A Day At Sanjay Gandhi National Park

Sanjay Gandhi National Park - 4th July 2009
A place like none other, SGNP is every naturalists' fantasy. It is the only known forest to be surrounded by a megacity - Mumbai. Being in the city does have many problems, like encroachment, illegal business of liquor etc., poaching and deforestation, but this is the last resort for the wildest of animals to be seen in Mumbai today.

It is not a place for couples, and picnickers. It’s high time they move out and busy themselves in manmade gardens, and it's certainly not a place to live in. As more and more people flock to SGNP, they leave behind a load of garbage behind them. This is happening for real and there is no stopping it. Even the signs of "do not pollute" are not heeded by such people. Will slamming a fine stop them from littering?

I went there to cherish the environment, the monsoon, flora and fauna, and collect some plastic littering on the forest floor. I succeeded in collecting some! Like anybody (yes some people do) would, people asked me with a funny note in their voice if I'm really going to Borivli National Park. I said yes, it's a beautiful place! The reply to it was, yeah certainly, enjoy the picnic, and tell me if you spot a leopard. I was glad for not inviting them.

So I went SGNP in the peak of monsoon. It was the same trail I went on (if you read the previous July 2008 post on SGNP, you will know) last year. The weather was wet and it was pouring every now and then. We walked for many hours, resting only to see some creature move on the forest floor or in the canopy above and the trail lasted for about 6 hours. Every minute of it was breath taking, I never could imagine such a place within Mumbai!
The sightings were very low, but sight-seeing was best. SGNP rocks :)

Sightings:
SGNP RANDOM SIGHTINGS 0810 HRS. TO 1600 HRS.
A - Abundant, P - Plenty (A > P), Numbers elsewhere denote exact sightings.
M - Male, F - Female

Birds
1. Oriental magpie robin – 1 M
2. Little Egret – 3
3. Little cormorant – 1
4. Pond heron – 2
5. Racquet tailed drongo – 1
6. Crimson sunbird – 1
7. Indian pitta – 1
8. Malabar Whistling thrush – 2 calls
Insects
1. Painted lady – P
2. Common Indian crow – 1
3. Spot swordtail – P
4. Black Stream Glider – 2
5. Baronet – P
6. Tiger Beetle – 4
7. Longhorn beetle – 2
8. Horsefly – P
9. Granite ghost – 1
10. Blue darner – 1
11. Ophiusa triphaenoides – 1
12. Red silk cotton bug – 3
13. Antlion adult – A
14. Camponotus compressus – P
15. Camponotus angusticollis – P and 1 nest
16. Harvester ants nest – 1
17. Robber fly – 2 mating
18. Scorpionfly – P
19. Termites
20. Grasshoppers – A
21. Common Leopard - 2

Reptiles and Amphibians
1. Ramanella sp. – P
2. Duttaphrynus melanostictus – P
3. Garden lizard – 1
4. Green keelback – 1 Juv
5. Gecko UNID – 1

Arachnids
1. Nursery web spider – 2
2. Tarantula – 1

Crustacean
1. Land Crab - A

Mollusc
1. Snails - P
PhotographsLand crabs are very common during Monsoon, and come in tiniest forms to very large ones. This fellow was on a plateau, threatening me with arms wide open under the monsoon cover.
Antlion adults prefer thickly covered forests. They were in their abundance here. They belong to Family Myrmeleontidae, Order Neuroptera. They have a weak, fluttering flight and short visible antennae which are visible distinguishing characters from Damselflies (Zygoptera, Odonata).


Camponotus (angusticollis?): A large ant with a long-neck common on the forest floor and tree trunks at SGNP. A nest was also sighted on the ground.


Camponotus compressus: Another large ant, distinguished from C. angusticollis by its large bulky head and no distinguishable neck. This ant also shares habitats with the previous ant.


Harvester Ant nest: Harvester Ants (dont know which species) build fortress like nests. Only one nest was seen on the trail. They are called Harvester ants because of the habit of harvesting seeds. One will usually come across sead coat - the outer membrane of seeds, just outside Harvester Ants nest.


