Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bird watching in the back-yard

... Or almost. In our society, we have a terraced garden, well endowed with flowers, interesting plants and at least six or seven full-grown trees, including two red cotton-silk trees, one tamarind tree, one jamun tree and a few others. I have almost never given undivided attention to our garden for the simple reason that we have taken it for granted.

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to see an unusual bird among the branches of the cotton-silk tree. Its small crest and a red vent proved it to be a Red-vented Bulbul. I saw it and its mate several times during the day, but these birds were so active and busy that they did not allow me to get even one photograph.
The next bird to arrive was the Oriental Magpie Robin. This bird sat on the ledge that borders the walkway and the shrubs in the garden and started walking around on this platform, its tail going up and down with a ridiculously comic effect. I was watching it from my window, but I got in one photograph (see alongside: the bird is cleverly hidden but one can see it by the white strip on the left wing) before it flew away.

Then, after a short while, a tiny Purple-rumped Sunbird alighted in the branch of the tree opposite my window. Alas, it flew away as quickly as it had come.

I posted my sighting of the above two birds on my facebook wall, and proceeded to work. When I returned in the afternoon, I went to the window as soon as possible, and was immediately rewarded by the sight of a male Asian Koel. Over the next one hour, I saw and photographed two males and three females, and the next five pictures are of these birds sitting in various trees inside our society's garden.

 This photo shows a male Asian koel sitting below on a branch of  a small tree. The female is sitting above on another branch and facing me as I took the photo.

In the next two photos, you can see both the male and the female in the photograph on the left, while the male can be seen clearly in the photograph on the right.

 In the photograph on the left, one can see a male Asian koel with an unusual white throat patch sitting on the tree. In the final photograph (see below), one can see a female of the species camouflaging itself within the branches of the tree.

This completes the photographs of Asian Koels that I took today afternoon. Hope you all like them.

Flowers and shrubs, Mazgaon Garden 22.03.2011

Yesterday, I went in the afternoon, to the garden named after Joseph Baptista atop the Mazgaon water reservoir. My Canon 550D was all charged up to capture all the beautiful flowers that are blooming here this spring season. Took many pictures braving the hot sun.

To view the pictures, click HERE.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Aslam Bookwala, R. I. P.

Aslam Kayam Bookwala, 42, my first cousin, is no more. He passed away on the evening of Sunday, 20th March, 2011. To describe Aslam in a blog is to do him injustice.

He was all that I am about to write, but he was a lot more. To many, he was a source of inspiration for the way he lived his life - a life so brief, and yet, full of achievements in his personal and professional domains. His was a world in which TODAY was all that mattered; of course, he saved for his family's future, no man or woman in his/her right senses would not; but he savoured his today as if tomorrow did not exist beyond its ephemeral existence, such as poets see in visions.

He loved food, and it showed on him in his last several years. From a thin, scrawny boy, he grew into a substantial person, but, to be honest, he looked just right with Shabnam and his two kids, Husain and Adnan. Whenever he visited India, he made it a point to call on as many of his relatives and friends that he could. He had an open hand when it came to showering largesse on those less fortunate. Many of our common relatives will vouch for his. Moreever, and this is significant: he would hand over large sums of money to me to "do" charity at my clinic, insisting that I do more of this, and not less, as the sawab would accrue to his deceased mother.  

I was reading the thoughts of the several friends and relatives on his demise in various parts of Facebook, including those posted on his profile.

Zahabiya Motiwala writes: "His smile, his talks, his masti, his bindas attitude to live life for today as who see tomorrow, his passion for food, His style, all this has given us beautiful memories of him which we will treasure all our life. Its really very sad and heart breaking."

Abbas Bookwala writes:  "It would be an understatement to say we shall miss you. But we shall also learn to live life better and value our present. We shall not let God calling you at this untimely hour go in vain."

Farah A. Bookwala remembers him with these words: "I will always remember him as the kaka who made cutting chai at all our picnics. I will miss him deeply but no longer mourn, as I know, he's gone to a place much better than the one we live in."

Even as I write, messages are being added to his profile and elsewhere. For his father, his passing is a big blow, and we pray that Allah provides him with the courage to bear this with fortitude. For his siblings, Rashidaben and Saleh, his loss may be something that we, as observers, cannot even hope to fathom. For his countless relatives, friends, admirers and clients, he was bigger than life, and we will all miss him deeply.

May his soul dwell in heaven and may he rest in peace. Shabnam, Husain and Adnan, we are all with you in your days of sadness and loss. We will pray that you will all remember him as an always smiling, forever helping young man, and may you all bear his loss with courage and fortitude as well.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Tree-spotting in Fort, Sunday 14/03/2011

Coming as it did within 24 hours of my visit to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, I wasn't very hopeful that this outing to the Fort area of Mumbai would excite me. I was pleasantly surprised, because this outing helped me identify not just trees but also shrubs and garden plants.

We were a group of 15 or so, and our guides were Mr. Marselin Almeida and his student Santosh. Also with us were a journalist and a photographer from Mid Day newspaper. Some of those attending today's outing were old hands at this type of activity. Vandan from BNHS was also there. We started our spotting activity from opposite the Churchgate Railway station at or around 8.00 a.m., and finished at around noon outside the corporate HQ of the BNHS. En route, we saw over 70-80 different species of plants shrubs and nice trees too. We also saw, for the first time in my life, a pair of Coppersmith Barbets, a Female House myna, lots of "domesticated" birds such as crows, pigeons, etc. 

