Uran - A vanishing paradise

Uran 28th June 2009

"Uran has a vast wetland ecosystem and a naval base near Mora
Gaon. It is known for fishing and the bird life that exists there – and all of these are at stake due to the SEZ that falls under 10,000 hectares of this wetland ecosystem."

I went on a walk at Uran, a township in the Raigad district famous for its wetlands. It takes around one hour to reach this place from Mumbai. It is a hotspot for flora and fauna, especially birds. It is also a hotspot for industries, and is in the eyes of the government.

The day was not so perfect for any sighting, we presumed, since it had been raining on and off for few days but I guess I underestimated my luck. Uran is a place where, if you go during any time of the year, will see many birds. And they will make sure you see them too! It is a place with excellent birdlife and others associated with the wetlands.

Uran is exclusively known for fishing, thanks to the abundant water sources, whether fresh or creek. It is also known as the infamous SEZ that is going to literally wipe out all the ecologically significant wetland habitats.

An Account
I was reading a newspaper one morning, and in the readers’ feedback section, somebody had written in favor of SEZ. I am not against those who speak in the likes of SEZ, but that person also spoke of environmentalists in a harsh way, that they are always against development and are never in favor of the city (Mumbai). He was so straightforward, that I thought environmentalists are corrupt politicians, and they do what want to do.

I’d like to tell him that environmentalists are not dumb to stage protests against development. I’d suggest him to step out of his concrete walls and walk in the wild. I’d advice him to open his eyes and look out him self. I’d shove the pictures of destruction done at Uran on his face. I wouldn’t get agitated now for it’s worthless.

It is sad to see people ignore the wild, so much so that they get blinded by development. Raigad district has 17 SEZs and one of it is Uran – closest to Mumbai. It is said that around 10,000 hectares of land will be used for industrial development. All at the cost of villagers, their fishing spots, mangroves, reptiles, mammals and the resident as well as migratory bird life.

It has been in picture for past 5 years, and NGOs are doing their best to protect these wetlands, mangroves especially seem to be paved and buried in heaps of dirt and wastes. Reliance, the “pioneer” of wetland destruction, seems to be a deaf ear and a blind eye towards this, even today.
"We sent the British packing, but they seem to have come back in the guise of Reliance," said one, who made a special placard for Martyrs Day, asking the company to go away. - SEZ: farmers plan satyagraha, The Hindu
"Farmers and landowners have been protesting against forced acquisition of land in the Raigad district. Some of them have expressed apprehension that official documents may be manipulated to show that their land has already been sold." – The Hindu
"However, following the pressures from the villagers, the government asked Reliance to scale down the size of its proposed multi-product Maha Mumbai SEZ from 10,000 hectares to 5,000 to avoid dislodging farmers and villagers unwilling to relocate in 2007." – Economic Times
The SEZ at Uran will be using up vast agricultural and fishing grounds of the villagers, relocating them somewhere else. This has caused all the concern but aren’t we forgetting something?

We saw huge garbage dumps – where once existed vast mangroves. We saw mangroves burnt and chopped, chemicals from a nearby factory running into waters, a man building a wall of mud to contain water in it so as to use it as an aqua culture (that is illegal) – thereby suffocating the mangroves and letting them rot. We saw huge debris spread over a shocking vastness, all to build factories upon it.
Masses of soil and dirt used to reclaim the wetlands
I remember reading on reports by Adesh Shivkar, a well known Ornithologist in town, speaking his mind out about Uran, a nigh two years ago. Now it is vastness of nothingness, save a little area with scattered mangroves and inlets of industrial effluents.

Mangroves are important to us and the wild. They are the lungs of our planet. They are known to absorb largest amount of CO2 – a greenhouse gas. They are known to keep the water at bay, thereby helping as a buffer against sea water from coming in – and saving the mainland from flooding.

