SGNP - A Monsoon Trails Report

Kanheri Caves, 13th July'08

The Borivali National Park, officially known as the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, is a unique National Park in that it lies within borders of a city. The park lies on the northern fringes of suburban Mumbai, India. It encompasses an area of 104 square kilometres and is surrounded on three sides by the world's 5th most populous city. It is one of Asia's most visited National Parks with 2 million annual visitors. The park is also holds claim to be the largest park in the world located within city limits.
Within the Park, the ancient Kanheri Caves dating back 2,400 years were sculpted out of the rocky cliffs. The park has a rich flora and fauna.
The park dates back to the 4th century BC. Sopara and Kalyan were two ports in the vicinity that traded with ancient lands such as Greece and Mesopotamia. The routes between these two ports cut through this forest. The Park was named Krishnagiri National Park in the pre-independence era. In 1969, the Park enclosed 20.26 km². After that various properties lining the park were acquired to get the present area. A separate forest division was created under the Indian Forest Service department, and the Park was christened Borivli National Park after the nearby Borivali area. In 1981, the name was changed to Sanjay Gandhi National Park.


The Kanheri Caves are a protected archaeological site. The caves were sculpted by Buddhist residents. The area was actually a settlement and once served as inns for travellers. The word Kanheri comes from the Sanskrit word Krishnagiri which means Black Mountain.



I, along with two friends, went on an 'expedition' near Kanheri Caves. We treaded the usual narrow path that goes Kanheri, and later turned into the thicket - somewhere behind Kanheri caves. That path was totally deserted by humans. No one walks there. We struggled a little to find that old path, and then started on a journey. Initially, we were greeted by beautiful creatures - the bad thing came later - and we were overwhelmed, clicking whatever that we could see!
On this report I'm going to include the best of 'em all!

The flowers were blooming and life was teeming! With butterflies busy on the inflorescences, there was some activity of the predators around too!
The most common, and never-t0-be-missed plant is that of a Cup-n-Saucer!

Cup 'n' Saucer
The Crows and the Tigers were very common the the Catmint flowers...

Common Crow on Catmint flowers
I shall list down the butterflies that we spotted, and tried to photograph. On the other hand, we saw very few birds - blame it on us, for we were too busy looking in the undergrowth!

The butterflies are as follows:
Riodinidae: Plum Judy
Nymphalids: Blue Oak Leaf, Common Indian Crow, Blue Tiger, Glassy Tiger, Plain Tiger, Striped Tiger, Great Eggfly - male & female, Chocolate Pansy, Lemon Pansy, Baronet, Common Bushbrown, Common Leopard
Papilionidae: Common Mormon, Blue Mormon, Tailed Jay, Common Jay.
Lycaenidae: Hedge Blue, Angled Pierrot, Common Silverline - thats it :(
Heisperrid: White Banded Awl, Brown Awl, Golden Angle, Grass Demon.
Pieridae: Common Grass Yellow, Common Gull, Common Wanderer - male, White Orange Tip, Yellow Orange Tip, Common Emigrant.

It was beautiful being there. The weather was ideal - humid, warm and partially overcast. All were happy - butterflies and us!

One of the happy moments is that of the danainaes on the Catmint (?) flowers, nectaring and fluttering helter skelter!


Blue Tigers on Catmint flowers

The most common of all was the Common Indian Crow and then the Glassy Tiger and Blue Tiger and we indeed enjoyed their company!
We also saw a few Lycaenids mud-puddling, the most common through out the trail was Hedge Blue. It was seen all along the trail, on the road side, puddling and even deep into the forest.
Common Hedge Blue

The other beautiful Lycaenid was Angled Pierrot - that we saw nectaring but couldnt get a photograph of, and later, while returning, we saw one puddling alongside a road!

Angled Pierrot

Once inside the dense forests, we were totally detached from the humane-world. We were on our own, crawling through branches, slipping away on slimy rocks and hunting for the jewels of the macro world.

We came to a place where we were attacked by swarms of mosquitoes, and with a hundred bites all over us, we saw a Blue Oak Leaf fly and sit just off our track! We did not want to miss the opportunity to capture it - through lens - and darted inside the thicket, ignoring the painful bites all over us. Later on our journey, we saw three flying all around us, and we got a glimpse in the underwings - the most beautiful colour I've ever seen!
Blue Oak Leaf

All of 'em were busy nectaring, like this Common Leopard below. Shot it at a considerable distance, hence the details are wiped out.
Common Leopard
We were also lucky to see so many Skippers all around! With Grass Demon seen almost everywhere, we could see it in a pretty mood, hopping from leaf to leaf.

Grass Demon

And not just a Grass Demon, but the White Banded Awl was damn common too, in fact all over the place! Although an elusive skipper, it did let me take its snap!

Common Banded Awl

All in all, it was a great experience clicking these butterflies again. After a few trails did I actually go on a trail I would call a Butterfly Trail!

Anyhow, it doesnt end there! We saw pretty cool Moths and caterpillars too! The first moth is a Geometrid moth - belonging to Geometridae, Ennominae.

Chiasmia sps.

...here's a photograph of an unusual moth, ID unknown.

