Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Present but invisible!

Have you wondered which animal visited your garden unseen by you? Nibbled on a choice root, bitten some of the fruits or run away with the flowers?

Most wild animals are generally shy of people. A lot of them are crepuscular if around people; meaning they are active during dawn and dusk, not so much during the day. Some even roam unseen in the day. But how to find out which of these share their habitat with you?

Here is one way. While walking on loose or wet soil you may have seen your feet leave behind tell-tale signs of your walk. It is the same with most animals! Where the soil is soft or wet you can clearly make out that an animal has walked the path.

If you live in an area that has a fair bit of vegetation or has a park close by, take a stroll on the mud paths and look out for animal footprints. Such footprints are called pugmarks if we are talking about a dog or cat; or more generally they are called 'tracks'. Let’s first see how to differentiate between the pugmarks of a dog and a cat.

All species of cat (eg tiger, leopard, jungle cat) have claws, but none of them (excepting the cheetah) leave behind claw marks in their pugmarks. This is because their claws are safely retracted most of the time. In contrast, all species of dog (eg wolf, jackal) show claw marks in their pugmarks since their claws do not retract. A second difference is that the centre of the paw (the pad) leaves more semicircular marks in cats and more triangular marks in dogs.

The photo of two tracks shows how you can use these two features to tell between a dog and a leopard. Of course a domestic cat pugmark is much smaller when compared with a dog’s!

How to tell a dog and leopard apart. Note that the pugmark on the left is facing downwards. Photo: Sanjay Gubbi

You can use this guide to guess some of animals found around you by  their tracks (not according to scale)

The illustration shows what a cow's track looks like. In comparison, the cloven hoofs of a deer are closer to each other and have pointed tip. A wild pig’s track is similar to that of a domestic pig. A jungle cat pugmark is slightly larger than that of a domestic cat but smaller than that of a leopard. A peafowl’s track is at least twice the size of a chicken.

Keep practicing identifying the tracks around you, so that soon, when you come across an animal footprint, you can surprise your family and friends by pulling a Sherlock Holmes and declaring which animal has walked the path unseen!

Apart from tracks, some wild animals also leave behind scrape marks made by their claws either while searching for food or to mark territories. Big cats like tigers and leopards leave behind scrape marks, urine scent marks and faeces to mark the boundaries of their territories and to attract potential mates.

Wildlife scientists and nature enthusiasts, who know how to differentiate different footmarks and faeces of between species, can tell which particular wild animal or bird has walked along recently. To gather information about the presence or absence of wild animals (like tigers, leopards, wild dogs, etc) they walk kilometers inside forest roads and other wildlife habitats, looking for these tell-tale clues that animals leave behind them.

The results of these sorts of surveys are vital. They tell us about where these animals are found, and other time, can also be used to monitor changes in their distribution.

An edited version of this article was published in the Hindu , In school - http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-in-school/present-but-invisible/article7703329.ece

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The perfect camouflage

My recent visit to Sharavathi Valley Wildlife Sanctuary that promised torrential rains and leeches unexpectedly (although, not surprisingly) gave me the lifer I have been looking forward to for quite sometime.

What seemed like Browns fluttering from a distance turned out to be not just some Evening browns, Glad eye bushbrown and common bushbrown but Blue oakleaf (Kallima philarchus).

Along with the Bushbrown butterflies and a few beetles about 5 Blue oakleaf butterflies were feeding on the tree sap , whose name I am ashamed to say I don't know. With the excitement of seeing the oakleaves I forgot to photograph the tree to ID it.

Now, the obviously interesting thing about oakleaf butterfly is that they are found in the evergreen forests and mimic dry oak leaves. They don't just have the shape and colour of the leaf, they come, together with the blotches a dry leaf sports, a mid rib, a stalk and to top it with a flourish a transparent spot on its apex! (To break its outline, i guess).

It has blue-indigo discal bands running on the upper wing which it flashes when it takes off only to settle among the foliage the next minute, closing its wings, with its under wing looking like a leaf, completely throwing off its predator that keeps looking out for something blue.

The only other Oakleaf butterfly I have come across was the Orange oakleaf in Buxa tiger reserve - that did not bless me with its upper wing (sigh)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Random Thoughts: Rainforests

Random Thoughts: Rainforests: The woods, they echoed the words in my ear. I felt the warmth of the sun and the coldness of the stream on my skin. Eyes full of lush gr...

Monday, December 2, 2013

A mini butterfly sanctuary

Having heard about the Heblekar's wonderful attempt at protecting and building a natural forest as a habitat for butterflies, my heart was set at visiting this conservatory located at Goa. And when opportunity knocked on my door to visit Goa, to compulsorily attend a friend's engagement, visiting the Heblekar's butterfly conservatory just jumped up in my to-do list for Goa.

