Urban Wildlife - My Point of View

I’ve known the exact meaning of the word ‘wildlife’ since childhood. I’m not boasting myself. Who doesn’t know what wildlife stands for? But lately, I’ve been hearing a recent entry into the world of nature, the ‘urban wildlife’.

This is a vast topic – as vast as the wildlife, and it is ever expanding as we encroach; and with its expansion, the real wildlife contracts. Think about it, and look into the backyard of your house – where ever you live and you will see for yourself, even when you’re inside your house, you’re not alone. But there’s a difference. You will see dogs and cats, sparrows and crows, spiders and bugs, lizards and worms – all around the place. Are they categorized as the ‘urban wildlife’? Perhaps not; but wild – they are and ever will be.

Now move your house some where, where there is just you. What do you see? No sparrows or crows, no cats and dogs. You will see different birds, different mammals and different bugs. Slowly, the area is populated, many more like you move in and the wildlife dwindles. With more of you and me in such an area, they leave the place or just die. However some adapt. This is, my friends, ‘urban wildlife’.

The process of introducing ‘urban wildlife’ is really a thing of past. After urbanization, it has been happening and will keep on happening. But why is it given so much importance today? – is because we are seeing it more and more. However there are yet confusions with the ‘urban wildlife’ occurrence – and I want to make it clear on my behalf. Take dogs and cats first – we domesticated them at the very beginning of civilization and they’ve been with us always since then. These domesticated creatures, if given a chance, can be introduced into the wild but that will take a lot of time. As we became dependent on them, so did they and that’s one reason why I would not call them the ‘urban wildlife’ how-much-ever wild they are. Now is the turn of sparrows and crows – we did not domesticate them. They adapted to us, much like the cats and dogs, but with no direct involvement from us. Their basic needs – food and shelter – are provided by us, indirectly so – but that’s enough for them to survive independently. So are they the ‘urban wildlife’? Again, I don’t think so. However there’s much to debate on this. I feel they are very, very common and amongst us to be considered wild, for they’re rarely seen in the wild!
The unusual sightings in an urban place are aptly considered wild – and that’s ‘urban wildlife’. Sunbirds and various other typical forest birds, snakes, lesser mammals like mongoose and forest butterflies and spiders visit our houses – that’s urban wildlife. You will see more of them in a forest and very less of them in an urban place, that’s urban wildlife. But how long does it take them to become entitled the urban wildlife? Long enough, I guess. Adaptation maybe slower than evolution, but it sure is slow. There are, I must say, some very commonly seen wild species around us that I have noticed – Oriental Magpie Robins, Tailor Birds and Sunbirds, and snakes – which have always been there. They are still considered the ‘urban wildlife’ species, although pretty common now a days.

The more you look for, the more you will see. This phenomenon is common for insects and spiders also, especially butterflies that lay eggs in our balcony and our gardens. I saw a Blue Mormon, a huge papilionid around my much cramped up town and that’s unusual. I saw three different species of spiders in my house for the first time, pretty unusual again. So next time you see any unusual sighting near your place, make a note of it, for perhaps, you may find new ‘urban wildlife’ specie nesting at your house!
Some sightings from my balcony that I consider common, yet not so common...

Coppersmith Barbet - Common during summers, a pair, uncommon during monsoon. Pairing.
Purple rumped Sunbird - Common during monsoon, not seen during summers or winters. Pairing.

White-browed Fantail Flycatcher - common during pre-monsoon and monsoon, uncommon in winters, not seen during summers. Pairing.

Oriental Magpie Robin (male) - common throughout the year. Pairing.
Common Clubtail, only two sightings.
Other than these, there has been a record of Indian Cobra, Rat Snake, Monitor Lizard (a stranded one that wandered into my society during 26/7), Barn Own, an Owlet, Tailor Bird pair - very common throughout although no photographic evidance :( )
Considering that I live pretty deep into the heart of the city, and with no immediate forests around my place - these sure make up the 'urban wildlife' of my society.

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!

Karjat Farm House - A Monsoon Trails Report

Karjat, at the Lake
Karjat is an extended suburb of Mumbai. It is located on Bhor ghat, Sahyadri, Western Ghats as well as at the end of coastal plains of Konkan region near Deccan. It has an average elevation of 194 metres (636 feet). It lies on the banks of the River Ulhas.
Many farm houses and residential colonies are situated here with all civil amenities and a municipal corporation. People from Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane and Pune have their Second Home, Farm House or Weekend Home here and regularly celeberate festivals, new year parties, week-end bash here. It is also popular for pleasure visits during MONSOONs. Distance from Chembur to Karjat is 46 kilometers and from Sion it is 49 kilometers. Karjat has an advanced bio-tech institute which has been developing patented hybrid varieties of rice of international repute, apart from other crops and techniques.
For more information, visit - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karjat
I had gone to a friend’s farm house at Karjat, in Wavarle village. It is a serene place with wildlife coming to your doorstep. We stayed here for two days and one night, and explored as much as we could, with photographic details and information.
We devoured the beauty with our eyes, did heaps of wildlife hunting, and cooking! We splashed in the pool, jumped through the fens and fished. We walked the markets and treaded the road at night. We did our best to find out every detail to be captured and stored in our memory.

