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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Of stolen plums and hard beatings

It’s been decades since I came across the Indian plum tree (Ziziphus jujuba, Kannada name name - ecche, elzhache, bor`e). Sadly, like many other trees, this tree has almost vanished from my town for some time now. Very few trees are found even in the nearby villages surrounding my town. Thanks mainly to the tobacco growers and tree cutting contractors for they spare no trees.

Some trees revive forgotten memories of  school days. For instance during intervals/after school, we used to get attracted by the ripe (red colored) or even partially ripe (green) fruits sold mostly by old women from villages . These women collect fruits in the morning, spread them on a gunny bag, sitting under a shady tree along the road to schools. Then they sell it to school children after sprinkling on them a mixture of salt and chilly powder. Every one relished this fruit - a mouth watering taste indeed.

However, rather than spend money to taste these yum berries, it was more fun when we expended our energies to be able to get our hands on them. It proved to be a favourite pastime of ours as well. The backyards of the houses of the road adjoining ours boasted many of these trees. Sundays and other holidays (we had to cut or make a way through the tall and thick milk hedges to reach the plum tree) were spent under this tree, throwing stones or shaking the tree branches and collecting the fallen fruits. Sometimes, the owner of the tree would materialize silently from some place and then try to catch one of us and give a sound thrashing courtesy the branch/twig of a small tree. The stones we threw would sometimes damage the thatched roofs.

On international demand for Tobacco leaves and its impact on the lifespan of native trees

During my birding & tree sighting trips in rural areas of Mysore district, Karnataka, I sometimes try to discover as well as photograph old and `heritage' trees. Soon, I found it tough to sight trees and realized there are hardly any trees which are more than 20 years old, other than those found near temples, railway stations, various government premises and private farms. And we have somebody to lay the blame upon - the tobacco growers and contractors who for they spare no trees. They buy all kinds of trees from villagers, growing anywhere - in the open fields, farms, canals, river edges, schools and even trees growing by the road side. Flowering or fruiting tree nothing, every tree is targetted. Last year I saw people pushing a cut tree across the canal. On  close inspection it turned out to be the same Basari tree (Ficus Virens) on which the tawny eagles were  nesting  in the tree crown  every summer and fromr the last 3 years.   Some of them are indegenous and some are becoming rare -Goni-Mysore fig (Ficus Mysorensis), Basari (Ficus Virens), Ala - Banyan, Atti, Jagala ganti (Diospyros cordifolia), Tapsi (Holoptela integrifolia), Mal`al`i, Arjuna (Terminalia Arjuna) ..... .  The wood logs are later taken to where tobacco is auctioned in neigbouring places and districts to be burnt in kilns which become dry tobacco leaves.

With international demand for the locally grown tobacco (FCV – Flue cured Virginia, Mysore tobacco) leaves increasing and prices soaring from Rs. 48/kg (year 2006) to Rs 95/- (year 2009) and upto Rs. 150/kg this year (2010), there is less chance for trees to inhabit the earth. Again, it’s common knowledge that once tobacco plants are grown in agricultural fields for a couple of years, the land loses its ability to grow other crops.

On the other hand, the demands of civilization makes the the Govt. to take up massive projects like road widening, highways and bridges which in my town have made countless age old roadside trees to be cut down and left with no trace of its existence.

The nursery run by the forest department is a good initiative which distributes saplings to all and sundry. However, indigenous trees like the  Mysore fig (Ficus Mysorensis), Indian Plum tree , for instance do not find place in the nursery and it showcases the growing unconcern on the part of the government. Sometimes I wonder if the native trees have lost their rights to completing their full life span. And the needle of suspicion rests on the one species we are all too familiar with - the homo sapiens.

Mysore dist

Friday, August 07, 2009

Songs of Nature

Some indian directors have a enduring running leitmotif in their movies.
And that is Nature. From forests to waterfalls to hills, monsoon they never tire of depicting nature in all her splendor

Nature comes alive in these songs and one feels as if one is sorrounded by Nature.
Director Hariharan
MALAYALAM 1. Olichirikkan Valli - Aranyakam

MALAYALAM 2.Aareyum Bhaavagaayakanaakum- Nakhakshathangal

MALAYALAM 3. Aathmavil Muttivilachidu Pole - Aranyakam!

