Posted tagged ‘birds’

Ten belles to be stranded on a desert island with?

10 January 2011

This post by Aggressive Opinions got me thinking! Its based on Praveen J’s post of 2001! To recall what Praveen posted :

MAROONED IN AN ISLAND

This is a repeat of a feature that appeared in Newsletter for Birdwatchers in the lines of
the erstwhile BBC programme Castaway in a desert. It goes like this. If you are to be marooned
on an island and the captain of the ship promises you to send 10 species of birds of your
choice (so that u can pass time for the rest of your life!!!) how would the selection go?

AO in his post reflected Job Joseph’s view :

1. A Bengal Florican…..boy its gait itself is worth watching.

Bengal Florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) (Image:Richard Lydekker, 1895 - public domain)

2. A Brown headed storkbilled k’fisher. I like its call very much.
3. A swan..for me to feed during the day.
4. A tame cockatoo…to keep me company in my make-shift hut.
5. A hunting falcon….courtesy some rich sheikh.
6. A rooster…to wake me up.
7. A hen….to give the rooster company.(eggs are tasty)
8. An ostrich….bigger eggs are more tasty!
9. Racket-tailed drongo….more for the price of one?( hear animal
sounds)
10. A hummingbird….let it contribute to pollination.

However, it got me thinking, If I were on a desert island, and I had to have ten bird species with me, which would I want?

I disregard AO’s rider that you can’t eat the bird. Survival is brutal. Nothing aesthetic about it. So in order to do a Robinson Crusoe or a Swiss Family Robinson (known to lovers of Classics illustrated comics), what would be the ten best birds to have with me? I’m sure we could do a much better job. Don’t hesitate to comment!

 

Advertisements

Comb-ducks at a limpid pool

18 March 2010

There is a quiet spot in the CME wetlands – where people do not go and where the dreaded water weeds have not yet come. Here the Blue Kingfisher flashes chestnut as he shoots across the clearing. Openbill storks roost every night in a tree along with herons and egrets and other storks. Just below the tree are many bushes, one of them Lantana. With the setting of the sun come the Hummingbird Hawk-moths (Macroglossum stellatarum) who sip the nectar from the little pink and yellow Lantana flowers, enjoying the last vestiges of cool weather before they vanish till the next winter.

A yellow sunset over a pond with silhouettes of trees along the horizon.

Below the roost is a pond inhabited by those residents of CME who like the quiet life. Here the Spotbill population finds its headquarters, the Common Moorhen picks its way amongst the reeds and fish plop and create small ripples in the enjoyable silence. A hint of a fragrance from  the pale green flowers of a tree add a master’s touch to this nature’s composition.  At the end of a summer day, the crimson glow through the leaves colours the water rippled by the swimming of ducks.

Abhinav and I were there to pay obeisance to the Spotbill monarch when two white patches shone  in the fading light  on a bank opposite where the legions of Spotbill lay snoozing, bill under wing. At first they were indistinguishable; peering through a binoculars  resolved them to be two large white duck with green-black markings, one of which had a curious growth on its beak, proclaiming to the world that they were Comb Duck or Nakta, a pair (Sarkidiornis melanotos).

A white Nakta female and two grazing Spotbill duck against the pond shore in the evening light.

Female Nakta

They had decided to grace this small hidden spot which fitted their requirements. Attempts to photograph them were not successful as we did not have a suitable lens. A record shot is all that we could manage.

One of the strange misshapen looking ducks, the Nakta is found in Amazonia, equatorial Africa and Madagascar as well as South and Southeast Asia.  Though having a wide range and hence not considered threatened, Comb Duck numbers are declining all over the world. They frequent well-wooded wetlands and usually nest in tree-holes, a habitat becoming rarer by the day. Shy of humans, they are easily disturbed.

A pair of Nakta on a United Nations postage stampThis gave me great happiness for two reasons. The trivial one was that our bird count went up by one more. The more important reason – it showed us that the CME wetland is vibrant and healthy – a rare thing in India today.

I pray to mother nature and all our Gods and Goddesses that this couple find this spot suitable and they be permitted to raise their family for many years to come undisturbed.

Image credits.

  • Nakta stamp – Kjell Scherling (www.birdtheme.org) : Reproduced under fair use.
  • Sunset & female Nakta – Abhinav Chawla (license Creative Commons Sharealike-attribute 3.0 unported).

Tongue in chick!

14 February 2009

This Rann is for the Birds!

Being a pundit, Chitrapur Saraswat to boot,  I could’nt resist placing Subbu’s tongue in cheek introduction to his post about a fabulous birding trip to Kutch. Enjoy….

