Posted tagged ‘Nature writing’

Bukbuk’s Sleepytime Adventure

17 August 2016

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Bukbuk was not sleepy. He lived in a burrow with his parents on a mountain meadow in the Ladakh Himalayas near a place called Dras. It was the first winter of his lfe. He had drunk lot of his Mamma’s milk and eaten crunchy greens, bulbs, roots and shoots and now he was fat, soft, round and furry. But he was not sleepy.

Pa Buk and Ma Buk had told him all about it. That it would snow for many months, and that they had to sleep through all of it. It was a great adventure called “HIBERNATION”.

Pa Buk said, “Bukbuk. its time to hibernate. All Himalayan Marmots hibernate. You have eaten enough and all you need to do is go to sleep. Just take a small nap, and you will fall fully asleep without realising it, and once you wake up, it will be spring.”

Naughty Bukbuk was not happy. As usual, he loved doing “masti” (which means mischief in Hindi language). He was full of energy and wanted to play. He did not want to sleep. Not just yet.

Ma Buk said, “Bukbuk, this is not a normal sleep through the night. When you fall asleep, you will only wake up after a very long time. Pa Buk and I are sleeping on both sides of you. If you do get up and its dark, check if we are sleeping or awake. If we are sleeping, just curl up again next to me and go back to sleep. I will wake you when the warm winds melt the snow in Spring.”

But naughty Bukbuk only thought “Arre waah, if Ma and Pa are asleep, I can do masti and have fun without any-one coming to know!”

But Pa Buk knew Bukbuk very well and he warned him.

“Bukbuk, the winter is a very dangerous time for marmots. The safest thing to do is sleep, becuase it is dark, cold, windy and snowy. And there is still danger. The Snow Fox comes out in winter and catches pikas. If any marmot gets up and goes around in winter, he can die. And we won’t be awake to help you!”

Bukbuk had no choice. Pa Buk closed up the burrow. Ma Buk made a cosy nest of grass and straw, put Bukbuk on it and patted him to sleep while singing a lullaby. Though Bukbuk didn’t want to, slowly his eyes drooped and he slept!

Time passed. Outside cold winds blew. Snow fell and blanketed the mountainside. The rocks, earth, plants all got covered under snow, and every where, if one was awake, one could see a smooth white landscape.

Then something happened! The sun shone for a while and a little snow melted. It made its way through the earth into the marmot burrow. And a single drop fell from the roof of the burrow onto Bukbuk’s head!

“Plop!”

Startled, Bukbuk awoke. He rubbed his little paws on his eyes and looked around. It was totally dark. Beside him, he could feel and hear Ma Buk and Pa Buk sleeping deeply. Slowly his eyes adjusted to the dark. The air was cold, but not too cold.

He shook Ma Buk but she didn’t respond. He shook Pa Buk and he did not wake up either. Ma told me, I should go back to sleep, thought Bukbuk!

But wouldn’t it be fun to just have a look-see at the world in winter?

So he made his way from his cosy nest, through the living burrow and passage to the front door. Pa Buk had blocked it with some mud and plant material and it was frozen. Bukbuk gave a soft push. The block moved a little but sprang back. He pushed harder, and it shifted slightly. A little light was now visible. Bukbuk squeezed through and went out onto the front porch of the Buk burrow. This is Bukbuk’s favourite place and he likes to sit out here and look all around him.

Bukbuk had been here before, but it now looked and felt different. First of all it was very cold not warm. There was a thin layer of snow and the porch felt slippery. Sitting on the porch froze Bukbuk’s bottom but he was curious and looked all around.

Bukbuk was used to seeing all green and brown both all around him and on the mountain opposite, but now it was white, brown and black everywhere. All around him, the snow shone where the sun rays reflected off it and it hurt his eyes to look there. So he looked at the stream next to his burrow on the right – it was gone except for some small ice patches.

The wind now began to flow gently, it was very cold and gave Bukbuk the shivers. But he was not done looking around as yet.

High across the valley, the shining blue lake called as Pariyon ka Talaab (which means the Lake of Fairies in Hindi) had not frozen though it was mid-winter, but the waters now looked dark and mysterious.

The wind picked up more and now the chill went into Bukbuk’s bones. His paws, ears, feet, tail and nose began to hurt. But Bukbuk still looked around.

