Monday, May 11, 2020

Lock back

Looking back at the lock down, it's has been a crazy almost couple of months! Can't believe I am used to this new routine. It's been a tough one with some lessons for life on health, some assertions to my wishful thoughts(now almost real)  about how work can be managed remotely in the current world. It's been thorough learning experience for me to prioritize health.

Despite of lockdown, birding from balcony has reached such a levels that it's become part of our morning routine now. Along with my son, we have been fortunate to see more than 30 species of birds from our balcony over the past couple of months. The multiple webinars on varied topics also was an interesting outcome of this lockdown.

Evenings at home are exciting with a variety of insects being attracted to the lights, thanks to the pre-monsoon showers. We have been able to identify new bugs every other day form past fortnight.
My son and I started collecting dead insects, its silly that now he wish to see every insect dead to add to his collection. Here is a glimpse:

We have been able to appreciate the colors, details and variety of insects we are watching at home and surroundings. Let me present some.

A not-boring beetle! A long-horned beetle at home

A colorful tiny-horned beetle is here

It's season of cicadas and thankfully one turned up in our balcony

A robber fly somehow landed in our home

This Popillia beetle is a standout among the rest:

Few spiders spotted around our home are here starting with a beauty Chrysilla

A two-striped Telamonia species male was spectacular

A crab spider too was spotted:

A lynx spider was nicely sitting and waiting

The season also brought some winged-ants, the one's that fly off from nest and form new colonies, here are some:

Here is  a queen of Yellow crazy ants:

let me end this post with this bizzare bug

If you wish to see full collection, drop by at my inaturalist page here

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Home bound

With COVID issue and forced to hang around home, it's tough to supress the itch to step out and stay indoors. However, I started spending time in balcony birding, looking for insects and any interesting things. I must admit, I had some interesting things that popped up over the past one week.

Here is the first one at our window:

A may-fly, I noticed it for the first time.

Poor thing ended up as food for cobweb spider that lives near the window.

Turned out, the whole in the window is where the spider lives and escaped my wife's regular cleaning.

Look who turned up in the balcony:

The experts on iNaturalist identified it as a Woolly wall bee.

Next is an interesting fly that turned up at the wheat flour that my daughter left after playing.

He sat on the pile of 3-4 day old wheat that had fungus and probably laying eggs from what I understand from below video

Today morning, we also witnessed a spider pulling what looked like a sedated Pentatamidae bug. When we approached closer, I could smell the stinking smell from the bug which the bug must have been emitting as a last defense.

It's eventually pulled by the spider who made him as a "packaged food". Guess it too heard about the corona scared and stacking it's food!

With the first rains of summer/pre-monsoon turnin up, I am hoping to see more insects from balcony as I am itching to step out and explore more once the COVID issue is settled.

I hope our country together emerge much safer and I hope the medical staff be provided with all help needed at this hour. If any of you are reading this, stay indoors, stay safe. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Nature walk @ Kaikondrahalli

We announced a free nature walk for kids and adults on the long weekend of Shivratri at Kaikondrahalli. Not sure why only 3 kids and adults turned up. We are happy with small group. We started the walk and observed the ants on the bark, we explored the seeds of Jungle jilebi and tried opening the hard cover and discussed why trees need that hard cover.

Few minutes later, our ant-mimicking spider turned up and kids watched it. As usual most people guessed it to be an ant only to learn. The kids handled it carefully as it moved from one hand to another. We made sure to leave it in the same spot from where we picked it up after observing it for 5 minutes

We discussed about the Arjuna tree and how it's fruits and bark is used for traditional medicine. One of the parent plucked the bark only to find a wonderful spider with golden bottom and a stink bug.
While putting the spider back,we noticed a wonderful looking bug which I initially though to be a stink bug. After walk, I realised it's a different type of Assassin bug. Look how pretty it looks with those dots on the wings

We also noticed a camouflaged spider on the bark which turned out to be Herennia multipuncta. The interesting thing about this species is that the males are smaller compared to females like it happens with some spider species.

