Bird parents can be bossy! The parent Red-vented bulbul pushed the chick!

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At some point in our lives, all of us have experienced either an overbearing parent or we had to become overbearing parent ourselves to persuade our child!
Can you imagine that the birds might have similar experience? 

Well, as my parents watched the family of Red-vented bulbuls near the bird bath, this is exactly what they saw. 
The chick was obviously unsure whether the bird bath was a safe place to take a dip. The parent bulbul was promptly there for the chick. He gave a demo of how to bath and a spoke in his language of chirps.  These chirps could have been the parent bulbul re-assuring the chick and encouraging it in the bird language. Despite the parent's effort,  the chick remained hesitant. 

What happened next was surprising: the parent bird flew in and almost pushed the chick into the bird bath! Well, we are not sure how the chick felt at this treatment - but the chick was not ready to be obedient yet!

On the second day, both the parents were eager to show their chick that the bird bath was a safe area.

On the third day, the chick seemed to have understood the need to take a dip - maybe it realized the parents won't give-up until what must be done is done! The chick finally overcame his hesitation and took a bath. 

On the fourth day, the family enjoyed the dip together! It was as though the parents were rejoicing in teaching their chick to take a dip. 

You can see this drama unfold in this video on YouTube! Thank you. 

Peafowls' Dance Drama

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A Peacock in its prime tries to woo a Peahen with his brilliant display and spectacular dance. In spite of so many iridescent blue "eyes" focusing on her, she continues to nonchalantly forage for grains, remaining cautious to ensure her chicks' safety.
There are few other Peafowls sitting on a nearby tree, watching this dance drama.
To add to the excitement, an adolescent peacock, who is yet to grow his train feathers, jumps on to the stage and starts dancing...
Watch the video to see how this dance drama unfolds...

Note: Keep your speakers on to hear the sounds and choose HD in video settings for best experience.

These wild peafowls are filmed in a village outskirts of Southern India.
Peafowl is the India's National Bird and is protected. Yet the contiued use of pesticides and weedicides is a risk for these beautiful birds, as is for all creatures, including humans. If we want the earth to remain beautiful with all its charming creatures, we need to start doing our bit by eating/growing organic foods and also by ensuring we stay away from all wildlife produce including feathers.

Few snapshots from the 'Dance Drama' that you might enjoy:

As the peacock dances, the peahen sitting on a nearby tree, pretends to ignore him!

An adolescent Peacock manages to look his best in spite of not having grown the train feathers!

At last Peahen credits the Handsome peacock with a sideways glance !

Clever Camouflages in my Backyard

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Indian Pitta is native to India and those which live in northern India migrate towards Southern India during winter to escape the harsher climate of the north. Though a brightly colored bird, it camouflages quite well amongst the leaf litter on which it forages for insects during most part of the day.

Indian hare, also known as Black-naped hare is commonly found in India. It has evolved to outsmart myriad predators: Hawks, Eagles and owls to dogs, jackals, wolves and cats. It knows exactly where to find a quiet spot for a few minutes of precious rest.

This brown Moth seems to know where to rest during the day time. How does it know to select a brown leaf over a green one? 

The tiny structure made out of bits of dry leaves and sticks is home to a worm! What a way to fool sharp-eyed predators like birds! Probably this is one of the case-bearing moth larva (do let me know if you any of you know the name of the species)  

Beautifully camouflaged against the mud and bits of leaves, this snake is not a danger to humans... but humans are a danger to this Wolf Snake. It is a non-poisonous snake, with close resemblance to the poisonous Krait (differentiated as the harmless snake by the missing white band on its neck). Perhaps at some point during the evolution, it mimicked the poisonous krait to deter the natural predators? Or did it evolve without poison relaying mostly on its agility and camouflage? Whatever the case maybe, today humans kill it mistaking it to be a poisonous Krait. This snake is surely counting on a day where humans are driven by knowledge and compassion rather than fear. 

Here is an Indian Chameleon, climbing through the foliage of a Mango tree. However hard my eyes tried to follow it, I lost it after this charming creature disappeared behind the leaves and I was not able to spot it again.

Finally, a frog that seems to be doing its best to camouflage! Accidental camouflage? Who am I to judge? 

Wishing you all a happy exploration of clever camouflages in your own backyards ! 

5 Thoughts for the year 2015

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Here are a few thoughts for 2015, inspired by the grandeur of Nature.

When the mountain ranges are obscured by clouds, we need not wish away the clouds to see the scenery; we only have to shift our perspective.

