Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Cormorants Galore!

Last week at Native Place i happened to go up to the terrace after breakfast and was rewarded by the sighting of a huge flock of cormorants hunting for fish. A whole swarm of them were encircling an area presumably there were lots of fish there. From the distance they made a magnificent sight – the surface of the water was disturbed with their flapping wings as they swirled around creating a huge circular cauldron, diving in, running on water and flapping about. A few straggler egrets added to the drama creating a black and white canvas against the blue waters.  

I checked out this new phenomenon that seemed to be unfolding right in front of us for the next few days just to be sure and yes – it was happening every day. Wow!!!  Such a wondrous sight!

For the first time one can see what seems to be the entire colony fishing together and it makes quite an impact on the senses.

Cormorants have been a common sight by the lake shore at Native Place. Through the year one could spot the odd group in the mornings by the lake shore, diving for fish and perching on tree tops and bushes by the shores wings spread out to dry in the sun.  During summer evenings one had these exhilarating sightings where one looked up by chance to suddenly spot wave upon wave of V shaped flocks akin to migrating geese as they flew back to their roosting spots for the night (or so i believed)
In the recent years an entire colony has  taken to roost in a grove of acacia trees on a narrow spit of land that juts out into the lake  just a few years ago becoming our neighbors. J

Since then we have had the pleasure of watching them at sunset time as they circle around the area and then head for a tree. Lots of squawking and shoving goes on at sunset until they go quiet for the night.

It’s lovely to have a pristine water body before you and spot lake shore birds but to see an entire colony intently at work circling low over the lake is surely special!

The pictures above simply don't convey the largeness of the phenomenon - you have to see it to feel it ! Come connect with nature at Native Place.

More about Cormorants: - Cormorants are large black, fish eating birds with a long,  hook tipped bill.They  are daytime feeders that hunt alone or in flocks.  Cormorants feed by diving and swimming underwater. They can dive to depths of 5 to 60 feet below the surface and stay under water up to 70 seconds. They eat mostly fish and sometimes small invertebrates. Cormorants use their webbed feet to propel them underwater. Cormorants run along the surface of the water to gain enough speed for flight.  Watching these diving birds by the lakeside is a wonderful way to spend time.

Connections: - Recently i came across an interesting piece of info relating the presence of cormorants to tarpon fishing -
When you eat like a cormorant — which is a lot — you poop like a cormorant — which, again, is a lot. This potent concoction falls from the cormorant's precarious perch, entering the food chain only a few feet below. Bacteria then grow in this enriched, (let's call it fertilized) water. Soon the plankton count their lucky stars while feeding on this heaven-sent bounty. Small invertebrates and protozoa’s gorge on the plankton, and on and on it goes up the line. Shrimp, crabs and sardines bless father cormorant before gorging on the millions of minute krill or the collected organic detritus they leave behind.

At the top of this food chain are the tarpon. They come for the bounty the cormorant droppings provide and, with the tarpon, come the anglers. It is simple math: more cormorants mean more food for the tarpon's prey. More guano creates more food and more food means more tarpon.  
Perhaps we shouldn't be so judgmental about cormorants and their greedy eating and pooping habits. Perhaps we should be glad these ancient avians do their digesting where they do. Perhaps we should be glad they haven't better mastered the air. Perhaps we should be pleased they only use flight to get to the fishing grounds and then trundle home again, straight for the mangroves.
Some guides in Mexico say that they kill cormorants because they eat baby tarpon. Gentlemen … haven't you learned by now that it is best not to mess with Mother Nature? Let her be. She has things pretty well worked out, and her devices usually work to the benefit of the angler. Mess with her, and you just may be killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Although in this case it may not be a goose, but a cormorant, and it may not be an egg, but a pile of … OK, OK.  You get the picture. So let's all bless the cormorants.
 Astrid Rao 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Announcing the arrival of the Malabar whistling Thrush in the Native Place Garden