A Natural Pond
With hopes and dreams we reached Karjat by noon, it is about one hour and fifteen minutes away from Thane Railway Station. Karjat has a lot many resorts upcoming, and slowly, I feel, this place is going to be totally commercialized. With the booming tourism industry encroaching, the threat to the inhabitants (the wildlife, of course) is going to increase. But of course, many of ‘em are the ‘environmental friendly’ types, but I wonder what’s gonna happen to the habitat destruction because of all the concrete construction.

The Countryside

So as soon as we reached, we were welcomed by birds, but the little critters of the undergrowth needed some stimulation, or rather some hunting, to be seen. We saw, at first, a White Throated Kingfisher at the stream that ran through the farm house. We saw Indian Robin at the stream, hunting, and supposedly, it had its nest in that area. We saw Laughing Doves on perches, Large Billed Crows, Pond Herons in breeding plumage, and Egrets.

We saw a variety of others too, after a little research. We saw a Striped Keelback at the stream, crawling through the rocks, and a lot many fishes at the stream. A wide variety of dragonflies, surprisingly low species of butterflies, a massive invasion of moths and beetles, and some flies and bugs.

This place, as a part of the Monsoon Trails Report, will contain most that could be captured through lens, and I tell you it’s gonna be a long, long report.
Instead of dividing the report into two days, I’d like to continue the report as one and we’ll traverse as you shall see what I saw.

The flowers of Karjat are beautiful. With dedicated botanists around, it sure is blooming away to golry, and we loved it as much as the birds do!

Flowers, ID unknown

As soon as we reached, I set on a hunt for a snake, and along the stream, I found one! It was a Striped Keelback, Amphiesma stolatum, a non-venomous snake of the Colubridae family, a non-aggressive snake feeding on toads and frogs. It froze at my glance, and escaped into a hole before I could photograph it properly. Anyhow, here's presenting the Striped Keelback
Striped Keelback - Amphiesma stolatum
Our luck wasn't with us, so we didnt see any more snakes, that were alive. Yes, we saw eight DEAD Chequered Keelbacks at a stagnant pond along with all the dead fishes. The reason was then found out to be poisoning of the pond. We couldn't do a thing.


Dead Chequered Keelbacks
We caught a lot many fishes at the stream too, and jewels at that! There were many, many of 'em escaping the net on it's approach. We saw Pencil fishes, Danio, a barb, and a Loach! We captured a few of'em and released later on.

Loach, a Barb and Danio - fishes from the stream
The birds we saw were not uncommon, but the Black Shouldered Kites did their best to amuse us. The Red-wattled Lapwings flew o'er, asking us "did-you-do-it". We saw a River Tern making its rounds at the dam, Ashy Prinia was omnipresent, the Indian Robins paired at the stream, a White Throated Kingfisher visited the stream often, Sunbirds, Oriental Magpie Robins, Collared Doves, Laughing Doves gave us a glance, and a green coloured pigeon, which Ithought was a Yellow Footed Green Pigeon, and a Shrike.

Indian Robin, male

Laughing Dove

Pond Heron, breeding plumage

On a night trail, we spotted a Fungoid Frog - Hydrophylax malabaricus sitting on a boulder, and it gave us a pretty shot! It is a colourful frog found on the forest floor and lower vegetation of the Western Ghats.

Fungoid Frog - Hydrophylax malabaricus
Now, the insects that we saw were amazing. With so many different types of Dragonflies (Odonata). They are superb aerial predators and are fond of ponds and streams. I could capture all of 'em through the lens, and here they are!
Black Marsh Trotter - Tramea limbata

Blue Tailed Green Darner - Anax guttatus

Crimson Marsh Glider, male - Trithemis aurora



Ditch Jewel, female - Brachythemis contaminata

Potamarcha congener, female
Yellow Tailed Ashy Skimmer - Potamarcha congener, male


Green Marsh Hawk - Orthetrum sabina

Other than the superb fliers, we saw very few Butterflies, the Plain Tiger, a Nymphalid; Gram Blue and a Grass Blue, both Lycaenids; and Rice Swift, a Heisperiid. The number of butterflies was surprizingly less, for we had seen a lot many butterflies last year, I'd blame it on the early onset of rains, perhaps.

Rice Swift - Birbo cinnara

At night, there was a massive invasion, literally, of the insect world, and we saw many Mayflies, a relative of the Dragonflies, belonging to Ephemeroptera, literally meaning the Short-lived Wings! They live upto a few hours to a few days. Seeing one Mayfly is not as amusing as seeing 'em swarm over a tranquil lake. It feels like seeing fairies dancing o'er the calm waters in the morning mist, but, it sure was good to see 'em. Mayfly - Hexagenia sps.

Other than that, we saw a Scorpion Fly (Mecoptera), female, species unknown. Although not evident in the female, but the male has a scorpion-like tail at the abdomen, and hence the name.

Scorpionfly, female

And yet another predator, of the small world, but a master hunter that we saw was a Bark Mantis. There were many of these, masters of disguise, presenting, the Bark Mantis.

Bark Mantis

We also saw a Grasshopper, but a different one at that. It was highly colourful, a nymph. There is no common name to this one, and it feeds on Calotropis.

Poekilocerus pictus
While strolling through the garden, we saw yet another jewel of the macro world, a Beetle, most probably a Blister Beetle (Meloidae), further ID help is appreciated

Blister Beetle, ID unknown
Lastly, one of the finest predators of the macro world ever, the Arachnid, a Signature Spider, common yet uncommon, for this one was huge! Signature Spider
To sum it all, we had a lot of fun and an amazing monsoon trail!
Flowers, ID unknown
Thank y'all for the patience!