Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tigers and leopards


Man! Tiger and leopard sightings galore! It's amazing. Four tiger sightings in five days by different sets of people: me on Saturday (hehe..that's the photo I got); Halan Sir on Monday (he saw 4 tigers in one go!); St. Olaf students Ann and John, Geetha Nayak and 3 volunteers from ANCF on the forest department safari ride today; and the last set by Ashok and Chetan yesterday) and three leopard sightings again by different sets of people: Ann and John at Leighwood (yes, Leighwood!); Vivek; and Bala and tracker Alan on the transect (this one was running towards them on the transect line and they freaked! obviously...) . Mudumalai is living up to its reputation. Wonder if it could be called a leopard reserve too....

Saturday, October 24, 2009

An ordinary day

17th September 2009

The day dawned overcast and gloomy. Our plans for leaving early for field were thwarted by various complicated and interacting factors (time of breakfast preparation, fuel filling in the jeep two name two). With absolutely no hope of finishing work in time (before lunch, that is) me and Nandy set out in the invader towards beautiful Tenbere. But not before we had talked to half a dozen forest department employees, and had procured the imminent company of the very voluble Christy Forester. Halan Ranger at Kargudi requested us to deliver a bag of rice to Chikalla camp, and arrangements were hastily made for us to have lunch there too. One problem solved – no need to get back home before lunch! Three quarters of a confused hour later, we had deposited the Forester, his crew of four and half a sack of rice at Chikalla camp, and headed towards our respective transect sites. Chin Boms and Manban (APW, Christy Forester very kindly allowed him to accompany in spite of his help being required at the camp) were my helpers for the day.

It so happened that stream point 782 was about 400 m from the road in a low lying valley. To reach it, we traversed through what can only be described as gentle rolling slope. It was so gentle that it seemed almost apologetic about being a slope and if given a choice, it would have certainly been a plain. The gentle rolling slope was covered in the fresh greenness of year old growth of grass littered only with the bright purpleness of a flowering herb and a few stunted trees. The green continued uninterrupted for miles and miles, into the next hill and beyond. Then we walked into a slope that definitely did NOT regret being a slope, and reached it’s base (point 782) just to find that there was no lantana there. I had found a wonderful place: NO lantana! For as far as the eye could see in all directions...no lantana! Say ‘lantana’ and my instinct is to get down on all fours, to crawl through whatever expanse of this plant lies before. If you’ve ever done that, you would also be familiar with the feeling of claustrophobia that comes free with it. But here was an uninterrupted landscape. Only the grass and the trees. Just the way a forest should look and behave. Unfortunately, and for all practical purposes, this stream was absolutely useless for me, since my objective is to look at lantana variation at different distances from the stream. So we abandoned the picturesque slope (every inch of one’s being screaming somewhat philosophically - “why the hell should there be slopes?” while trudging uphill) to look (very biased-ly) for a stream that did have lantana.

I haven’t walked long distances in a forest for so long that the long walk that followed was one of the most magical things I have recently experienced. The lantana free landscape, unfamiliar trees, silence broken only by cicadas and the tidbits of trivia from Chin Boms (“Madam, the large fruit Phyllanthus is fruiting” or “we use this grass species for thatching roofs” or a long tale of tiger sightings beginning with the words “when I was at the Chikalla camp.....”). The scenic walk (I later discovered on Arc View) was about five kilometres long, and we finally hit a stream near Chikalla that had a respectable cover of lantana around it. By the time we ended the transect, a very angry sky confronted us with an angry outpouring of raindrops. We had to make a dash for Chikalla camp (“it is very close by, madam” Chin Boms had promised). Never has something close by taken so much time to reach. Down slope, up slope, three soaked humans and one very fogged-up pair of spectacles (which, if I may say so, DO NOT help vision at all) later, we finally walked into Chikalla camp to find steaming Kanji and kurma waiting for us. Eating in the forest is an experience by itself. You can gobble up unimaginable quantities of food without noticing it very much, and polish plates till they need no washing. So you really shouldn’t judge me when I tell you that I tucked in a heaped plateful of kanji with a heaped plateful of kurma, and did not even complain about it. After our soul-drenching walk, the food felt so divine, that I almost started believing in God.

