Painted Grasshopper or Poekilocerus Pictus

June 28, 2019

Each year beautiful brightly coloured grasshoppers make an appearance before monsoons. They remain through the rains and disappear by the beginning of September. They are aptly called painted grasshoppers.

DSC_6980Their colours act as warning, so that no one eats them. These grasshoppers have another name, aak grasshopper. Aak is the Hindi name for calotropis plants (crown flower or giant milkweed plants). Calotropis can be poisonous for those that eat them in large quantities. Herbivores who have eaten a few leaves face mild indigestion. Here are the flowers and buds of the calotropis plants.

DSC_2775DSC_2786These grasshoppers are looked upon as pests. Beautiful as they are, these grasshoppers leave behind empty branches, bereft of leaves.

The juveniles can’t fly, they hop, and have tiny wings. Here they are.

The adults, are of course much bigger than the juveniles. Here’s a sample. Excuse the dark photograph. This was clicked in the evening.

DSC_7165And finally, here are some more pictures of the adults. The collective nouns for grasshoppers is cloud. Maybe it should have been an infestation!

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Cattle egret

June 28, 2019

I have been acquainted with these birds since childhood. I used to think that the white ones and the golden ones are different birds. It was only as an adult that I realized that the breeding plumage of cattle egrets is golden. Only juveniles remain white with a black beak.

The non-breeding plumage makes the birds look like old men. They eat frogs, lizards, skinks, beetles and other insects. Look at the one below, sitting on a wall on a windy day.

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These birds are called cattle egrets as they walk around cattle. The movement of cattle stirs up the insects in the grass and bushes, much to the joy of the egrets. They run and take short flights and chase cattle or ride them in search of food.

Here’s a cattle egret in breeding plumage, chasing buffaloes on a sunny morning.

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Starfish on my hand

May 29, 2019

I had never thought that I would walk into a natural history museum and have a starfish thrust into my hands.

Last year on a trip to Mahabalipuram, the guide took us to a museum. I wasn’t very interested till I found that they had aquariums on display.

A loud man, perhaps the proprietor was grabbing hold of these unsuspecting starfish and some cranky lobsters and holding them aloft for visitors to see.

He asked me if I would be afraid to hold a starfish. Next moment I found a light, hard “fish” on my hands. I was fascinated by the suckers underneath its body that help it move (you am tell from the video).

It was a surreal experience. It took me a few minutes to realize and articulate that this was not the best way to generate awareness. In a shallow tank there were a couple of starfish, two lobsters and even a nudibranch.

I had unwittingly participated in the spectacle. More people wanted to touch or hold the starfish. The poor things must be exhausted, stressed and might just die much sooner than they would otherwise have in captivity, due to being incessantly “handled” by humans.

I am guilty of this too. No matter how much I condemn it, I was an excited participant too, for a few minutes.

Signature Spider

May 26, 2019

Signature spiders are named so because of the distinct zigzag patterns they make on their large webs. These patterns are easy to spot from a distance, the webs aren’t.

The males are one-tenth the size of the females, so the pictures here are of females. I don’t think I will be able to recognise a male should I see one.

This is the underside of a female. These spiders are colourful on both sides of their bodies. If you zoom in you will find a lot of fuzz on all their legs.

Here’s a video of one enjoying a hearty breakfast.

Predator or victim?

May 24, 2019

DSC_6719.JPGThis photograph was clicked in 2018, on the banks of river Yamuna. Even though it is a dead stinky body of water, officially declared dead, many water birds still flock to it.

Birds are usually very alert, flying away at the slightest hint of danger. On the banks of the river they seemed at home. Suddenly, I saw some pariah dogs wade in after the birds. There they stood, belly deep in water as the birds looked on warily. It seemed to be an everyday affair. Dogs would wade in, wait, stalk a bird or two, and then walk off when the birds flew away.

For years, I have been listening to debates about whether dogs should be shot at sight in protected areas (PAs). A field officer told me that dogs do not reproduce unless they have food security, so people should stop feeding dogs on the street. He seemed to echo sentiments from what I had heard years ago on a bird walk, “Dogs should be kept out of PAs as they harass deer and eat the eggs of land-nesting birds”.