Nilgiri Mountian Ranges amidst clouds

Human mind tends to flit from one goal to another, in relentless pursuit of appreciation that leads to short bursts of happiness. When we breakout of this rush and immerse ourselves in stillness of nature, we find the path to unconditioned and everlasting happiness.

Common Indian Crow Butterfly resting on a twig

There is peace in doing our bit for planet earth, without worrying about upkeep of appearances. When we carry on our work and allow the universe to take over, our life will overflows with beauty and abundance.

Short-legged Hunchback Ant on a Lantana bud

Beautiful reflections are formed only in calm waters. A mind free from the ripples of stress and negative thoughts reflects the beauty Life.

Reflection of Western Ghats in Sharavathi backwaters 

Be joyful and celebrate yourself, in order to find bliss in this world.

Peacock in the act of grooming itself

Wish you all a fulfilling 2015 ! May it be your best year yet !
- Akula & Vinay

Lilliputian World in my Backyard

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At the beginning of Monsoon, as the sun played hide and seek with the clouds, I strolled into my garden, looking for my feathered friends. Everything seemed quiet and dull, even the wind had ceased to whisper. Birds were neither to be seen nor heard; perhaps they had gone foraging elsewhere, taking all the action with them.

As soon as I stopped looking for birds, my eyes started seeing the action in the Lilliputian world, which was taking place all around me. Coral Berry shrubs (Botanical Name: Rivina Humilis), the so called ‘weeds’ had created a lush undergrowth beneath the trees. Many of these were still flowering but few already had blood red berries in them.

Weaver Ants (Scientific Name: Oecophylla Smaragdina; Kannada Name: Kenjiga) were running about these shrubs and as soon as one of them spotted a ripe berry, others seemed to instantly know what they need to do. After rushing to the spot, two or three ants would hang on to a single berry and pull with all their might.

Once the berry was plucked, these ants would execute a carefully orchestrated teamwork, trekking uphill over the Mango tree branches, carrying their hard-earned goodies, towards their palace that was woven with leaves and was hidden somewhere on the upper branches.

Meanwhile, few others got busy in puncturing and sucking the juice out of some of the select berries. Once they were done with converting them into light weight dry fruits, they would single handedly carry them uphill and in some cases effortlessly overtook the other team members who were carrying the heavier juicy berries! All this hard work was not without risks, as I could see from the dried up body of an ant stuck in the spider web on one of the berry clusters.

Their intricate work was fascinating to watch. Why did they employ different techniques? Was it simply a matter of personal choice or did the Queen instruct them specifically on the number of ripe and dry berries she needs? I don’t know the answer to these questions. However, what we know for sure is that they are excellent pest control systems and have been used for this purpose historically. This rings true in my family’s experience too; trees where Weaver Ants’ nests are present generally yield better fruits, free of insect infestation.

When I moved away from the shade of trees, I came across these beautiful wild flowers known as Prostrate Globe Amaranth (Botanical Name: Gomphrena Serrata)

While focusing my camera on one them, I noticed the bustle of Harvester Ants (Scientific Name: Messor Instabilis; Kannada Name: Hottiruve) a little distance away. Their genus ‘Messor’ is named after the Roman God of crops and harvest. True to their name, they were busy in shredding one of these flowers and carrying off this ‘harvest’ to their nest.

These ants play a significant role in ecology by helping in seed dispersal; at the same time being benefited from the nutrition of their ‘harvest’. This is just another example of ‘give and take’ interaction with Nature, which most species other than the modern day Homo sapiens seem to display!

Once again my eyes flew towards the bird bath to see if any birds have arrived, but instead I saw Giant Honey Bees (Scientific Name: Apis Dorsata; Kannada Name: Hejjenu; Other Names: Rock Bee) buzzing about the water. Prompted by my desire to do close up photography of these interesting creatures, I moved closer and sat just a foot away from them. These are said to be the aggressive and territorial bees, however they didn’t seem to mind my presence in the least and continued to collect water. They use water to cool their hive in hot weather and also the bees who feed the developing larvae need water. As the temperature was not very hot, I wondered whether they have got many new arrivals in their hive. I looked up at the skies and wished fervently for a good Monsoon; even these bees were in need of water!

As I rambled on, I was attracted by the fragrance of Sandalwood flowers. Yes! Even the flowers of this tree are fragrant; such is the creation of Nature! On a closer look, I could see other denizens who were already attracted to these flowers. The Dwarf Honey Bees (Scientific Name: Apis Florea; Kannada Name: KoluJenu; Other Names: Little Bee) were busy collecting nectar from these tiny flowers. They were timid compared to the Giant Honey Bees and when they realized that I had no intention to keep my distance, they moved on to flower clusters on higher branches, away from me!

