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.