The sun was shining; the sky was blue but about a third of it was covered with a dark cloud which promised even more snow. It was growing darker, soon the clouds would cover the sun. All over the wind now began to howl, and the wind began to freeze Bukbuk and it also pushed him slowly towards the edge.

Bukbuk realised he was in danger. He desperately scrambled back into the burrow and was barely able to make it when the sun was covered by the dark clouds. The wind roared and if Bukbuk had remained there for just one second, he would have been blown off the mountain to his death. He squeezed in through the slightly open door and stood trembling. He was very, very cold.

After he got over his fright, he pushed the door shut. Fortunately the door was intact. Bukbuk crawled back into the burrow and cuddled up to his mother. Feeling a cold body next to her, she reached out, half-asleep, pulled him close to her. She held Bukbuk to her breast and fed him milk. Slowly Bukbuk thawed, and his mother’s warmth made him feel better. The warm milk filled his tummy and he felt drowsy. Soon he fell asleep.

When he awoke, there was light around, the air was fresh. Ma Buk and Pa Buk were not next to him. And he felt hungry. It was not cold anymore. Bukbuk rushed to the entrance of the burrough where his parents sat looking out.

The snow was melting, green grass was showing in some places. The streams were flowing full. The sunshine warmed his back. The lake on the hill opposite was a shining summer blue again.

The world looked friendly and harmless. Soon he would need to eat.

Then he remembered his experience on that dark winter day. He wondered should I tell Ma and Pa Buk about it? He thought, if they ask me, I will tell them, otherwise not. Bukbuk realised that his parents had told him what was right and protected him from danger yet again.

Do you think Bukbuk has learnt his lesson or will he continue to be a naughty marmot?

THE END

Bukbuk’s First Adventure

8 August 2016

800px-Himalayan_Marmot_at_Tshophu_Lake_Bhutan_091007_b

There never was a naughtier marmot than BukBuk. He lived in a flowery meadow high up in the Himalayas with his Pappa and Mamma!

Bukbuk loved his home. It was under a large rock on the mountain and faced the South. A stream nearby gave them water to drink. Grasses and plants all around meant there was a lot of food for them.

Best of all there was a flat rock just outside his burrow. BukBuk and his parents sat on this rock and enjoyed the sun in their face. It was on this rock that Pappa Marmot taught Bukbuk each day. Bukbuk learnt about the way marmots whistle when they see an enemy such as an eagle.

But most of all, he loved to sit alone on the warm rock, with his nose high in the air to smell the wild flowers and let the wind tickle his whiskers!

But Mamma Marmot would not allow him to sit alone!

“Why can’t I sit on the rock in the sun?”, Bukbuk said crossly.

“Because its dangerous for a young marmot to sit alone out there!”, said Mamma.

Bukbuk didn’t believe it. He had sat there so often and nothing had happened! He had not even heard a real emergency whistle in his life!

One day Bukbuk’s parents went in search of lily bulbs for the larder. Bukbuk was alone. Immediately he thought, “This is chance to sit in the sun alone! After all its so close to the door. I’ll come in very soon and nobody needs even to know!”

Bukbuk went out. He sat on the rock and looked all around. There was a warm sun and a light wind. “This is so much fun, he thought!” The warm rock felt so good that he began to feel drowsy. Bukbuk dozed.

All of sudden, he heard an emergency whistle. He woke with a fright and looked up. A dark shadow blocked the sun. The shadow grew in size. Bukbuk suddenly realised that a very large bird was diving towards him shrieking. It was an EAGLE!!!! Claws held forward, the eagle descended on poor BukBuk. There was no time to turn and run back home. Bukbuk rolled off the rock ro the right and down the slope.

The Eagle narrowly missed him, hitting the rock instead. Bukbuk rolled into a grass patch. For a split second, he was hidden from the Eagle’s view. His heart thumping, he ran as fast as he could downhill towards a hollow rotten tree trunk. The enraged eagle flapped his wings, changed direction and streaked after Bukbuk. He did not mean to miss his meal today.

Bukbuk ran through the grass. He dodged around the stones. In panic, whenever he felt the eagle was about to catch him, he changed direction. He managed to remain just out of reach of the eagle’s claws. Bukbuk reached the log safely.

But the eagle reached there too! Screaming and shrieking, it tore at the soft crumbling wood with its claws. The log began to come apart. Very soon the log would break and Bukbuk would be caught!

Bukbuk looked around frantically! What to do next?

