Archive for the ‘waterbirds’ category

This one’s for the bird (stamp)!

23 July 2011

One of the problems of Indian Philately is that the “story” behind a postage stamp is quite opaque. The postal department does not oblige philatelists by reliable documentation and transparent procedures. I was writing an article on “Birds on Indian Stamps” for Aasheesh Pittie, editor of the Indian Birds and I found it difficult to find any information about bird stamps. I was constrained to publish the article, though I felt that I had inadequate information and could find no way of getting more. Those who missed reading the article and would like to peruse it may find it here.

Rather surprisingly, some people liked the article, despite it being just a set of dry facts and observations on them, and wrote to tell me so. Two of the responses were of very great interest to me.

The first email was from Mr Zafar Futehally, one of our doyens of bird-watching. He appreciated the article, saying that it enthused him so much that he wished he were young again so that he could start collecting bird stamps. That warmed the cockles of my heart.

A young Peter Jackson poses in front of the Khumbu icefall during the 1953 climbing season. (Image copyrighted by Peter Jackson)

The other email was from Mr Peter Jackson, a retired gentleman from England. Mr Jackson began his career as a reporter for Reuters and made his mark reporting for John Hunt‘s Everest Expedition which climbed Everest for the first time in 1953. He went on to become a good wildlife photographer and a dedicated conservationist. He is renowned for his work on wild cats.  I was quite flattered to receive an email of appreciation from him too.

Mr Jackson mentioned that one of the stamps that was shown in the article was based on his image. Mr Jackson referred to a definitive stamp of India, a 50 paise stamp issued in 1975 showing a flying bird in blue. The List of Stamps (1852-2007), published by the Department of Posts, describes it as “Flying Crane”. One of the leading bird stamp websites “birdtheme.org” lists the stamp as Demoiselle Crane (Grus virgo) – perhaps because a Demoiselle best seemed to fit the image. The finer details of the image on the stamp are indistinct, as the stamp is itself less than an inch in height or width.

A small postage stamp. almost square shwing a flying bird coming in to land with legs outstretced below, with denomination 50p, and the words "India" in English and the Hindi word "Bharat" in Devanagari script

1975 definitive stamp of denomination 50p

Mr Jackson pointed out that the image was his and it was taken in Bharatpur and was of the Intermediate Egret (Mesophoyx intermedia), not a Demoiselle Crane. He was kind enough to send me the original image which is displayed in this article. He had photographed it among the many birds nesting in Keoladeo Ghana way back in the 1960s when he lived in India.

Mr Peter Jackson's original image upon which the stamp is based. (Image copyrighted by Peter Jackson)

In his own words, he describes how the image found its way on the stamp :

“I was surprised when I found my photo on stamps. I couldn’t make out how the post got it. Sometime later one of my daughters was lunching with an artist friend. He said that I had sent him the photo for art work. He recommended it to the post and told them they could use it on a stamp if they got my permission. But they failed to contact me and just went ahead. Of course, I was pleased to see the photo on a stamp, but I never got any thanks from the post. It served for 10 years.”

Mr Jackson was unfortunate in that he got no gratitude from the Indian Post, but he was lucky in that the stamp his image adorned was a definitive and not a commemorative stamp.

Mr Jackson’s image on the definitive has adorned millions of letters, parcels and postcards for more than a decade, thereby giving his image exposure to an audience many times larger than ever possible by other means of the time.

We can only thank Mr. Jackson for taking the beautiful image so that it could find its way onto the postage stamp. It is important to know that this contribution on his part is very small compared to the sterling work he has done in his lifetime for Indian Wildlife. A close friend of Kailash Sankhala, he joined the World Wildlife Fund  (today Worldwide Fund for Nature) in 1970. When WWF raised over a million pounds internationally to save the tiger,   he was sent to India to help purchase the equipment paid for by WWF for the setting up of Project Tiger. Later, he became an independent writer on wildlife. Mr. Jackson was appointed as head of the defunct Cat Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of the IUCN in 1983 and headed it for 17 years converting it into a close-knit team of over 200 cat scientists, including many Indians. He created the CatSG magazine about the activities of the Cat Specialist group in 1984 and edited it till he retired in 2000. He still contributes world cat news to the magazine.  During his time as chairman, Mr. Jackson travelled around the world to help support cats, including many visits to India.

Thank you Mr Jackson for your life work’s  in preserving India’s wildlife in general and our country’s big cats in particular.

In Wikipedia tradition, I present you with a barnstar, in this case, the Fauna barnstar!

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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.)