We also spotted a cranefly and other bugs.

The pongamia trees were sporting fresh leaves and some have flowers that look very pretty.

A little further we spotted these paper wasps busy building their home

A bark mantis was basking in the sun light on the bark

We wrapped the day with a game using ncf bird cards and headed home satisfied with the day

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Tirumala after ages

Finally after multiple procrastination and delays, we made a trip to tirumala last week. I was curious and looking forward to this trip for couple of reasons. It's my trip after a 15 year period! It's my first trip after I started birding and it's happening around GBBC time, so I was hoping to catch up with some birding as well.

After doing the traditional darshan and rituals I managed to squeeze in some time to do little briding and some insect clicks

We saw a huge banyan tree where the kids were happy to play.
A bee and some wasps too turned up.

Post returning to Tirupati, I managed to volunteer to take a group of children at Regional Science Centre for a nature walk.  We spotted some orioles, ashy drongos and went around the centre. As they saw the best things were saved for the end.

At the end of the walk, we saw a group of Red Silk Cotton tree flowering in full. What a show it's for us. One by one as if someone called them by name, birds started turning up. Purple sunbirds were all over the places, Pale-billed and interestingly Thick-billed flower peckers turned up. Ashy drongos, Jerdons' Leaf bird couples. So what do you do when such opportunity turns up, we made most of it like this:

What was supposed to be a 2-3 hour thing ended up as an almost full day activity. We had a snack and sat below the tree to spot birds. While my son goes around checking all the science fun things around the center, I ended up checking the insects around.

Here are some pictures of the critters we found

A very pretty heavy-bodied jumper - jumping spider

A lynx spider

We also saw a carpenter bee lying on the ground. We picked it using the Silk cotton flowers and left it safely only to see later that the red weaver ants carrying it away !

Here are the kids and adults looking up the silk cotton tree show

We also saw Wild Almond Tree . It has lovely seed pods.

The highlight of the day for me was this stick insect  Indian Grass Mantis
We were fooled by it's appearance thinking it's a stick insect. Returning to Bangalore, iNaturalist helped us id it correctly and it also prompted me to create the missing wikipedia page for the species. It's scientific name Schizocephala translates to "split head" depicting it's head. Those lovely eyes and head makes a pretty insect.

The Regional Science Centre in Tirupati is a wonderful place for kids and adults to spend time. It's thoughtfully setup. Younger kids will love the dinosaur exhibits with sounds besides some experiments, middle school or high school kids will enjoy the exhibits for sure.

I will strongly recommend it to anyone visiting Tirupati, Its worth spending half-a-day here. The small Planetarium is nice and the entrance fee is very less. Besides, the beautiful campus set at foothills of Tirumala hills, barely 500 mts from Alipiri, attracts lot of birds, insects. The staff too are enthusiastic  that they keep organising activities and had an active club of children and adults. Overall it's a must visit place in Tirupati. 

Friday, February 7, 2020

Wetland Survey Weekend

A super packed weekend with two days of lot of walking, birding, travelling! As a part of the Bangalore Lake/ Bird survey 2020, I had an opportunity to volunteer the weekend of 25/26th January for a survey.

On 25th, a group of 4 women with wonderful wit and energy joined me as we went around and did the census at Gunjur, Gunjur Palya, Mullur and Halanayakanhalli lakes. Most of them despite of being new birders showed tremendous enthusiasm in identifying the birds. Though most lakes we visited didn't had much water and heavily encroached, we went around walking a lot seeing the birds around. As usual, I didn't click many pictures. The highlight was the booted eagle chased by the Ashywoodswallows and the plovers at the Halanyakanahalli.

Despite of the little water present,a lake-bed-turned-cricket-pitch next to it,  halanayakanahalli lake had a good shore that was hosting some stints and plovers! We had tough time identifying them. Gunjur lake had little or no water, but hosted a sandpiper and the green bee-waters were present at all lakes. The lunch at Rasaganga opposite new Wipro office was good and leisurely. Appreciate the women who left their family (including kids) behind and spent a day counting birds walking in hot sun for long distances.

