There is something refreshing about the morning. Even in the city. The comfortable chill after the balmy summer night. The calling of the koel harshly wakes me up from my bed. And then I hear the crows- the garbage men of the world. They are up early too. And the white throated fantail’s melodious notes always ring out welcoming the beginning of a new day. Slowly, even the magpie robins awake. Summer is breeding time-the best males get their girls and being a songster on an exposed perch helps.
Weekend mornings are even better. I actually witness this drama around me…now I can hear the high pitched scream of the black kite that’s nesting on the coconut palms. There is no sluggishness to the early morning of the weekend- coupled it is with the promise of experiencing the wilderness of the urban jungle. The promise of sighting a rare bird, a mongoose, a hare, a jackal, maybe even a leopard in the city we all call home. Day breaks out early so waking up is earlier- reaching before daybreak is of prime importance. You notice that there’s hardly anybody on the street- doodhwalas and random rickshawallahs being an exception. Few people bother not sleeping in on a holiday.
The kite is calling incessantly now. The purple rumped sunbirds are up too, chirping their way around to nectar filled flowers. Only the crows seem to be in a hurry though, darting here and there- ever the mumbaiites. The deep throated call of the Coucal is now heard through the crisp morning air. It is waiting for the sun to come out, so that it may display its glistening chestnut wings to whoever has the time to watch it- the herald of good luck often leaves its observer awestruck. Rose-ringed parakeets are now making their way across the skies, screeching out so that the group may stay together. I often wonder where they roost…is it within the much threatened, but relatively safe refuge within the limits of the city? Do they make long journeys back and forth between their green haven and their feeding grounds? I would like to imagine it, even though it’s probably not true.
Day has broken now. The sky has completely lost its dark blanket. It is white now, tinged with a drop of blue. It is summer and the copperpod tree is filled with yellow blossoms. While walking a Mumbai street in the summer, you will come across these flowers strewn across like a magnificent golden yellow carpet laid out for the traveller who doesn't have the time to soak in it's beauty. I can hear the sparrows now- the much debated, tiny seed eaters whose tiny holes of a home have been encroached upon by tall glass buildings. The mango trees are bearing fruit too, the raw, green ‘kairi’ will be soon relished by children and adults alike.
Oh and how could I forget the bulbuls- one is sitting right across me on a branch flapping its wings and calling out, its pointed head jutting out like a sailor’s cap. A flash of its red vent and its gone. The family of kites is flying around- the parents have begun to teach the juvenile to hunt. The white breasted waterhen makes an occasional appearance on the lower branches of the siam cassia tree- finding it in the dense overgrown weeds is usually an uphill task! More bulbuls are here now…they are filling the morning with their earthy-metallic calls.
The bonfire tree sets the forest aflame with its colours this time of the year. So does the palash. The golden flowers of the Indian Laburnum tree appear- stunning the viewer with their sheer beauty on the now leafless tree. The state tree- the blue jacaranda is also in full bloom, filled with clusters of purplish blue flowers. The pink Tabebuia is not so common, but when the pale pink flowers high up on the tree descend to the ground and form a soft pink mattress to sleep on, I can’t help missing the childhood I never had.
A childhood spent running around with bare feet. Climbing trees. Stealing mangoes. Plundering the tamarind tree. The teak tree‘s henna colouring my unpolished hands.Bringing home flowers for my grandmother’s puja. Sitting on the river bank with my feet dipped in the running waters. Without a care in the water. Diving into the icy cold stream in the heat of the summer. Sleeping out in the gobar spattered porch. Smelling the gobar. Chasing squirrels. Learning to use the slingshot. The slingshot becoming my best friend. Watching the clouds pass by. Guessing their shapes. Lying out on the soft fragrant grass, sun beating down on me, friends alongside, relishing a stolen kairi... shut from the ruthless, greedy world...with just nature to protect me. And mother me.
