Oriental Magpie Robin

I have noticed this bird many a times. They are particularly active during the evening when the light is barely present. They make very sweet sounds. The color of the feathers is black with white on sides and at the bottom side. It is slightly bigger than a house sparrow. Particularly it is very active in the evening catching the flying insects. If I am not wrong, I have heard their sounds at about two or three o’clock in the morning.

Little did I knew that this is the national bird of Bangladesh where it is called “Doel” rhyming with “Koel” the nightingale. It has been adopted due to its sweet singing. In fact, the bird belongs to passerine family which are perching birds and most of them are songbirds. That most of us take many birds, animals and trees for granted, we never care to know their names. Visually we know that it is a such and such type of tree: size, color of leaves and flowers, color of coat, beak and telons such like traits. The peasant does not know the names of many birds and animals living in the fields. This problem is very serious in cities where there is no way to know the names of trees on the roads because generally the trees are not named. Only in Dadar Mumbai I noticed the small metallic tags fixed to trees with the names prescribed on them.

My curiosity arose when an incident happened. There was a small baby of this bird which was floundering and was caught by an crow which are so mean and ruthless in killing and eating the weak and ill and injured. They are the efficient agents of Darwin for sparing only the fittest of the living beings like the nature. The fledgling was about to torn to shreds when luckily it escaped the clutches and fell on the ground. My wife who was looking at this drama, immediately rescued it and brought it to home. It was wounded in one leg and was not able to stand properly. We were at loss how to feed her something for its survival. I dipped its beak in the water and it reacted positively. Then I opened its beak and my wife put some water with a spoon. Then I thought that it must get some food but what?. We broke one egg and were able to push small quantity into its mouth. First night we left it as such in our bathroom. In between, we noticed that it was answering calls of its parents who were outside in the trees where they are the regular visitors. But during night we were worried about its survival. Next morning, we again gave it some food and wet its beak with water. Then we put it in a cardboard box in which we made some holes and placed this box outside in our balcony. Our surprise knew no bounds when we saw the strangest thing happening. In general, it is believed that the baby birds which are touched by humans are shunned by the parents. It proved to be totally myth. The parents located the child and began feeding it through the holes with insects. Whole day this went on. In the evening we purchased a cage from the market. It was very good cage but it proved useless for feeding. This was because the baby bird was sitting inside out of the reach and it would not budge from where it was sitting. It kept opening its beak and as the feeding failed the sharp noise of desperation was visible. We again had to put it the cardboard box.

In the night we brought it inside putting it into the cage. It was sleeping peacefully even as the lights were on. Due to care and feeding by its parents it became strong and there was great action it made inside the box to break free. In the next morning, I put it outside in the balcony and its parent began bringing the insects. It was making so strong efforts that it was coming half out of the hole. I began becoming ready for morning walk, but when before leaving for walk, I noticed that the bird has flown out. We looked for it in the outside trees where the marauding crows usually sit. After sometime we were relieved immensely when we noticed that it has joined its parents and was flying freely.

The bird is found throughout the world but most commonly in South Asia. It is not in the endangered list of birds but in Singapore its number has greatly declined.

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Karamnasa River

The rivers in India are considered very holy. People worship them because they sustain the lives by providing water for irrigation, bringing with them very fertile soil. Water which sustains the life on this planet. All the great civilizations had prospered along the banks of rivers. In the Indian subcontinent, Indus valley civilization prospered on the banks of the great river Indus. Living near the river had many advantages. Agriculture was carried out near the rivers. Nile provides the Egypt with its fertile land along its banks else rest of the Egypt is dry and unsuitable for agriculture. The Punjab which is called the granary of India owes its agriculture to the five rivers. Then greatest of  them all is Ganges which flows through the whole length of North  Indian plane. Millions of people inhabit the areas adjacent to this river. The river is benevolent and are considered very sacred.

In India, most of the holy places are located on the rivers. People take bath in them to wash away their bad deeds which have been committed by them consciously or deliberately. Huge congregations gather on the rivers holy places to thank the river which nurtures them.

But, there is one river which is accursed in Indian mythology. Its name is Karamnasa which means the destroyer of one’s good deeds. The river originates in Kaimur hills in Bihar. It is a tributary of Ganges which it meets near Chausa. According to the legend, Suryavanshi King Satyavrata ruled Ayodhya. He immersed himself in worship and wanted the Gods to help him rise directly to heavens. He approached Rishi Vashisht but he showed his reluctance after which he approached Rishi’s sons who also did not help. Then another Rishi Vishwamitra came forward with help and helped him to ascend to the heavens. But as he approached the heaven, Gods who were already angered, hurled him down on the earth. As he was descending down at terrific speed to crash, Rishi Vishwamitra interceded and put brakes on his descend but in the process, King got suspended in the mid air with his face downwards. Due to this conditions he is also called Trishanku. He hung over this river and the saliva from his mouth due to drooling fell into he river contaminating it. Thus the water is considered polluted and in the olden times brahmins did not even let a drop of water from it to touch their body. While crossing the river, they gave special instructions to the boatman not to splash any water on them.

The river ultimately mingles with Ganges which is capable to washing and purifying everything which comes into its contact.

