Who is a lemming ?

We say a person is a lemming if he follows blindly the majority even if it is following a wrong path. Thus by being a lemming, a person abandons his own thinking. In the modern anxiety ridden world, individual stops listening to his own heart and follows the mass thinking.”

What are the Lemmings?

Lemmings are a variety of rodents found in Arctic areas. There are many myths about these animals.

Why this phrase?

There are so many myths about these animals. One observation is that their population fluctuates every three four years.

When the population explodes, the food becomes short. These then migrate en masse to another place in search of food.

Mass Suicide Myth

These animals can swim and may fall from cliffs when moving in great hordes causing some of them to die by accident. But it was thought they commit suicide.

There was another myth that these animals rained down from the skies in great numbers.

The suicide myth endures even today thanks to a Walt Disney documentary on flora and fauna of arctic White Wilderness of 1958. In this movie through a trick or fraud some lemmings were placed on a turntable before camera to create the effect of horde. After this they were pushed over a cliff as if they were jumping to their death by leaping. This will be surely taken as a animal cruelty case but at that time people believed. The movie won many awards like Academy award for best documentary and Golden Bear.

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Leipziger Lerche or Songbird Pastry

While doing a crossword, I came across this word Leipziger. It is in Germany. Lerche actually means Lark in German language. The hint was the famed Pie which used actual Lark as one of the ingredients. It was a very popular delicacy. 

I was shocked that humans didn’t leave alone even the smaller birds for using them in their food. Man in his initial days was a hunter and hunted in groups the big game. Slowly he discovered that many plants- like grasses contain the seeds like precursors of wheat are edible. This diverted them from hunting towards farming but eating the animal flesh is a part of the food.

From the bird lists of Germany, three types of Larks are found there. These are Crested Lark, skylarks and one another variety but the most abundant is Crested Lark. The name Lark is given to this family of birds because they sing in very sweet voice. Here I am producing a picture of Crested Lark found in our area.

crested lark

The tradition of consuming Larks dates back to Middle Ages. Although it was consumed in France, Italy and Germany, but Leipzig was the foremost. References say that the Larks in this region were most perfect and succulent and needed no butter for cooking. Cookbooks say that these were cooked in many ways like pan fried with diced apples, ginger, peppers and sugar or simmered in beef stock with raisins and beer.

Craze for these innocent birds was such that over 404,000 larks!!! were sold in the year 1720 alone within Leipzig, with over 1 million more being caught in the surrounding area and sent to other German cities and towns or even as far as Spain and Russia

Practice went on till 1876, when the king Albert of Saxony made it illegal to hunt the birds as these were helpful to the farmers because these birds feed on the insects which harm the crops. 

The pastry is still made under this name but without the Larks. Instead other ingredients are used. 

Indian Pitta: Most Colourful Bird

Indian Pitta is a small bird. It is the most colourful bird. There are nine different colours on it. Due to this fact, it is called Navranga (meaning nine coloured). It is a very shy bird and often keeps to the ground under the bushes. Most of the times, it is spotted by its calls.

Pitta comes to North India under Himalayan foothills for breeding. The bird migrates to south India or western India during winters. Initially it was named “Ponnunky Pitta“. In fact the name is derived from Telugu language in which it means a “small bird “.

Based on vivid colours, the bird has many different names like “Naorang” in Hindi, “Shumcha” in Bengali, Hariyo in Gujarati. It is also called 6 O’clock bird as it is most active at this time in the morning. In Tamil it is known as “Kaachul“, in Telugu “Polanki pitta, Ponnangi pitta“.

Our area falls in the foothills of Himalayas. Lots of these birds can be heard in the summer mornings. I also was lucky to spot and photograph this bird.

Front pose. Pic by Ranjit
back side view. Pic by Ranjit

Indian Monitor Lizard

Also called Bengal monitor (Varanus bengalensis) or common Indian monitor. Large or adult lizards generally dwell on the soil but smaller or juveniles also use tree cavities to dwell. Many are found inside the crevices in the hill rocks. These have a very shy nature as well as keen eye sight and can detect human presence from a considerable distance.

They look ferocious but are generally harmless. They eat eggs of birds and small animals like fish, small lizards. They are very common in the South East Asia and Indian subcontinent. They are called by different names in various parts of India.

In Western Parts of India they are called Bis-Cobra, Goyra in Rajasthan, Goh in Punjab. In Bengal these are called Goshaap and Ghorpad in Maharashtra.