MALAYALAM 4. Pulchaadi - Photographer

MALAYALAM 5. Poomakal Vaazhunna - Kaatu Vannu Vilichappol

KANNADA 1. bettada tudiyalli [Kakana Kote]
Director C.R.Simha

Photography by Govind nihalani,
Music C. Ashwath

Shot in the forests of Kakana kote, Nagara hole forest

KANNADA 2.nesara Nodu [Kakana Kote] ನೇಸರ ನೋಡು [ಕಾಕನ ಕೋಟೆ]
Lyric Masti venkateshaIyengar - Jnanapita literature awardee

KANNADA 3. Naavaduva Nudiye Gandhada Gudi
Song on Sandalwood forests, Wild life, greenery and joy in beng part of Nature

KANNADA 4. e hasiru siriyali - nagamandala
Director T S Nagabharan
Song on Malnad and its greenery

KANNADA 5 ondu munjavinali
A song on Malnad monsoon and drizzling morning rains

HINDI 1. Dev Anand Diwana Mastana Hua Dil

HINDI 2. Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha

HINDI 3. Man Kahe Main Jhumoon

HINDI 4. O Sajana

HINDI 5. Prem Parbat-Yeh Dil Aur Unki Nigahon ki


HINDI 7. Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se (Sachin Ranjeeta)

HINDI 8 rim jhim gire sawan f/m manzil

HINDI 9 Le To Aaye Ho
A desire to have a small house with a beautiful flower garden in a dream village is expressed in this song.

HINDI 10 Kaun Disa Mein

HINDI 11 Lata - Koi Nahin Hai Phi Bhi Hai Mujko - Patthar Ke Sanam


TAMIL 1. Pulveli Pulveli ~ Aasai '' 1995

TAMIl 2. Margazhi poove

TAMIL 3 Chinna chinna aasai

TAMIL 4 kadhal rojave- roja

TAMIL 5. Roja -Puthu Vellai Mazhai AR.Rahumn Manirathnam

TAMIL 6. Thiruda Thiruda - Putham Pudu Boomi

TAMIL 7. thenmerku

MARATI 1 GARWA (marathi song)

MARATI 2 Gaarva - Milind Ingle

ENGLISH 1 The Rain Forest Song

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Of trees, birds and neigbours

Numerous trees compete for space in my garden – the jackfruit, the guava, the sixty years plus coconut trees, the pomegranate, sandal, plaintain leaf, jamun, papaya and the mango. Hence, this attracts birds to my home in large numbers. Of late, there is a constant visitor who never fails to turn up every day -the hoopoe. It is a bird brown in colour and what saves it from appearing ordinary is its crest. Along with its partner, it can be seen digging in my garden and fishing out insects from the ground. Both of them are quite at ease coming to my home and probably regard us as their friends. Sometimes, it is seen unfurling its wings and shaking its crest.

At home, during this monsoon season we have had small birds building nests and starting to feed their young ones - The tailor birds on the Jack Champak sapling, sunbirds on the Mango and 'Nerale' tree, Oriental Magpie robins, red vented bulbul, including one of the smallest of birds - the flower pecker bird. Even the sparrows nest under the roof tiles. The young one of the flower pecker bird can be seen sitting on the small pomegranate tree. The parents closely watch and feed their young ones with accurate precision every one and a half minutes. Sometimes, other birds like the sun bird and the tailor bird searching for insects come near to the baby flower pecker bird. On one occasion, the young one opened its mouth wide demanding food from this sunbird also. Though the chick is young it can hop, fall from the branches, move to the other twig and even kill the red ants. Sometimes though, it gets bitten by the red ants as well. And, it is still surviving. We have seen some of them sucessfully reaching adulthood and the this life cycle is repeated again.

Many of our neighbours remark that we have such a large space in front of our roof tiled house. They wonder as to why we have let trees and bushes grow wild and also as to why can’t we demolish our old house and construct a new one adding a few shops as well and then rent it out. But we feel the pleasure derived of having trees and birds nesting in them cannot be exchanged for any monetary considerations. Perhaps, the newly planted gooseberry, bamboo and other saplings will grow fast and dense so as to shield our house from prying eyes and well-meaning neighbours.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thattekad Bird Sanctuary - Kerala - Little pleasure of a bird habitat

By Sunita Raghu.

The rays of the morning sun streamed through the tall, stately trees acting as a kindly benediction, as we watched in amazement at this most wondrous sight, Malabar grey horn bills, golden orioles, paradise fly catcher, jungle babblers and racquet tailed drongos flew past us while a white checked barbett went “toowoo toowoo”. We were in a place what India’s famed ornithologist Salim Ali had once called “the best bird sanctuary in the south”, namely the Thattekad bird sanctuary, situated 70 kms from Cochin and 80 kms from Munnar.
It was mid-afternoon by the time we entered the sanctuary gates with our guide Sudheesh in tow, a young naturalist who knew the place inside out. Barely had we walked a few steps than he pointed out to a brown hawk owl sitting high atop a bamboo tree. Happy to be in such good hands, we walked on. Soon a water body came into sight and our guide explained that this was one branch of the river Periyar, Kerala’s biggest river. A few red whiskered bulbuls flew about the place.

The Thattekad sanctuary, also known as the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is small in size, just 25 sq. kms but what it lacks in size, it makes up with its huge bird population. About 500 bird species are found here and the sanctuary also houses mammals like the leopard, bear and elephant, although the latter are not very friendly and can never resist a charge when they are close to humans. Our guide assured us that the pachyderms were at least a kilometer away from the sanctuary and we explored at a leisurely pace.