Bright yellow Rain Lilies were also in bloom. On approaching these flowers, I could see a lot of little flies. They were actually tiny stingless bees known as Damner Bees (Scientific Name: Trigona Iridepennis; Kannada Name: MisriJenu). Most of them foraged the Lilies in a group of ten to twelve and few of them by themselves. I’m not sure whether this was a random occurrence or they had their own preferences.

Honey bees are proficient pollinators right from the time of super continent Gondwana. Ants too have roamed the earth along with Dinosaurs and have always done their bit for the environment starting with enriching the soil, which indirectly supports higher biodiversity. Probably without them, our planet wouldn’t be what it is today.

The more I watched, the more interesting the Lilliputian world became for me. I noticed a spider (Neoscona genus, Araneidae family ) that was comfortably settled in the Lily flower. Was he hiding from predators in the relative safety of the Lily or was he the predator himself, waiting to ambush the next unsuspecting visitor? He was quiet as a saint under my watch, as though reluctant to part with his well-guarded secret.

My backyard had turned out to be a veritable treasure trove of fascinating creatures, all with their own stories to be told!  I knew then that nothing is ever dull in Nature. My train of thoughts was greeted by water drops; first few drops of long awaited Monsoon! Ants scuttled back faster with their hard earned goodies; Bees buzzed away with their carefully collected nectar; I ran home with my camera and a big grin for having glimpsed few of the amazing actions in this wonderful world.

Special Mention: Thanks to Ron Harton for honoring these Lilliputs on his website, by publishing this blog; endeavours to encourage and support nature writing.

New addition to “Lilliputian World in my Backyard”:
This little Spider (Menemerus genus, Salticidae family) has found shelter amongst these calyxes of  Flaming glorybower (Clerodendrum splendens) - a flowering creeper with these calyxes that attract ants and spiders in addition to the bright red flowers which attract sunbirds. Don’t you think this spider has a very beautiful home?

However, I found him to be a very shy resident – the moment he sensed the Weaver Ant's approach, he hurriedly hopped away from his beautiful home!

As the ant gets closer, the spider is nowhere in picture!

Trees that Watch Us

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Recently Vinay and I trekked in Tholpetty forest with a local guide. Tholpetty forest is part of Waynad, Western Ghats. This forest is adjoining Nagarahole forest and is located in Kerala.
Tholpetty - Waynad
On entering the forest, we struggled to walk without stepping over the dry leaves that were scattered on the forest floor. We had to be as silent as possible so that we do not unduly advertise our presence to other denizens of the forest. This was even more important in this trek as we had seen more than half a dozen lone Tuskers on the previous  evening. 
Lone Tusker
However, this proved more difficult than I had anticipated: every few steps I invariably stepped over a dry teak leaf that crunched loudly under my feet. A troupe of Langurs watched us from their tree top perches and they seemed to wonder what we are up to in their forest.
We came across trees that had notches in their bark, resembling an eye. These notches or “eyes” might have been created when old branches had fallen out from the trunk of the tree. Our guide mentioned that tribal folks salute these trees with reverence; they believe these ‘trees with eyes’ always watch out for them and their forests. The way he looked at these trees with part reverence and part hesitation, convinced us he would have saluted the trees just like a tribal man, if it wasn’t for our presence.
Eye-shaped notch on the bark
As we progressed westwards into the deep jungle, the canopy of the trees grew thicker and the ferns covered the jungle floor. A stream was murmuring somewhere nearby and the air was filled with the chorus of Green Barbets, interjected by the calls of Malabar Grey Hornbills. As we carefully picked our way across a wet and slippery nullah, we came across elephant footprints that looked as though somebody had dug holes that were a foot in depth and a foot in diameter.  Water standing in the these footprints was still muddy indicating the elephant had passed here within the last few hours. There was a single set of these footprints; probably they belonged one of the lone tuskers we had seen in the previous evening.
Just as we were about to continue on our trek, we noticed the pug mark of a tiger, evidently just a few minutes old, as the grass that had bent where the tiger had tread, had not sprung back yet.  In fact, when our guide pointed out, we noticed there were two sets of tiger pug marks, one slightly smaller than the other. This was undoubtedly the queen of the jungle with her cub. It was no longer wise to continue on the same track, as a tigress with her cub tends to be very aggressive. We turned back, thrilled that we got so close to the queen of the jungle and walked where she had just walked; slightly disappointed that we could not meet her;  thankful that these majestic creatures still roam the forests.
Tiger Cub Pugmark
We had retraced a few steps, when I heard a strange clattering sound in close quarters and I stood still, only to hear this sound echoed from other corners of the forest. It was a sound of trepidation and seemed to stand out from the rhythm of the forest. When I looked back, Vinay was pointing at the towering giant of a tree.  I had to scan the tree for some time, before I could see the owner of this sound, who was demurely hiding behind the leafy branches, contrary to the bold calls he had just produced. This Malabar Giant Squirrel high up in the towering tree directly above us, was the one who had given these alarm calls, which was unfailingly reciprocated by his friends far and wide. He was clearly saying "Be Alert, Be Alert" in his language. Was he sounding this alarm for us or for the tigress?
In the forests, when we watch with the eyes of the forest folks and hear with their ears, every sight and sound has an enthralling story to tell.
On our way back, when we met the trees with eyes that watched us, we instinctively saluted them with a silent prayer in our heart... "Please keep the tigress and her cub safe... May this forest remain a forest forever..."

