Adventure

Tiger Hill

Tiger Hill

-John Eickert

 

 

The world has few if any remaining secrets. We have poked and probed to the last niche on earth, first by those with a thirst for adventure and now by those who search for exploitable resources. There is very little new or unknown, even the ocean floors are mapped. In a sense, the macro world is no longer a mystery, but there in lays a great intrinsic freedom. We can always go and see and feel and now we have endless possibilities for sharing- the new frontier.

Since I was a boy, as long as I remember, mountains have been a source of awe and inspiration. In my time, I have climbed and hiked the Rocky Mountains, then the Andes and Alps until finally the Himalayas. Each range holds different wonders and excitements. When young, moved by a great thirst to see and challenge, time and mileage accrued then the need to feel something other than sweat or fatigue replaced the thirst and a new opportunity for adventure began.

Near Darjeeling is a short and otherwise unremarkable hill. It is possible to hike to the summit or hire a jeep and ride there. Some even spend the night on or near this elevated place. There are taller hills in the area and near endless rounded knolls, marching to the horizon, but what lies on the horizon is what makes this one hill so special.

Tiger Hill offers a spectacular view of Kanchenjunga, that third highest summit on earth and peoples from far and near assemble to witness the sun strike, not just that lofty summit, but also the dawn awakening of the Himalayas. Due to the elevation of Kanchenjunga and the curvature of the earth, the sun touches here before lighting the lower Himal summits to the east. Residents of the area had long held this belief of first light to be true for thousands of years before the first man stood on the summit of Kanchenjunga and realized it was true.

Therefore, you have a magic place and a magic moment and an experience best shared. The dawn at Tiger Hill takes on a carnival atmosphere. There are men banging drums and those playing pipes. There are Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Sikh. First, the cold wind stirs chill air and the many prayer flags begin to flutter then the crowd grows almost silent before the moment. The rising sun tips the summit with gold then blushes rose, the day has begun. Manmade music rises again as those around begin to dance, chant and worship. There are smiles on all the faces and the cold morning long forgotten. I remember tucking myself into my insulated jacket, listening, watching and smiling, delighted by the exhilarating scene. The spectators moved and jostled then I looked down to see a small, somewhat shy, older woman who glanced up at me, face awash in happiness. I remember that sunrise face now more than the spectacular event, which drew us all there.

 

Amazing Facts About Wildlife

More ways to be different - By S. Ananthanarayanan

More ways to be different

                       

Diversity is important in more senses than just having many species living together, says S.Ananthanaryanan.

 

There are many senses of diversity. There can be diversity in the molecules of a gas may move, in the profiles of customers of a product or service or in the age of individuals in a population. A paper by an international group of a scientists reports the finding that a healthy mix of age groups in fish populations is useful for the stability of numbers.

 

Molecules of a gas

 

The accepted model of a gas is of a huge number of microscopic, but identical particles in incessant motion, ricocheting both off the sides of their container as well as off each other. The force they exert on the container is the pressure of the gas and by bouncing off each other, they maintain a distribution of different numbers of particles at different speeds.

 

The interesting thing is that for the particles all to be moving in some fixed band of speeds is not naturally possible, and if imposed, the imposed uniformity soon breaks down. The natural distribution is of a large number of particles in some level of speed and progressively smaller numbers at speed greater or less than the mean speed. If fast particles are removed, for example by escape into outer space at high altitudes, the particles that remain readjust their speeds to again have a number, though a lesser number, at the higher speeds.

 

The reason for the bulk of the particles to choose the middle speed band is that for a given total energy of the gas, there are overwhelmingly more ways where most particles to occupy the middle band, with lesser numbers in the outer bands, than where many particles are very fast or very slow. One could say that the natural state is the state that has the greatest diversity of forms.

 

The marketplace

 

There is a French saying that a mouse with only one hole is soon trapped. (souris qui n’a qu’un trou est bientôt prise). A business with a specialised customer base is similarly  in risk of getting wiped out. A business should ideally have different categories of customers. If one category changes its preference, the loss could be replaced by customers of other categories, so that the customer mix may settle down to a new distribution in the new conditions.

 

On the other hand, if the market were of a few categories only, it would take time to replace a lost group of customers and the business may not have the stamina to hold out. Or, at least, it would do badly for a long time before it recovers. This is an instance of stability that comes from diversity in the customer population. It is similar in the case of those successful business houses that have a diverse product mix – so that obsolescence of one of them has little impact and the business house is able to develop new lines or to revamp the outdated one.

 

Fish populations

 

Fish populations left undisturbed settle down to a distribution of older fish, adult fish and young fish. Unchecked build-up of older fish would discourage survival of young fish, but this, in time, would ensure less older fish, and hence more young fish. More young fish would result in more losses to predators and increase in the proportion of experienced ones and slow recovery of a stable mix.