Folks – they have arrived!  We spotted a pair last week scouting around the Nirvana Cottage Wing for a nesting space. Heard the predawn song a few days ago a sweet whistling and had an easy spotting soon after. Watched the pair happily at work – seems like they too are happy to be back (they have been nesting here for a few years now) We will now have the pleasure of watching them as they select a nesting spot and build their nest, bring new chicks into he world and then work hard together to feed the young chicks who have voracious appetites.
Ah – so looking forward to this ! J
Also known as the ‘Whistling Schoolboy’ for the whistling calls that they make at dawn  - a slow soft mellifluous call with a sense of aimlessness about it.  Sounds like a carefree schoolboy whistling to himself as he strolls along.
The species is said to be resident in the Western Ghats although it visits the Native Place Garden to breed and raise its young.  I have read that they can be spotted near rocky streams and in riverine habitats either in the shady undergrowth or in a really difficult to spot location and are usually most active at early dawn or dusk making them difficult to photograph

This large thrush appears blackish with shiny patches of blue on the forehead and shoulders. It is omnivorous, eating a wide range of insects. crabs, frogs, earthworms and berries.

Which Kadamba Tree ?

Kadamb (Anthocephalus Cadamba/कदंब) or The Common Bur Flower is a large, handsome, umbrella shaped tree with branches arranged in whorls around the central trunk. It is evergreen, fast growing and has a graceful appearance.  It produces unique globular shaped flowers coloured a striking yellow to orange.  
 In India the tree is mainly associated with Lord Krishna and stories about him and his gopis prancing about in the forests of Brindavan among the Kadamba groves abound.  This tree is also closely associated with the Mother Goddess (often referred as Kadambavana vasini) "She Who Resides in the Forest of Kadamba Trees."

We have a lovely specimen of this legendary tree in the Native Place Garden that we planted about 7 or 8 years ago having been intrigued by the lore of its beauty as well as its mythological and ecological associations.  You can enjoy its beauty and shade throughout the year but in the month of May the tree offers a special sensory experience when it flowers in profusion, showing off its quaint yet beautiful flowers that attract a host of bees and exude a heady perfume. And as the flowers drop one finds the curious golden globes scattered all around the tree waiting to dry off and release thousands of little seeds.

We have built a low wall all around our Kadamba tree. A silent invitation to you to come sit under this tree and enjoy the ambience it conjures.

The Kadamba Anthocephalus Cadamba  is often mixed up with the Kaim – Mitragaayne parviflora  a tree that is dominant in the forests of Brindavan. Both spcies produce globular blossoms but the Kaim’s flowers are not as striking  to look at. They also differ greatly in canopy and leaf shape. Where the Kadamba has a straight bole and branches arranged in upward reaching whorls the Kaim has a fairly meandering trunk.

i came across the Kaim in the “Trees of Delhi” by Pradeep Kishen. Pradeep  sheds light on this confusion/ puzzle on page 149 –  where he informs us that the REAL Krishna Kadamb  of Brindavan is Neelamarcia  cadamba ‘Kaim’ not Anthocephalus Cadamba ‘Kadamba’  which  is unique to moist  forests in the NE of  India and would not survive unaided in the hot dry  Brindavan area.  Kaim on the other hand is not only native to the remnant Brindavan forests but is their dominant tree. But in the Brindavan region the Kaim is called kadamb  J  no wonder the confusion !

Oh well !!! Our Kadamba may not bring to mind the visual of Krishna playing his flute any more but it remains the tree closely associated with the Mother Goddess  - Kadambavana vasini "She Who Resides in the grove of Kadamba Trees."
The tree is said to be vanishing from Indian forests and needs to be planted and celebrated once more for it its beauty, functionality and usefulness.
Some Uses
This beautiful tree is also known for its medicinal virtues. The tree has astringent & antipyretic properties. It is believed to have cure for ulcers, digestive ailments, diarrhoea, expectorant, fever, vomiting etc.

A yellow dye is obtained from the root bark. Kadamb flowers are an important raw material in the production of attar, Indian perfume with Sandalwood (Santalum Album). The tree is grown along avenues, roadsides and villages for shade. The fresh leaves are sometimes used as plates.

In Permaculture
The Kadamba is suitable for reforestation programs. It sheds large amounts of leaf and non-leaf litter which on decomposition improves  the  physical and chemical properties of soil.

Cultural aspects
It is common belief among the natives of many villages in the state Chhattisgarh that plantation of Kadamb tree near to lakes and ponds, brings happiness and prosperity in their life.