Saturday, May 30, 2009

Black-necked Stork allopreening

Remember "allopreening"? One bird preens the other as opposed to itself. See the Munia blog entry for an example. This behaviour has been studied by ornithologists quite a bit and general consensus is that it serves to reinforce bonding and is therefore commonly seen during courtship. Some groups of birds allopreen more than others - Black-necked Storks are not among those that are known to indulge in this behaviour. The photo above shows 4-5 month old Black-necked Stork chicks allopreening. In nearly 8 years of observing this species, this is the first time I saw this behaviour. Chicks in the nest are terribly aggressive to each other as they fight for parents' attention and compete for food. Wonder why they need to indulge in this behaviour after fledging from the nest. (Photo taken in Etawah district, Apr 7, 2009)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Scavengers nouveau

Dead cattle in India are skinned and left out for vultures to pick clean - eating cow meat is strictly forbidden in the country. The large resident vultures in India are all but gone - victims apparently to a veterinary drug that remained in these cattle carcasses. Crows and dogs have taken over in their stead, alongside a small-sized vulture - the Scavenger or Egyptian Vulture (middle photo). Villagers admit that the dog population has increased significantly since the disappearance of the larger vultures, but no one has paid attention to the crows. Both are predators as well - crows are very efficient nest predators and packs of dogs take down anything they can including Sarus Cranes and Nilgais. The Egyptian Vultures is widespread with good breeding populations in Uttar Pradesh and there is no information how its population here is doing relative to years with good vulture populations. While crows and dogs also scavenged before the larger vultures declined, they had access to much lesser amounts of food due to the aggressive habits of the vultures that dissuaded other smaller scavengers from accessing too much meat.

Surely, it should be a concern that continued disposal of cattle carcasses may be affecting entire communities of birds and other wildlife on the farmstead!

(Photograph information
: large-billed crow - Etah district, Jan 8, 2009; Egyptian Vulture - Barabanki district, Nov 23, 2008; crows and dogs - Rae Bareli district, Nov 29, 2008)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cluttered with history...

Most flood-plains have been fought over through humankind. Uttar Pradesh is no different - its long history remains in bits and pieces on the landscape showing up in unexpected ways. Here are three examples.

On the top is a structure in Hardoi district that locals claim was used by travellers to rest. Today, farmland has hemmed it in - a bubble of the past resisting today.

In the middle is a property marker in Lucknow district - used by land-lords to indicate the borders of their lands. Intricacy of markers reveals the owner's stature. This one is beside a lovely pond full of reeds and bird life. There will be more features on markers on this blog.

And finally, some tomb-stones in Rae Bareli district, the crumbling old with the already-ageing new, reminding one of the onion that Uttar Pradesh is - layers upon layers of time.

Unfortunately, spare little is being done to preserve, highlight, or restore these classics.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Myna hairdo

Mynas are neat birds – with lots of panache, attitude, and smarts. Not to mention hairdo!! This is a brief introduction to some of the styles you can see in the Myna world. The Pied Starling above has the touch-o'-white look; just a dash of old age on the side-burns.

This Common Myna (above) sports the just-been-shocked look.
Nothing like the wavy, wind-swept Harley look – preferred by the Brahminy Starling!
The Punk-and-Judy double-do sets these Bank Mynas apart; for couples only.
The mop-and-dandruff look – errrrrr….
And to end with this intricate centre-parted, backward-brushed, well-oiled, south-Indian, I-am-a-good-Myna look!
(Photographs taken in Su
ltanpur, Etah, Etawah and Farrukhabad districts between Dec 2008 and Apr 2009)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lily Trotters

Two species of birds in Uttar Pradesh are famous lily-trotters - literally! The Jacanas (pronounced "Ya-sah-na") have incredibly long toes that spreads out their weight allowing them to walk even on floating leaves. As if this were not fascinating enough, both are really easy on the eye! The top two photos are the Bronze-winged Jacana - very widespread even using heavily disturbed wetlands close to habitation. The bottom-most photo is of the elegant Pheasant-tailed Jacana which is much rarer and seems to shy from human disturbance. (Photographs date: May 21, 2009)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Silverbills are a common species of Munias in Uttar Pradesh. They commonly engage in allopreening, meaning a bird preening another (as opposed to itself). And - as you can see - the preenee is better off than the preener. If one is not doing the trick, then maybe two will! (Photographs taken in Lucknow district, dated Nov 27, 2008)

