Wednesday, August 10, 2016


I am an incurable nature-watcher. Give me a nondescript patch of greens and I will go sniffing and snooping around. That I always find some-being or hit on some “eureka moments” is another story altogether. Why, just the other day, in my neck of the woods, I came across something that I thought happened only on “Animal Planet”. I almost stepped on blobs of cow-dung buzzing with flies and even as I skirted the roadblock, a tiny movement caught my eyes. It was a dung beetle spiriting away a perfectly round ball of trophy!

From suburbs to countryside, from birds to butterflies, from mega to mini, from long shot to short range, from telephoto to macro photography, it’s been a journey, a wild one. Over the years, my skills got honed acutely. From missing the songster in the bush to spotting it through sixth sense and from being blind to butterflies and dragonflies to picking up their presence as on radar, I have graduated in the course of “natural progression”.

One noticed butterflies when they flitted around trying to settle on some flower or the other… in short, when one followed their flight. They may well be soundless angels on wings. But having watched them for a while now, I am able to sniff out tigers and pansies at dusk, even as they quietly rest by an obscure weed, closer to ground. Even a pea-size “grass blue” (of the “Blues” family of flutterbugs) perched by a wildflower carpet at day-close draws my attention these days.  

When I excitedly told my son—my biggest admirer and critic—about this development, he dissed me with typical teenage nonchalance: “Mom, you are jobless”! Hardly the reaction I expected! A pat on the back or a “wah wah” (highest praise from him), maybe; anything but that! Come to think of it, maybe my neighbours think the same of me, too… wouldn’t they if they saw me sauntering around at 11 a.m. or 3.30 p.m. armed with a ‘bazooka’ peering into bushes, the sun peaking overhead? Very rarely these days do I race against time, running from one invented work to another imagined errand; I am content with my “jobless” status and identity.

While on the subject of diurnal butterflies and their retiring habit, I have been observing teeny-weeny ones moving like meteors in a blur only to settle down on the under-side of low leaves or grass blades, particularly at twilight. With that attribute they easily give my lens the slip. Something told me these were not butterflies, and soon I was observing their crepuscular country-cousinsthe moths.

The other day, I saw an inch-long apparition that was buzzing by the flowers of a hedge, its wings a blur. It’s proboscis with which to suck nectar seemed to mimic a beak. Having seen hummingbirds in San Francisco, it appeared to me a miniature hummingbird, no less. Try as I would, even the fastest shutter speed saw me incapable of freezing the winged fauna. Moreover, it was flitting aimlessly from flower to flower not sure of which one to settle for.

With the customary Google search I could pin it down to species: Macroglossum stellatarum. In common parlance, this unusual creature was simply a hummingbird hawk-moth! It also dawned on me then that I had photographed the moth earlier while it was resting on the verandah bar when I didn't know its identity or propensity. 

Look at the serendipity. Soon thereafter, I came across a fun article (what with Pokémon on the go!), “14 bizarre animals that could totally pass as Pokémon”, where on Number 13 was, guess who! That the moth should feature among oddities and rarities of animal kingdom, in the first place, and that I should have stumbled upon it right herein Vizag, first-hand, gave me unalloyed pleasure of a new discovery. Of course, the Pokemon-bit sobered my son a bit…at least “Mom wasn't primitive”!

The article went on to inform that the moth’s resemblance to humming bird was a result of “convergent evolution”. “In evolutionary biology, convergent evolution is the process whereby organisms not closely related, independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches”! This is the opposite of divergent evolution—which we are perhaps more aware of—where related species evolve with different traits. The Galapagos finches that Darwin observed and studied to arrive at his Theory of Evolution fall in the latter category.

With such miracles evolving in front of my eyes, son, I can only say: ‘I maybe “jobless”, but certainly not joyless’.

Hummingbird hawk-moth 
Trigonodes hyppasia moth

Friday, March 4, 2016

NatGeo is NextDoor

Every time I step out in the morning on a nature walk in my neighbourhood of Dolphin Hill with my camera there is a sense of heightened anticipation.  I have butterflies in my heart, fluttering in excitement.  What will the day put on display today, will I stumble upon a new species? I have to still my mind and tell myself: “do not look for something; just see, observe, be”. But the mind races ahead when I see the roadside lantana brimming with swallowtails and skippers. Though the patch seems abundantly endowed, yeh dil maange more… Greedily, I seek to see what lies just ahead, at the turn. Like the proverbial green grass on the other side, I feel something more exciting is lurking round the corner. Often it does; then again, nothing that this patch would not reveal, if only I stayed on!

