Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Why I travel by train in India

October 13, 2017

Why I travel by train rather than by flight.
1. I have to reach the station only half an hour before the train, not two or three hours ahead of departure.
2. The railway station is 15 km away as opposed to the airport’s 45 km. (which mandates a journey of its own).
3. I don’t have horrible luggage restrictions which mean I cannot take an extra pair of socks.
4. I don’t have to screen my luggage (well, except in Old Delhi Station).
5.I don’t have to stand in long security check queues.
6. I don’t need to have my sunscreen lotion and (yes, once) safety pins thrown away.
7. I can pack home food and lots of water for the journey.
8. I get a lot of free time on the train.
9. I have enough time to both strike up conversations with fellow passengers as well as commune with myself.
10. The view from the window is as spectucular as the one from the air.
Oh, and
11. I get a senior citizen’s discount!

I can also add to this, that train travel is definitely more “green” than air travel…and that food on the train is mediumly priced junkola as opposed to exorbitantly priced junkola at airports and on flights.

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Savandurga, 081017

October 11, 2017

It was just four of us: Padma, Ramaswamy, Srini and I… who decided to go to

Savandurga

on a misty monsoon morning.

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Sign in Kannada for our destination:

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The mist in the trees…

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Which slowly cleared up:

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Our activities attracted a lot of attention!

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We did see a lot of birds…here are some.

Black Drongos

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This Ashy Prinia presented a cartoony view.

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Green Bee-eater with dragonfly catch

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Laughing Dove

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The butterflies were out in force, too!

Yellow Orange-tip

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Dark Blue Tiger

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Plain Tiger caterpillar

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Pointed Ciliate Blue

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Common Wanderer

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Dark Grass Blue

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Common Gull

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Here’s Srini, delighted with the way a butterfly trustingly climbed on to his finger (if one wipes one’s perspiration off, they are attracted to the minerals in the fluid)

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That was the Pointed Ciliate Blue again.

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Some of the insects we saw included this White-tailed Damselfly

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and this beautiful Copper Beetle (at least, that’s what I named it!)

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Wildflowers were varied and plentiful.

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Here’s a lovely Balloon Vine:

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Mexican Poppy

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Gossypium sp (Mallow)

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Waterlilies in a pond

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Even seed pods can look stunning

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Mushrooms

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Dabbaguli was one of the places we stopped at

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And just outside the town, we spotted a bonus…the Jungle Nightjar!

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Padma brought her tasty cutlets, and we feasted on them

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Later we also had some local breakfast.

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We stopped near two old temples, the Shaivite sAvaNdi veerabhadraswAmy and bhadrakAlamma temple

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and the Vaishnavite Lakshmi Narasimha temple

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Here’s narasimhA, the man-lion avatAr of Vishnu, with His consort Lakshmi, who is his laptop…

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The deities were being taken out in procession, which was a nice bonus.

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This life-like dog in a vendor’s stall nearly had me fooled.

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Part of this temple seemed lost in dreams of another time….

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Some rather risky rock-climbing was going on.

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The scenery was stunning:

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It was on the rocky outcrop in the centre that we spotted three Egyptian vultures.

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We returned home, well pleased with our morning, stopping to say “bye” to this Oriental Garden Lizard which also seemed to be having a swinging time.

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Looking forward to the next weekend outing…!

Valley Outing, 021017

October 10, 2017

Gandhiji said India lives in her villages, but today, on the anniversary of his birth, we decided that she also lives in the variety of life forms that she has!

Aishwary, Ajit, Kumar, Padma, Prem, Ramaswamy, Venkatesh and I

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tarried a little on our way to the Valley as the mist hung heavy in the air. However, by the time we signed in the register at the gate and walked along the path, the weather had cleared up a little.

Whether or not we sighted any moving creature…the sheer burst of greenery had us mesmerized! Everywhere was a clean, washed green, with diamonds sparkling wherever we looked. Raindrops stood on everything…blades of grass, tiny insects and butterflies, and on the wildflowers too.

