News from the Past
A collage of news contributed by our readers, from our archives of 2015.
Roads less traveled
Growing up in a bustling metropolis like Mumbai, I had become immune to the early morning roars of the traffic. But while volunteering at the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS), situated in the midst of a tropical rain forest, I woke up blissfully aware of the sweet whistles of the Malabar Whistling Thrush.The Western Ghats are well-known for the rich biodiversity they harbour, and Agumbe – experiencing one of the highest rainfalls in southern India – is no exception. Agumbe’s mega-fauna list is impressive, but the small critters – responsible for holding the ecosystem together – take center stage at the research station.Prior to my experience at ARRS, I was afraid of insects and terrified of venomous snakes, but all this changed during this volunteering trip.
A typical day of a volunteer at the research station is rather eventful. In the morning, as part of the Biodiversity Monitoring Program, we would walk on the forest trails and in the grasslands, spotting wildlife. After a simple but wholesome breakfast, I would assist with the fieldwork for an amphibian survey or in the maintenance of the extensive field survey.There were also a variety of things to do in the afternoon –maintenance work, studying about wildlife, or sometimes just have some ‘me time’. A typical evening would include assisting researchers working on human-snake conflict mitigation. This simply does not mean catching snakes from human habitations and releasing them in the wild, but also educating people about the ecology of these snakes and how to live in harmony with them. Later evenings would include supporting researchers insetting up their complex apparatus, such as light traps to study moths. Dinner could be followed by a night walk in the forest,while at night, I would edit my photographs, play back my videos, use the internet to search for information on the animals seen and reflect on the day.
The ‘away time’ from the house and city gave me an opportunity to break the monotony of my insipid life. I am not saying that I didn’t miss my home, but a digression from the stagnant routine of the city life can sometimes be a refreshing experience with positive outcomes. I found it so easy to bond with the people working at the research station;even though sometimes we didn’t have a language in common.
It was probably thanks to a mutual appreciation of a greater force – nature!
— Arjun Doshi
A melanistic Jungle cat from Ranthambore’
It was a windy afternoon in Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan. As we leisurely went about in zone 2 of the park,I saw something black moving at a distance.Because of the feline-like movements,my instinctive guess was that it is a melanistic Jungle cat;but I had never seen or heard about one. Initially, I just got a record shot as the animal was moving cautiously on a distant rocky patch. But luckily, we managed to get close, and eventually I got a couple of portraits. The cat remained in view for just a few minutes before vanishing into the deep, rocky forest. After returning from the safari, I inquired around and found out that there are, in fact, two such melanistic cats in Ranthambore but sighting one is extremely rare. To see one at such close quarters, thus, was extremely remarkable.
— Asani Bhaduri
An albino cormorant at Junagadh
The weather was pleasant and the light perfect – ideal settings for bird-watching – when we visited a river that was situated about 18 km from Junagadh. After a few hours of bird watching, we noticed some egrets nagging a smaller egret. On closer observation, we realized that the smaller egret was in fact, an albino Little Cormorant (Phalacro coraxniger)!
The occurrence of aberrant colourations, such as melanism, leucism and albinism, has been well studied but poorly documented in birds. Albinism – a complete loss of pigment in plumage and other body parts – is the most severe aberration and sighting of such birds in the wild is rare as they generally do not survive. We visited the place regularly for the next 10 days and would always see this albino Cormorant perched separately from the Little Cormorant colony; just one normal Cormorant would be seen next to this albino. We contacted several eminent bird watchers and photographers from Gujarat and also BNHS to check for records pertaining to more such Cormorants, but learned that an albino Little Cormorant has never been reported from India. This might be the first ever record.
— Pranav Vaghashiya and Elvis Katara
This article first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Saevus magazine.