My initial concerns of managing their safety was put to rest as we had good time, some laughs, puns (beeater) and had a nice company! It's a good day of birding.

On 26th, I had another team as we head to Hosur road. Kailash was kind enough to drive us around. We started with the farthest and the largest lake, Muthanallur. As soon as we reached the lake, a peregine falcon flew past our car. It's an omen of a good day perhaps! I mis-identified a grey-bellied cuckoo but we were treated to a spectacle of watching 6-8 Golden orioles going around catching caterpillars and beating them on the bark and slurping them.Never seen so man orioles in one spot! A group of 6 red munias and watching red munia collect nesting material was also memorable. We had a decent outing at the lake with 70 + species. Rajesh, Rashmi who joined us were enthusiastic.

We went to Boomasandra lake next. Though it's polluted and encroached, we walked further in the east to discover some really old fig trees and lianas that reminded me of western ghats or the lianas of IISc. It's luckily in tact and I hope it can b converted into a reserve forest kind!

The Chikka Nagasandra lake had good potential, but dried up totally. There was a forest fire(shepherds) fulled by dray bamboo and industrial waste. We were shocked to see clutter of peacock feathers. Probably someone hunted and ate them! We complained this to BBMP Wildlife wing. Hope it leads to more patrolling.

We wrapped the day at what turned out to be a beautiful lake called Huskur Lake. It's setup at a fantastic location, right next to the railway track. We were thrilled to see a group of 70 Northern shovelers go in circles and land in the lake. We spotted the Greater spotted and Indian spotted eagles flying high. We also spotted the Little ringed plovers on the lake bed.

The lake had good shore lines, cultivation on the bed and beyond, islands, huge trees on the banks, thus supporting a diversity of birds. Except for a sore sight of borewell being dug at one end, we were happy to discover this lake as a part of the census.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Bird race 2020

The Bangalore bird race 2020 arrived and as usual, I contacted Ratnesh of aarohi and we formed 4 teams and all set for the race. For those who are not aware, it's an opportunity to see as many birds as we can from 6 am to 6 pm around Bangalore and meet in the evening and check each others findings. We registered as green team like we did from past 4 years. This meant we need to use public transport for commuting.

We chose IISc as our birding place, thanks to my friend Shuba bhat who is an excellent birder who lives in IISc. Like last year, this year too she helped us in getting permission to bird inside the campus. We all met at Shivajinagar bus stand, took a bus to IISc, where we met few other team members. At around 7:00, we started birding. My friend subbu joined us despite of recovering from sickness and helped us with the walk.

The first bird besides crow was a surprising Indian Paradise Flycatcher. It evaded few of us, but most of us saw it and kids who saw it for the first time were super thrilled. We saw barbets, parakeets and black kites. We had a quick breakfast and headed to the swimming pool and past the wild path to the lake where Shubha met us briefly and gave us some goodies. Unliek last year she couldn't join us as she has some other work. The lake was hotspot as we saw the verditer flycathers and tickell's blue flycatchers besides a grey wagtail and white-breasted kingfisher. We sat at rock listening to birds, watched them have bath at bird bath.

We saw booted eagle from close and discussed about brid behavior including sunbird and woodpeckers feeding behavior. We spotted some chestnut-tailed starlings and both variety of mynas and could see the differences between the two. A brown shrike briefly turned up and disappeared along with some yellow-billed babblers. We munched further on more snacks as well as the karachi biscuits.

Moving on, we saw few Coppersmith barbets nesting. We also spotted Ashy drongo. By then it's well past 10:30 and birding activity dwindled. We walked back to the canteen and have a good lunch. Near the canteen we spotted the big wasp nest too. Those who can't eat food , "sold" food to others in the team to ensure no wastage happened and we walked to Sankey tank.