 

 

Decline in the fisheries, world-wide has made it important to understand what is happening to these populations. The work of the George Sugihara, at San Diego and colleagues, reported this week in Nature, suggests that the challenge is not just to rebuild the biomass, but also to restore the age distribution.

 

The collapse of the California sardine industry in the late1940s had been blamed by some on commercial fishing and by others on reducing sea surface temperature or on changing wind patterns. In an attempt to disentangle man-made and environmental causes, the Cooperative of fisheries in California has collected data of both exploited and unexploited fish assemblages. The differentiated information, data was collected not from the figures of landed fish but of levels of fish eggs and larvae.

 

Ichthyoplankton

 

These are fish eggs and larvae found in the upper 200 metres of the sea. The eggs stay passive while larvae develop swimming ability when a little older. Ichthyoplankton are an important component in the water column and the larvae feed on smaller larvae and are fed upon by larger animals. But the abundance of eggs and larvae is a good indicator of the spawning population present in the area at the time. Sampling the egg and larva populations is an easier and faster way of assessing adult population levels.

 

The San Diego group analysed data covering 50 years and has come to important conclusions. The first is that while commercial fishing does have an affect on fish stocks, the variability of the stock level does not fully correlate with the intensity of fishing. The other effect of fishing, which eliminates larger fish, is to increase the number of younger fish.

 

This reduction can affect survival in two ways. One is that younger fish, being less experienced and hardy, fare badly under environmental attack. The other is that demographic measures, like intrinsic growth rate, are affected by a population of younger fish. These 2 effects can be separated using statistical methods.

 

The group found that the second of these effects – of affecting the age distribution, was the crucial result of commercial fishing. This is an important finding for managing different kinds of resources and is a factual instance of selective harvesting altering basic dynamics of the exploited population, leading to boom or bust conditions, destroying stabilizing buffers and leading to declining stocks

[the writer can be contacted at simplescience@gmail.com]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bird Watching

A Date with-“ WEAVER”

 

A Date with-“ WEAVER”

 

- Dr. Surya Prakash

  

I can very well recall when I was in 5th standard in Jodhpur Rajasthan, my father once brought a beautiful, abandoned nest of a bird which had fallen on the ground due to a sandstorm.  He told me that it is the nest of ‘Baya’. This was the time I realized the value of birds and retain the same passion as on date for my avian friends.

 

I was also fortunate enough to have grand parents who had great respect for nature.  They taught me some lessons on birds and their relationships with humans and God; an Owl is a vehicle of Goddess of Wealth (Laxmi), Peacock and Swan for Goddess of education  (Saraswati). Garuda  giving leads to Rama when Sita was abducted, made a favourite story.  Baya feeding is common in some villages.

 

‘Julaha” or ‘Baya” or ‘Weaver bird” were the names of the same bird for me until I realized that broadly there are three species of these ‘Weaver Finches” in NCR region, which were wide spread once upon a time until late eighties in Delhi, But they are now concentrated only at the banks of Yamuna, Sultanpur national Park,(Haryana),  YBDP, OBP, Dadri wetlands(UP) and  some near by villages of Delhi. 

 

 


Baya weaver

 

 

Streaked Weaver

  

 

Black-breasted weaver                                                          

              

 

So where have they gone? Why they have gone? Answer is very clear- continuous loss of their habitat in Delhi.  Two common species of this beautiful passerine bird are often seen in Delhi at Yamuna banks; one is ‘Baya Weaver” and second one is  ‘Streaked Weaver”.   

 

 COMPLETE & INCOMPLETE NESTS OF WEAVERS

In India they breed in summer till the onset of monsoon.  They prefer to build nests on Palm trees, Thorny Acacia nilotica, and other thorny bushes near water bodies where they can find  food which consist of seeds or food grains.  Nesting material used is  Elephant grass and Wild grass –Panicum maximum mainly, which grows in wetlands or near water bodies.

 

 

Male and female weavers look alike in non-breeding season. Dark brown streak fulvous buff above, plain unstreaked whitish fulvous below, eyebrows long buffy, bill horned and coloured. During breeding season male changes plumage and puts on a bright yellow crown, dark brown mask, blackish brown bill, upper parts turn dark brown streaked with yellow and yellow breast with cream buff below.

 

This change of colours makes the male more attractive to female.  Males are also more aggressive to protect their nest from other males.  They now start their main job of nest building, which actually is a deciding factor in propagating their genes to the next generation.   They fly in close formations in groups of 20 to 30 in search of nesting material. It is common to see nests in a group of 20 to 30.on the same tree.

