Posts Tagged ‘urban living’

How some balloons are useful!

December 2, 2017

Nature Feature on CitMat, Dec ’17

I often come across the

Balloon Vine

(also called “Love in a puff”)


on my walks through the fields and forests around my city. It’s a very common vine, indeed….and in fact, in New Zealand, it is identified as a prohibited pest plant! However, in Kerala, the flower of this vine¬† is one of the ten “sacred flowers”

Seed pod and flowers:


I found that the scientific name for the genus of this vine is “Cardiospermum”. The name intrigued me, until a friend and avid amateur botanist, Ajit Ampalakkad, showed me the seeds inside the “balloons”. Each seed was attached to the seed pod, and when removed, that area showed a beautiful heart-shaped pattern.


Hence…”cardio”, meaning heart, and “spermum” meaning seed. Voila! A tough-sounding scientific name was explained.

But there were more interesting things about this vine to be discovered; I realized that it has anti-diarrhoeal and homoeopathic properties.

Ripe seed pod:



is a blog by Ramya Venkateshwaran in April 2015,  describing the various ways the leaves of this vine can be prepared.

I also came across this video, part of a food/travel series called “Suttralam Suvaikkalam”, hosted by

Rakesh Raghunathan

in which the green leaves are ground and added to rice batter to make tasty dosai (not dosas, which is a pan-Indian term…dosai is the Tamil word!)

So…do look around you if you are walking down country or wooded paths…if you collect the leaves of this vine (called “Mundakathan keerai” in Tamil), you will be doing yourself a good turn healthwise, if you include this in your diet!

The Rock Eagle Owls of NICE Road, Bangalore, Karnataka, 260414

April 27, 2014

I’ve always been drawn to owls, and the


also called the Indian Eagle Owl, has been one of my favourites; I’ve sighted it at Bannerghatta, Turahalli, and at various other locations.


For the past few years, we’ve been watching some of these majestic birds making their home on the rocky outcrops of the highway built by Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises (NICE), around Bangalore.


As we were returning from our trip to Sakleshpur, where we did a bird census for a coffee estate (a very satisfying assignment, more about it later!) we decided we would detour on to this toll road and try our luck with the owls. And we were rewarded for our efforts!


The Rock Eagle Owls were earlier treated as a subspecies of the Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo) but are now considered as separate.


The wiki says, “They are seen in scrub and light to medium forests but are especially seen near rocky places within the mainland of the Indian Subcontinent south of the Himalayas and below 5000 feet elevation.


“Humid evergreen forest and extremely arid areas are avoided. Bush-covered rocky hillocks and ravines, and steep banks of rivers and streams are favourite haunts.


Here’s a view of the habitat…can you see one of the Owls here?


I zoomed in further:


and some more, to show the excellent camouflage when the bird’s head is turned away, and those amazing eyes are not visible:


Here, one eye is visible:


“The nesting season is November to April. The eggs number three to four and are creamy white, broad roundish ovals with a smooth texture. They are laid on bare soil in a natural recess in an earth bank, on the ledge of a cliff, or under the shelter of a bush on level ground. The nest site is reused each year. The eggs hatch after about 33 days and the chicks are dependent on their parents for nearly six months.”

They were quite enjoying the breeze, closing their eyes and letting their feathers ruffle:


Nowhere is the usefulness of a good zoom illustrated more in the ability to “approach” these birds while keeping one’s distance. Here are the lesser and higher zoom images:



“It spends the day under the shelter of a bush or rocky projection, or in a large mango or similar thickly foliaged tree near villages.”


Their diet seems to be very varied: “Their diet through much of the year consists of rodents, but birds seem to be mainly taken towards winter. Prey species of birds include partridges, doves, Indian Roller,the Shikra and the Spotted Owlet. Birds the size of a peacock are sometimes attacked; Bats were also preyed on, and mammals the size of a Black-naped hare may be taken.” As if to bear this out, we saw several Peafowl on the fence nearby, and squirrels scampering around the area.

Alas, all is not well in the world of the Owls. The Wiki notes:” Like many other large owls, these are considered birds of ill omen. Their deep haunting calls if delivered from atop a house are considered to forebode the death of an occupant. A number of rituals involving the capture and killing of these birds have been recorded. Salim Ali notes a wide range of superstitions related to them but notes two as being particularly widespread. One is that if the bird is starved for a few days and beaten, it would speak like a human, predicting the future of the tormentor or bringing them wealth while the other involves the killing of the bird to find a lucky bone that moved against the current like a snake when dropped into a stream. Belief in these superstitions has led to the persecution of the species in many areas by tribal hunters. The capture of these birds is illegal under Indian law but an underground market continues to drive poaching.”

