Tag Archives: Wildlife

The law of the jungle: one touch of nature in Rajasthan’s cities and villages

“Mowgli had never seen an Indian city before, and though this was almost a heap of ruins it seemed very wonderful and splendid… Trees had grown into and out of the walls; the battlements were tumbled down and decayed, and wild creepers hung out of the windows of the towers on the walls in bushy hanging clumps.”

“There was a ruined summer-house of white marble in the centre of the terrace, built for queens dead a hundred years ago. The domed roof had half fallen in… But the walls were made of screens of marble tracery–beautiful milk-white fretwork, set with agates and cornelians and jasper and lapis lazuli, and as the moon came up behind the hill it shone through the open work, casting shadows on the ground like black velvet embroidery.”

Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book

The cities of Rajasthan teem with people and with vehicles – filling the air with deafening noise, and pollution you can taste on your tongue. In Delhi and Jaipur’s urban jungle, the roads are a slow river of thick, unending traffic and the pavements stream with humanity. It can be hard to put one foot in front of the other without risk of stepping ankle-deep into a worryingly coloured pool of stinking liquid, while motorbikes, tuk-tuks and overloaded carts bearing curious and precarious loads – flattened eggboxes stacked three metres high, bulging sacks of tumorous tubers – barge past, horns blaring as you jump for safety. Nature is not immediately evident in the face of all this urban chaos.

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Street market in Jaipur
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Jodhpur centre
And yet, look – the family of monkeys lolling above the sign on the jewellery shop; the pack of black kites wheeling in the sky. And human inhabitants live comfortably side-by-side with their fellow creatures, sometimes quite literally: we pass a house in Udaipur where one of the downstairs rooms has been converted into a stable; a white horse hangs his head out of the window while the family prepare their evening meal in the adjacent kitchen. In Agra, pigs root through piles of rubbish and sacred cows wander, miraculously unharmed, along dual carriageways, along with the occasional elephant walking the slow lane. Sometimes there is the surprising vision of a camel, festooned in bright ribbons and daubed in colourful paint, trotting past your car window.

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Snake charmers in Jaipur. Unwelcome snakes are removed from local houses by these Hindu snake men, who first apologise to the snake, explain they are doing it for their wages and promise to keep it no longer than an agreed amount of days before setting it free.
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Rhesus Macaque monkeys in Jaipur
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Driving out of Agra
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On the road in Jaipur
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White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis on Udaipur lake
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Moving into the villages of rural Rajasthan, nature regains its dominion. People still live in thrall to its caprices,  from the unpredictability of the monsoon rains, to the leopards that visit in the night and carry off the family pig or dog.  In Rohet, outside of Jodhpur, we visit a tiny, one-family village of Bishnoi people, living in circular huts moulded out of mud and dung with straw roofs. The members of the family are grinding spices and tending the cows and they give us a cheerful wave as we arrive and as we drive away.

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Blackbuck or Indian Antelope, around Rohet

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Rohet Garh haveli
The old haveli where we are staying is opulent by comparison. It also affords a great view of a small lake where bee-eaters whirl and swoop like colourful paper kites over the trees, and sunbirds hop and hover in the blossoms of the frangipani bushes.

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Purple Sunbird Cinnyris asiaticus
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Female purple sunbird
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Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis
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Local women in Rohet carrying stones to build a path
We are also lucky to spend two nights in Ranthambore national park. Early morning jeep safaris, complete with thick blankets and hot water bottles, take us into the countryside where we see a tigress sated by her kill, parts of which remain scattered around her as she yawns, stretches and sleeps. Above her, the sun’s rays break through the mist, silvering the surface of a lake where wading birds bob and scoop amongst the lilies and weeds. As the light strengthens, the forest comes to life with the sounds of birds and other fauna: sambar deer and spotted deer – both trying to impress the females of their respective species as they lock antlers and fight. Treepies squawk in branches, and there’s the ‘pick-pick’ of bulbuls as they land on a bush. Once, a glorious lesser-goldenback woodpecker swoops past.

