Another Grasshopper is snatched away by a Robberfly.
It was not past 7 in the morning and cold it was. I was waddling through knee high dew laden grass in a scrub jungle looking up and down, for whatever may show itself and make my day. All the insects were still in their slumber, and jumped aside only to escape my trampling shoes. So did this grasshopper, but it alone caught the attention of a hungry Robberfly perched somewhere close by. Or probably the predatory insect followed me from grass blade to grass blade, like a Bee eater follows Cattle, waiting to pounce when good quarry was flushed...
A Pelican yawns, or maybe it was flaunting the size of its gob to its flock.
Vedanthangal lake is the most exemplary example I know of community conservation.This bird sanctuary is at the centre of the village's activities from September till March, the time when monsoon commences, thousands of migratory birds arrive, breed and return. I am told by the range officer here that the farmers around have completely given up the use of commercial fertilizer as their lands are irrigated by the lake water, carrying copious amounts of guano.
Inside the lake, large Barringtonia canopies stand out of the water where the birds perch, nest and generally hang out. One clump would be just Pelican trees, all chalk white with both the birds and bird matter. There would be just Painted Stork trees to one side with hundreds of clattering bills. Then there would be plenty of trees with mixed flocks. Ducks would float in their shade.
Due to the protection provided to this heronry by the locals over centuries, you will find that the birds here are strikingly more bolder and nonchalant of near human presence....
Yesterday I spent sometime sitting at the beach near the high tide line, so that when the waves broke, I was still a few feet away from getting drenched.
When the Sea receded, numerous little burrows would gasp as the air trapped in them rushed out. And shortly, Ghost Crabs would appear from them. There were clearly at least three or four species of these crabs, all living mixedly. The Red Ghost Crab (Ocypode macrocera) preferred to live a bit away from the tides while others like O.brevicornis liked to be intermittently washed over by saltwater.
These creatures spent their time sifting through the debris the sea brought. If there was a dead fish or turtle around, little congregations would keep reappearing there in-between tides. Many also showed great keenness in scavenging all manner of human rubbish. Others busied themselves throwing wet sand out of their burrows.
The characteristic quirks of Ghost Crabs are their long eyes. They are held on stalks a clear distance from their carapaces like signposts, and some even have horns over and above them. Always, the eyes pop out first like periscopes and take a moment to scan the lay of the land before the whole crab comes out of its burrow. And if a flock of Terns pass over, or for that matter if I fidgeted in my place a bit, all the crabs as far as I could see on the beach would dash underground in a blink of an eye....
Red Ghost Crab (Ocypode macrocera)
Elliot's Beach, Chennai
A Turtle hatchling just about to enter the sea.
The Olive Ridley nests collected and relocated into the SSTCN (Students Sea turtle conservation Network) @sstcn_chennai hatcheries have begun to hatch. Everyday, volunteers gather the babies which have crawled out of the sand and leave them by the sea, ensuring that atleast from the land they swim into the Ocean safely...
Olive Ridley hatchling
Lynx Spiders can be told at a glance from the sharp barbs they sport all along each of their eight spindly legs.
I suppose they form an inescapable spiny death trap for prey, attempting to flee its clutches. Or probably they even make the arachnid look strongly unappealing to a passing bird looking for a morsel to eat. It may take one look at the creature and turn away reckoning that its throat may not be left fully intact by the time it is finished with swallowing Mr.Spiny Charlotte.
A Lynx spider lives a life with its hands up and its mouth open. Meaning, for most of the day , it can be seen standing motionlessly with raised forelegs and ajar mandibles on some leaf, waiting to charge at some careless insect which lands or loiters into its purview.
Dry leaf crumbs are a great tool to investigate spider behaviour ( if you have nothing else to do that is). Tip toe behind a lynx spider and drop a little bit in front of it. Then you will see the thumb sized thing charge ferociously and grab the dead vegetation, then realise it has been rudely deceived and return back to its hunting pose.
The trick may not work more than once though. And if you drop anything on top of the spider, then you will scare it out of its joints, making it scamper beneath the leaf and hide there till you are gone...
Lynx Spider (Oxyopes sp)
A butterfly had just emerged and I happened to be there to see. Its forked and branching veins were the creases along which it unfolded its wings, like the most intricate bit of origami ever done. Its colours were lucid. Red was red and black was black. Its emergence could touch one viscerally. Its birth could be felt embodying one. The grass and rocks around had a freshness to them. The sand looked grainy. A bird over there was making clear sounds. The air was cold. My arms weighed on my shoulders. The ground was solid beneath my feet. For a time, the wind had blown away the witness...
