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