Archive for November, 2013

The Caterpillar of the Tailed Jay, 161113, Puttenahalli Lake

November 19, 2013

No one would believe that watching a worm would be a learning experience, but so it was, at Puttenahalli Lake, where I went with Chandu and Kamal.

Chandu spotted (how, I do not know!) this extraordinarily tiny creature:


and then we saw many of these caterpillars:


That was when I learnt that not only does a moth or butterfly go through the egg, larval and pupal stages, but that the caterpillar itself has 5 stages of growth. I googled up

this link


and learnt about



What we were looking at were two of the five instars for the


I found this text on the web:

Caterpillars go through 5 stages of growth. Each stage is called an “instar.”

As a caterpillar grows, it “molts” 5 times before it becomes a chrysalis. Each time it molts the caterpillar progresses to the next instar (1st instar, 2nd instar, 3rd instar, 4th instar and 5th instar).

Its skeleton is on the outside of its body, like clothes. So, as it grows, it can no longer fits in its skin.

But the analogy of growing out of clothes doesn’t fit exactly, as Dr Lincoln Bower explains.

“The caterpillar doesn’t just shed that skin, it digests and reabsorbs most of it. Before the skin starts shedding it does get tight. But it doesn’t just slip off. What happens is that the cells beneath the skin start releasing enormous amounts of enzymes and actually absorb most of the skin. Before it’s shed it becomes a thin sheen over the body. So what is shed is just a thin outer part of the cuticle. Sort of like a snake’s skin. So a snake skin analogy is really much better.”

Thank you for the riveting lesson, Chandu Bandi! I am even more amazed at how a creature can go through so many different forms…it’s a deep philosophical question, and an eternal mystery, to ponder.

3rd Sunday Outing, Shivanahalli, 171113

November 18, 2013

An email to the egroup of the Bird Watchers’ Field Club:

It was a cloudy, overcast morning as we all set out for the 3rd Sunday outing to Shivanahalli, organized by Geetanjali and Subir Dhar. But, as if to reward us for our diligence, the rainclouds slowly broke up, and we did have some superb weather for our trek across the slopes of the Bannerghatta forest area, behind the Ramakrishna Ashram.

By the time our group (it consisted of people coming from as far away as Hebbal!) reached the Ashram after the MCS (Mandatory Chai Stop) and another stop at the Ragihalli sheet rock to admire the superb view, the rest of the group had started the trail. But they had not gone too far, and we managed to catch up.

There are occasions when it’s not just the birds,but everything as a whole, makes the trail enjoyable, and this was one of them. The overcast conditions, perhaps, contributed to a lack of bird sightings, but this was more than made up by the several interesting things we saw on the way.


Wild mint


Resin on tree-bark



Sri Shankar, appointed by Swamji at the Ashram, was our guide. He showed us so many marvels…seeds that slowly sink into the ground so that even in a fire, their top part perishes but the seed remains underground to sprout another day;


the “Minda” plant whose flowers attract birds;


something that we might have passed by, thinking it was offal, but which, he told us, was the umblical cord shed by a Chital doe after giving birth to a fawn..


.and so on.

We also saw a few unpleasant things like the granite quarrying which is resulting in ulcers on the slopes of the forest:



Plum Judy

We were a lively group,


Katydids on Purabi’s trousers being photographed



though there were no children (indeed, the trail is not one for young children, and Geetanjali emphasizes that in her emails every month.) But several young people were there, and it was nice to see one father-son duo!


Reflections in a water body


Yellow-billed Babbler


Oriental Honey Buzzard silhouette:


Ashy Woodswallows (er, all the birds were looking ashy when the sky was overcast!)

Photographing the Antlion:


The Antlion:


The beauty of the trail:




Looking at the birds:


A little snail, rushing past:


Golden-fronted Leafbird silhouette:


Common Tree Frog


The mammals list starts out with a Black-naped Hare, but includes our group. Please let me know if I have left out any names….

Geetanjali and Subir Dhar
Sri Shankar, our guide

and Yours Truly.

(at least, these were all the names that I’d written down.)