 “The butterfly counts not months, but moments and has time enough.”
- Rabindranath Tagore

'The birds, butterflies and bees are going nowhere; they are here and now,' I try telling myself. Though the butterflies are constantly on the wing, they are in no hurry to get anywhere.  Hurry is the antithesis of their existence. Mindfulness is their nature. If I were to take a leaf from their book, I would learn to stay centered and focused.

And when I calm down thus, Nature reveals its secrets as a reward.

Like it happened when instead of one individual of a species I saw a pair of Pierrots pirouetting through the bushes. Or the time when I was witness to a social ritual of mud-paddling of Common Crows (a butterfly species).  One day, I stumble upon a Pale Palm Dart, stark orange against tender greens; on another, it may be an Awlet, its eyes popping out, literally.

A movement in the grass beneath the feet could be a Garden Gecko, a baby, with its eyes still lidded over. A ghost-white Chameleon could be an albino or just a juvenile; I am yet to learn the finer nuances of identification. When I am snooping around the bushes chasing dragonflies, a Grey Francolin may step into the periphery of vision, tantalizingly.  On my way home at the end of a nature–trek, a small mongoose (Asian) may just stray out of its comfort zone catching us both unawares.

There are days when ‘new’ species elude me; instead I am rewarded with a great spot of sunlight that imbues the regular daily scenes with a different hue. I get to see weeds and grasses in all their glory. I discover then that weeds are indeed photogenic and make great portraits or fine art prints. There is something to be said about poking one’s head into bushes, smelling the greens, and watching little life flit about.


Sometimes, Nature listens to your heart. Like the day when I was praying silently for a vision of a snake. A couple of days before, I had seen a green keelback slink into a clearing of woods on my favourite trail. So here I was, heading to the same spot making a wish. There was no sign of any snake on the ground and just as I was about to leave I saw a golden ‘hawser’ coiled on a stump of tree, a metre above the ground. A ten-foot long rat snake lay there basking in the early morning sun, a picture of nonchalance.

Sometimes, Nature makes your heart listen. Like this day when I was working on a wildflower that was the muse of the moment, with a macro lens. I heard a rustle in the bush behind.  I thought it must be the pesky squirrels going about their game of tag, but something made me look nevertheless. A skink was jumping about excitedly, and only as an after-sight I saw a green triangular jaw strangling the poor dear in a vice-like grip. A green vine snake had it for a meal. It was a “Kodak moment”, indeed, as a friend put it later, only when your macro prime-lens is primed for a wildflower in manual focus at short distance, you need to get your wits about to take in action, further away.


On a nature trail or on a wildlife chase, not only does one have to keep one’s senses alert for a movement or flight, rustle or whistle, but also keep one’s eyes peeled for hidden treasures. Stick insects, mantids, grasshoppers (I grew up thinking that grasshoppers were green until I learnt as an adult that they can be brown, grey or even multi-coloured) can suddenly cleave off self-same-shade vegetation. Foliagefresh or dry—may just come alive suddenly developing eyes, betraying head, legs, wings and a camouflage artist may come into existence.

Like the bug that I saw and nearly missed. At first sight, it looked like a cottony, clump of fabric and I wouldn't have given it a second glance if I didn't think it moved. I wondered if it was an insect. As I tried to pry, the clump rolled down, and it seemed like the wind did the trick. It lay there motionless, lifeless, for a while and I chided myself for my over-imagination, until days later I found the critter in cyberspace as masked hunter bug! In retrospect, I recall it rolled over and acted dead as I investigated! Under my very nose it had me in doubt. Go to Pinterest to see these con-artists and you’ll be floored.

Wildlife is replete with con artists and mimics. You’ll think it is some kind of chimera, a joke. That someone is pulling a fast one on you. It is almost as though life-forms are formed that minute in front of your eyes in an ultimate illusion.  To think that there was a time when I thought I would never be interested in insects because they are yucky!

Nature is an endless treasure hunt.

The excitement of discovering species (rajah, silverline, monkey-puzzle butterflies) for the first time or seeing a 'lifer' (such as a pale-capped pigeon or rock-thrush) not endemic to one's neighbourhood can only be shared and understood by fellow birders and wildlife enthusiasts.  A quote by Ornithologist, Noah Strycker, who recently stumbled upon a new species of Himalayan Forest Thrush, would be apt here. 

 “I once worried that I’d get burned out on birds this year, but the opposite has happened—it’s easy to imagine what it would be like to just keep going forever… If birding is an addiction, then feeding it definitely doesn't kick the habit.” 

Pale Palm Dart
Common Pierrot

Common Crow mud-paddling

Grey francolin
Asian Small Mongoose

Rat snake

Green vine snake and skink

Common Baron