 

The male uses its strong, rounded bill to tear off 20 to 50 cm of grass blade and weave it on a comfortable place up from the ground and starts making a hanging nest. Each male makes approximately 450 to 550 trips to the field to fetch grass blades.  In the initial stages nest looks like a ‘Helmet” with a chinstrap. Weavers use their strong bills to weave and knot the strips of grass so that it can sustain strong sand storms and wind velocity.

 

Now the actual work begins.  Male starts singing melodious songs and displays to attract females. While swinging sitting in an incomplete nest, the male invites females to inspect his handiwork.  An interested female will first inspect the nest by jumping on the helmets and tugging and testing, presumably for strength like a wise housewife before giving approval signals to the owner of the nest. For female the location of the nest is more important than the nest. This is a crucial time for the male. Once she approves, the nest is immediately completed like an upside down flask featuring central nesting area. This is where the female would lay 3-4 white coloured eggs.  The long tube, which leads to a side entrance, prevents eggs & chicks from predators like snakes.   Female gives the final touches to the nest.  Males are the sole in-charge of nest building.  There are many myths associated with the nest that weavers bring fireflies in the nests to light it up etc.  Rejected nests are torn and destroyed by males.  In the beginning nest is green but when grass dries it becomes brownish yellow.

 

Males make several incomplete nests and once the female, after completing mating rituals, is busy incubating eggs, male intelligently slips to another incomplete nest and again starts courtship displays and songs to attract another female. As they are polygamous, a single male can mate with 2 to 3 females in one breeding season.  It also protects all his nests from other active males. Once the breeding season is over other birds use their abandoned nests.                                      

 

 

Indian Silverbill occupying abandoned nest of Weaver

 

 These beauties are now dwindling in  the areas where they used to be seen earlier;  like in Ridge forests of Delhi, Sanjay Van,JNU etc. JNU has constructed check dams and has planted elephant grass to re-attract these nature’s architects.  I wish other areas would also be taken care of for the same purpose by society, other wise we will be losing this battle. At some places they are considered to be a pest to the paddy crop hence are scared away and at some places they are used as table bird they are caught and made into "a succulent dish". So what are you waiting for get up and go to Okhla Bird Park, Yamuna Biodiversity Park, Khadar, Sultanpur National Park, Dadri wet lands etc. to see weavers weaving skills before its too late.

 

I am afraid the fate of these lovely birds will be sealed unless we take some action.                                                                    

Burning Issues

Amidst the Greens of Arunachal: Weapons of Mass Destruction, Distraction!

 Amidst the Greens of Arunachal:

Weapons of Mass Destruction, Distraction!

 

-Govind Singh

 

Located in the North-eastern most extremity of India, the state of Arunachal Pradesh is known for its rich biodiversity and as a birding hotspot. It is a land of lush green forests, deep river valleys, and beautiful plateaus and is also one of the most sparsely populated states of India. But for its geographic location and other political factors, the state would have been an ideal eco-tourism destination and an ultimate getaway for the rest of India. For the same reason, the state is also least explored when it comes to biodiversity (and even the cultural diversity).

 

Such is the lack of information about the biodiversity of Arunachal Pradesh that the Arunachal Macaque (Macaca munzala) - a species of monkey already known to the native people of Arunachal (especially to the Monpas of Tawang and the tribes of the West Kameng District) as Munzala or the “monkey of the deep forest”, remained unknown to scientists and biologists till it was “discovered” in 2004. The so called “discovery” was waiting to happen and it was after more than a hundred years that a new species of macaque was discovered (the last recent discovery being the Indonesian Pagai Island Macaque in 1903).

 

 

Arunachal Macaque in Tawang

Further, in November 2007, a team comprising two herpatologists and a wildlife documentary filmmaker, claimed to have found a unique species of pit viper snake from the remote Sango area in Papum Pare district of Arunachal Pradesh. The finding created a flutter among the country’s herpetologists. Here too, the animal was already well known to the native Nyishi tribesmen of the area. Barta, as the natives knew the six-foot- something reptile, in fact has been the most-feared creature among the tribes in Arunachal Pradesh and according to Nyishi folklore, the sighting of a barta is considered to be a bad omen. Prior to this, a new bird species, the Bugun Liocichla (Liocichl bugunorum), was reportedly discovered and described from the state.

 

These findings alerted both scientists and biologists who now became fully aware of the biodiversity potential of the state and scores of experts, amateur bird watchers, biologists and wildlife professionals have frequented and are still frequenting the state to explore and investigate. At the same time, the state of Arunachal Pradesh is also the one with the greatest hydropower potential of over 50,000 megawatt. Since the Central Government has shown key interest in harnessing this potential, the state government has been making proactive effort to woo private players to set up power projects in the state. This is further bringing in more scientific experts in to the state, for carrying out pre-feasibility studies of such projects.