Probably the Birches and Pines from a high Himalayan forest, and the Neem and the Tamarind in my neighborhood exchange a few words with each other, once every year. This Asian Brown Flycatcher is a little linker of these diverse worlds , and it flies down from the icy mountains in Winter to these Southern plains. Who knows....
birds maybe the little messengers between distant forests and habitats, across countries, across oceans, having much to convey in just conveying their presence.
This Flycatcher is a creature of exceeding charm. It's call is shrill and rattling, yet soft. Sometimes it sits alone on a low branch of a canopy and repeatedly sings a simple song, comprising of a handful of closely spaced notes.
It is a nimble hunter when it comes to catching insects and can be seen flying in quick loops and eights when in pursuit.
As March melds into Summer, these tiny tots will start their long journey back again to their home grounds in the Northern extreme of the country and beyond...
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Rattus rattus (right) and
Rattus norvegicus (two on the left) side by side eating some vague edible matter offered by the neighbor (meant for the Crows though). There were some behavioural differences between the two species as wwell. Whilesingle Black Rat ate at a place, the Brown Rats took the food back to their vents, in the cracks of the compound wall, every 2 - 3 nibbles and stashed them away. The Black Rat preferred to take morsels in its forelegs and eat, while the Browns often ate directly from the chunk.They maybe Rats but yet their lives in the meagre gap between two cement compounds is interesting to watch. And seeing them for a while, I learnt that they could discriminate between different bird species. When Pigeons flew about here and there, they couldn't care less. But when the shadow of a Shikra, the resident raptor here, fell on them from even high above, they instantly jumped back into their hiding place. They came out crouching furtively several minutes later...
An adult Cobra can be a very forgiving creature and has a large threshold of tolerance before it takes offense. It may even be cooperative during a rescue. A juvenile Cobra not so!
Juveniles lose their cool the moment they feel cornered or confronted, start going into spasms of panting and strike open mouthed. Hence often the babies have to be treated far more cautiously than the adults, during a rescue. Another ingenious behaviour the little ones exhibit and that which any rescuer should keep in mind is that when the Cobra enters a hole or crevice for refuge, it doesn't bolt straight inside like a Rat snake, so that one can handle it's tail. That can be a disastrous move! (of course direct handling of any venomous snake is strongly discouraged and is at one's own risk!) This I learnt while rescuing Cobras from brick piles at construction sites. The Cobra will have its head facing outwards, guarding itself until its whole body till the tail has maneouvred in, and then it will slip inside the last.
Here is a juvenile Cobra just before dawn which looks freshly moulted...
To write, it seems to me, is to mostly sit in a place and as keenly as possible gaze into the vast space within, like gazing across a hillslope and into a deep valley, waiting for some insight to appear and thrill one's soul. Sometimes a butterfly passes by. Sometimes it is just the breeze...
An Indian Rock python (captive) swallowing a rat in the enclosure at @madras_crocodile_bank_trust. This March 11th Sunday morning there is a Snake walk being conducted by MCBT where one can walk with and witness the Irulas, the traditional Indian Snake catching tribe, track, find and speak about snakes in the wild. DM them for details or visit their FB page. It is a great learning experience everytime. People in Chennai don't miss this!
Sometimes Flamingos exhibit this behaviour. A group would take flight after foraging in one part of a wetland and fly in long circuitous curves in survey of another place to feed. Once in a while they will hold their wings limp and motionless, legs perfectly straight and necks held in an S, and let their momentum carry them several feet on an upward slant, as if to see if they could fly without flying. Then they would all frantically flap their wings again and begin to steer themselves when they can drift no further. Here is such a sight in the distance, close to twilight...
A daily routine while walking on tracks full of foraging Pipits.
The birds freeze and give you a grave expression when you are a stone's throw away. And then they will keep scurrying ahead on surprisingly nimble feet, such that one really never catches up with them even if you were striding fast, late for a meeting. In fits and starts the birds would stop and look back if you were still coming and then start running again. When the road ends or turns the Pipits will flit up and fly back to their original spot. A Wagtail on the same road will however merely skitter off to one side, crouch low and then walk back in again once you have passed. But a Pipit seems to be of the impression that any man who commutes down the lane is on its tail, and hence will keep running away instead of just moving aside...