The bird list was put up by Purabi, and it doesn’t seem so meagre, after all:

Babbler, Jungle
Babbler, White-eyed
Babbler, Yellow-eyed
Barbet, Coppersmith
Barbet, White-cheeked
Bulbul, Red-vented
Bulbul, Red-whiskered
Bulbul, White-browed
Bushchat, Pied
Crow, House
Crow, Jungle
Flowerpecker, Pale-billed
Bee-eater, Small Green
Flycatcher, Asian Brown
Flycatcher, Asian Paradise
Dove, Laughing
Dove, Spotted
Drongo, Ashy
Drongo, Black
Drongo, White-bellied
Heron, Indian Pond
Honey Buzzard, Oriental
Kingfisher, White-throated
Leafbird, Golden-fronted
Martin, Dusky Crag
Munia, Scaly-breasted
Munia, White-rumped
Parakeet, Rose-ringed
Prinia, Ashy
Robin, Indian
Shrike, Bay-backed
Sunbird, Purple
Sunbird, Purple-rumped
Swallow, Barn
Swallow, Red-rumped
Swallow, Wire-tailed
Swift, Palm
Thrush, Blue-capped Rock
Wagtail, Grey
Wagtail, Pied
Warbler, Booted
Warbler, Blyth’s Reed
White-eye, Oriental

Butterflies…the list is incomplete because my knowledge is so limited.

Blue, Common Hedge
Blue, Grass
Blue, Pea
Brown, Bush
Coster, Tawny
Crow, Common
Emigrant, Common
Emigrant, Mottled
Gull, Common
Jezebel, Common
Judy, Plum
Mormon, Common
Leopard, Common
Rose, Common
Rose, Crimson
Tiger, Plain
Tiger, Striped
Wanderer. Common
Yellow, Common Grass
Yellow, Three-spot Grass
Yellow, Spotless

Antlion, Bees,Beetles, Bugs, Damselflies, Dragonflies, Spiders, Stick Insects, and Wasps

I have to tender an apology to the people above. I wrongly identified the Antlion as a Cranefly. I just don’t know what I was thinking (or smoking). I came home and realized when looking at the photos, what I had done! I guess I was thinking of the Craneflies I’ve seen recently in the US. Here’s the wiki about the interesting Antlion:

I have put up some photos on my FB album,here:

With thanks to Swamji of the Shivanahalli Ashram, Sri Shankar, the Dhars, and the company of the group that made it such an enjoyable trail for me,



For my FB album about the trail, look


My contribution to Missouri Birds

November 18, 2013

Here’s an email from Edge Wade of Missouri Birds:

Hi Deepa,

I’ve delayed writing you, waiting until your Forest Park Birders’ Guide appears online. It is now on the ASM site


and will appear in the December Bluebird. Thank you for this, and for your contributions to Missouri birding.


Edge Wade


Feeling very happy!

The Shieldtail…again, 161113

November 18, 2013

Some time ago, in Bannerghatta, I’d sighted the


which I’d posted about


On Saturday evening, I went to Nandi Hills with Naveen Toppo, his wife (and super bird-spotter) Pinky, and Sharmila Abdulpurkar. Walking along the path near Nehru Nilaya, we found some young men gently nudging something from the middle of the road on to the side, so that it would not be trodden or run over.

We went to investigate, and I found that it was, indeed, a Shieldtail.


The snake moved into some fallen leaves, and put its head into the soil. Ostrich-like, it felt that it was adequately covered, and stopped moving. (So there was no point in taking a video!)

The difficult-sounding name, “Uropeltidae” for these serpents is derived from the Greek words, “Uro” (tail) and “Pelte” (shield). This is because these snakes are characterised by the presence of the large keratinous shield at the tip of the tail. These snakes are not venomous.

They are supposed to have an exclusive diet of earthworms, but I cannot find anything on the net to substantiate this claim. However, they are reviled by farmers because of their alleged diet…earthworms, with their ability to dig through, and aerate, the soil, are farmer’s friends, and any creature that eats them is a farmer’s enemy! However, the wiki says they could also feed on other invertebrates (not specified…there can’t be too many studies on this.