Nandi was still at her transect, so Christy Forester very generously took it upon himself to keep me entertained till she arrived. He talked about his family, his cars, his various and diverse jobs, his postings, the charge sheet against him, his family, himself, his son, his son and oh did I mention, his son? For a whole hour. Then Nandi came, and he very generously took it upon himself to entertain her as she ate a late lunch. He talked about his family, his cars, his various and diverse jobs, his postings, the charge sheet against him, his family, himself. He did not get time to talk about his son. Mostly because our day was over and we had to head back. I envy that man for having led such an action packed and thrilling life. And to have the energy to talk about it at his age!! We said our goodbyes and came back to hot tea at the field station.

I don’t know why I thought today was a day worth writing about. It was ordinary. It was full of ordinary sights, the company of ordinary people and the stories of the extra ordinary lives they lead. Today was one of those ordinary days that makes you wish that life was made of all ordinary days.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What's the debate about?????

There was a hype about the neutrino project quite some time ago, and then all went quite. All seemed to have been forgotten. Now I guess not, according to this article that Rutuja sent to us recently. Check it out:

http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090923/full/461459a.html

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sad news...

The baby elephant at Theppakadu aane camp died yesterday afternoon...apparently from a brain hemorrhage.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My first tiger

9th May, 2008, Friday.

(Just when life had convinced me that I am jinxed..that no matter how hard I tried, the elusive tiger would remain elusive, I finally saw one! A grand male, a rich brown in colour with a great white face. Location: Chik Halla Dam. Time of sighting: 11.05 am – 11.55 am. Smita of course, did a one up on me, and saw two more tigers (one male and one female) on the same day, near Ombetta and 50 point...bringing her count to THREE tigers in one day!)


Humans!

Well, what can I say...a tiger needs to do what a tiger needs to do! In spite of what these humans think, I think a tiger is the rightful king of the jungle, and not the lion (considering the fact that there aren’t many of those left in this country as of now). I am King, and a proud one at that. And when I need to cross the road, I need to cross the road. But surprise surprise, what do I see? A large black monster making as much noise as can be made to utterly paralyze the likes of a lesser beast (say, cheetal or sambar, yummmm). But the king of the jungle isn’t that easily scared. I was bang in the middle of scent marking a tree, with all intentions of crossing the human made road to the other side where supper awaited me (live sambar...yummmm again), when a most non-animal like howl went up inside the black monster. I suddenly saw the dark, excited faces of five humans peering out of the monster’s sides...they were making a lot of ruckus (they were the dressed-in-forest colours kind, whom I’ve often seen wandering in the jungle...they generally make a lot less noise than the other kinds who go around my forest in another green monster, and wear all kinds of silly reds, oranges and yellows).

“well”, I thought, ”now that these nuisances are here, might as well wait for them to pass by before I cross”.

So I went down the slope, towards my beloved vyal, to wait them out. But no sooner had I made that decision, I heard a most frantic rustling of leaves, and loud panting and felt the nauseating smell of human flesh permeate my nostrils. What a nuisance indeed...they were following me down the hill! Which obviously meant that the black monster was standing alone and motionless on the road...and which meant that the coast was clear, and that I could cross the road in peace. Back on top, I realized, no such luck! Two of the buggers had stayed back to look out for me! I ran back down, to the dam with the sand mounds that provided good cover. I rested there for a few moments, and had a great drink of water. I thought I would wait it out there, give them sufficient time to think that they’d lost me, and then resume my mission of crossing the road.

I was just pacing around the dam, when I saw them again, out of the corner of my eye. These humans don’t give up easily do they? I had had enough! If they were going to follow me, they would have to follow me back to where I would cross the road this time...far far away from where their monster was. I bounded up the hill again, quite sure that the two footed humans would never be able to keep up with me. Just when I thought I had lost them, I heard voices ahead...humans on the road...they of course, pretended to be the grass and the barks of trees. Oh how I detest these lowliest of the low of Mother Nature’s creations, these lesser mortals who pretend to rule the world. I gave them a hard cold stare that conveyed pretty much all my thoughts, but somehow, I don’t think the message got across. This time I had to lose them....or I’d never be able to cross. So I did a neat trick...I pretended to go down the hill again, and went as far as to make sure that they completely lost sight of me. But here’s the cleverest part...I did a neat u-turn, went right back to where I had wanted to cross the road initially...and since I had led the humans far away from that spot, I could easily cross the road in peace. How’s that for a clever plan huh humans? Mission accomplished, I felt rejuvenated, a new tiger altogether!