Mangroves are a haven for wildlife – aquatic, terrestrial as well as aerial. It is a shelter for young fishes, a place for birds to eat and nest and for wild animals such as Wild Boar, Jackal and a variety of reptiles to stay. All this, 10,000 acres of this, will be gone. It isn’t coming back.

All we did was, wow this place is awesome, is it going to go too? Alas, this place must have had thousands of flamingoes flocking here. Some even said, oh I remember this place, it was so beautiful before! Some remembered seeing a huge python, all in the recent times.

The destruction is fast proceeding, with tonnes of wastes thrown in the mangroves everyday. We were startled to see medical waste lying near mangroves, along the roads in heaps. Medicine bottles, syringes, injections, so many other things that should have been incinerated and vanished. But it is here, in the middle of wetlands contaminating it! We thought twice before stepping in the mud barefooted.
Burnt Medical waste lying on the roadside
Amidst this pitying landscape we saw flocks of flamingoes, many in numbers. Other water birds were present in lesser numbers. We also saw some mangrove associated animals, living on the brink of extinction. The overall diversity was lesser than expected and I would like to do something about it! Stop development! Stop encroaching in the mangroves! (Pokes the reader I spoke about earlier).

Lastly, I hope whatever development they do, they consider the natural flora and fauna of this place and leave them some space to live and sleep. If they protect their habitat, they’ll be protected by the forces of nature. If they want business, they can save wildlife and show it to the world AND make sure to dispose their waste smartly. That’s development – Sustainable Development.

Uran 28th June 2009 0819 Hrs – 1150 Hrs – RANDOM SIGHTINGS
P – Plenty, A – Abundant, Numbers elsewhere denote exact figures, M – Male, F – Female

1. Brahminy Kite – 2
2. Black Kite – 2
3. Cattle Egret – 2 M Breeding Plumage
4. Common Kingfisher – 2
5. Lesser Flamingoes
6. Spoonbill – 7
7. Lesser Whistling Duck – 3
8. Asian Pied Starling – 6
9. Spot billed Duck – 1
10. Oriental White Ibis – 2
11. Ashy Prinia – P
12. Eurasian Marsh Harrier – 1 Pair
13. Red Wattled Lapwing – 2
14. Great Egret – 2
15. Purple Heron – 1
16. Purple Rumped Sunbird – 2
17. Pond Heron – 2
18. White Cheeked Bulbul – 2
19. Night Heron – 1
20. Cinnamon Bittern – 1
21. Black Winged Stilt – 2
22. Cormorant
23. Little Grebe
24. Purple Moorhen – 2
25. House Crow
26. Little Egret
27. Plain Prinia – 2
28. Red vented Bulbul – 3
29. White breasted Water hen – 1
30. Oriental Magpie Robin – 1 M
31. Black Drongo – 1
32. Plovers UNID – 2
33. Greater Flamongo - 2

1. Pigmy Dartlet Ischnura pygmaea – 1 M
2. Camponotus compressus - A
3. Black Crazy Ant
4. Tiger Beetle – 6
5. Ischnura senegalensis – 2 F
6. Small Salmon Arab – 5
7. Green Marsh Hawk – A
8. Ruddy Marsh Skimmer – 2 M 1 F
9. Ditch Jewel – 2 F
10. Black Marsh Trotter – 1
11. Glassy Tiger – 1
12. Ground Skimmer – 3 M
13. Grass Yellow – 1

1. Glossy Marsh Snake – 1
2. Dog Face – 1

1. Indian Gray Mongoose – 1


Black Marsh Trotter: Tramea limbata – A dragonfly hard to miss, prefers perching high over a water body to get a better view, scanning for prey. It is known to be active throughout the day. Only one individual was seen far off in the marshes.

Senegal Golden Dartlet: Ischnura senegalensis, female – A female damselfly, seen with a broken abdomen. I. senegalensis has many morphs in females, this one being one of them.

Tiger Beetle – The fastest and quickest beetle, belonging to Carabidae family of Coleoptera, is predatory in nature. Many Tiger Beetles were seen on mud lined by dried as well as green grasses.