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Spotted deer
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Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer
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Large Grey Babbler Turdoides malcolmi
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Collared Scops Owl Otus lettia
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Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger, alarmed by a crocodile
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Male Sambar deer
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Grey Langurs warming up in the morning sunshine
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Rufous Treepie Dendrocitta vagabunda
In Narlai, another village between Jodhpur and Udaipur, grey langur monkeys stare back at me from the other side of the window when I open the shutters in the early morning. We go down into the still dusky courtyard of our haveli and climb into a jeep that takes us out into the countryside to look for leopards. Farmers in their huts are starting their day’s chores, lighting fires; the women walk out – pots balanced on heads – to get water from the pump, or go to visit one of the many temples that dot the landscape. Woodsmoke rises from the huts and mingles with the still dawn-grey sky. Peafowl are everywhere, perched in trees, on top of temples, or running down the road while Indian robins hop up and down in the branches next to us.

 

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Narlai haveli courtyard in the evening
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The distinctive landscape around Narlai
 

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A gazelle gazes at us from the safety of a screen of trees; a wild boar charges behind a cactus hedge. A large moving blob on a distant rocky outcrop provokes excitement, but it proves to be, not a leopard, but a very large mongoose. Minutes later, a family of three more run across the road in front of us and a honey buzzard surveys us regally from a tree-top. As the sun appears, pink and rosy over the horizon, we stop and drink hot chai and eat sweet biscuits. A tiny temple, high on a rock, is surrounded by peacocks, one of whom is dancing a sun salutation, tail feathers fanned behind him as the peahens look on, unimpressed. No leopards, then, but a very special, peaceful way to see the land and wake up with its inhabitants.

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Oriental Honey-buzzard Pernis ptilorhyncus

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Sunrise over the Narlai countryside
“Now Rann the Kite brings home the night

That Mang the Bat sets free.

The herds are shut in byre and hut,

For loosed till dawn are we.

This is the hour of pride and power,

Talon and tush and claw.

Oh, hear the call!—Good hunting all

That keep the Jungle Law!”

 

Rudyard Kipling The Jungle Book

Toads, and birds. Lots of birds.

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?...

Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout, Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow...

Extract from Toads  by Philip Larkin

It finally feels as though spring is unfolding here in Rome. The sun is strong today as I plant out a few seedlings on the mini-balcony. Work and weather have conspired to keep me fairly house-bound of late, so touches of nature have been few and far between. I did enjoy finding a baby gecko inside the classroom clock yesterday as I went to wind it on in preparation for daylight saving, but I feel I have been out of touch with the pleasures of the natural world of late.

This time last year we were preparing to go on a trip to Bonaire. This small island, not far from the coast of Venezuela, is more arid than  its Caribbean cousins – although in its favour, it is a world class windsurfing spot.IMG_2351

We had one of the best days ever birding while we were there. Looking at these photos and reading the extracts from my journal has certainly helped to put that toad work back under its stone for today.

22nd April 2014:

“We hire an enormous pick-up truck for the day which is the only vehicle available. I’m glad I’m not the one having to steer this cruiser around the tricky island roads. IMG_2140First we head into the small town of Kralendijk to stock up on picnic supplies, and the bird spotting begins. An Orange Troupial perches in a cactus tree on the road out of the resort and in the supermarket car park a Bare-Eyed Pigeon peers down at us from a tree.

Orange Troupial (Icterus icterus ridgwayi)
Orange Troupial (Icterus icterus ridgwayi)

Bare-eyed Pigeon (Patagioenas corensis)
Bare-eyed Pigeon (Patagioenas corensis)
Then it is onwards to the Slagbaai National Park in the north of the island. The road snakes along the coast for about half an hour before turning into a single track next to the shore-line. Red triangular road signs, adapted for purpose, warn us of the existence of divers crossing the road – a common hazard here.IMG_2100

We enter the national park and it is soon apparent why all the rental cars are high clearance pick-ups: the roads are rocky and pot-holed and the going is slow. Along the west coast the landscape is harsh. To the left, a cliff rises up, ledged and carved out by the elements, indicating the previous level of the sea. IMG_2119The water is deep blue and whipped up into crashing waves. We stop the truck and a blow-hole forces the spray up high as we walk towards the edge.IMG_2129

Then, a great spot. A Caracara eating a lizard not too far down the road from where we are standing. As I approach with the camera, it flaps up onto the rock face above and regards me with suspicion. It is a young female, large and with light brown plumage.