Up ahead on the next hill, my supper panicked, and screamed in alarm...not now my dears, I shall have you in peace...when the black monster and its humans go away...oh yes, I would have you in peace....

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Field station blues

Some people become part of our life in a very short period. Within very short time period they become so important that their absence deeply influences our day 2 day routine. When they are around, life seems to be very smooth selling. Usually we come to know their importance when they are not around.

Here, I am talking about our life @ field station. Everybody would agree with me if I say there is a person @ our field station who is the perfect fit for the situation described above. Yes, your guess is absolutely correct!! I am talking about Maara.

When Maara is there, we always demand for tea so many times a day. And he, without complaining, makes it for us. Its hard to forget the special taste of his special dishes like Chitranna, Pudicolamb( I hope I could spell it correctly!), sambar, delicious idalies, dosas, chatany… oh… this list is so long that I cannot put it here completely.( as I am a vegetarian, I have listed just veg dishes only, non-veggies can add their spl. dishes too…)

But as soon as we come to know that he is taking leave or he will not be there for these many days, then suddenly we start feeling very tense.
Today I am writing all these things because Maara is on leave and we are spending our days here struggling in the kitchen to survive till he comes back! You will understand my pains iff you have spent some days here when he is not there.

Today only I came to know why everybody packs their bags and runs back to Bangalore when Maara is not here. And truly, I also wish to do the same right now.

Without Maara, ‘Happening Mudumalai’ does not seem happening at all!!!!
What do you say??

Monday, August 31, 2009

Bomma has a question

11th April 2009

Post field-work, a ride back home with Bomma is by far the most entertaining part of the day. Hours of brain numbing data collection later, this little man still retains incredible energy, spouting anecdotes in rapid succession - like a teapot on steroids, and without breathing between the incessant giggles from his audience. It makes a day’s work completely worth its while. He tells stories of the forest, Veerappan, boss, vets, profs and students and researchers at the field station – long gone but never quite forgotten, elephants, tigers, the weather, rain and fires, the river, food, tribal medicine, sickness, forest rangers and guards. But what really blows a mind away is his ecological insight into the maddening mess of processes that a dry forest is (ask us poor researchers...trying to find patterns, however small our scale be, in all that chaos!). He has advised several of us on experimental design (his own versions of random blocks and basic anova designs). Sample this: I wanted to see what kind of light makes seedlings grow in the forest. To the three basic light treatments I wanted to give my seeds, Bomma suggested a two-way treatment. He wanted me to divide my little nursery enclosure in two, and fill one half with burnt soil, and the other with unburnt soil, and set up light treatments in each half, and compare how seedlings do under each combination of treatments.

“What purpose will that serve Bomma?” I had asked.

“Fire happens so often in the forest medamu, and it will surely affect seed germination. You could see how seedlings grow after a fire...and what kind of light they need after a fire”, he had replied matter-of-factly.

At other times, it would be practical advice about methods in field. My field study involves tagging seedlings and monitoring their growth across seasons. My tags consist of a small square of transparent plastic marked with a unique code in permanent ink. This is tied to seedlings using a thin wire made of clear plastic. After almost a year, the plastic is slowly giving up the fight and succumbing to the sun, heat and rain.

Medamu, thappu pannitengo”, he said – madam, you have made a mistake. “you should have used fine aluminium wire with fine aluminium tags. They would have lasted forever – against the elephants and gaur and cheetal and the weather”

I nodded in agreement. Only, our general state of poverty and abysmal logistics prevented us from implementing the improvements.