Camponotus compressus – A big ant, seen throughout Uran, several colonies were located in tree holes. These workers were seen feeding on Prosopis sp. inflorescence. It is a specie that indicates a disturbed habitat.

Painted Lady: Vanessa cardui – A nymphalid that has global distribution. Only one individual was seen sitting on the ground and had a weak flight. It is commonly seen pre-monsoon and monsoon.

Small Salmon Arab: Colotis amata – A pieridae butterfly, associated with the mangroves. Many individuals were seen near mangrove swamps. This individual was seen laying eggs on a mangrove sapling.

Glossy Marsh Snake: Gerarda prevostiana – A small snake, associated with wetlands is also common at Uran. It feeds almost exclusively on crabs. It is slow and lethargic on land, however swims swiftly in water. It is mildly venomous and not aggressive.

Dog-faced Water Snake: Cerberus rynchops – A snake commonly seen in wetland habitats, such as mangroves, is fairly common at Uran. It is a semi-venomous water snake, nocturnal in behavior feeding on fishes. It is a small snake and less aggressive in nature.
Black-winged Stilt: Himantopus himantopus – A long legged wader, common throughout the region was seen feeding in ankle-deep water. Only two individuals were seen, however they are generally seen in flocks.

Spotbill: Anas poecilorhyncha – A beautiful duck, prefers fresh water and marshes. Good numbers of these were seen in flight. They are usually seen in flocks, babbling in the water.

Lesser Flamingo: Phoenicopterus minor – It is a subspecies of flamingo; it is the smallest of all flamingoes and most abundant. It is a Near Threatened specie according to IUCN, and quite evident in India by encroachment, landfills and industrial effluent runoffs in the wetlands. The numbers at Uran were less, but were seen at an approachable distance from the bank.

Lesser Flamingoes with juveniles in flight.

Prosopis sp. – It comes under leguminous spiny trees and shrubs and can thrive in dry and arid regions. Many trees were seen at Uran. It is considered economically significant tree by farmers since it can be used as a fuel wood and as fodder for cattle.

Typha sp. – It is a monocotyledonous plant, growing exclusively in wetland areas. It is commonly called Rambaan (Ram’s arrow) in Marathi and Cat-tail in English. It is a tall reed and provides shelter for various fauna.
Rambaan is an area good for birding. The kuchha roads here are lined by Australian Acacia.

A short walk at Uran was an eye opener. With fast vanishing wetland habitats that are needed to be conserved during this age, naught can be done but develop an eco-friendly strategy to sustain this region along side the growing industries.

The wetlands are the largest conservators of water other than main water sources, and landfills in these regions will only contaminate the groundwater – the effects of which will surface only years later. It is wetlands that are most biologically diverse than other ecosystems – and that makes Uran a special place.

To conserve Uran, the best means would be sustainable development. Uran has a potential of having industries working side by side with flamingoes doing their daily chores. By keeping the industrial effluents under strict control and leaving a breathing space for nature, one can work side by side with nature.
A vast expanse of land lays dried under the cover of monsoon clouds. What will be the future of this area?

Yeoor Hills Day 2

Yeoor Hills on 21st June 2009
I went Yeoor Hills again after a gap of 6 days. It rained on Saturday 20th, so visiting Yeoor on the 21st seemed like a good idea. The sightings had been different compared to last Sunday (previous Yeoor post). The weather was pleasant, overcast, drizzled a wee bit, and the breeze was cold and damp. All this is not favored by some insects such as butterflies so most remained hidden from the sight.

Nothing much to be spoken about, except sightings and some photographs.