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I always feel that one of the best times to go for a nature walk is when the rain is about to stop. The insects and butterflies come out to make the most of the sun, and the birds come out to make the most of the insects…a lot of action happens at every level, on the ground, in the air…on a small and large scale. This was what happened this morning.

Spiders lay in wait for unwary flies or butterflies;

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Neoscona Spider with her egg-case

dragonflies, visiting us from Africa,

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Globe Skimmer aka Wandering Glider….this has migrated from Africa. It takes four generations to complete the migratory cycle.

Pantala flavescens

zipped along in the air, looking for food.

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Ichneumon (Parasitoid) Wasp.

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Ladybird.

Birds breakfasted on whatever they could find, on the trees, under the leaves, and in the air.

An unusual visitor for the Valley was an Oriental Darter flying overhead, which “opened our account.” A greedy Red-whiskered Barbet,

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A Black Drongo mobbing a White-cheeked Barbet, several Green Bee-eaters,a dancing Fantail Flycatcher

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(why it’s called a Fantail Flycatcher)

a preening Spotted Dove,

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with Ashy Prinias singing,

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and a Brahminy Skink (the only reptile we saw)

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a White-browed Bulbul

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made us wait in the area before the first banyan tree for a while; but then we went further down the path. With so much to observe and enjoy, from different kinds of spiders and their webs, dragonflies, plants of all kinds, a couple of Blue-faced Malkohas(giving Prem his first sighting of these skulky birds),

How we usually see Malkohas!

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Occasionally,when they can be seen better…

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by the time we reached the abandoned house, it was past 9am! Well-rewarded, we stopped to share our snacks, and then went further to the bamboo thicket.

For the first time in many years, I saw the stream of the Valley in good force, with a lot of water gushing over the stones and along the gully in the bamboo thicket.

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The song of the Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher and a brief hello from the White-rumped Shama filled in the audio part of our outing.

By now, the butterflies were out, too, making the most of the weak sunshine to recharge themselves, or mud-puddling along the path.

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Zebra Blue

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Bush Brown

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Common Lime

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Pointed Ciliate Blue

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Common Pierrot

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Common Silverline

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Danaid Eggfly female

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Common Line Blue on Tephrosia purpurea

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The Common Crows were out in full force, and we managed to catch sight of one Double-branded one as well. Emigrant numbers were lower than in the past weeks, but a Dark Blue Tiger appeared too. It was easy to show our friends why a butterly was called the Pale Grass Blue when it had its wings open to the sunlight!

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Common Hedge Blues also flashed their bright upper wings for us instead of sitting folded up as usual. Aishwary was a great help in singing the Blues!

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Aishwary (left) helping out.

I saw the unusual sight of a Chocolate and a Lemon Pansy executing a pas de deux as they mud puddled together. Some of the butterflies were fresh and colourful specimens, some were tattered, dull survivors of battles with predators.

Other insects:

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Ichneumon (parasitoid) wasp. Look at that ovipositor! I wouldn’t like that wasp positing any ova on (or in) me!

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Robber Fly

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Stag Beetle

We noticed some beautiful plants and wildflowers

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Cassia mimoisedes

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Pseudarthria viscida

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Cyanotis sp.

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Indigofera nammularifolia:

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(what a long name for a very tiny flower)

We returned to our regular lives, much refreshed and energized by the sights and sound, the touch of different kinds of leaves, the taste of ripe Passion fruit, and the aroma of several flowers. Truly, a treat for the senses!

Beginning my morning chores, reminiscing about the wonderful outing, and already looking forward to what the next weekend may bring!

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The eBird list, compiled by Ajit, is

here

Butterflies:
Blue, Common Hedge
Blue, Pale Grass
Blue, Pointed Ciliate
Blue, Zebra
Bush Brown
Castor, Common
Cerulean, Common
Crow, Common
Crow, Double-branded
Eggfly, Danaid
Emigrant, Common
Gull, Common
Jezebel, Common
Lime, Common
Orange-tip, Plain
Orange-tip, White
Orange-tip, Yellow
Pansy, Chocolate
Pansy, Lemon
Pansy, Yellow
Pierrot, Common
Pioneer
Psyche
Rose, Common
Rose, Crimson
Silverline, Common
Skipper, Indian
Tiger, Dark Blue
Tiger, Plain
Tiger, Striped
Wanderer, Common
Yellow, Common Grass
Yellow, Spotless Grass
Yellow, Three-spot Grass

