A Wild Housing Cluster in Urban Housing Cluster

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Raipur is bustling city, capital of Chhattisgarh State of India. So much so, to cope up with the population and infrastructure requirement, New Raipur city is being built in its vicinity.  In the middle of this old city, in the posh civil line locality, is located the ‘New Circuit House’ – a six story, huge building with rooms for visitors, conference halls, restaurant etc. This is comfortable. This is third time I am staying here, in last that many months. What amazes me most here is the canteen – there are more than 500 dishes listed on the menu including ones from all corners of India, particularly south and north, as well as Chinese and Continental! But, I least expect any other excitement in staying here.

But no. In my recent visit, I am located on top floor in room no 506. In fact, coincidentally, I have been located here all the times! Its natural with me, when I enter a hotel /rest house room, I prefer to open the balcony door /window to get some fresh air and to take stock of surroundings. Presently, as I open the balcony door I hear some noise of birds and see some egrets flying. As I reach the railing of the balcony and look around from this high ground, I tell myself with great pleasure, ‘Oh My God, in full and not OMG, a heronry!’ I am hugely excited. What a change, what a luck. I realise, I am going to spend good time at the rest house.

I forget plan to prepare for the meeting. Quickly I fix my camera, take out a binocular, keep a dairy and pen ready, pull out a chair and get all set to watch action.

Four medium size trees with spread out canopies are laden with nests. Most conspicuous nester is cattle egret and in largest number.  True to its name, I have seen cattle egret commonly, following cattle in village fields and herbivore e.g. deer, elephant, bison … in forest, collecting insects and other such food as they are stirred by the movement of animals.  It’s a white egret with a yellow bill and greyish-yellow legs. But here at the Circuit House Heronry, it has exotic plumage – orangish-golden plumes on the back, breast and crown. I notice some birds have bright red bill as well, while other continue to have yellow bill. I find all this dressing up is for pairing and breeding. So much so, that bill colour change happens for the short three-four days pairing period! Cattle egret looks still more beautiful with its buff feather all blowing delicately in the breeze – Adding a romantic feel to whole atmosphere in the heronry.

God is great. It has developed a natural mechanism for birds to look extra beautiful for the occasion, while men rather for that matter women, have to cough out huge sums and spend lot of time in boutiques to get them artificially painted though it’s not a guarantee that one would look beautiful.

There are around 200 odd nests.  Nests are built close to each other as are the houses in the locality. They are located at different levels in the tree like multi-level Circuit House.

Maximum number of nests are that of cattle egrets, followed by that of little egret. Little egret is not that little either. I recollect, it is so named as there are two larger (median and large) egrets found in India. Otherwise, in size and weight it is somewhat larger than cattle egret.

I can see a little egret nest quite clear and in the forefront of the tree down there, bang opposite the balcony. I can count three eggs in the nest when the egret rises from them probably to exercise legs. It very softly adjusts the positions and sides of the eggs with its beak so that they are evenly warmed by the touch of the body. What complexity the breeding is…

It’s monsoon time. The sky is overcast, drizzles now and again. Cool breeze blows. Branches of trees swing softly. So are the nests. It seems the tree as well as nest position are selected by design. Probably this prevents the predators e.g. cats etc to reach the nest.

The little egret has geared up the look of a bride – with flowing and flying feathers all around the body.  Technically, in the breeding season, the bird has ‘two long, pointed and very narrow plumes on the nape that form a crest. There are similar feathers on the breast, but with widely spread barbs. There are also several elongated scapular feathers that have long loose barbs.’ All said and done, it looks fairy. In the evening, I even see matting of little egret, right there on the nest. The male lands right on the female and all that…

There are about dozen, or may be more, pairs of night herons also nesting in these trees. They are generally in the top layer of the canopy. Night heron does not look like heron though – relatively stocky with shorter bill, legs, neck … Night heron, as you may know, has a black crown and back with the remainder of the body white or grey, red eyes, and short yellow legs. This bird has conspicuous two-three white long plumes emerging separately from back of the head. These plumes stand out – literally stand erect in greetings and courtship.

I notice, while one partner attends to the nest, the other one is either busy taking care of other cores or hangs around on nearby trees.

Oh My God, there are Ibises also. I notice one pair of Black-headed Ibis. Later, I notice, there are two more pairs behind, which are not clearly visible. The nest is on top most layer of one of the heronry trees. I may add that Ibis not an egret or heron but a wading bird. It is much larger bird and more so because of thick, long down curved bill.  It’s largely a black and white bird – white plumage, with some greyer areas on the wings & bald head, neck and legs are black. In the fading evening light, they are busy grooming…

Watching heronry absorbs my free mornings and evenings during the two days stay in Raipur, while the bird’s come true to Darwin’s theory of propagation of species with utmost dedication, love, leisure…

Pushp

 

(P.S. : I visit Raipur for 7-9 July 2016 for attending a meeting for development of Policy for Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) for the Forest Department of the Government of Chhattisgarh. Heronry at New Circuit House in Raipur is the clear indication of invasion by human beings in to the wildlife habitat. I am also told by my forester friend, Mr Manoj Misra, that this place used to be a wetland.)