Here is the link to the pictures I  took on this outing. Click here. This album has photos along with some information on what the picture is of, as well as the technical aspects of the camera work.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Trip to Sanjay Gandhi Nature/National Park

On Saturday, the 12th of March, 2011, I went, with the Bombay Natural History Society guys, to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park at Borivali (E). The BNHS guys were Vandan Jhaveri and Asif. Around 30-odd enthusiasts had gathered for this outing. We were made to sign a declaration that we were going in of our own accord, and the SGNP people or the Government chaps would not be held responsible should we come to any harm, natural or otherwise. Our group had a few young children and even fewer senior citizens. The rest of us were between 18-55 years in age.

We went in about 8-10 km in the BNHS bus. I began conversing with my fellow travellers. Presently, we arrived at a spot where the bus stopped and we got off it. The next phase of our journey would be on foot. The walk was about an hour long. Chatting with each other diminished the feeling of boredom that we were facing, as we did not see  many birds. We did, however, see some, and a complete list includes the spotted dove, a jungle crow, 4 yellow-throated sparrows, a green bee-eater, a yellow -wattled lapwing, a species of gull that I did not identify, and ... hundreds upon hundreds of black kites, making circles over the Tulsi lake. We saw, after a while, a tree that had several kites roosting upon it, and felt that that was the reason for the multitude of kites.

Among us, we had 3-4 children, several management consultants, a few doctors and engineers, some IT people, two guides (V and A) and a few others, most notably, Gary and Jane, who are in India on an assignment on behalf of their company Astra Zeneca.

Photos are taken with my new Canon, but lack the definition of a zoom. Please excuse this, and take a look:

This is an abandoned termite ant-hill. Termites are social insects, and their workers maintain a clean house. That, this isn't. Hence the word "abandoned".

The next one is the nest of harvester ants. They build these channels so beautifully, that the nest resembles a rose! These ants collect and bring food grains to store deep inside the earth. They remove the husks and take the naked grain inside. To guard the grains against damage by rains, they build these elaborate "groovy" channels which will drain the water out.
The serpiginous lines on the leaf shown here are made by leaf-eating bugs; thus God creates Art.

The next one is that of the web made by a Funnel-web spider. It takes its dead or dying prey through the central funnel and digests it at its leisure.

I am now going to show you a few pictures that are representatives of Nature's Art. Most are twigs or branches that are over-growing, or have grown randomly, or are broken and have intertwined themselves with nearby vegetation, esp. bamboo. Here are these: (there are four of these pics).

A nature walk is not merely a documentation of what one saw, and when one saw it. There are things that you imbibe, such as the beauty of a forest, or the calls of birds which are not visible, but whose presence has been announced. The breeze that comes in from time to time freshens up one's mind. Even the sight of a hot sun cannot but excite, as it peeps in from in between trees. The tangled vines that you see in the picture next to this is a sign of the forest being claimed by its legitimate occupants - plants.

One has to speak softly, or the birds will become silent; one has to respect the rules of greenery - avoid disturbing or mutilating trees or nests of insects and arachnids; one must remain vigilant that no one in the group throws trash or left-over wrappings from packets of sandwiches or biscuits; if one is driving a vehicle, one must remember that animals in the park have right of way; one must not drink inebriating drinks or smoke or create a fire to keep warm; in fact, there are so many rules that the mind boggles.

Our walk took us, eventually, to the Tulsi lake, and the one thing that we all noticed was a plethora of black kites dotting the sky. Our guides could not tell us why the lake was such a hot favourite for these birds. We did spot a solitary yellow-wattled lapwing, a solitary gull, a few black-shouldered kites and a few crows, but this was black-kite territory, and no mistakes about it. My camera's zoom did not permit any thing more than this rudimentary picture, but, enjoy it nonetheless. The black kites roost in some of the trees at the perimeter of the lake, and we were fortunate to see one of these. The tree was dotted with these birds.

This, then, is the photo with the kites in the sky, but believe me, there were many more kites than what you see here.  I need to display some more photos. These are mostly snaps of some interesting flowers or wild bushes, and I have not identified these. Here they are:   

 These are some wild flowers of the "karvanda" tree.

We don't know how those green plants came to be sitting like chandeliers atop the other tree, but they sure look great.


 Wild flowers.



 The kusum tree with red leaves and a lovely look.


The hawkmoth butterfly caterpillar.

Makaranga plant. The exquisite bright green leaves look fantastic.

Wild flowers.

We also saw the nest of "pagoda ants". These arboreal ants build a nest stuck to the trunk of trees with specially secreted chemicals and leaves of surrounding trees. The nest has slanting slatted sides to act as protectors against the natural elements. Most of us were enchanted to see these. Take a look.


The calotis lizard held by Asif.

And that, my dear readers, is all for today. Look out for the tree-spotting blog entry next.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Spotted gliricidia tree (Gliricidia sepium)

I happened to see the above tree - 4-5 of these trees growing just outside the Dockyard Road railway station, where I happened to be yesterday as I had returned from Andheri by train. This is a lovely tree, and I have taken some pictures of the same to share on this blog. Here they are:

The first image shows the pods and the light pink inflorescence, but also note the compound leaves with eight leaflets on each side and an apical one at the top. The pods look very much like the curved beans that we eat. The next picture is a close up of the flowers. The final one shows a little more of the leaves and the light brownish gray trunk and branches.

As per the information I have from the book I linked to in a previous post, this tree is also called "Undir maar" in Marathi. These words mean "rat killer". The bark of the tree is made into a paste and kept where rats are present. They eat the paste and are killed.

I hope to study more trees like this. If you are reading this, please let me know how you found this post by commenting here in the blog. Thank you. One additional fact: the back side of the leaves show brown spots. That is why this is called the spotted gliricidia ... and yes, gliris means mouse, and cidia means Killer in Latin as well.