It is sad that superstition seems to rule the life prospects of these beautiful birds…and another matter of concern with the owls shown here is the rampant construction going on in the area where the Owls are.

But as of now, the birds seem to be holding their own. I do hope the Rock Eagle Owls of the NICE Road remain, sentinels of our urban wildlife, for a long time to come!

Here’s a video of two of the birds, and the rocky habitat:

Should you go to the NICE Road to sight these birds, please keep your distance from them, and use a good pair of binoculars or good zoom lenses to observe and document them. They are under enough threat from urban development, let us not add to the difficulties of their survival! Also, remember that you are on a highway, so keep the car moving slowly. If you stop the car and get out…be quick, and be careful..remember that on the highway, you yourself are at risk!

Ode to Forest Park: What I’ve owed to Forest Park

April 4, 2014

Eliot Miller sent an email on the Mobirds mailing list, concluding about Forest Park, “Can’t wait to get back there again!” That brought the words tumbling out…

(All photos taken in Forest Park)

wtr blw fp 160711 stl photo IMG_3755-1.jpg

des peres bridge 090213 stl photo DSC00671.jpg

Think of me when you walk
In Forest Park;
In the dawn, in the sunshine,
In the sunset, in the dark.

22 170613 Muny Sunset

Think of me, in the cold;
As in the drifts you go.
Think of me, as the fall rain
Slowly turns to snow.

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B'nw snow fp 240313 zoo gate photo DSC02337-1.jpg

Think of me as the trees
Change colors in their leaves;
Think of me as the swallows
Fly their nests under the eaves.


Think of me when the bare branches
Are full of colour and song:
Think of me as on the spring grass
You happily walk along.


Art and theatre live there;
So does history, too.
Wildlife and birds live in the open;
Exotics live in the Zoo.



Ancient trees drop their leaves
Or stand festooned in green.
The sunrise and sunset there
Are the most beautiful I’ve seen.

rd tld hawk with prey fp 070413 photo DSC03771.jpg

People fly kites, play tennis;
They enjoy themselves on the water;
Cricket, baseball, picnics, walks.
It’s a place of fun and laughter.


Think of me, no matter when
To Forest Park you go.
It is, in all the city of St.Louis
One of the nicest places I know.

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yellow lotus fp 110711 photo IMG_3593-1.jpg

The perils of rapid urbanization

April 3, 2013

Sumeet is a person with very interesting ideas, and in a recent conversation, he talked about his liking the following definition of independence by M K Gandhi:

“Independence begins at the bottom… A society must be built in which every village has to be self sustained and capable of managing its own affairs… It will be trained and prepared to perish in the attempt to defend itself against any onslaught from without… This does not exclude dependence on and willing help from neighbours or from the world. It will be a free and voluntary play of mutual forces… In this structure composed of innumerable villages, there will be ever widening, never ascending circles. Growth will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose center will be the individual. Therefore the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle but will give strength to all within and derive its own strength from it.”

This took him in a different direction, about the state of schooling in our country today; but I thought in another direction, and my response was,

“Rapid urbanization is one of the banes of our present form of society. If we had been able to develop all our villages, we would not have everyone leaving other means of livelihood because they are not economically viable, and rushing to the urban centres, weakening them further with demands….resulting in both villages and cities being inimical to a good quality of life, in various ways. I still find it very hard to articulate this problem that we’ve allowed to develop over the decades. The same problem happens in other countries, too, I think…this rapid urbanization is, I think, something that impacts our quality of life very adversely. It’s like the rats on a ship…as long as they are evenly distributed on a floating ship, all is well. But when the ship is in trouble, instead of remaining that way, they cluster to the few floating spars….and that ensures that all of them sink that much faster…or, at least, suffer being immersed in water, perhaps not drowning, but having a ‘poor quality of life’.”

I’ve seen this problem happening, in graphic and immediate detail, in my city of Bangalore. The population exploded, exponentially, as the IT industry boomed, with no commensurate increase in infrastructure. Government agencies either ignored the need, or struggled with measures that were too little, too late. And as the focus went to meet power and other demands, the rural areas suffered even more, making them that much less desirable to reside in. A vicious cycle of rapid urbanization was set up, and resulted in the creaking and inadequate infrastructure that my city is staggering along on, today.

In every sphere, it is, ultimately, letting go of a small, well-knit, I-know-you-you-know-me kind of caring circle for an impersonal, run-it-from-far-away system and culture that doesn’t seem sustainable in the long run, but which only postpones the problems to a date in the future. In my country, I see overpopulation, and the extreme increase of demand over supply, as contributing largely to these problems. But I am still trying to think of how the situation can be rememdied….

What is next…that made me think

June 27, 2007

What a thought-provoking message, in a most unexpected place!