Yeoor after Two Years

The most sweltering summer that I have ever experienced is in India. The temperatures soar above 30C and humidity above 70%. Yet this did not bother us from exploring our backyard – Yeoor Hills, after almost two years. My last visit was in August of 2009 with a fellow botanist and a friend, and my first visit for 2011 was with this plant-addict as well. We met after two years too, and decided Yeoor to be our place of meet – a good old place where we used to hang out often. We cannot say no to Yeoor, not in the peak monsoon season nor in the scorching heat, it is a place worth visiting in all climes.
Dry but not really
Imagining Yeoor in summer is not hard. The trees will be stripped of leaves. The soil will have little to no moisture and dust will blow and leaves rustle whenever the wind picks pace. This is what I pictured of Yeoor in the middle of May, but it was completely the opposite.

After reaching the top at 7 AM, we were greeted by an alarmingly large number of people with cameras. This isn’t surprising. When I talked to other naturalists who now call Yeoor their second home, they have also noticed this trend. And our reactions to this trend are alike – it’s admirable that people are taking more and more interest in exploring the wilderness, becoming aware of this natural richness crippling under the pressure from development. It is also a little concerning, for we not only need people seeking a wild adventure, but naturalists who know the ethics of being in nature. We don’t need just need camera armed photographers, but naturalists who know why and how to photograph (Read Be a Photonaturalist).
Trees along a dry riverbed
I was sure as hell glad to be back visiting this place. The change from Canadian to Indian forests was huge – they’re almost alien to each other, which is of course not surprising, but fascinating nonetheless. This time at Yeoor, I saw what I didn’t know I’d ever see. Thanks to Alok, I was able to see plants I would completely overlook in this seemingly barren month of May. There were plants that didn’t mind the heat or the lack of water. There were animals that were as home in this dry land as they are in monsoon. Yeoor was in its best figure as always, but there are things much concerning as well, about which we’ll talk at the end.
Cottonia peduncularis - Bee Orchid for its resemblance to bees
This being the flowering season for some deciduous trees, it was also the flowering and fruiting season of many Orchids. When we first stepped into the park, Alok spotted Bee Orchids – Cottonia peduncularis high up in the trees. All of them were considerable high up above, except this beautiful Bee Orchid which, amusingly, was on a Carissa shrub. A few yards further were Button Orchids – Acampe praemorsa, and on a thin offshoot branch just off the path were tiny Oberonia sp. of Orchid.
Vanda sp.
A little further, and mixed with a bunch of Button Orchids were Vanda sp. (testacea, probably). Only a botanist could stare way up there and notice these orchids, and thanks to the cameras we were able to observe them virtually closely.
Common Rose, Atrophaneura aristolochiae fluttering over Wrightea inflorescence
There were many trees flowering too, among which the brilliant white blossoms of Wrightea, attracted many insects including this dark Common Rose that stood out strikingly well against a bright background. Among trees, the blossoms of Paveta sp. and Pongamia pinnata were also a sight for sore eyes.
Blue Pansy, Juninia orythia
Summer is a good season to observe butterflies that don’t last until monsoon – these are some of the Pansies – the Yellow and the Blue Pansy. They are very common during summer, and vanish by the beginning of Monsoon – soon after they’ve laid eggs. Amongst others were Baronets, the sun loving butterflies common through summer and monsoon. Amongst Lycaenids, most common were Dark Ceruleans in their hundreds at a dry riverbed, laden with Pongamia pinnata flowers.
There is a flying leaf in this frame
Our interesting find was a large Southern Blue Oak Leaf, Kallima horsfieldi in its Dry Season Form. This butterfly was so well suited for this climate that we could initially track it only because it stood out of its rocky perch. In this picture, you can see how well camouflaged they can be, whether in the dry or wet season. There were several Spot Swordtails around as well, and as summer progresses many more will come out, and with the first showers, several thousands will be seen mud-puddling along rivers and streams.
A Sand Wasp, Family Crabronidae
The Hymenoptera were common, more so than Lepidoptera – as the Componotus sp. of ants tended to Treehoppers and the Potter Wasps collected nectar off flowers. One peculiar and interesting Hymenoptera I observed was the one pictured above.