But his most recent question took the cake in fine thinking. Mind you, it is a thinking born without any formal education or training. It is purely observational. It comes from being born in the lap of nature, walking her well worn paths, reading the subtle signs she leaves for men to survive in a wild world, eating little of what she has to offer in plenty. It comes from having an unceasing marvel about nature. From treating it as a living entity that grows, wounds, heals, breathes, dies, rots and is born again, uncannily phoenix-like. Be it the grey, leaflessness of trees in December or the fiery red tongues of rogue fires that sweep effortlessly across the crisp lifelessness of dry grass. Come April and a stray spell of rain would nudge every sleeping bud back to leaf, and every black spot of charred earth becomes miraculously coated with a powdery carpet of new grass. Easy to get carried away by the majesty of life here! And imagine being one with this spectacular being. I do believe that every tribal who has walked his share of forest paths is a first rate ecologist!

Lets see if we can answer Bomma’s question. Ever. He wanted to know a very simple thing. Why when all the magnificent teaks and Terminalias and Anogeissus’ and Lagerstroemias produced so many many many seeds every year, close to a few thousands per tree, don’t we have many many many seedlings every year? And if there were, then why doesn’t the forest grow thick and impenetrable? And why so many new trees come from old roots and not seeds? I envy Bomma. He thinks more than I do. And comes up with better questions!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On the subject of mushrooms

During my initial field days at Mudumalai I thought the trackers (field assistants) had a fetish for only one thing...honey. Recently I've discovered their partiality for another delicacy...mushrooms.

As we're driving along nowadays, mostly in the moister parts of the sanctuary, there's this sudden frenzy in the vehicle..."Mani, STOP!" What? What? Total confusion as the vehicle screeches to a halt and all the trackers jump out of the vehicle running towards a common destination. "What is it?" I ask, excitedly. After a brief survey of their activities, Mani turns around and says, "Mushrooms, madam", with a bored expression. That wasn't the first time. Since the last two months the trackers have often disappeared after field work to gather mushrooms that they'd seen on the way to the site. "One two minutes, madam", Bomma would inform me and scuttle off to collect his share. I can't help but feel amused. :)

Of course, not all mushrooms can be eaten. The trackers usually collect a huge white one. There are so many different types that are sprouting pretty much everywhere now, wherever it's moist enough. I remember Rutuja showing me photos of a few that she had come across when she was banding trees at Benne plot. There is one that Bomma has shown me twice so far. It's small but, as Bomma points out after excavating one, it will grow only on the roots of a particular short grass species. Now that's interesting. I wonder how many different types there are in all and if they all have particular associations?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Two days of events..some happy, some sad

(All photos have been taken by Halan, Mudumalai Wildlife Ranger)

Thusrday, 13th August 2009, 5:30 pm:
We'd received a call from Halan sir (Mudumalai wildlife ranger) that a captured tusker was going to be released at the elephant camp. We rushed to witness the event.
When we reached there we found a semi-sized truck strapped with bamboo forming a sort of a cage. It was hard to see if there was an elephant in it. Bomman had taken up his post already and informed us of all he knew. "It was found at the bus stand in Coonoor" ,he said. Now that's an unlikely place to find an elephant, I thought. Later we were informed by Dr. K that he was found in a bungalow estate in Coonoor. I have no idea how they manage to catch him, but there he was, the 4 year old; must've been frightened out of his wits!
The next hour passed by in trying to noose him and turn him around so that he could safely walk out of the truck. He came out with a flourish! Sprightly fellow. He calmed down once the kumki eles were around him.
We walked up to Halan Sir. "Sir, what's going to happen now?", we asked. "Oh, we'll release him here into our forest", he said with a smile. "But he'll be alone!" I exclaimed. Halan Sir reassured us that he's old enough to fend for himself. Dr.K also confirmed that, and added that it's better to have him in the wild than at the elephant camp. But it was too late into the evening, so the release was going to happen tomorrow morning.