We were not yet out of the forest cover, but the magic of the forest was rudely intercepted by the sprawling plantations lined with electric fencing. Forest trees cut and cleared away to grow tea or coffee... a mixture of chemicals like copper sulfate and different varieties of weedicides used carelessly... all so that we humans can enjoy our beverages... if your question is "so what?", not to mention the irreparable damage to the delicate ecosystem of our Western Ghats, these chemicals are invariably washed down in the Monsoon rains and join our rivers which supply drinking water to us. Are we sacrificing clear and clean drinking water just for drinking coffee and tea? This is just one of the many examples where our actions are affecting the earth.

Coffee plantations lined with electric fence
The planet will survive and evolve as it has done for billions of years, but what about us? Who is more susceptible to global warming and depleting ozone?
Though our traditions are derived from paganism and our ancestors worshiped Nature, today we hardly take note of how our actions affect our planet that has always given us everything we need. It is not just the trees that watch us, it is the planet earth itself watching us now.
We are currently exploring some ideas on how we can help and here I have to mention Sanctuary Asia (a leading magazine on Nature and Conservation in India). Fortunately, there are some people who believe our destiny is intricately linked with our natural heritage and tigers themselves and are working tirelessly in this direction, here is the link to explore:

Orange-headed Thrush learns from Red-whiskered Bulbul

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An early morning in January, Orange-headed Thrush, a new visitor arrived at the water-hole. It seemed hesitant about getting into water.

The Red-Whiskered Bulbul that you can see in the video is a resident and a regular visitor. It arrived on the scene and sipped water. Thrush almost immediately followed suit and took a sip of water.
Once the Bulbul leaves, Thrush goes around exploring the water-hole and it seemed to contemplate whether the water is safe to take a dip. Bulbul drops in again and this time it takes a dip. Though Thrush seemed to have noticed this, it is still puzzled.
Bulbul drops in for the third time and takes an elaborate bath. This time thrush observes the Bulbul’s actions thoroughly. Watch the video to see how these events unfold and what happens next…

Note: Keep your speakers on to hear the sounds and choose HD in video settings for best experience.

Perennial Valentines: Oriental White-eyes

I had the opportunity to observe a pair of Oriental White-eye from quite some time. They love spending quality time with each other: whether it is just sitting side by side sharing warmth, grooming each other or taking a dip in the waterhole.

Generally, Oriental White-eyes are considered sociable birds and seen foraging in small flocks, but this pair seems to believe that two is company and anything more is crowd! They have successfully raised many broods in past two years, however the moment the chicks are old enough to fend for themselves, they are sent away. The pair resumes their wonderful twosome life.

Watch and enjoy some of their moments together!

Note: Keep your speakers on to hear the natural sounds and choose HD in video settings for best experience.

A glimpse of Kaveri Backwaters

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The lush green grass and year around fresh water from Kaveri backwaters provides a good ecosystem for numerous local as well as migratory birds.

This video shot at Kaveri backwaters of Mysore shows some of of the birds that frequent this serene and beautiful place: Little Cormorants, Cattle Egrets, Intermediate Egrets, Large Egrets, Grey Herons, Black-winged stilts, Painted storks, and Spot billed ducks.  (Video best viewed in High resolution)

Fortunately we still have such undisturbed places quite close to the cities, where the only sound we can hear is that of birds and insects. Though a train passes by and a few fishermen are fishing, somehow they seem to merge into the scenary and the birds are unperturbed. This makes me think that maybe we can still find a way to live without causing any disturbance to the wonderful creatures with whom we share this earth.

Note: Keep your speakers on to hear the sounds and choose HD in video settings for best experience.