I chose Sankey tank as it's close-by and on internet it shows open from 6 am to 6 pm. However reality turned out that it opens at 4:00 PM. We had 2 hours to wait and we birded from outside and went to other gate to find same answer and despite of our requests for brid survey, we were not let in. While walking on the tank, we noticed the creeper fig Ficus pumila which stuck to the walk so strongly. Few of us discussed characteristics to identify a fig. We also saw this colorful flowers, which google helped to identify as Paper mulberry

Seems like it has male and female plants. So not sure if this gets pollinated or not. It's a bright and colorful fruit.

We decided to move to Hebbal lake and try our luck. Turns out, we walked a km to the bus stop and caught a bus to Hebbal lake. We were surprised to know that the lake is open through the day (unlike Sankey). We realized how these days all lakes were fenced, had security and had restricted entrance making life difficult for birders who want to survey them at mid-day.

At Hebbal lake, we spotted some egrets and not many bird actively feeding. There are few on the far island which are difficult for children to spot with binoculars. However we saw some grey hornbills flying past on the other bank that brought some solace.

We headed back and it's surprising to see young children still having energy despite of walking 12-14 kilometres. The day ended with talk by Dr.Subrahmanya.S on his re-survey of Salim ali Mysore state survey. We had a good dinner and headed back home. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Bangalore lake and bird survey

Thanks to an interesting petition by ESG, this year all interested birders of Bangalore , backed by a High court order assembled to plan a winter bird survey at the lakes of Bangalore. I attended the  meeting where new members were introduced to the methods of surveying for birds as well as assessing the lake status.

As a part of this, I was given the responsibility of collecting data from lakes off Sarjapur road. The dates I choose were 12 and 25 January.  Unfortunately on 12th none registered for those dates. However, I know my friend Arun who was willing to join. Aishwarya whom I met accidentally during a casual walk at Kaikondrahalli showed interested. I roped in my another friend Jagadeesh so we finally formed a team and went around covering the lakes in the order - Haralur lake - Kasavanhalli lake- Saul Kere- Kaikondrahalli lake.

While I spare you from the lake status details, I will discuss about some interesting sightings during the census. At Haralur lake, my friend Krupakar joined us as he is familiar with the lake and we sighted a Asian brown flycatcher besides Krupakar helping us spot the spotted owlets at their regular spot in the layout abutting the lake. We also noticed how the Red-whiskered bulbuls were feeding on the nectar of the bottle brush tree . I didn't notice till then that bulbuls can feed on that tree. We also saw sunbirds feeding on them as well. We also observed a badam tree (Terminalia catapapa) with cocoons of the Tussar silk moth.

Can you spot the odd-looking chrysalis along with the badam fruits!

At Kasavanahalli lake, Arun's friend Hemant and Rajeshwari joined us. Aishwarya joined a little late and boy the place is full of pale-billed flowerpeckers, thanks to generous planting of Singapore/ Jamaican cherry trees! Interestingly besides those, we also saw lots of loranthus which were propagated by the flowerpeckers, reminding me of this story/association between the species.

We spent a lot of time watching a Common Kingfisher from very close. This guy was not bothered, perhaps got used to people and gave us ample time to observe and wonder at it's colors.
We also saw some mud dabber wasp busy collecting mud and making its house

You can see the yellow and black wasp sitting on the second mud house it made. It had 4 such nests. I knew hornets make such bug one's and potter wasp makes one slightly smaller. This one was amazing to watch. Not too far from it, we spotted this ichneumonid wasp which again inaturalist folks helped to id as Xanthopimpla sp.

I wanted to revisit the spot to observes more about the wasps on the tree. We managed to spot all 3 kingfishers and a river tern too turned up adding to surprises. Rajeshwari left after the Kasavanhalli survey.