The above statement is borne out every day when I find red wattled lapwings chasing packs of dogs away from their mates. It is fascinating to watch, but very stressful for the birds.

Something I have always believed is animals and birds give us a clue to the state of the ecology. Simply put, garbage and filth attracts rats, bandicoots, pariah kites and crows. Animals adapt to the environment they are placed in. If they are unable to adapt, they perish.

This photograph to me is representative of the question of how we have interfered with the ecological balance and are now interfering further to make it right. Perhaps we need to stop interfering, or is it really true that we have interfered for so long and so much that we need to keep interfering to right the balance?

Purple Sunbird

May 15, 2019
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female purple sunbird

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female purple sunbird

For the longest time I used to think that these are hummingbirds! I was perhaps in my late twenties when I realized that there are no hummingbirds in India! Imagine my surprise, and then my embarrassment. I who took myself to be a birdwatcher hadn’t realised that hummingbirds and sunbirds are distinct from each other. hummingbirds are not found outside the Americas.

The saving grace is both hummingbirds and sunbirds thrive on the nectar they drink from flowers. I love to watch them flitting from one flower to another as they drink nectar. Perhaps early morning is the best time to watch them, especially as the males glow an iridiscent purple at that time.

Their tiny size, notwithstanding, they are loud birds easy to spot as they fly from one flowering bush to another. In their breeding plumage, the males display an iridescent purple colour, thus their name. In the non-breeding plumage, males look similar to females. The major difference in appearance is the dark black line down the throat and breast of the male bird.

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male in breeding plumage

 

Indian Robin

May 15, 2019
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female robin

 

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Shikra (Indian Banded Goshawk)

April 21, 2019

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This little bird of prey is common where I live. They can be spotted on electrical cables, or fences around wheat fields. On foggy (smog-laden) winter mornings one can even spot them on low park fences, staying closer to the ground to spot their prey with greater ease.

They have the personality I have come to associate with birds of prey. I find that such birds have a regal air. Not for them the scared flitting away from the ground or low branches. They will look down on you from a high perch and take you in before they decide on their next step.

This usually helps one get better shots of birds on prey. I spotted this one on a leafless tree on a winter morning as I was on my way back from a walk. I immediately rushed home to pick up my camera. This bird gave me a number of shots before flying away. I stood perilously on a busy road, and half climbed into a dilapidated building to take these pictures.

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I have seen these birds teased by drongos and even treepies. Yet sitting up on their high perches, looking down on the world passing by, they are my favourite kind of birds.

Large Grey Babblers

April 21, 2019

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The first time I saw these birds I was instantly reminded of dinosaurs. Aren’t birds supposed to have descended directly from them?

They were peacefully eating corn and other seeds next to Alexandrine parakeets and Indian palm squirrels. I kept clicking pictures and held my breath as they hopped closer to inspect the sound being made by the camera as it focused.

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I was captivate by their eyes, a liquid gold in the rising sun. Their drab grey plumage was in sharp contrast to their sharp eyes. Like their cousins, the jungle babblers, they were there in a flock of 6-7 birds.

They hopped about and made short flights to trees nearby, only to return for another helping. They were undoubtedly louder than the jungle babblers, though less loud than the marauding crows that sometimes made their presence felt.

 

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Yet they were peaceable birds that ate with other denizens of a city forest. A morning well-spent, I returned home with many pictures of the said birds.

A dead barn owl

April 21, 2019

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I have seen barn owls flying around in these parts. They swoop down on unsuspecting prey and then glide away elegantly. This one was dead cold when I came upon it. It was surely not a natural death. The bird was intact, wrapped up in a local newspaper.

This was at the advent of winter, when many owls are caught and “sacrificed” in rituals meant to increase the wealth of the person holding the sacrifice. Mangled remains, feathers an claws are usually what remain.

I tried to find out if the forest department needed to be informed of the death, or if an FIR needed to be filed but came up nought.

It looked peaceful, but sad in death. We are annihilating all wildlife and we have only just begun to pay for it.