In a way, these are blind snakes, because the eyes are small and dcovered by large polygonal shields.

I would like to id this one as the Elliot’s Shieldtail, because the Wiki entry says:

“They are found in southern India and Sri Lanka.[1] In India, their distribution is mainly along the hills of Western Ghats, and only one species, Elliot’s shieldtail, Uropeltis ellioti, has been reported from other areas such as Eastern Ghats and hills of Central India.”

Ganesh Raghunathan, a friend who was working at B R Hills at the time of my first sighting, told me, “We are seeing quite a few of them here at B.R hills in the past week. they were active and would push their tails hard to prick us when picked up.” So I didn’t try to touch the snake at all; in any case, it must have been distressed after having been handled by the young men, even though they were trying to help it, and probably did save its life from the passing traffic.

Another interesting thing about Shieldtails..they are ovoviviparous….All members of this family retain eggs that hatch within the body of the mother. Whether or not you can pronounce that word fast, this fact is fascinating…a mixture of laying eggs and having the young within the mother’s body!

Here’s a closer look at this not-commonly-found, amazing creation of Nature:


(You can clearly see the “shield tail” in this photo.)

We left the Shieldtail to the hills and the rainy evening, and came home, marvelling at the wonderful beings that populate our Earth.

Found a new, simple recording site…

November 18, 2013

I will no longer be able to record at Muziboo, the site when I had an account and where I had recorded some songs. So I recorded this small song for KTB at Vocaroo:

Record music and voice >>

The words are:

Saraswati charaNam
sakala varamum thantharuLuvAy (S)

thAyum nIyE thanthaiyum nIyE
sarva jeeva dayA nidhiyE
uyirum nIye udalum nIye
uyarntha uyarntha umbar dEviyE (S)

ambikai manOhariyE Adi shakthi nIyandrO
nambinOrai kAkkum nalla nAyakiyum nIyandrO
(thAyum nIye….till end)

This was my mother’s school prayer song…probably in the 1930’s!

I also recorded a few slokA for the children, here:

Record music and voice >>

These are KTB’s most-listened-to favourites

The people whom the birds bring me in touch with!

November 15, 2013

I wrote to the MObirds listserv, mentioning a piece of doggerel that I’d written about birding.

(You can see it

here )

and also giving the link to the video I’d taken, of an Indian Blue Robin bathing

(the post is

here )

and I got a reply from someone called Ken Thompson.

He said:

“Greetings, Deepa

“Sorry i didn’t get a chance to me you when you were here in St Louis. I have to mention that besides my two main obsessions (genealogy & birding), i’m a fan of spicy food — and the samples of southern Indian food that i’ve had from Priyaa & Gokul (restaurants) have been delicious! It’s interesting to see some of the same vegetables that we grew on our farm in Ohio, prepared in totally different ways.
“I’ll be following your future posts with interest.
“Ken Thompson
“near the confluence of the Illinois, Missouri & Mississippi rivers”

I found this email very interesting, so I replied to him:

“Wow, Ken, what an interesting email! One of the vegetables I know of, made completely differently, is Okra…I’ve yet to taste gumbo, though. What other vegetables have you noticed? Eggplant, maybe? A liking for spicy food …how did you come by that?

“Genealogy seems to be a very riveting topic, too….in India, we have not been great at documentation, so our efforts to trace our roots falter and fail after the 3rd generation preceding us. My son-in-law’s grandmother was an Eitzen, and his mother and uncle once came down to St.Louis and had great fun tracing various branches of the family tree.

“Do you have a blog or a website that I can go through?”