He saw a small burrow nearby. It was narrow but large enough for a young marmot to enter. But it was five feet away. The eagle could catch him on the way. But the eagle was about to finish tearing the log apart. Bukbuk was sure to get caught if he stayed.

Bukbuk fled for the hole! Immediately the eagle pursued. It looked like Bukbuk wouldn’t make it. He dived strainght into the hole. As Bukbuk entered the hole, sharp claws pierced his back and blood spurted. But he was safe. The eagle’s claws could not hold onto Bukbuk who was already deep in the hole.

The enraged Eagle shrieked and tore at the entrance. Deep inside, Bukbuk sat in the dark, bleeding and trembling. Bukbuk felt soft muzzles and whiskers on all sides. It was the Pika family who lived in the burrow.

Time passed. A light rain began outside. A mist descended on the meadow. Marmots could be heard moving around, whistling. Mr Pika accompanied a trembling Bukbuk back to his horrified parents.

Bukbuk’s mother licked off the blood and comforted him. Bukbuk’s father complimented him on his quick thinking. They both asked Bukbuk to be very careful as marmots have many enemies.

Do you think Bukbuk learnt his lesson?

THE END
————-
This podcast / script has been written by Ashwin Uncle specifically for the Painted Storks Nature Club. On the request of the club members, this is being shared with all the kids of the world. And so the podcast and the script are licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 Attribution-required Sharealike license, which means you can use and distribute this podcast freely and also derive works from it but you must attribute me (Ashwin Baindur), you cannot change its license and all the works derived from this podcast need to be under the same Creative Commons license or an equivalent free license.

———
* Narrated and recorded by : Ashwin Baindur
* Story by : Ashwin Baindur
* License for podcast and script : Creative Commons 4.0 Attribution-required Sharealike ( https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/ )
* Short url for podcast –  http://bit.ly/2bbyAlW
* Short url for script – http://wp.me/p4f3X-Rv
* Image copyright : Christopher J. Fynn / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8058274

* Find Bukbuk’s stories on Soundcloud at this link : http://bit.ly/bukbukall

 

The Ibex of Sha-Ping

28 February 2010

Memorial to a young subaltern.

(Announcing the online library page of The Butterfly Diaries blog! Explore nature-writing online for free.)

Part of a green book cover with an embossed gold ibex head shown on it.

Click the image to reach the free download page from http://www.archive.org.

Being a “fauji” of the Indian Army who loves the Himalayas, it is most appropriate for me to begin my free online nature writing   ‘collection’ with :

The ibex of Sha-ping, and other Himalayan studies” by Lt L.A. Rundall. 1915 (with numerous pen and ink sketches and coloured plates by the author).

An opened book standing with its outer cover facing us. The dustjacket is on and is fawn coloured. The spine bears the names of the book and author, a caricature of a bear cub, the cost (ten shillings and sixpence) and the logo for McMillan who published the book. The front jacket has the name written along the top edge and the head of an ibex in the centre.

Lt Lionel Bickersteth Rundall (1890-1914) was a young British army officer who perished in one of the battles of the First World War. Commissioned into  the British Indian Army,  Rundall  joined the “1st King George’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Malaun Regiment)” . The First Gurkhas were located at Dharmsala in those days and it is from here that Rundall must have ventured forth into the mountains and vales of today’s Himachal Pradesh. He fell in love with the mountains and planned to return over and over again.

Returning to England more than once in a few years was financially difficult for subalterns in those days. The commanding officers who would have lived most of their life in strait-laced Victorian society would not grant leave to a young officer to visit the towns and cities calling such visits to where white memsahibs could be found as “poodle-faking”.

There was an old saw that goes as follows:

“A subaltern may not marry,
captains might marry,
majors should marry,
and lieutenant-colonels must marry.”

Young officers were prevented from marrying as it was felt that it could ruin them financially when the cost was added to the initial outlay for commission, uniforms, equipment, subscriptions and the mess. The purity of the mess was disturbed by marriage, as it took the officer out of the all-male warrior clique. An officer who married without getting permission from his commanding officer severely jeopardized his chances of promotion. Custom, economics and peer pressure combined to postpone marriage until quite late in life.