Friday, 14th August, 2009, 7:00 am (I think):
Little tusker was escorted to the forest early the next morning. Bomman aane was always there to reassure him. He'd become so attached to Bomman aane that he wouldn't leave his side, and had to be chased away when the forest officials released him.
Same day, 9:00 am:
We met Dr. K and his troop along Ponnangiri road. They were looking for the tusker, but didn't find him.
Till then we had a lot of sightings along the road - two sambaar (crossing the road), one striped necked mongoose (crossing the road), one malabar giant squirrel (not crossing the road, but up on a tree in a perfect pose for a photo which I missed), and, a peacock display. I hope you can view this video...
video

While working we'd also received news of a very tragic kind..a French lady had passed away, apparently "attacked" by an elephant. Here's a news article. Out of the many versions I've heard so far I'm inclined to believe this one.
http://www1.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/4895533.cms

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

why learn tamil?

The earliest reasons why I badly wished I knew tamil was when trackers crack jokes. They always have something to giggle about, and I envy them being so jolly.

Somehow in the last month, my tamil wish to learn has flared up: like punctuated equilibrium. Perhaps due to Dumba's entry in the team. And I always have lot of things to ask and speak about.

My ears are always listening now. And I could understand what Chinbomma was telling Selva on our way back from Dewala. Half of it was in English, still I happy myself to figure out the rest half.

Poly Mara has joined our banding team lately. We make steel bands for trees in three sizes. Small, medium and large. And so are the springs that are attached to them. Now Mara was to attach apt springs to the bands. And here Chinbomma was telling, Mara asked him which spring to attach: "quarter, half or full?", and not small, medium or large :) :).........hahaha.

By the way, trackers got salary the day before, the 10th of the month. (paapa dumba can't take leave ;) though, that's good for him too; but though I have come here, he was to accompany manvalan sir to buy bamboos in mysore ?!!? repairy was planned next year, na?)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A proof of the fact that elephants are actually invisible

Hmmm... a blog about Mudumalai and no elephant stories yet....thought I'll start a chain reaction

Sometime in Feb 2009

So eight plots of enumeration later Chin Boms, Mohan and I ambled idly towards 50 point where our pick up awaited us. I was tired and was wondering if I would be able to outrun an elephant in the unlikely event of being chased by one right here, right now. Suddenly near 44th hectare, Chin Boms spotted a brown mass writhing on the forest floor. He immediately pinned it to the ground, and we all collectively discovered that it was actually a bat (of unknown taxonomy, none of us being bat taxonomists). He was in the process of showing me its torn wing when we heard the first rustle of dry leaves. No one paid any attention to it, so I thought it was still safe when a second rustle sent chilled little shocks up my spine. Coinciding exactly with the chilly-spines was Chin Boms’scream of ‘AAAAAAAAAAANAAAEEEEE’ (non tamilians read as ‘EEELLLEEEEEPHAAAAAANNNT’). If life were a movie, then this is the exact spot where everything suddenly shifts to slow motion. Faces are frozen in horror. Legs trudge unsteadily over uneven ground. The earth shakes and sky turns a deep grey of the exceptionally – morose variety. The heroine (often in high heels) trips and falls with a terrifying scream apparating somewhere between her lips and the nearest pair of ears. All eyes pop in the general direction leading out of their sockets, nerves stick out at temples and necks and blood rushes into faces, making them red and blotchy. And doom catches up at an excruciatingly slow but steady pace.
Thankfully, life is not a movie, and heroines cannot wear high heels into the forest. So I just blindly ran after Chin Boms without a second look behind my back. He of course, stopped after 20m or so, to determine the progress of the elephants. So I stopped too.
“Run madam...keep running”, he shouted. So I ran when he ran, and stopped when he stopped. He looked at me as if I was by far the most mentally challenged thing he had ever come across.
“I said keep running”, he commanded. So I ran again. All the while I had no idea where the elephants were. We finally reached safety. Chin Bomms of course then went around telling everyone that I had to be either completely blind, or completely mad or both (a near fatal state, and in which case I would have definitely died, and since I am alive and still writing this story, I am definitely not both put together). He kept asking why I was NOT running. I kept saying I was following what HE was doing, I ran when he ran, and stopped when he stopped. Simple.I insisted that I had never seen the elephants coming at us. Chin Bomms insisted that I was facing them when they were moving towards us, and staring dumbly into their faces instead of RUNNING! I insisted that there were no elephants where I was looking. Chin Bomms could not for the world fathom how I could miss a 6 ton monster charging at me. I threw up my hands in exasperation. He did the same. OK, truce.
I have this theory about elephants. Given their size, you should never be able to miss them. But there have been these insane times when we’ve nearly walked into them before realizing they’re there. So basically elephants are invisible. They choose the times and place when to become visible and to be visible to whom (this given the fact that only the trackers can spot them most of the times). They generally disappear as soon as the innocent researcher working on elephants arrives, and immediately show up in places where the poor unsuspecting researcher working on harmless things like vegetation is stranded without man power to defend himself. They have a sixth sense that helps them decide whether you belong to the former or latter category, and they behave accordingly.
Hence proved!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Marvankandy Dam