Mystic meadows, is located just outside Ponda in Goa. Your regular tourists don't go too far from the sandy beaches and miss the lush forests of Goa, after all Goa is part of the Western Ghats landscape. There are numerous local buses running from Margoa to Ponda, and at a small fee, autos from Ponda will take you to this conservatory.

Clockwise from right (Vidhyan Cruiser, Tamil Lacewing cats, Malabar Banded Peacock and Common mormon, Grey Count)

The place is very tastefully built for a walk around the park, winding around the host plants where you will catch some of the rare endemic butterflies hovering around. I was lucky to see around 30 odd species that day, in 3 hours and some of these were lifers for me.

The Heblekar's very kindly offered me, simple but delicious lunch when they knew I had only packed an apple! They have a small canteen area in conservatory where one can eat their packed lunch. The park fee is just 100 rupees for just a majestic treat.

Tamil Lacewing and Yamfly

I was delighted to spot Yamfly, Grey Count, Tamil Lacewing, Malabar banded peacock and Vindhyan Cruiser among others. The area adjoins natural forest, and I am definitely planning to visit the place and explore more.

Another interesting aspect from the visit for me was seeing the Heblekar's house which is definitely something to look out for, for people interested in sustainable living. They have a garden on the roof and not the potted garden! The plants and a tree is planted on the soil that covers the roof! Rain water harvested is pumped back to the park to keep a perennial stream running. Read on more on this here - http://www.ifoundbutterflies.org/personal-conservation-efforts/the-butterfly-conservatory-of-goa

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Romancing the butterflies - Buxa!

Buxa Tiger Reserve (760 sq. kms) lies in the Northern part of West Bengal state in Jalpaiguri district. Lately its been in news over the naxalite activity and the deaths of elephants by the railway lines that cut right across their habitat. Me and a group of my friends made this trip thanks to the then DFO of Buxa, Salimath Sir. Although declared as Tiger Reserve, Tiger has not been spotted in Buxa for the last few years. However Buxa had lot to offer, since this was my first trip to see the Northern species of India. The one week we spent roaming a few places in and around Rajabhatkhawa was quite overwhelming. I could only identify a handful of butterfly species. Here's a photo journal of the one of best 5 days we spent in W Bengal.

Day 1 - In and around the guest house in Rajabhatkhawa.
Pale grass blue
tiger moth - Nyctemera Coleta?
Dark Evening Brown?
Day 2 : A 14 km walk and stay at Aadma village. The route to which lay in the meandering valley abutting the lovely Jainti river.
Hill Mynah
Bush hopper?
Gaudy Baron
Indian Roller
Dusky Yellow Breasted Flat
Red Helen
Chocolate albatross
Common bluebottle
Tailey Jay
Bright Sunbeam?
Bright Sunbeam?
Dart Id?
Assorted :) 5 Bar swordtail
Rounded Pierrot
Rolling in the deep..
white capped water redstart
Day 3 : Enroute to Rajabhatkhawa from Aadma
Sailor Id?
Oakblue Id?
Oakblue Id?
Angled Castor
Spangled Drongo
Id? Blue?
Id? Blue?
Centaur Oakblue
Orange Oakleaf
Moth Id?
Mealy bugs
Common Lascar
Himalayan Banded Treebrown
Centaur Oakblue?
Peacock Pansy
Wreathed Hornbill
Sunbeam ID?
Water Snow Flat
Lascar on my bag :)
Blue tiger
Same one as above Id?
Day 4 : Vulture Breeding Center
Hawk Moth Id?
Moth Id?
Moth Id?
Moth Id?
Yellow Helen
Chestnut bellied nuthatch
Hedge Blue?
Grey Count
Glassy Blue Tiger
Jerdon's Baza
Fluffy Tit
Tri Colored Flat
Day 5 : Buxa Fort
Id? Skipper
Id? Skipper
Common Sailor?
Dark Palm Dart?
Staff Sergeant?
Garden Lizard?
Blue Spotted Crow
Blue Spotted Crow
Common Tinsel
Golden Sapphire?
Golden Sapphire?
Tailless Plushblue?
Himalayan Blue Imperial?
Day 6 : In and around Alipurduar
Pale grass blue?
Moth Id?
Moth Id?
Frog Id?
Tusker near APC in Buxa
Malayan Giant Squirrel
Day 7 : Jaldapara WS
Chestnut Bob?
Chestnut Bob?
Yellow footed green pigeon
Alexandrine Parakeet
Indian Rhino
Lesser Adjutant Stork
Red Jungle Fowl
Moth Id?
Tokay Gecko
Day 8 : Safari, Jaldapara WS
Red breasted parakeets
Black hooded Oriole
Lesser Whistling ducks
European Bee eater
Black Ibis