*Update 31 May 2011: This wasp is a Sand Wasp in the Family Crabronidae, Subfamily Bembicinae, genus Bembix. They are known to commonly predate on flies. Sand Wasps are pretty common at Yeoor Hills, but this was the first time I saw this specimen. Thank you Bug Eric and John!
Trithemis aurora, female
The dragonflies were common as well – and surprisingly we could see only females. I’m not sure why this is the case, and it’ll be interesting to look at this from a scientific perspective. We sighted a Darner as it quickly zoomed into the opposite direction. More cooperative, as always, were the Libellulids – the Skimmers. I photographed this pretty Trithemis aurora lady for the first time as she sat patiently in the dried thickets.
Owlfly - press their antennae and wings against the stick and raise their abdomen
to mimic an outward stick
A lone Owlfly fluttered as we were photographing Orchids. Although they are more common during Monsoon, seeing one at this time of the year is a new record for me. The larvae look similar to Antlions. I haven’t come across any articles regarding the life-history of Owlflies in India, which will be really interesting to study. The larvae and adults both are predatory, perhaps also feeding on agricultural pest insects, therefore their importance to us is valuable, but there seems to be a serious lack of knowledge about this interesting insect in India.
A male Calotes rouxii guarding his territory
Our aim was also to find snakes, but the high temperatures might have kept them hidden from out sight. Nevertheless, we observed many lizards, specifically Calotes – two of them fighting over something, either a female or a territory, and one brightly coloured male Calotes rouxii flaunting himself from the tallest peak – a large boulder – in his territory.

We also caught a fleeting glimpse of a Flameback Woodpecker, a Rose-ringed Parakeet, a yet-unidentified hawk (probably Shikra), and a flock of Storks, perhaps Open-billed Stork, catching the thermals high in the sky.
Goats entering the National Park
We were only there for four hours, and the time was well spent. There is a lot of activity going on even during May – whether it is plants or animals. But unfortunately, nothing is as harmonious as it seems. Just as we were exiting the park, we saw a horde of goats coming in to feed on the vegetation, led by two kids. We decided not to talk to them since they wouldn’t have known a thing. Grazing of domesticated animals is not permitted in Protected Areas, but it is still carried out all over the world. Here at Yeoor, the main reason is the lack of public awareness of the laws. We also saw liquor trash and bonfires deep inside the park. This mostly happens because the park is not protected all year round. It is only guarded against visitors in monsoon months – because there is a large influx of picnickers who flock to enjoy the seasonal waterfalls. If only the Forest Department was more stringent throughout the year, we would see less and less of damage inside the Protected Area. Unfortunately, it also means that we naturalists cannot visit the park since it will be closed to general public, but we need to sacrifice something to protect something! The situation outside the park is even worse as large strips of lands are being cleared for housing. Trucks are pouring in to remove the trees and soil – and take it where? There are more concerning questions outside the park than inside.

Only recently, many posters about the biodiversity of Yeoor were put up all along the roads – a great initiative to increase public awareness directed towards visitors. What more needs to be done is the  education of resident villagers (villagers who were living here before the area was declared a National Park), because they play a rather crucial role in the protection or destruction of this forestland. It is them who can bring a serious change to the increasing vehicular and invasive traffic into the forests. I hope that you and I can gain the villagers’ trust instead of dissing them for causing destruction, for when it comes to wildlife conservation; we need more friends, not enemies.

7 comments:

  1. A beautiful post. Marvelous photography. I have enjoyed my visit. Tinged with sadness though at the destruction, which sadly happens the world over. The answer lies with educating children I feel. After all they are the future.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for taking me with you on your trip through Yeoor. I had a wonderful time.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hope you have enjoyed your trip. Thanks for sharing your observations and some fantastic images.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Love the crabronid photo, that is a spectacular wasp! I wonder what it parasitizes...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you Birdy and Morgan. I'm not sure what this specific genus feeds on, having a hard time finding its identity!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Its a beautiful phot story on the forest that I visit so often.I enjoyed this virtual visit!!

    ReplyDelete