Instead, they were encouraged to go to hunting, shooting, pig-sticking or any other activity which would sublimate their normal sex drive. So it was in the case of Rundall. He wandered far and wide in the hills nearby. Captivated by the hgh mountains, the wild life, the cold spring water, the fresh air and the variety of Himalayan fauna not to be found anywhere today. His keen observation and talent as an artist led him to write a number of stories which he illustrated himself.  In the book, a preface contains excerpts of his last letter to his mother wherein he made plans for many more trips including a trip to Tibet. At this point of time, hardly a decade would have passed since Younghusband’s expedition had opened Tibet up to the British and such a thought would have great romantic appeal to a young man.

Alas it was not to be,  Rundall died on 19 Dec 1914.  This fact leads us to conclude that he was part of the First Battalion of the First Gurkha Rifles which went to France with the Third Lahore Division in 1914.  The first battalion was the only battalion of the First Gurkha Rifles which went to Europe during World War I. With them went my own field company, 20 Field Company of the Third Bombay Sappers and Miners, which marched down the streets of Marseilles, the very first Indian troops to set foot in France. The Indians soon found themselves in the front-lines of one of the most vicious wars ever known to mankind. In Dec 1914, the Indians were ordered to capture the village of Givenchy. The Indians fought courageously capturing two lies of enemy trenches but were forced to retreat by a strong German counter-attack  with heavy losses, including amongst the officers. It is surmised that Rundall died in this battle which raged from 18 to 22 Dec.

A few excerpts from Rundall are in order.  Illustrated with beautiful sketches and paintings by Rundall himself, his preface indicates that he had worked towards writing the book which his family published posthumously.

There is an attraction about the log fire, made up of a hundred things...

From the Preface

You who are wearied with the day’s work, and would hear of the wonders of the Himalaya, let yourself float in your imagination, out across the seas, over the parched sand of the desert, across the arid plains of India, and up into the everlasting snows where the chill night winds are sighing. There, below you, lies my camp ; in the clearing midst the dark pine forests, where the log fire blazes and crackles, and where the silver stream murmurs of the thousand mysteries of the mountains…

Come down with me to my camp. Seat yourself comfortably in my deck chair, and draw it closer to the blaze. Help yourself to whisky—I have nothing better for you, except the ice-cold water from the spring — light your pipe, and listen awhile to the stories which I will tell you, mainly of what I myself have seen, partly of what I have heard from the lips of other shikaris.

There is an attraction about the log fire, made up of a hundred things. Among these, the sweet scent of the burning pine, the sharp tongues of flame which leap and dart, the merry crackle of the dry wood, the hissing of the sap, and the myriad sparks which whirl upwards and soar floating on the wings of the blue smoke. Each but a small matter in itself but contributing to the cheery glow, and
without which it would not be complete.

So it is with the mountain, and its thousand streams, its forests and its lakes, its animals and its birds, its flowers and ferns. Without any one of them it would not be complete.

Sunset on snowy peak

Crabs

20 January 2009

(An extract from ‘A Naturalist on the Prowl’ by E.H. Aitken)

A naturalist on the prowl!

Prowling on the seashore one evening, I espied another prowler, and he espied me, and avoided me as the burglar avoids the policeman. He did not run away, but just deflected his course a little, took advantage of a dip in the sandy beach, got behind a growth of screw pines and was not there. It was getting too dark to see clearly, but by these tactics I knew that he was a jackal. He had come down in the hope of catching a few crabs for his supper. Scarcely had he got himself away when, with a shrill squeak and a scrambling rush, a fat musk rat escaped from my foot into a heap of stones. What was it doing there? Hunting for crabs. Now there is something very revolting in the thought that crabs are liable to be killed and eaten by foul jackals and disgusting musk rats. The crabs are a peculiarly interesting people, like the ancient inhabitants of Mexico, unique and not to be ranked with the other tribes of the earth.

anotp-jackal-on-the-shore

Professor Owen holds that the hand of man suffices to separate him from all other animals almost as widely as any two of them differ from each other. “The consequences,” he says, “of the liberation of one pair of limbs from all service in station and progression are greater, and involve a superior number and quality of powers, than those resulting from the change of an ungulate into an unguiculate condition of limb.” Think me not a mocker if I suggest that the crab shares this endowment with man, and perhaps that is the reason why he seems to stand apart from all other creatures that are clothed with shells. By pedigree the crab, I admit, is but a prawn which has curled its tail under its stomach and taken to walking; but no one who has lived much among crabs and associated with them, so to speak, can lump them with prawns and other shell-fish good for curry. A crab is not like a lower animal. He does not seem to work by instinct. All his avocations are carried on as if he had fixed principles, and his whole behaviour is so deliberate and decorous that you feel almost sure, if you could get a proper introduction to him, he would shake hands with you.