1. Common Iora (Call)
2. Common Tailor Bird
3. I was seriously looking in the undergrowth.

1. White Orange Tip (Male) 1
2. Robber fly - 2
3. Longhorn Beetle - 2 sp.
4. Common Emigrant - Plenty
5. Psyche - 2
6. Spot Swordtail - 2
7. Fodina stola (Moth) 1
8. Attatha sp. (Moth) 1
9. Tortoise beetle - Plenty Adults; several larvae
10. Camponotus angusticollis - several on forestfloor
11. Camponotus (compressus?) - 1
12. Anoplolepis gracilipes - Super Colony!
13. Leaf Bug - 3 Nymphs, 4 Adults
14. Horned Tree-hopper
15. Hoverfly - 1
16. Cicada - Plenty
17. Jewel Beetle - 1
18. Cockroach UNID - Abundant
19. Fly (mimics Paper Wasps?) - 7
20. Crematogaster sp. - Abundant

1. Jumping Spider - Plenty
2. Spitting Spider - 3
4. Ground Spider

1. Bronzeback Tree Snake - 1

Photographs:Camponotus angusticollis: A fairly large ant, common at Yeoor, seen foraging on the forest floor among the leaf litter. Camponotus sp. (compressus?): Another large common ant, hard to miss.
Anoplolepis gracilipes: Commonly called Yellow Crazy Ant or Red Crazy Ant, is an opportunistic ant and well known for its devastative nature. Some research says that these ants are capable of wiping out entire small habitats. It is an indicator of a disturbed habitat, and unfortunately, these ants have a "super colony" at Yeoor Hills. I saw a massive colony of these on two trees, they were all over the path in that area, spread roughly 15 m. I located a nest amongst leaf litter in this area. There really wasnt much on the forest floor in that area except these ants. Need to check again!
I managed really bad images of these ants.
Crematogaster ants: They were seen everywhere, as usual, and this time they were busy feeding on sap of a certain creeper, whose picture is given below.
A creeper abundant at Yeoor. Tortoise Beetle grub ants were seen feeding on its sap.
Cockroach: A roach (Blattaria) seen in the leaf-litter. This is probably the least photographed creature at Yeoor! It show's bristles on its legs, which aide it in walking, possesses long antennae - good for sensing its surrounding and the two thick protruding structures at its bottom are ceri (singular Cercus). They are sensory in nature, or may help in copulation, or simply be vestegial. In cockroach, it acts as a sensory organ, warning cockroach of the approaching danger (through vibrations in air/land) so that it runs in the opposite direction.Horned Treehopper - Centrotus sp.(?): A bug from the Membracidae family, known for their "thorns". They live off by feeding on plant sap. They are often seen in association with ants - that get a sugary excretion form the Treehopper and the ants in return protect them.
Cicada: A loud insect, and also one of the most long lived. The larva lives underground - feeding on plant-root sap - for several years depending upon species. The longest living Cicada spends its life as a larva for 17 years, feeding off on pine-root sap. The adults are short lived, often for weeks to months, and their sole purpose is to mate and lay eggs. The male Cicadas are loud and make a chirping sound to attract females. The Cicada Song is the loudest "noise" in the Insect world.
A Hempiteran "true" Bug, the commonly called Leaf Bug, is a common insect at Yeoor. This fellow had just moulted it's exoskeleton (look at top left of the above image) and was sitting on the dried leaf until it's exoskeleton hardened again. When arthropods moult, they are very vulnerable to attack since the new exoskeleton is very soft. So they usually undergo ecdysis (moulting) at night and prefer hiding in some place.
These are the nymphs of a Hemipteran "true" bug, most probably of Leaf Bug. The Hempiteran bugs undergo hemimetabolous metamorphosis, the nymph resembling an adult to a certain extent. The only exception in nymphs are the underdeveloped wings (as seen in this picture, there are no wings developed) and immature sexual organs. The size of these nymphs was hardly a centimeter.
Tortoise Beetle - Placed in the family of Leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae), they are small and the elytra resembles a tortoise shell. Many adults and grubs were seen feeding on the creeper (picture posted earlier). This fellow was feeding on its leaves.
Another glistening tortoise beetle.
A Beetle, memeber of the Buprestidae family of Jewel beetles, this fellow was roughly 1cm in length. The white hanging structures are the eggs of Lacewing (Neuroptera). This beetle was not seen feeding on the eggs, but resting on the small dried bush. There was one more individual present on the bush.
Longhorn Beetle: Longhorn Beetles belong to Cerambycidae. This individual was feeding on the stem (see picture). Longhorn beetles can be pests as grubs as well as adults. But that's just because of us that they are termed pests.