Grasshoppers belong to Orthoptera. They are very common throughout the world. Grasshopper abundance at SGNP only means that there is lots of food to eat for the grasshoppers, the other thing it means is that there is lots of food (now grasshopper) to eat for the birds!


Scorpionflies belong to family Panorpidae, Order Mecoptera. After seeing the picture of this male, you will believe why they are called Scorpionflies. But they do not sting with their "sting" like abdomen, but are actually modified genitals. Females lack this scorpion-like feature, however are very similar to the males.



"Food items such as caterpillars, bugs, and flies are offered to be eaten
during copulation. The female is first attracted by a pheromone emitted by one
or more vesicles or pouches at the end of the male's abdomen. When the female is
near, the vesicles are retracted. The female examines the offering while the
male searches for her genitalia with his own. If the gift is rejected, the
female flies away. If the gift is accepted, the genitalia of the male couples
with that of the female, who lowers herself until she is hanging upside down.
She consumes the offering during copulation. The male supports the female by
holding her legs or the prey. Field observations show that both sexes mate
several times per day. Small or unacceptable offerings result in no or a very
short copulation time." - Wikipedia


Termites are often considered relatives of Ants - for their ant like shape and social behaviour, but they are very different from Ants. Termites belong to Order Isoptera, and are distant relatives of Cockroaches. They are highly social and well known for the same reason. Several Termite Mounds were seen at SGNP, and are a common sight inside the Park. This picture was taken where these Soldier Termites were busying themselves on a damaged region of the Mound. I have no idea who could have damaged it since there were no humans present in that area except for us. We watched them seal the opening, and were fortunate to observe how they do it. The workers chew onto the mud, and make little balls of mud + saliva, and stick it together - just how humans use brick (mud) + cement (saliva) = strong home!


Robberflies of Asilidae are sighted on every trails. This time seen mating.


Tiger Beetle Cicindela arurulenta: Another superbly coloured tiger beetle, were again very common. Several types of Tiger Beetles were seen although I was successful in photographing just one. They are really superfast! One reason why they are called Tiger Beetles is because of their like-ness to hunt. They stalk their prey, and are agile and powerful like a tiger. The above tiger beetle is Cicindela arurulenta, subspecies unknown.


Nursery-web Spider or Fishing Spider, belong to Pisauridae. They are commonly seen during wettest monsoon months. This time I was lucky to see this one sitting on water! I have always seen them sitting on leaf surface, much away from any waterbody. They are associated with water and are also sometimes reffered to as Fishing Spiders. They resemble wolf spiders of Lycosidae, but a closer look at the eye pattern reveals their secret (see picture below).


The Eye Pattern of Nursery Web Spider is much different than Wolf Spider.


Ophiusa sp. (triphaenoides?): A moth belonging to Noctuidae,Catocalinae. Many other moths were seen.


This is one of the several caterpillars seen on a plant (Cissus sp. probably). Here, this fellow caterpillar was seen consuming its moult. Caterpillars undergo ecdysis (molting), and the stages of a caterpillar based on its molting are called Instars. So when a caterpillar is just out of it's egg, that's First Instar, after first moult, it's Second Instar.. and so on until it pupates. The caterpillars, after hatching from an egg, have a habit of consuming the egg - for its nutritive value. Likewise, they also consume their moult after undergoung molting.


Baronet - Euthalia nias: A beautiful brightly coloured Nymphalid, Baronet is a delight to watch and sometimes a headache to get-close and shoot it, but sometimes luck pays off. We saw several individuals here and there, and then this mating pair. They were still at one place for an hour, a good subject to photograph and record.


Ramanella sp.: A tiny frog was calling for its mate in one pond. Several frog eggs adorned the pond (some eggs are visible on the right side of frog), several mating pairs were also seen.


Same frog, shot from above, you can see the gullar sac that enables the frog to call. The frog swells up with air hence the baloon like shape of the body.


Common Indian Toad - Duttaphrynus melanostictus: A common toad, seen mating in the same pond shared with Ramanella sp.
Garden Lizard - Calotes versicolour: A well camouflaged lizard was sitting on the boulder, perhaps basking in the monsoon clouds.


Gecko unidentified: A well camouflaged gecko!