We initially wanted to take a lunch break and regroup at 3, however, Jagdeesh need to head back soon so he suggested to continue to Saul kere and have a late lunch. What actually turned out was we had a quick snack in between survey and skipped lunch all together. I was glad that the team had so much enthusiasm and we continued on. At Saul kere where water was little and concentrated towards the north side, we spotted some ducks. Since none of us had a good zoom camera and with binoculars not helping much, we struggled to id the ducks.

Here am I surveying for ducks (pic courtesy- Jagadeesh)

We spotted some waders, but the police constable in charge didn't allow us to get any closer since she is afraid of us getting bitten by snakes. So we had to a block count and head back slightly disappointed at 3:15 PM.

We regrouped after a break at 4:20 PM and started Kaikondrahalli lake survey/census. We were treated to good views of roosting cattle egrets towards the end of the day thus ending the day in a good way. Overall it's a satisfying day with some surprises and glad to do this in the company of some enthusiastic folks. Heamnt and Aishwarya who came in late, stayed back despite of both skipping breakfast. Arun was with me for all 4 locations. Krupakar and Rajeshwari chipped-in for couple of locations. Jagdeesh had to skip the last one. I am looking forward to the other lakes to be surveyed. 

Ant walk and wasp surprise

I have enrolled for an ant walk by ecoedu . I have attended a walk few years ago, so thought this will be a good refresher and my son might enjoy it. We ended up reaching late as we were stuck in bad traffic at Koramangala. Anyways, as soon as we reached we joined the walk. My friend Shalini too brought her daughter along. The unusually warm winter was gone and thanks to the positive Indian Dipole weakening, proper winter has set in Bangalore. The cold mornings returned and a cold wind made the kids shiver in the morning at lalbgah

My son found another friend from his school and Shalini's daughter too joined them and three of them separated from the group and started their own exploration. So my plans of listening to the walk took back seat as I ended up taking care of them.

There were very interesting things happening on the bark of the trees. Multiple trees have wasp-infested caterpillars taking care of clutch of wasp cocoons.

Foster zombie

You can notice the white cocoons of the wasp being guarded by the caterpillar. Wasps have an amazing capability of altering their hosts brain. A wasp would have laid eggs directly into the body of the caterpillar and the young one's after eating insides of the caterpillar would have emerged out of it without killing. Once emerged, they pupate by forming cocoons and the caterpillar wind would be altered by a chemicals generated by the wasp babies that makes it guard the cocoons of wasp and eventually dies while the babies of the wasp emerge and go around to continue the cycle.

Though it looks gory from a human perspective, it's nature's way of keeping population of insects under control. I admire wasp on how they evolved such chemical strategies over millions of years.
Besides the spiders and bark mantis, we also saw a moth that mesmerized me few days back in Haralur lake walk that I wrote about 


This time, I got an opportunity to photograph it from a side view. It's such a small moth with a nice mimicry/defence strategy.

Besides, I was also able to photograph a Broad-headed bug which was id-ed on inaturalist as Riptortus pedestris which I learnt is a pest for soy bean

We wrapped up a day where kids had more fun. They explored and showed us some ants, spiders and we went home satisfied with new sightings.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Haralur lake walk

We started the first walk of the new year at Haralur lake. I got in touch with the Haralur lake conservation group and proposed a nature walk for the adults and children of the group. My friend Shalini, Aparna and I planned to do the walk. On the group, we received a positive response. So we proposed 5th January , Sunday morning, 8 AM as the walk time.

Shalini and I reached the spot by 7:50 and we waited for 20 minutes until a decent crowd turned out. We spent some time discussing about the first tree, the Pongamia. We explained its nitrogen fixing capability, we discussed about the leaf mites and gals that cause the leaf damage and how the tree recovers from it. 

We moved over to the Terminalia Arjuna aka Arjuna tree. We pointed out the bark and discussed the "child" who made the marks on the leaves. We spent a lot of time under this tree as we discussed about boring beetles and how the woodpecker catches the boring beetles. While the kids seems to be very interested and interacted as well as guessed the answers, the adults still had their inhibitions. Someone in the audience shared folklore where they were told that some snakes make the marks on the leaves, interesting!