Nature’s Cat Walk & Run

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This is first time I am visiting Achanakmar in monsoon. We start early around 6.30 in the morning. Clouds are hanging heavy in the sky, threatening to pour any moment.  It’s somewhat psychological that as soon as I enter a wildlife reserve, there is that extra excitement though there is similar habitat before the entry to the reserve as well. The difference is that outside there are people and vehicles while inside its minimal anthropogenic disturbance.

The landscape is lush green from top to bottom. It’s so soothing.

Sal forest is looming large and high. There is parallel with people here. There is order with most of the trees standing straight like most of the human beings are straight and normal. In the Sal forest there are few odd ones bending and leaning awkwardly like in the human beings there are some odd nuts. Another parallel is that young ones are thin and full of vigour while old one are stout and some even diseased e.g. Sal Borer (an inspect) infestation, which if severe, can kill a tree – very much like diseases in old people.

Travel through forest is possible only with a four-wheel drive jeep. Even this vehicle is slipping and skidding, now and again.

A spotted deer notices us and we notice it. It stares at us from behind the undergrowth for long moment. It does not run away. We let it be. No chance of photo either.

Soon we are passing through dry deciduous mix forest. In monsoon, there is no ‘dry’ element and it sounds absurd, but in summer I have seen the dryness and proneness to fire of this very forest. This forest is contrast of Sal forest. There is no order. It’s a maze of vegetation with many kinds of herbs, shrubs, bushes, small to large trees and as the name indicates – mix. Visibility inside this forest is almost zero.  We hope to see some animals which may emerge on the road and clearings here and there.  We get a glance of a huge wild boar. It runs, stops & watch us, runs, stops & watch us … Ultimately dashes off from left to right crossing the track in front of us and we could see it clearly! No chance of shoot though, because of its bullet like speed.

There is undulating landscape. There are steep climbs and descends. We are passing through bamboo forest. Again, very thick. Subsequently, I find that India has a vast diversity of bamboo – 125 indigenous and 11 exotic species!

Here, bamboo grows in clumps. There are leaves from top to bottom. The clumps are of no particular shape and close enough to become continuous light green leaves wall, with few breaks. Here, in one break, we notice a barking deer. Barking dear as we know is small, very shy, generally solitary and never met with in open and runs away as soon as it sees man. But this guy turns out to be different. Though it gets nervous first, but does not run away – just ignores us and continues feeding. The patch is bushy and dark. I do take a picture, just for the sake of it.

We soon reach a site where there is more wildlife sighting possibility. This is Jalda. This used to a tribal village, which was relocated and rehabilitated outside Achanakmar way back in 2009. The agricultural fields of the village are now meadows with green grass for herbivore, while water tanks of the village are source of water in vicinity of feed grounds. Herbivore attract carnivore. It is disappointing to find not even one animal in the huge open landscape, where one can see half a mile this side or that.

We stop at the forester’s camp at one end of the meadow. He is known, and, thus, we decide to take a break. He obliges us with tea and biscuits. Lovely, nothing like sipping tea in middle of the forest and enjoying the freshest air and greenest surroundings and with expectation of good wildlife sighting and… It can even be a leopard walking on the dust track adjacent to which we are sitting, enjoying tea. It is not wishful thinking.  It is quite possible as only 200 m away on the road we saw its fresh pug marks (foot prints)!

Our forester friend explains the absence of even the commonly seen, spotted deer. A wild dog is in the surrounding area for several days now and it keeps chasing the deer and, they are, thus, scattered in the surrounding forest. Adult deer is no game for a single dog, but it does picks up new born, here and there.

Soon a bike stops next to where we are sitting. It’s a worker on painting job for sign-boards in the forest. The guy is nervous and breathless. He tells ‘there is large herd of bison on both side of the road, just half a km away from the camp.’ He feels threatened since bison are at close quarter. Though he has been afraid of crossing them but he has to come anyhow.

We quickly board the jeep and dash off to the site. And there it is.  First of all we notice a large, mature female watching us from the edge of the track – huge, muscular, z black animal. There is one big female sitting behind this animal. Soon, we notice another, another ….. In all we counted 23 animals.  They are relaxing, ruminating – most of them sitting on both side of the road while few stand to keep a look out for any danger.  Soon the female we notice first crosses the road to mix with part of the herd on the right.  This has a chain reaction. The animals sitting on the left one by one cross over to the right – some of them nervous, bolted across. This is nature’s cat walk and run, unfolding before us, a fulfilling sight.