Northern Caracara (Caracara cheriway) female
Northern Caracara (Caracara cheriway) female
We continue along the road and veer inland from the coast towards a fresh-water pond. Parking the truck, we walk down a path through a crackling, dry forest. Giant iguanas crawl away in front of us. IMG_2147All around are birds: warblers, flycatchers, bananaquits and doves.

Northern Scrub Flycatcher (Sublegatus arenarum)
Northern Scrub Flycatcher (Sublegatus arenarum)
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Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)
Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)

Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola bonairensis)
Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola bonairensis)
At the water-hole we sit on a fallen tree trunk and wait. We hear a rustling in the dry scrub and see a Caracara stalking down to the well to drink. It is a real Discovery Channel moment as he dips his head, throws it back and then eyes us up through the branches.

Northern Caracara (Caracara cheriway) male
Northern Caracara (Caracara cheriway) male
On the way back to the truck, I spot a humming bird, emerald and blue, tiny and impossible to photograph. An iridescent gem hovering in the branches overhead.

Blue-Tailed Emerald Hummingbird (Chlorostilbon mellisugus)
Blue-Tailed Emerald Hummingbird (Chlorostilbon mellisugus)
The road continues round the north of the island. We stop at a beach, descend steps to the wet sand below and don snorkel and masks. In the sea, fish appear immediately – large blue sad faces lazily swimming past

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We dry off and drive to the last bay for lunch. It is a fantastic landscape: salt lake, a scree of ochre stone, thousands of cacti and the moody hills of the interior. IMG_2268In the shallows of the lake, flocks of flamingoes stalk and dance a ballet, then launch into the air with a racket of cackling calls.IMG_2239

Caribbean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)
Caribbean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)
We have our picnic accompanied by a pair of Mockingbirds staring at our food.

Tropicak Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus)
Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus)
The abandoned buildings on the beach are painted bright egg-yellow, complementing the blue of the sky.IMG_2230

IMG_2250Many photos of flamingoes later, we get back on the road.IMG_2243a Exiting the park, we drive through the one-horse (one-donkey) town of Rincan and back down to Kralendijk for a welcome cold beer on the pier outside Karel’s bar.IMG_1496

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A day immersed in the natural world that I will always remember.”

And a few other spots during the week:

Eared Dove (Zenaida auriculata vinaceorufa)
Eared Dove (Zenaida auriculata vinaceorufa)

Brown-throated Parakeet (Aratinga pertinax xanthogenia)
Brown-throated Parakeet (Aratinga pertinax xanthogenia)

Yellow Oriole (Icterus nigrogularis curasoensis)
Yellow Oriole (Icterus nigrogularis curasoensis)

Scaly-naped Pigeon (Patagioenas squamosa)
Scaly-naped Pigeon (Patagioenas squamosa)

Ruby Topaz Hummingbird (Chrysolampis mosquitus)
Ruby Topaz Hummingbird (Chrysolampis mosquitus)

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

Carib grackle (Quiscalus lugubris)
Carib Grackle (Quiscalus lugubris)

magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens)
Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens)

Two Look at Two: a touch of Robert Frost in the Abruzzo National Park

“Two had seen two, whichever side you spoke from.
‘This must be all.’ It was all. Still they stood,
A great wave from it going over them,
As if the earth in one unlooked-for favour
Had made them certain earth returned their love.”

From Two Look at Two by Robert Frost.

Unusually, we are up and out before the crowds, and the day is just unfolding itself across the softly wooded hills in front of us as we set out along the track. We soon leave the sunlit open land behind, where a fox is running from scrub to boulder in the meadow, and enter a cool tunnel of branches accompanied by a rushing stream and the calls of a nuthatch. The oaks and copper beeches are just about to turn; green edges catching fire in yellow and orange. Then, in the shadows on the path ahead a shape appears, grey and silent. A doe has stepped out from the forest. She stops and stares and we return the gaze. Minutes go by and we remain fixed. Well, that must be all, but no – there is more. Another grey shape appears, stops behind her. Stares.

I have read this poem before.

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Two look at two.

See the full poem at http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/two-look-at-two/

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Morning along the Camosciara trail
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Into the woods
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The Scerto river flows next to the trail
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Fox following a scent in the meadow