Another Longhorn Beetle, pretending to be dead when it sensed me (first picture). After several minutes he tried to get up (second picture) and finally was standing on its feet (third picture). This behaviour is termed Thanatosis (commonly, pretending to be dead). In the above picture, the Longhorn beetle displays Thanatosis to evade my attention or, in nature, a predator's attention.
"Artificial selection experiments have shown that there is heritable variation for length of death-feigning in beetles, and that those selected for longer death-feigning durations are at a selective advantage to those at shorter durations, when a predator is introduced, which suggests that thanatosis is indeed adaptive." - Wikipedia Wasp-mimicking Fly: Several flies at one place were seen at the base of the tree, feeding on sap. These flies sort of resemble Paper Wasps, if looked closely. This is Batesian Mimicry, where a less-threatning species (such as this fly) mimicks the stinging Paper Wasp.

Mimics are less likely to be found out when in low proportion to their model, a phenomenon known as negative frequency dependent selection which applies in most other forms of mimicry as well. Example: Vespid wasps bear several harmless mimics including moths, beetles and flies.Hoverfly - Simosryphus grandicornis: A beautiful fly belonging to Syrphidae. These flies are well known to mimic wasps and bees. Robberfly (Asilidae): This fly is a superb predator, and is seen everywhere. This fellow was perched high on a dry bush for a long time. Attatha sp.: A moth belonging to Catocalinae, a large subfamily under Noctuidae.Fodina stola: A medium sized moth of Catocalinae, resting on leaf litter. The larvae of this moth feed on Cassia fistula.Spot Swordtail: A beautiful Papilionid with a long sword-like wing projection. It is commonly seen pre-monsoon and during monsoon. A Jumping Spider of Salticidae, they are easily recognized by their two big ocelli (eyes) out of the six. They are generally small in size and come in myriad of colours.
Another curious Jumping Spider. Jumping spiders are very expressive, and give interesting poses - hence are a good subject for macro photography. Another rather tiny Salticid, with amazing set of colour combination!
Same spider showing the colours and the patterns.

While leaving, I came across this beautiful reptile basking in the Sun that happened to glance from the monsoon cover for sometime. It was a Bronzeback - Dendrelaphis tristis, an arboreal snake.
It was basking on the top of a shrub, stretching out its head as seen in this photograph and laying completely still, as if invisible.
After it sensed me watching and photographing, it decided to go back into the forest, its home. And I decided to go my home.

Yeoor Hills

Yeoor Hills - A Short Trail on 14th June 2009
Yeoor Hills of Thane require no introduction - to see more on Yeoor, just google "Yeoor Hills" or go through my previous posts before September 2008 and wait for more in days to come. I went Yeoor after many months. Thus I "officially" declare the beginning of my favourite season of Monsoon! Officially I said, for it's about time for Monsoon to arrive Mumbai but is late! So the literal Monsoon Trail is delayed. None the less, Yeoor Hills is still full of surprises.

I went on a trail with my friends after a long time. The excitement of visiting Yeoor was high, and expectations were higher. It was a small trail and we had small amount of sightings, but it was a good day to put my camera to extreme level of macros.

Starting with Monsoon Trails 2009, I promised myself to pick up plastics that I find on the trails anywhere I go, and put 'em in my bag - or if a friend wants to share some garbage - his bag.