At times I have thought I detected a broad grin on the face of an old crab, but this may be fancy. I incline to the idea, however, that he has a sense of humour. He is courageous too-not foolhardy, but wisely valiant, and marvellously industrious. Watch him as he repairs his house flooded by the tide. Cautiously he appears at the door with a great ball of sand in his arms, and erecting his eyes to see if any enemy is near, advances a few paces, lays his burden down and returns to dig. Again he appears and puts a second ball besides the first, and so on till there is a long even row of them. A second row is then laid alongside the first, then a third, and a fourth; then a passage is left, after which a few rows more are laid down. So rapidly is the work done that the tide has scarcely retired when the whole beach is chequered with flowerlike patterns radiating from a thousand holes. These are the work of infant crabs mostly, for as they grow older they venture to retire further from low water mark, where the sand is dry and will not hold together in balls. Then they bring it up in armfuls and toss it to a distance. But, old or young, their houses are swamped and obliterated twice in every twenty-four hours, and twice dug out again; from which you may judge what a life of labour the sand crab lives.

The sand crabs reach almost upto the Screw pine (Pandanus) zone.

The sand crabs reach almost upto the Screw pine (Pandanus) zone.

The sand crab...

The sand crab...

...and his labour.

...and his labour.

Plover patrol! Watch out, sand crabs!

Plover patrol (foreground)! Watch out, little sand crabs!

He is, I think, the noblest of his race. Living on the open champaign of the white sea-shore, he learns to trust for safety to the keenness of his sight and the fleetness of his limbs. Each eye is a miniature watch-tower, or observatory, and his legs span seven times the length of his body. When he runs he seems to be on wheels: you can fancy you hear them whirr. But, keen as is his sight and amazing as is his speed, he more than needs it all; for, alas! he is very tasty and all the world knows it. In his early days the sandpipers and shore birds, nay, the very crows and preh pudor! my turkey patrol the water’s edge, and he scarcely dares to show his face by daylight. Then, as he grows beyond the fear of petty enemies, he comes within the ken of greater ones. The kite, sailing high overhead, swoops like a thunderbolt and carries him off. The great kingfisher, concealed in an overhanging bough, watches its opportunity, and when he has wandered far from his hole, darts upon him and scoops him up in its long beak. The kestrel hawks him, dogs hunt him in sheer wantonness, jackals hunt him to eat him, owls lie in wait for him, and when he takes refuge in the water, an army of sharks and rays is ready for him. And man closes the list.

“These wild eyes that watch the wave
In roarings by the coral reef’

are watching mostly for crabs. He is drawn from his hole with hooks, dug out with shovels, caught in traps, netted with nets, and even in the darkness of night distracted with the sudden glare of flambeaux and knocked over with sticks.

Man - arch-enemy and predator no 1.

Man - arch-enemy and predator no 1. The crabs in the basket are Three-spotted Crabs (Portunus sanguinolentus), a swimming crab. The crabs in the basket were caught at sea by local fishermen using nets and were at Harne beach waiting to be sold. (Identification - 'Marine Life in India' by BF Chapgar.)

Many are the ways in which the race of crabs have sought to shun their thousand foes, some by watchfulness and wisdom, or cunning and skill, some along paths of degeneracy and shame. In the aeons long gone by, it seems, there lived a craven crab who condescended to seek safety by thrusting his hinder end into an empty shell, and to-day his descendants are as the sand on the sea-shore for multitude, dragging their cumbrous houses about with them and thrusting out their distorted arms to pick up food, and shrinking in again at the least sign of danger. Safety they have bought with degradation, but there are moments of supreme peril even in the base life that they lead; for the crab grows and the shell does not, and it is an inexorable law of nature that, when you change your coat, you must put off the old before you put on the new. The most ludicrous sight I ever saw was two hermit crabs competing for an empty shell. Neither of them could by any means take possession without exposing his naked and deformed posteriors to the mercy of the other, and this he dared not do; so they manoeuvred and circled round that shell and made grimaces at each other till I laughed like the blue jays in Jim Baker’s yarn.

A hermit crab (Superfamily Paguroidea)

A hermit crab (Superfamily Paguroidea)

The hermit crab drawn out in full splendour!

The hermit crab drawn out in full splendour!