These animals have a legendary grip even on the vertical walls. In Maharashtra there is a legend the Shiva Ji the great Maratha leader used to tie their tails with ropes and lob them up the enemy wall where the lizard will make a vice like grip and then his soldiers used to scale the wall of the fort.

These lizards are quite common in our area. If you suddenly come across one, you will be scared. But they are very shy and hide among the crevices, foliage or tree cavities.

Young one on a tree: Ranjit Photo
Dwelling on land : Photo mine

Yellow Sand Wasps

Mention of a wasp is enough to make you fear. They deliver painful stings. One of the species of wasps is Sand Wasps or Bembix. They nest in the ground preferably in the sand. These live in urban areas, forests and woodlands.

Adult sand wasps feed on nectar but most hunt for flies to feed to their larvae in the nest. They are excellent hunters, capturing flies on the wing, paralysing them with venom in mid-air and carrying them back to the waiting larvae. Sand wasps can deliver painful stings only when they are disturbed.

I spotted these wasps many times in a forest area near me. One of them was furiously digging a nest in the sand. It was doing it very deftly. As the sand piled up at the mouth of the hole, it comes out to clear it so that further digging is continued.

Wasp digging the hole

RO Water Purification Systems

Potable Water in many places contains undesirable impurities like suspended solids and harmful organisms like bacteria and viruses. On the other hand, its chemical composition depends upon its source.

RO water purification systems claim to do remove the suspended impurities. This is done using sand filters also called the pre filters, and killing the harmful organisms by UV light. Next these bring down the total dissolved salts TDS to desirable levels if the water under treatment has excess TDS. Why TDS ? Why not adjust the concentration of individual ions present to the desirable levels?

This they can’t do. These systems only can subtract something from the water composition not make up for the ions concentration which are deficient. As everyone knows, many salts which are essential as micronutrients for our bodies. These are also removed along with the harmful salts. The natural water’s chemical composition is different at different places. Some salts may be present in higher concentration levels. And some desired salts may be in deficit. The ideal drinking water should contain the salts in recommended limits, with no suspended impurities and no bacteria and virus.

But the ionic part is problematic. The RO systems work on bringing down the total dissolved salts (TDS) instead of individual ions. The resultant water has desired TDS but not the desired quantity of individual ions. The systems are not intelligent enough to adjust the concentrations of deficient ions to desired level by addition from outside. Cost will be prohibitively high for all these capabilities.

In conclusion we can say RO systems are as far as the removal of suspended impurities and killing of bacteria and viruses. But on the ionic composition front these are of not much use.

It becomes necessary to compensate this loss, by elevating the intake of these salts through food and other means.

Ghaggar River: The Lost Glory

Introduction

The rivers in India are of two types. The ones like Ganga and Indus are perennial in nature because they originate in Himalayas and are fed by melting ice. Others are intermittent in nature. Their catchment area is foothills of Himalayas and these flow in full glory only during monsoons in the catchment area in hills.

River Description

One such river is Ghaggar. It originates in the village of Dagshai in the Shivalik Hills of Himachal Pradesh at an elevation of 1,927 metres (6,322 ft) above mean sea level and flows through Punjab and Haryana states into Rajasthan just southwest of Sirsa, Haryana and by the side of Talwara Lake in Rajasthan. Dammed at Ottu barrage near Sirsa, Ghaggar feeds two irrigation canals that extend into Rajasthan.

The wild grasses growing in the bed of river

This river is located just a kilometre from our home and I visit it almost daily for morning walks and nature photography. Present conditions are described below:

Present Scenario

Amidst a quite big bed, water flows in a thin winding strip. Wild shrubs like Kans grass (Saccharum spontaneum), acacia trees grow in its bed. Many people use it as a garbage dump and also for open defecation. The river bed is ruthlessly mined for sand and pebbles by the sand mafia. Of course, during the monsoon season the river is in spate. But rest of the times one can walk through it with ease from one bank to another.

Muddy water flowing in the river during rains

The bed is home to many species of birds like Ring Plovers, Pratincole, Steppe Eagles, Wagtails, martins, lapwings and wiretails. Snakes also roam during summer mornings. During winter some migratory birds also come here.

A little ring plover in the river

Past Glory!!!

