Friday, December 14, 2012

An irrigation tank in Madanapalle

Madanapalle has numerous wetlands in the form of irrigation tanks, some of which are centuries old, and are traditionally managed by the village communities. These tanks provide habitat for a variety of life forms. Such as frogs, waders, snakes, bird of prays, insect larvae etc. wetland flora is also very rich. I visited one such tank in November and I saw birds, insects, plants, frogs... 
My friend Raghu observes water birds of an irrigation tank in a November morning
A panoramic view of Madanapalle town.

This hilly and undulating semi-arid landscape has mostly thorny scrub with patches of dry deciduous forests. The hills form the broken ranges of the lower Eastern Ghats that connect to the Western Ghats. Most of the water tanks are home to a variety of waders.
A short-toed snake eagle soars above a man made tank on a sunny day in November.
A short-toed snake eagle perches on the ground in Madanaplle
A short-toed snake eagle gazes into the photographer's lens. This bird of prey, a resident about the height of a small goat is very common in the open scrub lands. Looking for a snake and the snake was…
The Green Sandpiper in Madanapalle.
Green sandpiper is a small wader. It breeds across Europe and Asia and is a migratory bird. Feeds on small invertebrate items picked off the mud as this species works steadily around the edges of its chosen pond.
A wood sandpiper (Juvenile) in Madanapalle
The sweeping color of sea and sky, blue is a common thread in nature. This juvenile wood sandpiper forages by probing in shallow water or on wet mud, and mainly eat insects and similar small prey. This bird is usually found on freshwater during migration and wintering.
Black winged stilt and a coot
A flock of black-winged stilt's (adults and juveniles) rest and a coot swims in an irrigation tank in Madanapalle.
Red-wattled lapwing.
The did-he-do-it bird ! The red-wattled lapwing is a lapwing or large plover, a wader.
A lark behind the grass
A bird trying to conceal from me. Their dull appearance camouflages them on the ground, especially when on the nest. They feed on insects and seeds.
A tiny, narrow-mouthed Frog frog, microhyla ornata.
Frogs are a diverse and largely carnivorous group of short-bodied, tailless amphibians. I saw this stout-bodied one on the bank of a irrigation tank in Madanapalle. Don’t know the name of this frog- need help!
Green Pond Frog, euphyctis hexadactyla
Green may be the most common color found in nature—it's everywhere from leaves, grass, and moss to snakes, butterflies, and even the northern lights. Green represents life, vitality, nature, and, of course, environmentalism.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Basinikonda, Madanapalle

Madanapalle, is a town  located in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. Legend has it that the name of the town was originally "Maryaada Raamanna Pattanam ", which has, over time, changed into " Madanapalle".
Basinikonda temple is at 900 m from the sea level.
Madanapalle was ruled by Vijayanagara Palegars namely Basavanna and Madanna. In memory of their names, the two hills on the east of Madanapalle were named as “Madanna Hill” and “Basavanna Hill” which gradually transformed to Madinikonda and Basinikonda.  Madanapalle has pleasantly mild, to warm summers with average high temperatures of 30 to 35 degrees Celsius. Temperatures do not exceed 40 degrees celsius and winters are cold with temperatures between 7 to 15 degrees Celsius. Usually summer lasts from March to June, with the advent of rainy season in June, followed by winter which lasts till the end of February. It has an extreme type of climate.

North east monsoon clouds over the Madanapalle town

North east monsoon clouds over the Madanapalle town. Mining is a threat to every hills and Madanapalle is not an exception!
I climbed Basinikonda and on a pleasant day. It took almost 3 hours to reach the top because I was not just doing a hike but also looked at birds, butterflies, reptiles, plants....  I was trying to know this new place as much as I can.  Every piece of land or habitat is unique for its ability to support certain life forms, this small hill was no exception with lots of birds, reptiles, butterflies and other insects... interconnections, hunting.. etc.

Indian robin
This Indian Robin (Saxicoloides fulicatus) is from Muscicapidae family (small arboreal insectivores, many of which, as the name implies, take their prey on the wing). It is widespread in the Indian Subcontinent. This bird was found in open stony habitat.Yes Madanapalle is a dry habitat and my house owner warned me not to use lot of water!!
A bird belong to the genus of the Alaudidae: skylarks

Black Raja
This Black Rajah (Charaxes solon) is a butterfly species found basing on a rock is a brush-footed butterfly from the family Nymphalidae. The Black Rajah is generally a low-elevation butterfly and can be found at altitudes up to 1950 m. This lives in the dry regions of India, where peninsular rock agamas live. This same butterfly became food for the agama I am going to show in the next pic. :)