Moth ID Unknown
We also saw a nice, huge Looper Caterpillar! I didnt know they get so big!
A Looper Caterpillar


And, a moth one wouldnt wanna miss, the Owl Moth (Erebus macrops) belonging to Catocalinae. Considered uncommon, you can see one - if you're lucky - at SGNP, near any stream.

Owl Moth

Other than the pretty winged critters, we also saw some formidable predators. I'm talking about the one that stands about 15 cm tall, slender as a stick, and a master of disguise. I'm talking of a Praying Mantis that mimics the sticks!

It was a fantastic find, thanks to a friend. Something that was worth watching. It made our trail worth while and made us happier in the mosquito infested forests!
Preying Mantis mimicking a stick

And here's a dorsal view, you'll have an idea of its colour and the resemblance from these two photographs. What an amazing creature!

Preying Mantis - dorsal view

The other hunters, or tigers rather of the macro world - the Arachnids! We saw a variety of spiders on the trail and I was able to photograph it, luckily. So here they are!


Lynx spider
A Lynx spider (Oxyopidae) is an ambush spider, sitting on the flowers or an inflorescence - as seen in this photograph - and waiting for prey. They have superb camouflage and have a variety of colours on 'em! A Lynx spider is identified by two stripes running down its cephalothorax in most sps. and a slender abdomen as seen here, pretty long and spiny legs. Note: Spiny legs and not hairy!

Nursery Web Spider

A Nursery Web Spider (Pissuaridae) is called so because it nurses its spiderlings. They are ambush predators and would be seen in the undergrowth, near a pond or a stream. They can even float on water or go under it! It's a close relative of the Wold Spider (Lycosidae).

Spitting spider

Spitting Spider (Scytodidae) is one hell of a spider! What makes spitting spider so special is the presence of silk glands in its head-breast part! Besides the silk glands in its abdomen, the spider also has silk glands connected with its poison glands. In this way the spiders has the ability to make poisonous silk. Other Arachnidae (spider like creatures with eight legs) may also have silk glands in their head-breast part like the pseudo-scorpions.During night, when all insects are at rest, Scytodes starts its hunt. The spider sneaks very carefully towards its prey and at about 10 mm distance it stops and carefully measures the distance to its prey with one front leg without disturbing it. Then it squeezes the back of its body together and spits two poisonous silk threads, in 1/600 sec, in a zigzag manner over the victim. The prey is immediately immobilized. When the prey is larger the spider spits several times. Dinner is served! It is assumed that the spider uses special long hearing hairs located at its legs to locate its prey.



Harvestman

The Harvestman (Opiliones) is one arachnid who is mistaken for a spider. You will know now why these arent spiders, but their cousins. These arachnids are known for their exceptionally long walking legs, compared to body size, although there are also short-legged species. The difference between harvestmen and spiders is that in harvestmen the two main body sections (the abdomen with ten segments and cephalothorax, or prosoma and opisthosoma) are nearly joined, so that they appear to be one oval structure; they also have no venom or silk glands. In more advanced species, the first five abdominal segments are often fused into a dorsal shield called the scutum, which is normally fused with the carapace. Sometimes this shield is only present in males. The two most posterior abdominal segments can be reduced or separated in the middle on the surface to form two plates lying next to each other. The second pair of legs are longer than the others and work as antennae. This can be hard to see in short-legged species.The feeding apparatus (stomotheca) differs from other arachnids in that ingestion is not restricted to liquid, but chunks of food can be taken in. The stomotheca is formed by extensions from the pedipalps and the first pair of legs.They have a single pair of eyes in the middle of their heads, oriented sideways.Harvestmen have a pair of prosomatic defensive scent glands (ozopores) that secrete a peculiar smelling fluid when disturbed, confirmed in some species to contain noxious quinones. Harvestmen do not have silk glands and do not possess venom glands, posing absolutely no danger to humans. They do not have book lungs, and breathe through tracheae only. Between the base of the fourth pair of legs and the abdomen a pair of spiracles are located, one opening on each side. In more active species, spiracles are also found upon the tibia of the legs. They have a gonopore on the ventral cephalothorax, and the copulation is direct as the male has a penis (while the female has an ovipositor). All species lay eggs.The legs continue to twitch after they are detached. This is because there are pacemakers located in the ends of the first long segment (femur) of their legs. These pacemakers send signals via the nerves to the muscles to extend the leg and then the leg relaxes between signals. While some harvestman's legs will twitch for a minute, other kinds have been recorded to twitch for up to an hour. The twitching has been hypothesized as a means to keep the attention of a predator while the harvestman escapes.

And lastly, my recent hobby is the Dragonflies (Odonata, Anispotera) and there were many at Kanheri. But my luck with dragonflies was far, for they did not seem to sit! Anyhow I could capture one, that was a new one for me - the Crimson tailed Marsh Hawk.


Crimson tailed Marsh Hawk

Last but not the least, these forests sure are heavenly. With many streams and waterfalls around, this place is a potential prey to inhumane activities. The number of picnickers was alarming, and with dishes thrown all around the forest - even inside the forest - we could do naught but tell a few not to litter around, and in return we got cold stares and ignorant OK's. If thats how it's gonna be, then may they choke onto their own filth.

On a last note, SGNP is underrated. It is the most beautiful place in the city with a hell lot of variety. Peace.

One of the waterfalls

Thanks for the time!

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