypsy, content to drink in the sights and watch the antics of the children. I wander around to look at the butterflies.

primula with DCY2Between the rhodos, small patches of moss-covered earth harbour rosettes of green leaves from which arise pale-green stalks tipped with beautiful purple globes of Primula denticulata. Here, these are the only flowers to be seen, asides from the reds. Butterflies zoom between them, sometimes basking on a rock or bough or sometimes sipping from these beautiful primulas. There are tortoiseshells, blues which never let me get close and an occassional large cabbage white. And the stars of this place – the Dark Clouded Yellows Colias croceus. You see them first as deep rich patches of yellow which flit from bloom to bloom.

DCY angledThe clouded yellows perch on the primula, show their open wings for awhile, and then fold them. They are wary, do not allow me close, and they are restless, the cold breeze causing them to relocate frequently. They have the quaint habit of high altitude butterflies of perching at an angle. You can see this in the third snap. I noticed this in Nandadevi with other butterflies – dark clouded yellows, tortoiseshells and snow apollos;  all of them did this – why? To get more sunlight? To avoid losing heat? To cater for the wind? It is one of those behavioural problems worthy of investigation.

During the time we were at Singba, the Primulas seemed to attract Dark Clouded Yellows only, the Tortoiseshells prefer to bask on rocks. The blues favoured thin small white flowers of an indistinct herb. The Rhododendrons seem to attract no butterflies at all! Singba is lovely, the Dark Clouded Yellows are lovely! But Pappa has photographed seven varieties of Rhododendron and we have to move on to Yumthang, if we are to be back in time to have lunch in Lachung.