Others of the race have tried to win security by burying themselves in the mud at the bottom of the sea and stretching out their beggar hands for food. The hands work hard, but the stomach is starved, and in some of this family the body has dwindled into a mere appendage to a great pair of claws. Of these is the giant from Japan, whose grim skeleton, eleven feet in stretch of limb, adorns the walls of the Bombay Natural History Society. Smaller specimens are common about Bombay.

The Japanese spider-crab (Macrocheira kaempferi), largest known arthropod.

The Japanese spider-crab (Macrocheira kaempferi), largest known arthropod.

Then there are crabs which make their backs a garden and grow seaweeds and even anemones, under whose umbrageous shelter they roam about the bed of the ocean in aesthetic security.

Midway between the mud crabs and the sand crabs is one whose ingenuity and adroitness rescue it from contempt. Its hind legs are transformed into an absurd pair of shovels, and the length of its eyes is simply ridiculous. If you have patience to sit perfectly motionless for a time at some spot in Back Bay where the retreating tide has left a dead level of oozy slime, you will see a hundred of these little blueish creatures moving about and collecting some form of nourishment from the mud with their quaint and crooked claws; but move’ a hand, and presto! they are gone. In an instant they have put themselves under the mud and left nothing, except perhaps the points of their long eyes, in the air.

A Fiddler Crab.... a mere appendage to a great pair of claws.

A Fiddler Crab.... a mere appendage to a great pair of claws.

Then there is the Calling Crab, which has fostered one hand until it has grown into a veritable Roman shield, behind which the owner may shelter himself, calmly taking his food with the other. How these hold their own I cannot tell. They are not strong, nor yet swift, nor wary; but wherever the sand is soft and black, they people the shore in countless numbers. It may be that that blazing muster of gaunt, mailed hands in orange and red, ceaselessly beckoning to all the world to come, tries the courage even of a hungry crow. I am inclined to think this is the explanation of the matter, for I have often seen one of the feeblest of the mud crabs collect in dense squadrons and perform long journeys over the open shore, with nothing to protect them from wholesale slaughter unless it was the fear inspired by such an ominous mass of legs and arms.

Sally Lightfoot! The agile Red Rock Crab (Grapsus grapsus)

Sally Lightfoot! The agile Red Rock Crab (Grapsus grapsus)

Where the foaming waves dash themselves against rugged rocks and moss-clad boulders, with black fissures between, and here and there a clear pool, tenanted by anemones and limpets and a quivering, darting little fish, chafing in prison till the next tide shall come and set it free, there the sand crab is replaced by the crab of the rocks, most supple-limbed of living things. How it turns the corner of a mossy rock, as slippery as that

“plug of Irish soap
Which the girl had left on the topmost stair,”

and awaits unmoved the onset of a great wave, then resumes its meal, daintily picking off morsels of fresh moss with its hands and putting them into its mouth. A life of constant watchfulness it lives and hourly peril, as many an empty shell in the pool bears witness. Its direst enemy, I believe, is the ghastly octopus, that ocean spider, lurking in crack or crevice, with deadly feelers extended, alive to their very tips and ready for the THE SWIMMING CRAB unwary. That this gelatinous goblin should be able to master the mail-clad warrior is wonderful but true. All his armour and his defiant claws avail nothing against the soft embrace of eight long arms and the kiss of a little crooked beak.

anotp-the-swimming-crab

Though their proper home is the border line between land and water, the crabs have pushed their conquests over nature in all directions. Some swim in the open sea, their feet being flattened into paddles, and these are horribly armed with long and sharp spines for the correction of greedy fishes. They have been found in the Bay of Biscay, a hundred miles from land, and are common on the coasts of England, where they are said to kill large numbers of mackerel. Bombay fishermen often find them in their nets. Other crabs inhabit the forests, climbing trees. Of these we have one beautiful species, all purple and blue.

The tree climbing Coconut Robber (Birgus latro)

The tree climbing Coconut Robber (Birgus latro)

Others have their home in the fields, lying buried during the months of drought, and coming to life when the rain has softened the earth. They love the rain, and often have I drawn them from their holes by means of a fraudulent shower from a watering can. Slowly the poor dupe comes out to enjoy it, and when his feet show themselves at the door, you can thrust in a trowel and cut off his retreat. Then he knows he has been fooled, and backing into a corner, extends his great claws and defies the world.