An old entry about watching birds and butterflies at BNHS-CEC, Mumbai
Date: Saturday 11 October, 2010
Time: 8 am
Trail taken: No specific trail. Attempted to go along the Temple trail but found it too overgrown to proceed further. Walked along the forest road.
The first thing i noticed at CEC was the innumerable butterflies that thronged the cox comb and wild bhindi bushes that greeted me at the gates of the National Park. The Orange tips (both yellow and white) abound in plenty. A Blue Tiger floated gracefully past me and lay basking on a stalk of the Cox Comb. The temperamental Psyche delicately hung about the sidelines. The forest was teeming with land crabs, rustling their way to a better hideout whenever my heavy footsteps disturbed their peace. I must confess, the rustling did startle me every now and then, until i got used to spotting a tiny crab scurry past into the grass cover.
I was in the mood for birding, so i chose the Temple Trail. However, i was disheartened for the trail had been entirely covered up by the monsoon shrubbery. After a few attempts at trying to make my way through the thick bushes, i headed out for the forest road, hoping to improve my luck. It proved to be a wise choice.
The call of the Brown headed Barbet echoed throughout the forest. A Common Iora kept up a constant stream of calls- first mimicking the Puff throated Babbler, then a long whistle followed by a short trilling song. The Common Tailorbird made its presence felt in the nursery outside the CEC building. I walked along and was quite excited to notice a Purple Sunbird (as also the Purple rumped Sunbird) near the patch of Gliricidia trees. On returning to the forest road, i heard the distinctive ttree-ttree and looked up to see a flock of Green Bee Eaters dive around cheerfully, hunting insects on the wing.
It was close to 9am by now and the road was filled with butterflies. The Common Crow, Common Mormon, Common Rose, Tailed Jay, Chocolate Pansy in addition to the Psyche, Blue Tiger and the Orange Tips flitted from flower to flower, filling the forest with a splash of colours and a tinge of beauty. As i was walking, i noticed a butterfly sitting with its wings closed on a blade of grass. On closer inspection, i realized it was a Leopard butterfly. And to the end of its abdomen was attached another Leopard butterfly! I looked at the pair of mating insects in awe, and in a while both of them took off into the air, one of them flapping its wings and elegantly carrying away the other butterfly still attached to it.
And so i proceeded towards CEC again where there suddenly seemed to be a lot of bird activity. The brown headed barbet, the common iora kept up their orchestra. To the music was joined the twittering of sunbirds and the chatter of a pair of birds that darted past in the undergrowth. They were dull blue above and atleast one of them had a speckling of white-grey underneath. The birds dived fast and deep into the thicket and spotting them was proving difficult. I was distracted by a movement nearby and on focussing my binoculars, I spotted the juvenile Asian Paradise Flycatcher! It was a momentary glimpse for the very next moment, the magnificent rufous bird flew off, its stunning long tail trailing behind it. I returned back to the task at hand, and after some minutes of patient waiting and watching, i was awarded by the clear black nape and white chest that helped me identify the pair of birds as a the Black naped Monarch(s).
Happily i trudged along back to the gates, spotting the young one of a Brahminy Skink on the way. I was greeted by the Green bee eaters again on my way out and the Ashy Prinia kept paee-paeeing its goodbye. The Common Gull butterfly had come out into the sun by then and so had a battered up Lemon Pansy. A tiny gecko (lizard) buff brown body, with a yellow strip extending over its body into dashes along its tail scampered into the grasses. (No id)
I tried to do a little more birding by turning towards the exit of the Temple Trail, unfortunately I was unable to proceed further. However, I did see the Blue Oak Leaf butterfly coasting past me- a flash of blue and it was gone. A frog darted past me in the undergrowth. I also came across a moth caterpillar- 5cm long, pale yellowish white, hairy, with two sets of black dots along its side. (id?)
The day ended well with a Commander butterfly making an appearance in my college. All in all, a good start- or should i say ‘restart’?
16th October 2010, CEC
This Saturday I reached CEC marginally early, in a desperate attempt to manage to spot more birds than before. I guess I was successful, but only partially.