I’ve put up the photos of the birds, butterflies, insects, plants, a single reptile and us mammals,
here

For life to begin

August 31, 2017

In an empty, silent house
I wait for life to begin.
Life will arrive
With the first young child
Bubbling over with tales from her school.
I make sure she eats the rest of her lunch.
While listening to her,
I make preparations
For the evening meal.
More noise, more tumult
When the little boy comes in.
“Dwag me to the bathwoom!” he yells
Glowing with the dirt of the day
Spent in playschool.
Soon, other children come in to play.
The house wakes up, is full of life.
Homework, Hindi, settling squabbles:
Bath, dinner, and a game or two.
I cuddle up to one, or both
As we say a prayer, or read a story.
The little, reassuring rituals of bedtime
Are done. Darkness prevails.
Peace reigns again as they lie asleep,
Hair tumbled over pillows, arms askew.
Life sleeps now, but will be up tomorrow,
Getting ready for the day, again.
Awake and asleep by turns, this house
Is the home of the future.

A Mushroom..a Fun Guy!

August 29, 2017

Mushrooms or Toadstools

are the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus, typically produced above ground on soil or on its food source.
I’ve been amazed at the variety of mushrooms that, er, mushroom during the monsoons. Here are some:

A group of mushrooms:

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Pic: Vandana Murthy

Mushrooms go by different names, such as “bolete”, “puffball”, “stinkhorn”, and “morel”, and gilled mushrooms themselves are often called “agarics”.

Puffball mushroom:

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Saucer mushrooms:

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Their spores, called basidiospores, are produced on the gills and fall in a fine rain of powder from under the caps as a result.

Bracket mushrooms:

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Scalloped edges:

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Many species of mushrooms seemingly appear overnight, growing or expanding rapidly. This phenomenon is the source of several common expressions in the English language including “to mushroom” or “mushrooming” (expanding rapidly in size or scope) and “to pop up like a mushroom” (to appear unexpectedly and quickly). In reality all species of mushrooms take several days to form

The classic “toadstool” shape:

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Mustard-coloured:

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Though mushroom fruiting bodies are short-lived, the underlying network can itself be long-lived and massive. A colony of Armillaria solidipes (formerly known as Armillaria ostoyae) in Malheur National Forest in the United States is estimated to be 2,400 years old, possibly older, and spans an estimated 2,200 acres

Bright orange:

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Greenish:

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Mushrooms are used extensively in cooking, in many cuisines (notably Chinese, Korean, European, and Japanese). Though neither meat nor vegetable, mushrooms are known as the “meat” of the vegetable world.[21]

Most mushrooms sold in supermarkets have been commercially grown on mushroom farms. The most popular of these, Agaricus bisporus, is considered safe for most people to eat because it is grown in controlled, sterilized environments. Several varieties of these are grown commercially, including whites, crimini, and portobello. Other cultivated species available at many grocers include Hericium erinaceus, shiitake, maitake (hen-of-the-woods),

Fan-shaped ones:

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Rosette-shaped:

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People who collect mushrooms for consumption are known as mycophagists, collecting them is known as mushroom hunting, or simply “mushrooming”.

Looking like a human brain!

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This one was more than 6 inches in diameter:

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You can see the human foot for reference:

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More generally, and particularly with gilled mushrooms, separating edible from poisonous species requires meticulous attention to detail; there is no single trait by which all toxic mushrooms can be identified, nor one by which all edible mushrooms can be identified. Additionally, even edible mushrooms may produce allergic reactions in susceptible individuals, from a mild asthmatic response to severe anaphylactic shock.

Stunning lilac ones:

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Mushrooms with psychoactive properties have long played a role in various native medicine traditions in cultures all around the world. They have been used as sacrament in rituals aimed at mental and physical healing, and to facilitate visionary states. One such ritual is the velada ceremony. A practitioner of traditional mushroom use is the shaman or curandera.Mushrooms can be used for dyeing wool and other natural fibers, too.