Standing on its bank, I think about its past glory. Satellite imagery and other archaeological studies indicate that once upon a time it was a mighty river. So much so that Yamuna and Satluj were its tributaries on East and West sides respectively. It flowed in full force into Arabian Sea. Due to plenty of water and fertile land around, it was a perfect place for the humans to settle in the ancient times. It is now becoming clear from the evidence gathered from excavations that there was a big population living along its banks during Indus Valley Civilization. It was a part of Ghaggar Hakra River system.

Rig Veda the Aryan holy Text, mentions about the holy Saraswati river so many times, was a part of Sapt (Seven) Sindhu (River) which eludes to Ghaggar and its six tributaries including Saraswati. Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati are the trinity of rivers held in great reverence by Hindus.

Then the Times changed on geological scale. Tectonic activity changed the river associations. Yamuna realigned with Ganges and wayward Satluj with Indus stripping Ghaggar of much of its volume of water leading to the disintegration of the towns on its banks.

Conditions nowadays are becoming even more grim.

Indian Golden Oriole

Many migrant birds which migrate towards moderate climates of West and South India to escape the severe winter and shortage of food in North India. As the winter season comes to an end, they return back. One such birds is Indian Golden Oriole (Oriolus kundoo). It is a species of orioles. Earlier it was considered a subspecies of Eurasian Golden Orioles but now has been recognised as a separate species.

In the North India harsh summers start. There are many trees that bear fruit not eaten by human beings don’t eat but many birds like them. Orioles like these berries very much. These are very shy birds and are difficult to photograph. While not feeding, they roost in dense foliage of lofty trees. Besides berries their diet also includes insects.

Males of very beautiful in comparison to the females. In addition to their golden feather, there is a black a large carpal patch on the wing. While hiding in foliage, they can be made out by a sweet song.

There is a forest near my home in Panchkula Haryana India. In this forest there are trees called Jhingan (Odina Wodier). These trees bear the berries ( as seen in the tree in pictures) from March which ripen towards May end. Orioles can be seen gorging on these berries.

I am a n enthusiastic nature photographer and has taken these pictures myself.

Ranjit Singh
Ranjit Singh
Ranjit Singh

Really it is treat to watch this very beautiful bird.

Giloye or Tinospora cordifolia: A wonderful Herbal Vine!!

Giloye as its called in India is a vine. Its scientific name is “Tinospora cordifolia”. Common names are Heart-leaved moon seed, guduchi. It is an herbaceous vine of the family Menispermaceae indigenous to the tropical areas of Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

Giloy vine : source wiki

If you happen to see a Giloye vine climbed on a tree and claiming the branches, you will think that ropes are entwined over the branches. No leaves. But these are beautiful ripe fruits on it. Most of the time it shows no leaves. Usually it entwines the trees and creeps up. It grows up abundantly in dry regions of North India. The berries are ripe in May June.

These is a forest near our home which has it growing abundantly. Parrots like its ripe berries. I think they know its benefits better than us.

Parakeets enjoying the berries

It is sometimes called Amrita which means “Forever Alive” because it can live for ever. Even if you think that the vine has dried up, it shows up leaves in a surprising manner.

This herb is of great medicinal value in Ayurvedic Medicine. It has been found very useful in the treatment of fevers, digestion and increases the platlets in the blood. It increases immunity and eases the respiration. More details of Its health benefits are highlighted in the auyurvedic website.

Note: First image is taken from Wikipedia. Rest of the images are my own

A Symbol of Hope

During intense winters, plants and trees go into a dormancy a period of stagnation. They withdraw the chlorophyll -a pigment responsible for green colour and a must for photosynthesis– from the leaves because they know that Sun is not going to come up strongly for photosynthesis to happen and food making process to start. The leaves change color to yellow, orange and mixture of these colors. Because besides chlorophyll which overpowers the colors of other pigments there are Xanthophylls which are yellow pigments, and carotenoids (the pigment which imparts the beautiful color to carrots, papaya, and mangoes and so on) which give leaves an orange color.

Slowly the leaves die and begin falling down. The tree branches become nude. But tree is not dead. It is waiting patiently for the tough time of winter to be over. As soon as the winter starts receding, the new leaves begin coming forth. The new beginning of life. At first, due to the absence of chlorophyll, the color of other pigments shine. Leaves are beautiful translucent. As the sun starts coming regularly with renewed force, chlorophyll starts building up masking the color of other pigments. Soon the leaves become intense green shade.

Thus the the new leaves are a symbol of Spring and new hope of brighter future. Let us hope and pray to God this also happens to the world….