 

However, this recent foray of scientific expertise in the state may already be a little too late. And the state may have already lost a considerable proportion of its biodiversity and species composition. Two major factors responsible for the same, can well be termed as the weapon of mass destruction and weapon of/for mass distraction!

 

 

An Idu Mishmi tribalfolk from District Anjaw wearing a Dau

 

All through the state of Arunachal, one observes the native people wearing a long dagger, around their neck that hangs down along their waist. The dagger is kept in a sheath crafted out of bamboo and is known as ‘dau.’ For the biodiversity in the state, it is nothing less than a weapon of mass destruction. Contrary to what many may think, wearing a dau is a matter of self-pride and a symbol of social service. The thick vegetation cover in the state and the occurrence of a large number of wild animals ensures that anyone traveling needs to keep such a weapon with her/himself. And for those who do not, others offer their services of making way in a dense forest, etc. by cutting down herbs and shrubs and killing a snake, etc. that may fall in way. The wearing of dau by people of all tribes in the state indicates that it has more defensive importance than cultural. It’s a weapon of the masses and clearing of a disturbed stretch of forest using a dau hampers biodiversity in ways more than one.

 

However, more dangerous than this weapon of mass destruction is a weapon of/for mass distraction – Jhumming, shifting cultivation or the swidden agriculture, practiced in several parts of the state. While traveling through the state, one can observe large patches of cleared land amidst a thick forest. This is a result of jhum cultivation wherein a patch of forest is selected and burnt down to carry out agricultural activity on the cleared ground. After cultivating for a few years, the patch is left to replenish and a new patch awaits the same fate. The cleared patches all across the mountains are like an eye sore and would distract anybody traversing through the state.

 

 

 

Patches of forest resulting from Jhum cultivation

 

Jhumming is known to be a primary cause of deforestation and research is on to promote alternative sustainable methods of cultivation in the state. Though a method followed in the state for the past several years, the ever increasing population has now made the system unsustainable. Adding to that, the fear of a changing climate, jhumming is now seen as a wasteful method and a threat to global environment. Once the patch of land is left to replenish itself, the species of bamboo, etc. that immediately grow result in the raising of a secondary forest. The cleared land is also an invitation to invasive plants that are increasingly spreading in the state. These are also impacting the native wildlife, which is constantly on the decline.

 

Recent international political pressure and the demand for development from within the state has called in for rapid measures to improve the state’s infrastructure and explore the potential of developmental tools such as eco-tourism. However, it should be ensured that every policy and plan made for the state is well researched and is based on the principles of sustainable development. While ad hoc development in other parts of the country could sustain to some extent, a similar mistake in Arunachal Pradesh could be devastating for the state’s fragile ecosystem and result in more harm than gains.

 

(Photographs by Govind Singh)

Common Birds of India

Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus)

 

Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus)

 

-Ragoo Rao

 

 

I have chosen the Golden Oriole for this month's feature.

 

Now the season is on for all the Ficus trees to bear fruits. The Peepul, Banyan, Indian fig and a variety of other trees will also be bearing berries. This is the time of the year to watch and study a Bright golden yellow bird with black wing tips and a black streak  on the eyes foraging the feast of fig and other fruits. This is the Golden Oriole, a myna sized bird with beautiful coloration. They are found either singly or in pairs. The female is less yellowish with a tinge of green mixed.

 

The Golden oriole's typical habitat is well wooded places in rural areas on the fringes of villages and they are also found in urban parks with lot of berry bearing trees. Distribution is throughout the country except in the North-east. The flight is unmistakable, with a flash of yellow color dipping closely to the underside of the trees.

 

The call is a harsh cheeah....and a very musical....peee....peeolo . The bird is a farmer’s friend as it forages on a lot of insects also. Flower nectar is something the Golden oriole does not like to miss. Sometimes when these bright yellow birds are sipping nectar sitting on bright red flower bunches, it is a wonderful sight to see. The contrast in color is so good, it makes for a marvelous photograph. These birds are very wary and it takes a lot of patience to observe their behavior, as they take off a dipping flight at the slightest intrusion.

Nesting season is mainly from April to July. A meticulously woven cup of dried grass blades and plant fibre laced with cob-webs hanging from a forked twig, like a hammock is built by both the parents. It selects leafy trees at a height of 15 to 30 ft. in well-wooded areas.2 to 3 white eggs spotted with black or reddish brown. Both the parents share all domestic chores.

 

A marvelous bird with excellent coloration and a real friend of the farmer is the Golden Oriole.

 

 

News and Views

Here is a link to a short non-fiction film made by Saraswati Kavula recently,  it is called “vision 2020”.  It is worth a watch!                       

 

To see the five minute long video, click on the link below:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=093_4lPy4AE

 

 

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