Thanks Meghana for getting us started on Marvankandy. Its also one of my fav spots around Masinagudi. An evening stroll with friends to the dam is always rewarding..the view of the mountains at sunset, a leapord coming to drink water, playful otters, wild dogs on the prowl, elephants coming in for their evening drink, several water birds...we have even once seen over 10 blue bearded bee-eaters feasting on bees from a hive on the power station (which acc to locals provides just enough power to make a batch of idlis). Though photography is 'strictly' prohibited - these were obtained from outside the dam ;)

giggling

what a fun I had today...we were sitting in the Dewala coffee estate today, making bands for trees. almost getting there. it was afternoon. overcasted as usual and then, one cricket just started screaching, sitting on a tree just in front of us....few moments passed and I saw Dumba sending a pebble the tree, then the next , and then another...but hardly anything could reach the tree, and which was just 10 ft away. (no, this month's salaries were not yet done ;), but still...) ...then another cricket joined in, and dumba had to continue. ..and i was getting amused, how can he get just irritated by that cricket. i was giggling and then even chinbomma joined, and it was hilarious........first he tried pebbles, one or two even reached, without use. and finally he just picked up a fallen branch and hirled..... it went down straight into the valley ....hahahah

Does my car look like a tree?

It was a pleasant afternoon in July. I was sitting with a book and a pair of binoculars in the verandah.....and you guessed right..not much reading was happening. There was not much activity and I was getting drowsy.. Soon I was joined by Tara and we were generally lazing around.We shortly heard this maniacal laughter coming from the direction of the gate. Both of us were immediately up...Hornbills..we ran to the gate ( luckily we remembered to pick up the camera) We had seen a couple of Malabar grey hornbills flying around in the jamoon tree near the gate and we headed in that direction, scanning at tree level for the birds.

And then , in my peripheral vision, I noticed there was something on the car...and this is what we found.

Pic by Tara.and this is at bokkapuram.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Am I dreaming??

I think everyone who is attached with Masinagudi Field station must have visited, at least once, the Marvakandi dam.
So you would immediately agree with me if I say it’s a place hard to forget.

And now it has become a routine for us to visit this lovely place. Just sit and watch the scenery around!! Oh… It’s really an experience and it’s new every time.

Imagine you are sitting somewhere. A beautiful lake is there right in front of you, surrounded by densely forested area... Some spotted deers are wandering here and there on the bank of the lake… They don’t have the slightest idea that somebody is watching them.. On the other side of the bank a peacock is just wandering here and there.. Exactly in front of you lies a huge wall of the Nilgiri mountains trying to stop the clouds…and the clouds like the brat boys manage to escape to play around!!).. Somewhere far away, rain has begun to fall and slowly a rainbow starts emerging.. Ohhhh!!! Isn’t it a lovely scene?

Well !! This is one of the images which is stored in my mind since that day and I would love to preserve this for my entire life.

I know it seems stupid to describe like this as there is nothing uncommon in this moment.. But if you ask anybody who has spent his/her life in crowded metro city then you will definitely understand why I am so much fascinated about this place. The place which shows different color of nature every time, which makes you forget every thought in your mind, which gives you the experience of peace and brings a ray of hope in your life.

I am so grateful to all those people because of whom I could join IISc and have series of unforgettable and memorable experiences!! Thanks to all!! :D