The signature bird of the sanctuary is the Ceylon frogmouth, a nocturnal creature and our guide told us that he would lead us to it. And soon, turning left he led us into a place where amidst a cluster of trees and seated on one of the branches sat a pair of Ceylon frogmouths, cleverly camouflaged by the dry leaves with the surrounding thorny bushes acting like a deterrent. We, rejoiced in seeing the Ceylon frogmouths, brown breasted flycatchers, grey jungle fowl , red spur fowl and orange headed thrush.

As we walked along, Sudheesh our guide provided a deep insight into the ways of the birds and animals and narrated his adventures - where he was once bitten by a Krait near his waist but managed to survive. He also recollected his experiences of working at BR Hills (Jungle Lodges) and under the late naturalist and environmentalist K N at his Ragihalli farm. Of the latter, he said that such people can never die and will continue to remain in our hearts Darkness had now come upon the forest and we retraced our steps quickly. We had walked some distance when we noticed an on-ground drama taking place – a solitary long legged spider wasp, iridescent blue/black in colour was buzzing and circling around a large spider. Seconds later the wasp dragged along the spider after having paralysed it! The spider may become a reproductive host for its offspring soon. We decided to meet again early in the morning for that is the time when the birds are at their chirpiest best and can be sighted easily.

When we returned back to Eldose’s house, it was 8:45 pm. It was pitch dark and Santosh played the role of lead, kindly light and kept pointing his torchlight to the ground. Soon, in the glare of the torchlight, we saw a snake slithering slowly and at first thought it was a wolf snake. The snake then climbed the compound wall that was made up of large stones and disappeared. Having heard that slow moving snakes are poisonous, we felt a certain amount of fear for the snake was found very near to our cottage. We spent the night in a beautiful cottage, situated three kms away from the sanctuary, an ecological wonder if there was one. Sudheesh had spent New Year’s Eve inside the forest atop a large boulder with some of his friends.

The next morning saw us waking up to bird calls- the racket tailed drongo was the first bird with its musical call –drangh-gip.. drangh-gip and then a domestic fowl’s call near by the cottage was responded immediately by a red spur fowl some where far in the jungle as if two singers who performed together. We photographed a a number of dragon flies and fishes near by. Tourists from Belgium joined us with their Leica binoculars to look at the odonata. (These devices were excellent optics with amazing clarity and perfect details )

(Dragonflies: A male Fulvous forest skimmer on top and a male rhudothemis rufa )

Soon accompanied by Sudheesh, we were off to the sanctuary. Crossing the river Periyar, he pointed out to us a flock of barn swallows basking on a tree by the river bank while a whiskered tern rested on the electric lines.

The day had started on a propitious note and having just walked into the sanctuary, we noticed a pair of green streak-throated woodpeckers and also a white-bellied treepie. A carpet of dry leaves covered the path on which we walked. We noticed small butterflies flitting about and on expressing our interest on other forest creatures our guide also pointed out to skinks, geckos, millipedes, moths and the beautiful giant spiders. And then some distance, low in the branches of a shady tree, we saw a bird through our binoculars sized that of a crow. Turned out that it was a Malabar trogan! What a beautiful bird! Soon, we saw its partner, they were following a pack of jungle babblers feasting on insects beneath the fallen trees. We could also see racquet tailed drongos perched high on the tree and a greater Coucal. A mixed hunting pack ! What a wonderful sight !! When one of the babbler flew atop with a loud call –ke, ke, ke…, we even saw a wood pecker joining the party.

Some distance away to the left atop a huge mass of rock, we saw a group of bird watchers along with their guides peering at the trees there. In fact, no one is allowed inside the sanctuary without a guide. We followed suit and were rewarded for our efforts – two black hooded orioles rested on the tree tops while a number of small birds twittered away. We had just trained our lenses on a spotted dove when a small monkey came crashing through the trees scaring it away.

Sudheesh, our guide had gone ahead to locate the Indian Pitta, a very handsome and rare bird and he came back saying that he had sighted it and led us to the very spot. The bird, it seemed, was playing a game of hide and seek and Sudheesh was trying to tempt it into the open by imitating its call. Finally, we did manage to see it and even took a couple of pictures.

We were climbing a small uphill, when Sudheesh stopped suddenly, Always alert to the sounds in the forest, he waited to reconfirm from where the sound was coming. All of us could now hear from where the sound was coming from and Sudheesh informed us that the elephants appeared to be close by on the other side of the hill and advised us to head back which we did but not before climbing up the watch tower on our way back and sighting a Malabar giant squirrel peeling some fruit, a dollar bird atop the tree canopy and a crested goshawk flying past by us. We spotted an accipter flying in front of us and when we pointed the same to Sudheesh, within two seconds he confirmed it was a crested GOSHAWK just by seeing the wing patterns (underneath the wing).

Soon, a sound that sounded like a cross between a drum being banged and a machine gun being fired assailed our senses, the sound getting highly intensified in the quiet of the forest. It was not an alien sound - a greater flame back woodpecker was pecking at a hollow tree!
Thanks to Eldose family who played a perfect host in the jungle