Indian Skipper
A butterfly on the Tridax procumbens. Being an amateur butterfly watcher the skippers very difficult to identify and many species of skippers look frustratingly alike.They are named after their quick, darting flight habits.
Peninsular Rock Agama (female)
 This Rock Agama ate the Black Rajah! They are very common in the hills of Madanapalle but this was my first sight :).Young and females are olive-brown, spotted, speckled or marbled with dark brown, and with a series of white elongated spots along each side of the back and...
Peninsular Rock Agama (male)
the male has pale brownish on the top of the head and back while the lips are yellowish-brown and this extends as a strip beyond the ear. A dark brown or black lateral stripe begins behind the eye and broadens to cover the lower sides. The underside is yellow with the throat mottled with grey...
Apis dorsata
The giant honey bee, is a honey bee of southern and southeastern Asia. Nests are mainly built in exposed places far off the ground, on tall trees limbs and under cliff overhangs, and sometimes on buildings, bridges, dams. This beautiful bee is a defensive bee and has never been domesticated.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Scaly-breasted Munia

I have been observing two pairs of Scaly-breasted Munias or Spotted Munias (Lonchura punctulata) for the last two months. This is a sparrow-sized bird native to tropical Asia extending from India and Sri Lanka east to Indonesia and the Philippines. The adult has a stubby dark bill, brown upper parts and darker brown head. The underparts are white with black scale markings and the sexes are similar.
On 20th of June 2012 I saw these two pairs in the campus and they were busy collecting grass blades, very small dry leaves. Towards the finale of the construction, they brought a few tiny, pretty grass flowers also. The nest was about 2 meters above the ground and was inside the bushes. Both male and female were active in the process of building the nest. There was a clump of bamboo near the nest. As they flew back with materials for the nest, they perched a while on the bamboo-clump and made sure that no predators are around (this is what I thought they did!) and they flew into the bushes...
Yesterday (22nd of August 2012) around 5 pm I saw two birds looked like munia on the bamboo where my old friends used to come out of the nest and sit. suddenly, ornithologist in me woke up (!) and wondered what are they? In about five minutes, to end my imagination and curiosity one munia flew in from the blue and started feeding the new birds with a small insect, then came the other one too with a subdued song and insect between beaks!! This continued for more than an hour. Yes, they were the immature chicks of my friends. Chicks had pale brown upper parts, lacked the darker head and with uniform buff underparts.
Scaly-breasted Munia (adults)-
Photo Sangeetha Ramakrishnan

Scaly-breasted Munia (immature)

Scaly-breasted Munia (immature)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stratus clouds in Nilgiri valleys

Stratus clouds seen in one of the valleys of NBR (Photo P.A. Vinayan)

Clouds form in a valley mostly related to the temperature inversion. Mountain areas often produce morning valley fog after a clear night where air near the damp ground has cooled by radiation. As the cool air is heavier it stays in the valleys, leaving the tops in clear warmer air. The sun will normally destroy this effect within a few hours of rising.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) bloooms


Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) is a shrub that used to grow abundantly in the shola grasslands of the Western Ghats. An unphilosophical claim is often made that the 'blue mountains' of 'nilgiris' descend their name from the richness of this plant received on these terrains. I saw bees burst with happiness and pollen. They are so happy because, they get huge quantity of scrumptious nectar from these lurid purple flowers.
Neelakurinji that blossoms gregariously only once in 12 years so now this can't be a gregarious flowering! This is August 2012, last gregarious flowering happened in 2006 so... I don't know..
Blue mountains- Photo Vinayan. P. A.

Orographic clouds

Classic orographic cloud

On July 11 of 2012, I was traveling towards Kochin through the Palghat gap of the Western Ghats. I saw this wonderful phenomena that the clouds are being attracted and trapped by mountains. Orographic clouds form when humid air blows over the top of the mountain. The air must rise to go over the mountain range. When the air rises it reaches its lifting condensation level and clouds form. This happen when the air temperature at the peak is colder than the dew point of the air then the moisture in the air condenses into visible clouds when the air rises around and above the peak. The lifting condensation level (LCL) is the point where the water vapor begins to condense and is visible as clouds.

Thanks to John Walton, who helped me in the identification of the cloud. He is a  Professor, Dept. Civil Engineering  University of Texas.