Fiesty Lapwings

Red-wattled Lapwings are fiesty parents - no other word for it! I watched them use two principal devices to protect nests and chicks from potential predators: "Please-eat-me" and "dive-bombing". Adult lapwings with a brood of newly hatched chicks went into conniptions as a female, very mangy Jackal trotted out into the field they were in. The adults - quite amazingly - sat down in front of the Jackal taking to flight only when the Jackal almost caught them. I watched this pair in Rae Bareli (top photo) successfully lead the Jackal away with this please-eat-me technique. Another parent lapwing literally dive-bombed four Sarus Cranes each roughly 10-times its size when they came too close to a nest that was being incubated. For some reason, the chicks of the year recieved most of the violence (bottom photo) with feathers flying when contact was made. This happened in Etawah. (Photograph dates: top - May 20, 2009; bottom - Apr 11, 2009).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A blur of Weaver birds

Ok - I lied when I said that entries will revolve around ONE picture! A "murder" of crows, a "skein" of geese, and I propose a "blur" of Black-breasted Weaver Birds! These weaver birds are less famous than their close cousin Baya Weaver, which is the more commonly discussed species. The Black-breasted Weavers in Uttar Pradesh congregate in very impressive flocks in summer following the growing-up of the young birds of the year. In Jaunpur I "met" one such flock - easily 2000 strong - by being literally blocked by them as they crossed over the road. Farmers tilling the soil had little effect on the flock that was on a feeding frenzy. They are mostly seed-eaters, but it was impossible not to think "Hitchcock" when the flock took off at one point and flew at me! I suspect that the reedbeds formed along the increasing irrigation canal network is helping this species. (Photographs date: Apr 29, 2009)

Bamboo flag mania

Each Mar/ Apr - and as other occasions demand - villagers in western Uttar Pradesh carry out what I term the bamboo-flag mania. Entire villages scour their area for the tallest standing bamboo, cut it down, festoon the thin end with art paper, and a prominent flag. This is then transported amid much fanfare and music - on a tractor or on foot - to a diety deemed holy by the village. The young uns hoist the bamboo pole as the priests hum and haw, sprinkle holy water, and provide a holy snack. Everyone returns home feeling really good! The reason for the event is to pay obeisance to the diety to thank Her/ Him for a good year, and/ or request for a good one. The stack of bamboo "grows" into a mini forest quite rapidly. In the good-old village tradition of "re-use when possible", children come by each evening to strip the bamboos of their decorations, which are sold off in a nearby market, and the bamboos are taken home for a variety of uses. In some areas, where people are more fervent, bamboo is very rare. I wonder how old this practice is. (Photograph date: Apr 5, 2009; Mainpuri district)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Parakeet pollinating the Flame-of-the-forest

Butea monosperma or the Flame-of-the-forest is difficult to miss in early summer - bright clusters of flowers cover the canopy giving the tree its common name. The flowers are visited by a variety of insects, birds and some mammals. Here, a Rose-ringed Parakeet (a common resident species) digs into the keel-shaped lower petals of the flower to lick up the nectar. But the parakeet needs to work for the reward - the stamen pops out and smacks pollen on the forehead of the bird. As the bird visits different flowers and trees, it pollinates the flowers. A surprisingly large number of Butea trees still persist in the state - this photograph is from Farrukhabad district. Since the landscape is flat and largely agricultural, flowering trees stand out like beacons, and the floor below them gets carpeted with falling petals. A dash of orange (bottom photo) lighting up the usual earth colours! (Photographs date: Apr 4, 2009)

High-tech tilling

The bond between machine and man takes on novel shades in Uttar Pradesh. Young and old alike participate in weighing down a plank of wood dragged by a tractor to cover up soil after seeds have been broadcasted by hand in a field. Apparently injuries are very few. (Photograph date: Nov 20, 2008)

Sarus and Nilgai

Two species that are revered by farmers in Uttar Pradesh are the Nilgai (literal translation: "Blue Cow") and the Sarus Crane. Hunting of the Nilgai is strictly disallowed locally owing to the reference of a cow in its name. Currently, despite it being possibly the biggest crop pest, excellent populations of the large antelope proliferate all over Uttar Pradesh. The Sarus Crane is venerated for its life-long pair bond. Here , a Nilgai cow, her calf, a Sarus adult (right extreme) and a 7-8 month-old chick stare at me, disturbed from their feeding in a dried wetland in Barabanki district. (Photograph date: May 16, 2009)