To which I got this reply:

“No, no blog, website, or any such. Am actually an ancient mainframe computer programmer (40+ years experience), being forced into the 21st century by my geek-boy sons. Both of whom cook up dishes too hot for me, even. Was brought up German/English, in northwest Ohio, USA. Dad’s mother still spoke German, we made our own sauerkraut (imagine, weak kimchi), ate much potatoes, cauliflower, green peas, root crops, etc. To me now, aloo gobi & mutter ANYthing are ‘comfort’ foods. The only way i’ll voluntarily eat eggplant, is baingan bharta; still not a big fan of okra, tho. Have tried many different cuisines, mainly from Europe (English, German, Bosnian, Italian, Russian) thru the Middle East (Persian, Lebanese, Afghani) to India, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan & Korea. Saint Louis is nice, in that respect. My wife agrees with all of the above except Korean, and some of the very southern Indian dishes. Years ago, i decided that life is too short for dull food, and have been trying (almost) anything since.
Genealogy can easily become an obsession. I call it my socially acceptable form of OCD. On some lines, with help from other researchers, have tracked back into the 1700s in America & Germany, and in England & Scotland for my wife. On my Thompson line, have not been able to trace back past 1850 or so, in New York state. Am currently reading thru the parish records of the Roman Catholic church where my mother’s family lived, finding many relatives that i never heard of before. It’s the most that i’ve used my Latin & German language training in DECADES! And none, or very little, of this research would have been possible without the Internet. It’s rather mind-boggling, really.
“Well, i’ve rattled on enough. Must get ready for work tomorrow.”

I was chatting with and when he heard the name, he went ballistic. “You mean to say you are in touch with KEN THOMPSON?” he exclaimed in huge capitals.

“Er, yes,why, who’s Ken Thompson?” I said.

“Read those words….an ancient mainframe computer programmer (40+ years experience)” he said. “I’m sending you a link….read it.”

So he sent me the link to the

Wiki entry about Ken Thompson.

I was totally zapped when I read it.

“An American pioneer of computer science.Thompson designed and implemented the original Unix operating system. He also invented the B programming language, the direct predecessor to the C programming language.”

Amongst other awards, he’s won the Turing Award and the National Medal of Technology. WOW.

This is the person with whom I am casually discussing birds and genealogy! My toes curled.

But the wonderful part is….the fantastic people that birds bring into my life! Ken may be a supernova….but I must say that every person I meet as a birdwatcher is highly interesting and enriches my life further.

The sun through a shade…

November 14, 2013


Just pulling a shade across the window dramatically changes what I see through it.

I am wondering how many such shades…of prejudice, pre-conceived notions, and ignorance…alter my perception of the world around me, and reduce its true beauty?

View from the window of the Double-Decker train, Bangalore to Chennai, 111113.

Train of thought…

November 14, 2013


A train pulls in (I can’t say, “steams in”, any more!) One journey is over…and another, soon to begin. For a brief while, many unconnected people will share a small space together…some of them will strike up conversations, others will remain blissfully unaware of how may others are travelling with them.

Several agencies swing into action; the train is cleaned, the engine maintenance done, the catering supplies unloaded and loaded, connections between the carriages checked, and so the long list goes…before the announcement that this train is about to go out, once again, ferrying its load from one city to another….

Meetings happen, partings happen. Someone said that a station is one place where emotions can still be seen in the raw. Happiness, sadness, or even loss as someone discovers a missing wallet, mobile phone, or even luggage….

Trains and stations are bustling places…train travel is still magical to me.

Bathing Beauty, Nandi Hills, 081113

November 13, 2013

Among the several migrants that we saw in Nandi Hills last week, this


delighted us with a bathing display


The Blue Robin is a visitor to Karnataka; I didn’t know that it is now considered a Flycatcher, rather than a Thrush, according to the Wiki!


These beautiful birds winter in the hill forests of the Western Ghats of India and in Sri Lanka.


As usual, the female is a drab olive colour while the male is quite flaunty!


The Indian Blue Robin is insectivorous and feeds mainly on the ground. It skulks in undergrowth and hops on the ground, frequently flicking and fanning its tail


These birds arrive in the Himalayan breeding grounds in May and leave in September. Southward migration begins in August. During the migratory season they may be found as passage migrants all over peninsular India.


In winter they are found mainly in the hill forests of southern India,[11] the Western Ghats and in Sri Lanka. They arrive in mid-September and leave the winter quarters in mid April.


The Wiki says, “The habitat in which they are found is usually dense and dark forest with undergrowth and leaf litter. They sing and call in their winter grounds”. Dense dark forest? We found them in the middle of a nursery in Nandi Hills!