John Walton's website

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bee and Resin

Euaspis carbonaria (A Megachilid - Leaf cutting Bee)
Among the social insects, many bees, especially in the tropics, collect and use resins as a nest-building material (Roubik 1989). In tropical regions where resinous plants are more abundant, bees simply exploit this commonly available resource for structural benefits.This is most likely the case in colonies of some ants and honey bees where a few individuals collect and return to the nest with loads of resin to use in the nest interior.
The bee in the picture was shot while collecting resin from a canarium strictum tree from the forest in May 2012.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rivers of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR)

A waterfall

“The river has taught me to listen, and you will learn it from the river as well. The river knows everything, and everything can be learned from it. See, you've already learned this from the water: that it is good to strive downwards, to sink and to seek depth. The river is everywhere at once, at the source and the mouth, at the waterfall, the ferry, the rapids, the sea, and the mountains. It is everywhere at once” - Siddhartha, Hesse.
All the rivers in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve start their journey from mountain sholas, grasslands or wetlands. Fairly good rainfall in the region accounts for the countless small brooks which run for some distance but get absorbed by the top soil of the slopes, before they gain enough strength to flow further. These brooks become rivers and provide our drinking water, nourish our agriculture, and support many endangered species. While each river is unique, all rivers are part of larger systems, and have common characteristics that enable us to understand how they function and how to protect them.

Few rivers of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve are briefed below:
Pykara river
Pykara River originates in the Mukurthi peak and passes through a hilly tract, generally keeping to the north and turns to the west after reaching the Nilgiri plateau's edge. There are a number of falls formed by this
river, and the last two falls of 55 meters and 61 meters respectively, are known as Pykara falls. After reaching Wayanad, this river turns westward and has a fall near Theppakadu, off the Gudalur-Mysore road. From here, this river is known as the Moyar River and continues its journey towards the east, where it joins the Bhavani River at 2 Denaickankottai. Finally this river ends at the Bhavanisagar dam. Pykara is the largest river in the Nilgiris District. It is of sacred value to the Toda community. 
Sigur River
Sigur River springs up from the Udhagamandalam slopes. Two streams the Malkod from Pykara Hill and the Billikallu halla from Billikal betta join to form this river. After a point it is joined by Sandy Nallah stream,
flowing towards Kalhatti, which is about 9 kms north-west of Udhagamandalam. Here it drops 52 m and forms a beautiful waterfall (Kalhatti water falls), after which it flows along the Sigur Ghat and finally
joins the Moyar River. 
Bhavani River
Bhavani River rises in the Upper Nilgiri plateau, drains the Attapadi valley in Kerala, collects the waters of the Kundah river and flowing past Mettupalayam joins Moyar river at Bhavanisagar. Further on it reaches
Cauveri river at Bhavani town after a 217 km flow. About 90% of the river's water is used for agriculture. Pesticides from the tea estates of the Nilgiris District seep into the Bhavani. It is estimated that tea estates and
coffee pulp houses add about 1.5 million litres per day (MLD) of effluents to the river every day. 
Pandiar River
Pandiar River originates in the grasslands on the northern slopes of the Mukurthi National Park and joins with the Punnapuzha river, a tributary of Karimpuzha. This is one of the last free flowing rivers of South India
which has not been dammed. Karimpuzha River originates from the western slopes of the NBR, near
the Mukurthi Peak. Cherupuzha river, which joins the Karimpuzha near Karulai, originates from the forests to the north-west of Upper Bhavani 4 reservoir. This river is the largest tributary of the Chaliyar (Beypore
river). The Karimpuzha joins the Chaliyar at Chaliyar mukku, near Nilambur town in Kerala and flows west to join the Arabian Sea. This river is famous for it’s freshwater fish species diversity. Important endemic fish, such as the Tor malabaricus and Glyptothorax annandalei have been described from this river. 
Siruvani River
Siruvani River originates from the Siruvani Hills and is one of the tributaries of the Bhavani. The Siruvani waterfalls and the dam named after it are located 37 kms to the west of Coimbatore. Water from the
Siruvani river is renowned for its taste and mineral properties and is one of the main water sources for Coimbatore city.Coonoor River originates from the south eastern slopes of Doddabetta range and collecting waters from streams in and around Wellington, flows through Coonoor ghats to feed the Bhavani river at Nellithorai near Mettupalayam. The Kallar river collecting waters from the Catherine Falls (76m) below Kotagiri on it’s westward flow meets at the same confluence. 
Kabini River
Kabini River is a confluence of the Panamaram river (originating from Lakkidi Hills, Kerala) and Mananthavady river (originating from Tondarmudi hills, Kerala). After flowing through Mananthavady town,
the Mananthavady river joins the Panamaram river near Payyampally. Two kilometers from Payyampally, the Kabani River forms an island called Kuruva Island, spreading over 950 acres containing diverse and
unique flora and fauna. Downstream from the island, another tributary of the Kabini River, called the Kalindi, joins it. The Kabani flows through Kerala only for a stretch of 8 kms and turns eastward to join the Cauvery
river at Tirumakudal in Narasipur, Karnataka. The Cauvery finally empties into the Bay of Bengal.