The first lesson I learnt in Kutch is that a good pair of tits is very hard to come by, and you could spend the better part of an evening looking high and (occasionally) low for them! Adesh had promised to show us the endemic Whitenaped Tits, but the birds were playing their cards very close to their chests. Our local guide Mohammedbhai, however, regarded them as his bosom buddies,……

http://green-indians.blogspot.com/2009/02/this-rann-is-for-birds.html

Way to go, Subbu!

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.

The Tribes on my Frontier

15 January 2009

Having moved into a quiet bungalow in the College campus, I looked forward to a pleasant interlude after all the years of toil. Very large in my scheme of enjoyable solitude was my garden; still coming up after a marathon of planting by my father-in-law and now blooming from some TLC after a couple of years of neglect. What can be better than a quiet Sunday morning snooze on a garden chair in the lawn or an afternoon 40 winks on the diwan under the verandah shade before a refreshing cup of tea emerges forth from the house lovingly proferred by wifey. Paradise, I thought and began to enjoy it all. Alas, it was too good to be true. For you see, I had not accounted for the tribes on my frontier!

They creep up on you unsuspectingly. One drowsy Sunday morning, with head nodding, I heard a plop on the small teapoy in front of me. It was one of the avian tribesmen, golden and black in colour, making an offering to the great sahab of his guano. The wretch not only spoilt my newspaper but thoroughly woke me up with a musical trill which brought my son, Aashay, out saying ”Oh look Pappa, its a golden oriole!” I ask you would you forgive Lata Mangeshkar or any other heavenly singer if she crept up on your slumber in the garden and blasted you in the ear no matter how melodiously she sang. You would despatch her rather quickly, but with a reputation for being a bird-lover, I was forced to smile to match my son’s enthusiasm. It seemed that the bird would never stop singing! By the time it left, I couldn’t sleep any more.

I tried the early afternoon instead, and found a green red-whiskered barbet delightfully tapping out his monotonous beat on the dead tree next to my garage. Finding a dirty look instead of appreciation, he cringed and flew off but sent big brother, a Maratha woodpecker, instead. Louder, bossier, and tapping fast enough to get him an interview in any workshop, dirty looks were of no avail as he had his speckled back to me. Words of abuse did not get him to lower his red cockade. I shook the tree violently and sent off this ruffian ‘Katphora’. But it was too late, I was wide awake.

Few things gave these creatures solidarity as their endeavour to disturb my well earned repose. One rainy afternoon, braving the occasional leak and rejoicing at the absence of birdsong, I had barely settled down when a large shiny black carpenter bee, no doubt an MES employee, came inspecting the rotting rafters of the verandah. He buzzed loudly around me ignoring the frantic swats from my newspaper. He paused overhead as if to say, hey Bud, you know I have no sting, let the rain stop and I’ll be out of here before you can sing honeybee. At long last, the rain stopped and the bee went away but now the soporific patter of a rain shower was replaced by a mismatched drip drap of different series of drops with one freshly born stream created just for anointing me. It was useless, I moved into the house.

As I had worked very hard for this pleasure, there was no way I was going to let these pesky aborigines deprive me. So one day I selected a nice hammock under the Gliricidia trees, but rushed back very soon as I had forgotten the carnivorous mosquitoes of CME who descended on me like the hordes of Genghis Khan on an unsuspecting Central Asian city.

The large cemented patio at the back of the house finally seemed to do the trick and in the warm sunlight I blissfully entered the jungle of my dreams. A soft rustling disturbed me. I ignored it awhile hoping it would subside but it persisted. At last I blinked awake to stare into the astonished faces of a pair of mongooses taking some quality timeout together. They looked at me as would a pair of Burmese natives if suddenly a pot-bellied laughing Buddha statue of their pagoda suddenly came to life. They did a disappearing act worthy of Houdini but not before a bunch of lascivious ‘sathbhais’ or large grey babblers in the ‘Parijaat’ tree beyond, who had been ogling the svelte mongooses, set up a devil of a cackle on being deprived of their entertainment. I rushed inside into the dark shadows of my bedroom for some solace but it was not to be – the neighbourhood tomcat encouraged by my daughter Aditi’s daily offerings of milk had alerted my pet dog Tashi with predictable results. Sometimes you just can’t win. Seriously, its almost enough to put you off wildlife.

Note. This blog entry is dedicated to the late Edward Hamilton Aiken, naturalist and writer extraordinary, whose classic account of nature in Kutch holds the same title as this piece. Read more about him at the blog entry above.