The song consists of sudden and sharp series of whistles ending in a rapid series of notes. They also utter a sharp and low clicking alarm note


Having said all this, the Wiki is silent upon its bathing behaviour! 😀


But that was a privilege granted to us, on a misty morning in Nandi Hills.


We just watched, riveted, as the bird, not bothered by our presence or the chill weather, splashed around.


Delighted, we watched until it was done…


Here’s a short video that I took:

Can you hear the clicks of the camera shutters! What a superstar this bird was!

Going to Nandi Hills again on Friday, let’s see what I see….!

The difference between constructive guidance and harsh (and public) criticism

November 13, 2013

Two people posted photos of very common birds on the birding egroup, and asked for ids.

One expert replied:

“I am shocked and stupefied that people do not even put-in minimal effort to thumb through those wonderful bird fieldguides to ID some of our most common birds themselves. Also, we should not forget that there is help at hand to learn birds though the Sunday outings, that happen almost every Sunday in the city. This ID PLEASE habit amounts to degeneration of time-honoured birdwatching. I am fine with some of those really difficult ones, but an ID PLEASE for a male Purple-rumped Sunbird!!!???

“My apologies for being rude. This is nothing personal, just an observation.”


Another expert added:

” I find the dependence on images and photos to identify animals appalling and believe it has gone overboard.

I always wonder what happened to the wonderful skill of watching a bird noting its behavior or making a sketch of it;leafing through the books; reading descriptions and comparing the sketch with the illustration; then arriving at a suspected id; going back again and seeing the bird and confirming it.

“It used to be a long iterative process but was fun. Still is fun. Just that now cameras have replaced the field notes and telephotos replaced binoculars and birdwatchers ready to help have replaced the field guides!

“This is true not just with birds but with other animals like frogs and snakes too. Are we hardwired to simply do pattern matching?”


I do agree that a budding birder should try other methods of id’ing birds and not simply post photos asking for help.

The expert has mentioned, too, that it’s just an observation by him, and he does not mean it personally.

However, by including two emails in the thread, it has, indeed, become a pointed reference to two particular people, and this has gone out to the whole group of many hundred birders, which, I feel, will make them feel singled out.

And sometimes…our assumptions are wrong. One of the people who posted the photo of a common bird, the Pied Bushchat, asking for id, emailed me. He is an amateur photographer who has got interested, by sheer chance, in birdwatching. He says he did use a field guide to identify the other birds in his online album, but just could not identify this bird, and so posted to the egroup.

The point is that a beginner does not really know if the bird is common or not. I do remember writing about how, when I started birding, I not only needed help with the id, but also needed a bird-book opener to open the book at the right place! So it can, and did, happen that even after consulting a field guide (he may not have had a good one, I don’t know) he could not arrive at the id.

Making examples of people like him on the egroup, and criticising his action publicly, will result in several people becoming very reluctant to ask for help…as I said, beginners do not know if the bird is a common one or not. I saw my first Ashy Prinia in….Corbett! Kalyan then explained to me, privately, that it’s common in Karnataka, too.

Getting people to use field trips and field guides as tools to know more about birds is something that you experts most certainly must do. But it would be better not to couch it in such harshly critical words as “degeneration”, and not holding them up in public on a very large egroup. In this instance, the gentleman did consult a field guide, and it was his inexperience which prevented him from getting the id.

So… the point that I am making is that we all make mistakes as we begin, and constructive criticism, with a word to the person privately, would be far more fruitful than public criticism. Private guidance from experts has, indeed, helped me when I was beginning.

I haven’t had any contact with the other person, who posted pics of another common bird, the Purple-rumped Sunbird…but I remember thinking that in the photos, the bird really looked as if it had a reddish head (it must have been the colour balance, I suppose!) so I wonder if he had a doubt as to what bird it was, and so posted the photos? I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, and not assume that he was too lazy to look up the id of the bird.

Sorry, but when i got this rather sad email from one gentleman, saying, “This mail from the experts reduces my interest as a beginner”, I thought I’d put across my point of view.