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But of course, the best use of mushrooms, for me, is as food! Here’s one of the eateries around Hessarghatta, which specializes in mushroom (khumbh) dishses:

Hotel Oyster at Hessarghatta:

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Here’s a mushroom dish at the eatery:

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A most interesting and complex organism…that’s why I say that a mushroom is an example of a “fun guy”!

Layers:

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A delicate umbrella:

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What should I do?

August 23, 2017

Should I feel happy for what I had?
Should I feel sad for what I’ve lost?
Should I take the value of what I still have?
Or should I count the loss and its cost?

Both my daughter and I are taking inventory and finding things missing around our homes…..Neither of us knows quite what to do about it.

But I think my words apply to both tangible and intangible things.

Wildlife events in Bangalore, Aug 2017

August 23, 2017

The third week of August ended with a wildlife event and a wildlife/conservation festival, both of which  I thoroughly enjoyed.

The first was 

the screening of “Cobra King”,

a documentary on the

King Cobra

made by

Sandesh Kadur of

Felis Creations

It was Gowri Sankar  of

Kalinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology

narrating  the life cycle of this iconic reptile of the Western Ghats.

I cannot yet find the documentary on the net ( has it not yet been released to the wild, like rescued snakes are…?), but here is another video on the same snake from the same film maker:

Here’s a young mother giving her son a reassuring touch during the intense parts of the film:

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Here is the team who created the film:

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The other event is one that is turning from a wildlife photography event into an annual festival that celebrates various wildlife conservation, while also indicating how much still needs to be done.

The Nature in Focus Festival

Kalyan Varma

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one of the co-directors of the festival, compered the event, and a smorgasbord of people associated with wildlife documentation and conservation spoke at the event.

Sale of art and crafts at the event:

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Here’s

Dhimant Vyas

 talking about his journey as an illustrator, in conversation with

Rohan Chakravarty

an award-winning wildlife cartoonist, who later spoke (with humour, of course!) about his craft as a tool in conservation.

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Dhimant and others, enjoying the event:

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It’s a big measure of the increasing importance of this festival that it is now drawing speakers and participants from all over the world.

A section of the audience:

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Two of the award-winning photographs:

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An expert birder and photographer looks at the images on display:

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Though the major part of my wildlife experience will always be the actual visits to the forests and wilderness, such events celebrating wildlife and conservation help people like me listen to many voices both of the creatures who share this Earth with us, and the committed people who carry those wild voices to many urban dwellers who feel out of touch with the natural world.

Well, naturally!

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The culture of opacity

August 16, 2017

One of the things, I think, that impedes my country in her progress, is our culture of opacity.

As a nation, we do not seem to like sharing information at all. Government offices, political leaders, even small businesses…how many of us like to share, openly, the information that we possess?

The first thing I notice when a business gets going is that the name of the founders are immediately hidden behind a wall of anonymity. Phone numbers are withheld, as are the names of those who run the show.

I find this refusal to share in the world of wildlife, too. When a rare bird, plant or animal is sighted, the threat from others is cited as a reason to make the information secret.

This would be a useful thing to do if the information were genuinely withheld from everyone else. But what actually happens is different. The information and the knowledge become instruments of power.

To know the man at the top, to know where X animal can be seen, to understand the workings and financial dealings of (to take an example) a hospital…these, then, become privileges granted to only a few.

Alas, information can never be kept entirely secret, either. Corruption and the cooking of figures soon becomes known; everyone knows about the place where one can see something special. But the information is not open to all; it remains in the hands of the privileged elite, and always kept a secret from the “mango public” (aam janta).

Even the process of this secret transmission of information vitiates it to some extent; the information is corrupted often.

This lack of transparency, this tendency to keep information to oneself and not share it…we have to overcome this in order that all of us may stride forward on the path to progress.

The tinies of Turahalli, 120817

August 15, 2017

As my friend Janhvi was going to do a trek to Turahalli State Forest as part of her Corporate Social Initiative (CSI), a few of us decided to join in.