Did you ever see a motherly land crab with all her children about her, leading them among the tender grass on which they feed, like a hen with her chickens, and when their little legs are weary, gathering them into her pouch and carrying them home? It is a pretty picture, and I wish I could paint in the father of the family; but the truth must be told, and I am afraid that when he meets with his offspring, he runs them down and eats them. At least I saw such a chase once. Never did crab flee as that little one fled from the chela sequentes of his dire parent. He doubled and dodged and ran again, but all in vain! He was caught and nipped in two. Then came Nemesis in the form of my dog, and the pursuer was pursued. In his flurry he lost his way, and darting into the wrong hole, all but fell into the arm~ of a bigger crab than itself. Darting out again, he was instantly crushed by a great paw.

You may ask how I know that the big crab was father of the little one. I do not know that he was; but what does it matter? He did not know he was not.

A family meal!

A family meal!

Image credits & licensing information :

  • Note. This document is published under Gnu Free Documentation License.
  • Line drawings F.C. McRae in the original print of E.H. Aitken’s ‘A naturalist on the prowl’ and are accordingly public domain.
  • Photos of screw-pines, sand crabs, plover patrol, crabs in basket – self. [Licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 with Self-attribution].
  • Remaining photos taken from Wikimedia Commons. Please search among category ‘Crabs’ for the source images originals and their exact license restrictions.

Note 2. After I had written this blog, I realised that I had bought a natural history book some time ago about creatures of the sea. I dug it up from my book box and began reading it. I was surprised – here was so much that I wanted to learn and and all the while the book was waiting patiently for me to fetch it from its place. I’m referring to  ‘Marine Life in India‘  written by B.F. Chapgar, the renowned Indian marine biologist and doyen of the BNHS. Published as recently as 2006, it is written in a very easy to read and understand style, with nice photographs, lots of small chapters each concerning a group of animals or aspect of sea life and lots and lots of line-diagrams. If this blog about crabs interested you, and you are an amateur naturalist in India who would like to learn more about this fascinating new world, don’t have second thoughts but go out and get your own copy! It costs Rs 350/- which is not costly for such a book by today’s standards.

Disclaimer. Please note I have no commercial considerations with Oxford University Press and I am not unfortunately personally acquainted with the author.

Edward Hamilton Aitken – A Nature Writer in the Indian Countryside

17 January 2009
A low resolution black-and-white image of a bald man with a beard and kindly smile sitting at a desk with pen held in his right hand.

Edward Hamilton Aitken

One of the finest examples of nature writing is surely that of ‘EHA’. Edward Hamilton Aitken (1851-1909) was born in India, lived and taught in Bombay and Pune and also served in Kharaghoda (Gujarat), Ratnagiri, Uran and North Kanara as a government servant.

EHA had a keen eye for nature, whether unusual or common-place, and a delightful turn of phrase. His nature missives tell much about the man – his keen sense of observation, his delight in the small secrets that nature reveals, his wry sense of humour. Today, his work is in the public domain and one can download copies of his books from the internet. Penguin India has now come up with reprints of two books – his best , namely ‘A Naturalist on the Prowl’ and ‘The Tribes on my Frontier’. Slim, beautifully produced, hard-bound volumes costing a measly Rs 225/- each, these are invaluable additions for anyone who maintains a small and discerning collection of wildlife books. He ranks amongst the great nature-writers in India.

As my friend Shyamal said “Books with tiny illustrations are often good reading” – EHA’s books prove this new adage to be true!

Since there is a delightful review of Eha on Wikipedia, let me lighten my load, good reader and take you to meet him over there.

You can of course download his work from the following links :

1. Books by E.H. Aitken at Project Gutenberg and
2. Books by E.H. Aitken at www.archive.org.

or you can visit “My online library”.

Opening page of ''The Tribes on my Frontier''

Opening page of ''The Tribes on my Frontier''

In this blog, you will find two of my tributes to him – a small piece of humour below, which I wrote,  fully charged, when I had just finished reading his ‘Tribes on my Frontier’ and for which, as a tribute to him, I kept the same title .

The second (since published here) is a chapter of ‘Naturalists on the Prowl’ reproduced with his illustrations but with some of my photos, and hopefully some other people’s too, on the prosaic group of animals called ‘crabs’.

Expect to find more exposures to nature writers on this blog. With these small ‘plugs’ I encourage you to enjoy their work and hope to accordingly increase your love for nature.

A starling with tail cocked high follows a blackbird with tail tucked in.