While explaining the woodpecker behavior we found a ant-mimicking spider . This guy was very shy and after a lot of probing, I could show it to the children. As usual everyone guessed it to be ant, only on close observation and watching it jumping and witnessing the silk thread they concluded it to be spider. We discussed briefly on what advantages does the spider have for mimicking the ants. The kids pretty much again guessed some of the answers.

Shalini explained the "Yellow trumpet tree" and kids guessed how the seed pods look like trumpet. We spotted a moth and stink bug and why it's called so. We realized we spent an hour and finished only 3 trees!. A gentleman who attended the walk was kind enough to sponsor some snacks for all. We took a break and had snacks. In between we managed to spot a spot-billed pelican. A grey heron too turned up flying away. We had fun watching the little cormorants fishing. 

Post snacks, we explained the magic of "Fig pollination". We also told them how a small fig wasp can help pollinating figs and how the wasps helps keeping the checks and balance of nature intact. How some non-pollinating fig wasps can be hyperparasitoid. We gave a glimpse to new world of wasps to them.

At the end of the walk, while we wrap-up and head back, a pied kingfisher turned up and showed us its fishing skills. The adults and kids were fascinated watching it dive and fish. 

My personal favorite of the day though was a moth that has an interesting behavior. I missed clicking it's photo in the previous walk. This time, I could record it. You would notice a tiny insect perched on a leaf. As you approach closer, suddenly it transforms and appears like a "jumping spider". It's amazing to know how it lifts its wings up to appear like it's predator,a jumping spider. My friend Hayath helped me id this moth as a Choreutidae. See how its posterior look like a jumping spider while the front portion looks like a moth.

This made my day as I went home ahead of the promised time (unusual) as the gates of the lake are closed at 10:00 AM. The feedback from the walk was positive and we are glad we could stir the curiosity among some of the kids and adults. A parent messaged that their kid was fascinated by the fig pollination story. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Walk to wrap the year

I managed to do another walk on 29-December. This time despite of advertising in our apartment, not a single soul turned up! Very curious to understand what motivates people to turn up or not for a nature walk. Is it that people thinks it's irrelevant, a boring things, i-know-it-all, not important in current world! Not sure, but willing to explore.

My son was visibly upset that no one turned up and I suggested we have our own fun. However, thankfully my friend Shalini turned up with her daughter. The kids jelled well and had their fun. We started the walk watching a ant-mimicking praying mantis nymph

We walked past the now flowering and fruiting Jungle jalebi . We noticed a crab spider lurking along with the flowers waiting for an surprise ambush. Post processing photos at home, I noticed the tiny caterpillar not too far from the spider.
Lurking predator

We observed the patterns on the Honge tree seeds. We speculated how the patterns looks like, a tree and the kidney shaped beans. We broke open few fallen seeds to see how many seeds can one find inside. Next time you spot a seedpod, try guessing the seeds inside before you open. A fun game for kids and let their imagination go wild guessing the pattern.

We also saw the beautiful flowering Tabebuia / Trumpet tree under the sun. Bees hovering around collecting pollen against the clear winter skies makes a pretty picture

We also spotted some bark mantises. Happened to observe interesting behavior of bark mantis young one. As I approached closer, it started swirling it's back part like a snake. Couldn't record it though, but it's an interesting distracting mechanism for a nymph. We also spotted what looked like a mealybug actively moving. I doubt if its a mealy bug or caterpillar of some butterfly

We also spotted some lacewing eggs
Lacewing eggs

We had some fun wondering how big the Teak leaf is and found some dead butterfly!

We further spotted the young Assassin bugs that nicely camouflaged on bark of tree covering themselves with debris. We were thrilled to spot fig wasps next to fruiting figs. Notice the ovipositor for those tiny wasps. We wrapped the day with a lovely ichneumon wasp.

Ending the year with a positive note I am looking forward to more learning from nature in the new year.