Green Keelback - Macropisthodon plumbicolor: A juvenile Green Keelback was seen slithering amongst leaf litter. It is a non-venomous snake, often seen at SGNP. Adults grow about 2 feet and lose the beautiful black-and-yellow marks on the head. This juvenile snake quickly coiled itself into a defensive pose, see picture below.


Green Keelback is not know for being aggressive, and will often find a way out of intervening humans. Here, it had coiled itself into a tight circle, and given a chance, escaped into the thicket.

That's about all the fauna I could capture through the lens. A little more on the flora I sighted along the trail:


Maidens Hair Fern - Adiantum sp.: A fern from Pteridaceae family, they grow all over the path, on wet walls and humus rich soil surfaces - often near streams, at SGNP during monsoon, and are one of the most beautiful, brilliant green ferns that adorn this land.


Chlorophytum tuberosum: A beautiful plant that sprouts and blooms with first monsoon showers. They spread across the open forestland and are a delight to watch. The above image is of the plant in it's habitat, just on a cliff.
Chlorophytum flowers attract many insects, like a Stingless Bee gathering it's pollen and thereby helping in polination. Another Leafhopper nymph rests on the buds.
Crinum latifolium: Another beautiful plant with large leaves and fragrant pink flowers that blooms only during first monsoon showers. This plant prefers hilly and rocky areas and is another treat to watch!
Curculigo orchioides: A little plant, common on forest floors and easily identified by a small star-shaped yellow flower at the base of the leaves. Flowers during monsoon season.
Heliotropium indicum: A small herb common in forests, well known for Daniane butterflies such as Blue Tiger, Plain Tiger, Common Indian Crow, to sit on and suck the alkaloids in mass numbers, however, only dead or damaged H. indicum are prefered by these butterflies.


"Interestingly, danaidone is not available from the plants that the larvae feed
on and must be obtained by the adults after emergence. And this task is
accomplished by feeding on plants that do contain these substances. Two widely
distributed plants that contain danaidone precursors (often lumped together and
called pyrollidizine alkaloids) are Heliotropium indicum and Crotalaria palida.
These are annuals that come up with the onset of the rains, and are quite common
in the dry and intermediate zones of the island. It is principally from these
two plant species that the male Danaids obtain most of the chemicals required to
synthesize their pheromones. All Danaids are irresistibly attracted to these
plants. The dead or damaged plant parts of Heliotropium indicum are preferred to
undamaged plants. In the case of Crotalaria pallida, the developing pods are
preferred over all other plant parts. The chemical that is so gleefully sought
after by these butterflies has now been identified as lycopsamine. Studies
elsewhere have shown that males that do not accumulate danaidone are
consistently refused by the females. So it seems that the females not only seek
chemicals for their own survival and their progeny, but also indirectly select
for genes that are correlated well with good foraging ability; an excellent
strategy for survival of the species." - Butterflies of Sri Lanka,
http://www.srilankaninsects.net/Butterflies/Danaidae/General_Danaidae.htm

Hill Turmeric - Cucurma pseudomonata: A beautiful plant which again flowers during Monsoon, decorates the forestfloor with such brilliant colour shades.

Argemone mexicana: It is actually a native of West Indies. A gregarious spiny plant invading degraded lands. It was seen near the tar road and not in the pristene forests.

Landscapes: Few breath-taking scenes, right in Mumbai!

The last one image shows skyscrapers competing with the mountains in reaching the heaven. But only nature can succeeded in touching the heaven, for it is heaven in itself.

6 comments:

  1. the unidentified gecko seems to be brook's gecko

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  2. Brilliant report and photos!

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  3. Hi , nice clicks and report. Saw the photo of Duttaphrynus melanostictus matting . Are you sure that it is Common Indian toad ? I have the same spp. click. I think its Duttaphrynus parietalis . Will you please inform me about it ?

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  4. Thank you for the comment. I'm unaware of the distribution of D. parietalis, I considered they were not found way up in Mumbai. Thanks for pointing it out!

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  5. That's a great report, with beautiful pictures.
    I am looking to find a bird list for SGNP. Can you point me in the right direction please?

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  6. Loved this post. Look forward to reading more such posts from you!

    ReplyDelete