True to the lacklustre response from her company, the usual number of people (two!) turned up….and we promptly hijacked the trek into a nature outing.

Here we are, at brefus before beginning the walk:

Akash, Janhvi, Anand, Subbu, Shoba, Padma and Ramaswamy

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We started our walk from a point not known to regular visitors….and the lesser-travelled path proved to be extremely productive.

Several tiny flowers caught our eye.

Andrographis serpyllifolia:

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Commelina sp:

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Ground Orchid, Habenaria roxburghii:

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The “Argyreia cuneata” name of this flower won’t stick in my mind, but its common name, “Mahalungi” will, for the wrong reasons!

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We were lucky to find this Ceropagia candelarbrum:

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Tiny flowers of the Dodonea viscosa:

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Some of us took a break to look up things:

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Unknown:

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We were also enchanted by some of the six-footers we saw. Sometimes the insects and flowers were together.

Blister beetle (on Clerodendron flowers):

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Ants on Leucas species:

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Sarcostemma acidum:

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Crinium, or the Spider Lily:

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Stachytarpeta, the Devil’s Coach Whip:’

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Such small beauties:

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Gulaganji, or Abrus precatorius:

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The tiny flower of the Bastard Sandal:

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This Puffball mushroom had broken, showing beautifully-speckled spores:

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A tiny fly on the Sarcostemma plant:

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A Common Wanderer female:

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A Bagworm Moth pupa:

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A Hoverfly (that huge part of the head are just its two compound eyes!)

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A Plain Tiger caterpillar:

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A Geometer moth:

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A Peninsular Rock Agama coming into breeding colours:

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We did go over a few rocks:

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Eggs on the Bastard Sandal:

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A Shield or Stink Bug:

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Even the Giant Wood Spider was smaller than usual!

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The insects got tinier:

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Of course, one of the highlights of the morning was sighting not one, but two

Atlas Moths

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Very satisfied with all that we’d seen, we went home…looking forward to the next outing!

The Atlas Moth, 120817

August 15, 2017

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We have a huge variety of moths in the world, but one of the most spectacular is the

The [Atlas Moth](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attacus_atlas), which is found in the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia, and is common across the Malay archipelago.

The Atlas moth was held to be the largest moth in the world, before the

[Hercules Moth](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coscinocera_hercules) relegated it to second place. However, it still remains one of the most spectacular moths one can see!

We were very lucky to see two of these moths on a nature walk at Turahalli State Forest, on 120817.

These Saturniid moths have wingspans reaching over 25 cm (9.8 in). Females are appreciably larger and heavier than the males.

Atlas moths are said to be named after either the Titan of Greek mythology, or their map-like wing patterns. In Hong Kong the Cantonese name translates as “snake’s head moth”, referring to the apical extension of the forewing, which bears a more than passing resemblance to a snake’s head.

Here are the beautiful, feathery antennae of the moth:

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In India, Atlas moths are cultivated for their silk in a non-commercial capacity; unlike that produced by the related silkworm moth (Bombyx mori), Atlas moth silk is secreted as broken strands. This brown, wool-like silk is thought to have greater durability and is known as “fagara”.

Females are sexually passive, releasing powerful pheromones which males detect and home in on with the help of chemoreceptors located on their large feathery antennae. Males may thus be attracted from several kilometres downwind! The females do not wander far from their chrysalis.

After mating, the female lays about spherical eggs,

I was equally struck by the beauty of the moth’s thorax.

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Another amazing fact…the adult moth has no mouth parts, and cannot eat! Adult Atlas m only live for a few days…finding mates and reproducing within that time. Dusty-green caterpillars hatch after about two weeks. Theyfeed voraciously on the foliage of certain citrus and other evergreen trees.The caterpillars are adorned with fleshy spines along their backs which are covered in a waxy white substance. After reaching a length of about 115 millimetres (4.5 in), the caterpillars pupate within a papery cocoon interwoven into desiccated leaves. The adult moths emerge after about four weeks.

Here’s the moth whith its wings folded:

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We were extremely lucky to see not one, but two moths in the wild…it’s an experience that will stay with us for a lifetime!

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