Pushp Jain

 

(PS : Based on my recent visit to Achanakmar on 10-11 July 2016)

It’s Raining Bear in Satpura

 

 

We start from Madhai gate of Satpura a 4 pm. Forest is full of wonderful species of animals and plants. I am dazed by the diversity. We have been driving for about 3 hours now and are about to reach our destination for night halt at Churna Forest Rest House.  It’s twilight. I think, “The time is good enough to come across a tiger, leopard, sloth bear…”

As we pass a somewhat plane and open landscape, luck strikes. There is a sloth bear in the forest on our left about 50 m inside. The guy is groping around for food. When it sees us, it makes short few metres run and hides behind a thin stem. It’s like hiding behind a fig leaf! But it thought, it is good enough! When we continue standing and watching, it does what most wild animals do in such situation. It is strangest part of animals’ way of escaping, which is paradox by any logic. The animal is generally in forest. It has to move somewhat more inside and it is hidden from view. But, no. It would take all the trouble and risk to come out of the forest, cross the dust track in front of vehicle/watcher and disappear on the other side. With the awkward gallop, the bear disappears.  There has been time enough to do some video.

Next day we start very early, at 5.15 in the morning. Tiger is heavy on our mind. We see a trail of pug marks (foot prints) of a tiger. We follow it and then they disappear at the point where on the right side a hill, Katapahar (cut hill), rose steeply. In his anxiety to see a tiger anyhow, Rajeev enquires “cannot we drive up the hill?” but also knows that it is not possible.

There is disappointment. But, soon we notice, there is a black ball rolling in the forest on our left about 100 m ahead. Second bear of the trip. As soon as we see it, it also sees us. It stops activity and wonders what to do. As with the last evening bear, it also runs across the dust track on which we are standing to disappear in the forest on the right side, but not before stopping behind a tree to observe us before emerging on the dust track. After crossing the dust track, it stops again and stands up beside a tree at the edge of the track to see what we are up to. Bear stands up at times to get a clear view. It also tells the present people “Don’t you dare, I am huge.”

We have been in the forest for a long time and it is almost noon. The heat is severe and Sun is very very harsh. No animal can be seen. All are resting and hiding is shade.  And to our utmost surprise, one bear is still out and going around in the forest! It fails all logic and behaviour books. Bear is known to retire before dawn. It is rarely seen in day light. It continues to be busy in whatever it is doing and does not lifts head to see us. On our part, we are too tired to wait. So we move on. Third bear of the trip.

National Geography describes the animal as ‘Shaggy, dusty, and unkempt, reclusive…’ and so they are in Satpura, though from distance their coat appears lustrous black.

Next morning, we start our safari from Madhai, again early in the morning at 5.30. We had not even gone for two minutes that at the old Madhai village site itself, a bear is found. Fourth bear of the trip. It is somewhat away, at a distance of about 300 m. It is busy in its own core and it does not notice us, or may be, it does not care. It sees too many visitors. We do wait for five minutes but there was no chance of action.  So, now we are not very keen in the bear as we had already seen bear in very good situations.

During the fag end of this drive in Madhai region, we pass through a hilly track. On the narrow dust track, we see a jeep stopped in the middle, opposite to us, and the tourists are watching something deep inside the forest, on our right. We take a clue and look in the direction and Lo! another bear. This guy seems to have a target in its mind. It is walking diagonally out of the forest and in fact towards us.

The driver starts backing the car with unusual speed.  ‘Hai Captain, why are you backing up. The bear is right there. We would miss it,’ said Rajeev. “Please wait a minute, sir,” replied Captain. Captain the name of our driver. And, he is right. He knows the animal’s behaviour. He calculates where the animal would emerge from the forest and cross over to the other side. He backs up enough so that animal can cross in front of us instead of behind us. Smart on part of Captain.

I realise, ‘Five sloth bear in short two days’ visit is unbelievably good score to be envious about.’  It’s virtually raining bear at Satpura. Poet Jay Garg in Chetna says, ‘Sloth bear, share life’s honey with the sting bees.’ That’s wonderful Satpura.

Pushp

Post Script: Status of Sloth Bear is Vulnerable –IUCN’s Red List – Sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) are present in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan. Until recently they were also known to occur in Bangladesh, but their continued existence there is uncertain: There being ~20,000 or fewer animals, and thus <10,000 adult animals. Moreover, strong evidence of their range reduction suggests that their population has declined by 30-49% over the past 30 years largely as a result of habitat loss, and to some extent from exploitation for parts, or systematic elimination as a pest.  Sloth bears are reported to exist in 174 Protected Areas in India, which include 46 National Parks and 128 Wildlife Sanctuaries (Chauhan 2006). Populations appear to be reasonably well protected inside these PAs, but faced with deteriorating habitat conditions outside PAs.  Sloth bears are listed in Appendix I of CITES and are completely protected under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act. They are also protected to varying degrees by national laws in the other range countries. Given the aggressive nature of this animal, and the increasing number of encounters between bears and people, these bears are widely feared.

http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/13143/0

Satpura stories are based on my visit to the tiger reserve during 12-14 June 2016.