List of Sightings:
1. Shikra - 2
2. Crested Serpent Eagle - 1 Call
3. Black Hooded Oriole - 1
4. Common Tailorbird - 1
5. Coppersmith Barbet - 1 Call

1. Crematogaster sp.
2. Camponotus sp. (irritans)
3. Camponotus sp. (angusticollis)
4. Cerulean - laying eggs on Butea superba (Palash)
5. Spot Swordtail
6. Common Pierrot
7. Oecophylla sp. (smaragdina) - Weaver Ants
8. Scale Insects
9. Danaid Eggfly female
10. Golden Angle
11. Robber Fly
12. Harvester Ants Nest
13. Cicada - Plenty

1. Crab Spider - Female and Male
2. Ant-mimicking Spider
3. Scorpion UNID - caught by villagers, did not let us set 'em free.
1. Forest Calotes - 5 Males

Wild Grapes - Ampelocissus latifolia: Inflorescence of this wild creeper common at Yeoor. There were several Scale Insects on this vine. These flowers were full of a liquid secretion, which was not seen on many other flowers. This secretion also did not tend to attract any insects.
Cicada Nymph - moult: Adult Cicadas were plenty at Yeoor, with an occasional chirping that started with one Cicada followed by many others and fading slowly.Giant Honey Ant - Camponotus (irritans?): A fairly large ant, not very aggressive, staying on the ground, was seen 6 feet above ground sitting behind this Scale Insect/ Mealy Bug, awaiting for it to excrete sugary dropping. I observed several independent individuals scouting the forest floor.Crematogaster Ants: These ants were seen tending to another Mealy bug.
Crematogaster Ant: One of the many individuals seen feeding on the sap of Morinda citrifolia fruits. A difference between the first two Crematogaster Ants images is the position of their gaster (the abdomen). In the first Crematogaster Ant pic, the gaster is not raised as seen in the latter picture. They tend to raise their gaster when they are disturbed.
Crematogaster Ants: This is the fruit of Morinda, and the Crematogaster Ants feeding on its sap. They were present on every fruit. These ants were more commonly seen outside and far from their nest than inside (or around) their Pagoda Nests!
Weaver Ant - Oecophylla sp. (smaragdina?): One of the many individuals of the Weaver Ants in a defensive pose on their nest on Carissa carandas.
Robber Fly: A frontal shot of this Robber fly feeding on a winged ant. Robberflies pierce their prey with strong sword-like mandibles and inject digestive juices into the prey, which gets internally dissolved and the fly then sucks out the bodily juice out of its prey.
Golden Angle - Caprona ransonnetti: A hesperiid, this is a Dry Season Form. Only one individual was seen. I expect to see many during Monsoons.
Danaid Eggfly - Hypolimnas misippus, female: A nymphalid, this female mimics Plain Tiger - an unpalatable butterfly.
Common Cerulean - Jamides celeno: A single female was observed laying eggs on Butea superba. She laid about five eggs on the budding leaves.
Spot Swordtail - Graphium nomius: A beautiful swallowtail butterfly, seen commonly during pre-monsoon and monsoon months. Several individuals were seen.
Ant-mimicking Spider: This spider mimics ants perfectly. I have no idea of the species, but this one belongs to Salticidae. A wonderful example of mimicry! The first pair of legs mimicked the antennae of the ants. The size was a little less than 10mm.
The above image is of the same spider, showing clearly the typical Salticidae Eye Pattern and four pairs of legs.Crab Spider: This spider belongs to Thomisidae, the infamous Crab Spider known for its typical Crab-like-posture. This yellow bigger individual is actually a female, carrying a male on her back - rather abdomen. I wonder if these spiders show any Breeding Pattern, since I had seen a couple back in September 2008 too.
Forest Calotes - Calotes rouxi, Male: This is their breeding season. Many of these were seen, displaying their colours - either to the well-camouflaged females to attract them or to other males to warn them.
Another male Forest Calotes, hides from me in the buds.

That's the end of this short trail, although I got to learn a lot from what these forests show us.