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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lal Bagh on Sunday morning

Water fowl aren't quite my cup of tea but this once I was prepared to make an exception. At the Lal Bagh lake, I was striding along ahead of Trupti, Adu, and Pallavi when I stopped stunned. There in front of me, making its stately way across the water was a Spot-Billed Pelican or the Grey Pelican. (Note: This update was provided by Karthik)It's rather benevolent visage was unmistakable despite the absence of the pouch which meant that it had either digested its catch for the day or hadn't much luck. Not too surprising given that all the fish were below the little bridge where some gentleman was tossing breadcrumbs to them. I'm reasonably sure the pelican preferred to eschew human contact.
That wasn't quite the case with this cormorant which took the opportunity to get the fish. Fish go for bread, cormorant goes for fish, and I go for my camera.

Pallavi was quite thrilled by the whole exercise. While she already loves animals and was at Kabini where she watched tigers gambol around (filling us with envy and knowing it too) she wasn't quite up to bird watching. I had promised to take her birding and so that's how we ended up at Lal Bagh at 6.30 a.m. on Sunday.
We had initially skirted the lake, giving it wide berth and made for the Japanese pond instead. I knew there had to be something there and sure enough we spotted a white-breasted water hen among the lily pads. Oblivious to our presence or preferring to ignore us, the water hen continued to forage despite the gunshot-like clicks from my camera.

I couldn't resist getting one of the lilies in the pond in that early morning light. Most of the other birds had flown home already. There were few flowers and fruits for them to forage and there wouldn't have been much point in their lingering on merely to give us the pleasure of their company.

But this white-cheeked barbet hung around picking up some berries from the tree top enabling me to get at least one picture that I considered decent enough to post.

As to what the berries are, someone else will have to help out with identifying the tree.

UPDATE: Karthik has been kind enough to identify the tree on which the barbet was feasting on the berries. It is a Schefflera actinophylla, commonly known as umbrella tree or octopus tree. The tree is native to Australia, New Guinea and Java.

Keeping in mind the last few posts on Bngbirds begging people to leave the mottled wood owls alone, we moved along a completely different path heading for the main gate and were quite surprised that a live Carnatic music performance was in full swing, speakers and all. I do like music but I'm sure the wood owls wouldn't have appreciated it. Come to think of it, there were very few people around the musicians too. Most early morning walkers and joggers were wending their way around the paths their ears firmly plugged into MP3 players and IPODs or even their mobile phones. It just doesn't make sense for me. Here, in the middle of one of the most beautiful gardens in Bangalore, with Nature speaking volumes, people refuse to stop and listen, smell the roses, watch the grass grow.

One couple sat on a bench in meditation while, high above them on a tree branch, a squirrel had scavenged a plastic bag and was dipping into it with gay abandon. I was only praying that it wouldn't bite off a piece of plastic and swallow it.

Trupti and I couldn't, however, resist dropping in on the spotted owlets at their abode in the hollow of a tree. We watched as the tenant vacated the heart-shaped hollow and stepped out to regally regard its uncouth guests who dared to disturb its slumber. Just behind, another owlet tucked its head under its wing and snoozed, probably in the hope that we would mistake it for a misshapen growth on the tree. That's when we spotted these two beauties backlit by the light filtering in through the leaves.

This pair glared at us and, deciding that we must be some wierd but harmless flotsam of humanity, went back to sleep. After about ten minutes of observing them, we left them and quietly climbed up to the lake where we were rewarded with the vision of the pelicans and this lesser egret.

The murky, shallow water lent this picture a very surreal appearance while the sunlight flashed off the dagger like beak. It wasn't until after I got the picture that I realized what a beauty my prize really was.

Monday, May 12, 2008


I have always found animals and birds fascinating. In my childhood, I spent a considerable time during summer afternoons carefully watching a small beehive on a lemon tree in my backyard while making highly scientific notes like "top part of hive active, bottom part inactive..." and so on. The internet wasn't there then and there were few reference books (I claim) that helped me understand then that the top part of the hive is always active since that's where the bees that have just returned from their foraging flights to communicate location of food source.
It wasn't until, years later, while reading a National Geographic article about a robot bee that danced to communicate a food source at a pre-specified location that I began to understand that I had actually made an observation.
Somewhere along the way, I discovered Gerald Durrell and read with avid and untiring fascination the hilarious adventures that he had while collecting animals for other zoos and, eventually, his own. It wasn't my dream to own a zoo, but to live in the wild, studying animal behavior and recording previously unknown facets of their lives became an obsession. Fortunately for the animals and unfortunately for me that never materialized. I began studying spiders late and discovered that they could be fascinating too.
Take the signature spider for instance.

This juvenile built her web in my balcony and my wife, my son, and I issued strict instructions to the maid that the web wasn't to be disturbed. We watched as she grew, repaired her web which was frequently subject to depredations of wandering butterflies, dragonflies and sundry larger insects. She grew in size and experience but changed her web's location only once in all the time she was there.
A few weeks later, she encased a few hundred eggs in a cocoon and sat there waiting for them to hatch.
Hatch they did, twice. I did get pictures of the babies as they scrambled about, fully formed and already predatory but ignoring each other, perhaps because they were all the same size. Each baby's abdomen couldn't have been more than a mustard seed in size.
While we were engrossed with the signature spider, a jumping spider made her presence known to us. Gathering it up in my hands I let this fearless individual stalk around on my arm while I focussed and shot this picture one-handed.

The image was cropped to get really close to the spider.
She stalked around and frustrated my attempts at photography quite frequently. My wife held the spider on her finger where she settled down.
Yet another fascinating spider that we found in our balcony was the beautiful ant-mimic spider. This spider looks rather like a large red ant and waves its forelegs in the air rather like the antennae of an ant. It is only by observing it closely that one can figure out that the "antennae" are being used for walking and that this particular "ant" actually has eight legs instead of the regulation six.

This ant-mimic spider was safely ensconced in a web in the leaf. From the size of the pedipalps, this specimen can be differenciated as a male.
When it comes to sheer size, the giant wood spider takes the cake. This is a very colorful spider and is very large measuring as much as three to four inches in length. This picture was taken in B.R. Hills in October last year.

However, when it comes to brilliance in color among the spiders that I have seen, nothing beats the Cosmophasis. I am reliably informed that this spider is commonly found in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. But I found this one at the Kabini Jungle Lodges and Resorts.

It was my son who first spotted it and called me in excitement. He stood watch over it while I fitted my poor man's macro (a 3X magnifying filter) to my 18mm lens and shot the spider. I had also posted this picture on India Nature Watch where someone helped identify it.