Earth Sublime

Monday, March 01, 2010

Mysore Fig - fruiting tree that attract many birds

Mysore Fig - Ficus mysorensis , Goni Mara

The week-end preceding Feb 1, 2010 we were driving towards the Cauveri river to see the migratory water birds – mainly Barheaded goose which comes in flocks from Siberia, Himalayas, Ladakh to the vast back waters of Krishna Raja Sagar, Mysore district (Brindavan  Dam ).

On the way, there were partially cultivated fields bearing summer crops on one side and on the other a dry water canal along with a coconut farm hemmed in by a tall woody fence. A little later, we noticed a ripened fruit just falling  in front of us and then we encountered many of the same kind. We stopped to examine it and realized that it came from the tree Ficus Mysorensis (Mysore Fig, regional name - Goni tree). We were fortunate to see  this fruiting tree which is one of our favourites, exactly after about  2 years. After photographing the tree bark, branches and leaves, I zoomed my lens to the tree-top and what do I see but a good number of different birds feasting on the fruits silently. Deciding to stay there for some more time turned out to be a prudent decision because there was a heavy bird traffic - many kept coming and going to this tree! In all, we had spotted about two dozen birds! And what's more, I had caught some of these shy creatures with a ripe fruit in their beaks - Green Pigeon,  Indian grey horn bill, Eurasian golden oriole, Common Hawk Cuckoo, Shikra, small minivet, Golden flame back wood pecker, Ashy drongo, Great tit,  Crimson throated barbet,  Red whiskered bulbul,Oriental magpie Robin,  Asian Koel, Jungle Myna , Jungle crow, dove and even the elusive Paradise fly catcher in white long tail and many other birds.! I just could not believe that this fruiting tree could attract so many birds. Well, I had read that bats (flying fox) are fond of this tree and come to feed in the night. The number of bird species in this tree though stunned me.

Please check this link for photographs

Except the barbett, myna and the crow, all birds were shy and flew to another branch or to another far away tree. The wood pecker, paradise fly catcher, shikra and minivet were not eating fruits but looking for insects and worms.
 I collected some of the fallen fruits thinking of drying them and planting it at home. But the farmer who was watering his summer crops from half a kilometer away  explained that it might not grow. After all, so many fruits have fallen down from the tree and none had germinated. "Try your Luck", he said with a smile. I wonder how the seeds from the bird dropping germinate. The farmer then suggested that  I pluck a branch from the tree and plant it. When I was looking at a small twig, he said that I should take a python sized branch of (about 6 inches girth ) and only then would it grow.
 In the excitement of noticing these different kinds of birds, we had forgotten about the migratory birds which we had originally set out to see. Much later, we managed to catch sight of the migratory birds including the beautiful  the bar headed goose ((Anser Indicus)).
The bar headed goose (Anser Indicus)

Locally everyone  calls them  the five KG bird, water birds in these areas just take off  when they see an intruder arriving towards them. Some birds like the bar headed goose are always a km away from the river bed. Here is what the Hippa nerale (a plant on  which silk worm feeds)  growers in the field say – “Some people come from town with a two wheeler and a gun. They wait and hide and fire at these long legged water birds. I have seen one bullet fired killing a bird and the same bullet piercing through another bird.” Another caretaker of  sheep said: " During one visit, they took a gunny bag full of  ducks. Each bird weighs 5 Kg” And another farmer interjected:  “ These days if we see them hunting in our place we don't allow it and turn them back.“.  I also added my bit: “The migratory birds may carry all kind of bird flues and new diseases from unknown places. One must always be aware”.

Soon, we could see many of the migratory birds like garganey, northern pin tails and local birds like spot billed ducks, egrets and cormorants.

 In far off Ladakh, in the himalayan region, the bar headed geese  are known to accept food grains by hand. They are birds with amazing capabilities. During migration, they fly at a height of about 33, 000 feet above the Himalayas, and in extreme cold climate of -37 degrees, reducing their heart beat to just once or twice a minute. The fly upto 1000 miles a day.  After all these feats, they arrive here and  some of the innocent birds are brutally killed at the hands of man. 

In Mulepetlu village, the hippa nerale grower sitting next to his fields said that these '5 KG birds' come to catch fish. I repleid: “ No they are vegetarians, they feed on the crop shoots. In the day time they sleep and feed in the night. He immediately got up saying, “ When I come in the morning, I see the crop shoots over here appear as if twisted/ broken.
Back in 2001, during one of our birding census, conducted by the Mysore Amateur Naturalists, we waited till dusk for the bar headed geese to take off. Finally, when some of the geese which had gone out  for survery of their night feeding grounds came back.  Then some of them  gave a distinct signal  from above to their companions in the lake floating below. All of  a sudden the 200 plus water birds took off honking together. They circled the lake a couple of times made a V pattern in the sky and moved in search of the green grounds.This was indeed  mesmerizing sight !

Backwaters of the river trio Cauvery, Lakshmanatheertha and hemavathy
Mulepetlu, Krishnaraja nagar,
Mysore district