Even before I could reach the SGNP gates, I caught sight of a dove sitting on an exposed branch some yards away. A closer look with my binoculars showed a brown body with distinct green wings. Being accustomed to misidentifying the laughing/spotted doves, I first looked for the spots on it's neck and having been satisfied that there were none, I continued with my inspection. I am assuming that it must have been an emerald dove, for the other characteristics match it's description in books, except for the white bands on it's tail.
I walked along, noting the absence of the orange tips on the road and attributing it to the early hour of my visit. On entering the national park- CEC land, I was greeted by the Common Iora calling lustily from amongst the dense trees. The Oriental Magpie Robin, always seen at the gates, seems to have moved inside and the pair flew about from tree to tree with harsh grating calls. The Black-naped Monarch family was also present and this time I noticed more than non male member (I haven't yet been able to find the description of it's juvenile- so I can't decide for sure whether it's a female or it's juvenile). The Psyche butterfly was up early and accompanied me as I spotted the Red Whiskered Bulbul give out it's metallic call from a bamboo shoot nearby. I also noticed the 'foam insect' as I call it, which builds it's nest by it's spittle on the leaves of bushes.
There were plenty of Black Drongos in the forest and once I think I even spotted the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, but it disappeared before I could have the satisfaction of having identified the magnificent bird properly. Again, the forest floor was crawling with crabs. The Blue Tiger and the Common Mormon butterflies had started coming out. I reached the patch near the Gliricidia trees and I must have approached rather clumsily for in a split second,a pair of fowl darted into the undergrowth. They must have been foraging nearby and I guess I gave them quite a start. For my part, I could just notice that they were brown in colour, the size of hens, and their calls were something similar to ' krakaka krakaka krakakakaka'. I saw one of the pair again as it flew into a tree, crossing the forest road in it's flight. Thus, I identified my first pair of Red Spurfowl.
Later the bushes lining the forest road began playing host to a number o butterflies- Chocolate Pansy, Orange Tips, Grass yellow, Common Hedge Blue, ceruleans, Lemon Pansy, Common Gull, Common Rose and the Glassy Tiger.
I made another foray into the Temple Trail and though I was greeted with mosquito stings and thorny shrubs, I spotted the male Shikra perched on a leafless branch in the quarry. As I approached the clearing, it flew off, but I still managed to get a look at it for identification- crow sized, buff brown wings and yellow legs, alongwith the shape of it's wings.
And I finally manage to spot the Common Iora this weekend. The bird teases you continuously with a range of calls starting with a high whistle (which i recently learned is its alarm call) then a trilling song and of course, the favorite of the iora on the Cec land- a perfect imitation of the puff throated babbler's 'i will beat you'. This species can get very well camouflaged in the trees and it took me quite a bit of patience before I could spot the male- complete with the yellow body, black striped wings and a white patch on those wings.
Needless to mention, the Brown headed Barbet kept up it's calls throughout the morning. The Green Bee Eaters too seemed to be up early, launching sallies into the air and adding to the morning orchestra with their cheerful chirping.
There is a patch of three to four bushes near the gates blocking the forested road at CEC that always has plenty of butterlfies hovering around. Those most commonly seen are the Chocolate Pansies and the Common Gulls.
I saw the Common Pierrot outside the gate. I also identified the Common Small Flat- a tiny brown butterfly with two minute white ribbons and two more minute white spots on boh wings. It is found to visit bird droppings, and indeed, when I saw it, it was resting on a leaf with a dropping on it.
On my way out I spotted a Great Orange Tip hanging down from the web of a giant spider. (around 6cm in length, body 3 cm, 2 white dots on each of it's front and back legs). There was no distinctive 'signature' of the signature spider on the web. The Orange Tip looked quite amusing hanging down by a wisp of a thread. The antenna of this butterfly was curled inwards.
All in all it was a rewarding one and a half hours- plenty to learn and lots more to enjoy!
Ramblings on wildlife sharing spaces with non-wild humans