Fresh water Dolphins

We will talk about 3 fresh water dolphins that are native to the Ganges, Indus and Irrawaddy rivers. They have adopted themselves to live in these rivers and scoop the food from the bottom of the shallow rivers.

First one is the Gangetic Dolphin, known scientifically as Platanista Gangetica Gangetica. As the name suggests it is found in river Ganga down to Sundarbans delta. But they are also found in Brahmaputra river. Locally they called Susu and has been declared national aquatic animal of India. The females are larger than the males and the size of these dolphins varies between 2.3 to 2.6 meters. The dorsal fin is like a ridge and very insignificant. These dolphins lack eyesight which will be of course of no use in the muddy waters of these rivers. That is why they are sometimes called blind dolphins.

They locate the shrimps and fish by echolocation. They are said to swim in tilted manner. This may be due to the fact that they may be using this technique to sense the bottom and locate themselves in the absence of eyesight which would have helped them to see the Snell’s window and orient themselves.

Second type of dolphins in this category are the cousins of Gangetic dolphins. They are called Indus dolphins and scientifically known as Platanista Gangetica minor. They differ from their cousins in the length of their tails which are smaller in size. They have long beak and poor eyesight. In fact they are subspecies of the Gangetic dolphins. They are found in the Indus river in Pakistan.

Third and last variety is found in Irrawaddy river of Myanmar. Known as Orcaella Brevirostris scientifically they are found in discontinuous water bodies in Bay of Bengal coast and estuaries. These have a rounded head with almost no beak. They are the relatives of Orca and due to very short beak are called Brevirostris. In the Irrawady river, they are said to herd the fish catch towards the fishing boats. In return the fishermen share some of the catch with them. They use very powerful jets of water to stun the fish. Sometimes they have been found to playing with stunned fish and discarded them after wards.

They are known by many names like Labai in Burmese and Khem and Khera in Oriya. In fact they it was given its name Irrawaddy  dolphin by Sir Richard Owen in 1866 based on a specimen found in 1852, in the harbour of Vizag on the east coast of India.

Identification of Plants & Trees in My Locality

Innumerable plants grow on the earth. The very diversity is mind boggling. We did not even know the names of plants growing around us. In fact, most of us never bother to even look around. These become just the backdrop of landscape we dwell in. I don’t think that even God, the creator, has given them names. It is us mortals, who in order to make our life easier document the things. We give nomenclature to everything living in the nature. We have classified them into different kingdoms for our convenience and harmony in the views of different individuals.

I always has the curiosity to know the names of plants around us, the plants which give us hope, clean the atmosphere and provide oxygen for us humans to breathe, give beauty to the surroundings. I admit I don’t know the names of most of them.

In this effort, while searching and searching for days, I chanced upon a website about the flowering trees of India. This site is treasure trove of information about the plants and trees. Thanks to this website, I have been identify some of the plants and trees growing in my colony. Here is a start.

1.Agave, Century plant

Century Plant

This is a native of Mexico. In Indian languages, it has names like Hindi: Kamal cactus कमल कैक्टस , Gwarpatha ग्वारपाठा • Manipuri: Kewa • Telugu: Kalabanda • Kannada: Kantala • Sanskrit: Kantala.
Botanical name: Agave americana Family: Agavaceae (agave family)

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2.Snake Plant, Mother-in-law’s tongue

Snake Plant

Its botanical name is Sansevieria trifasciata belonging to Agavaceae (agave family). It originally belongs to Africa and is best suited for potting. It is sturdy plant.

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3.Cashew

Cashew nut is a nut every Indian is aware of. It is amongst the famo

Cashew

us dry fruits like almonds and other nuts. Following are two pictures of this tree.

The tree is known by many names like Hindi: काजू Kaju • Manipuri: Kaju • Marathi:

Kaju • Tamil: முந்திரி Mundiri, Andima • Malayalam: Kasu mavu • Telugu: Munthamamidi • Kannada: Godambi, Geru • Bengali: Hijli Badam • Konkani: Kazu • Sanskrit: Agnikrita

It grows mostly in Karnataka and Kerala.

Cashew-1The Cashew is a flowering tree, native to northeastern Brazil, where it is called by its Portuguese name Caju (the fruit) or Cajueiro (the tree). It is now widely grown in tropical climates for its cashew “nuts”.

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4.Fishtail Palm

This tree stands in the ground behind hospital in our colony. It looks very majestic. Those beaded threads hanging in a huge bunch like the beard of an saint.

Fishtail Palm

Common names around India are Fishtail Palm, Jaggery Palm, Toddy Palm, Wine Palm • Hindi: Mari • Tamil: கொண்டல் பனை Kontalpanai • Malayalam: Anappana
Botanical name: Caryota urens Family: Arecaceae (Palm family)

When these palms grow to reach a height of about 20 feet, they start producing flowers at the top of the trunk with subsequent flowers produced lower and lower on the trunk. When the lowest flower blooms, the tree dies. Flowers are long plait like bunches hanging down. Toddy palm is an Asian species that grows from India to Burma and on the island country of Sri Lanka.

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5.Barringtonia

Common name: Barringtonia, Freshwater Mangrove, Indian Oak, Indian Putat • Assamese: Hendol, Hinyol, Pani amra • Bengali: Hijal • Hindi: Hijagal, Hijjal, समुन्द्र फल, Samundarphal • Kannada: Mavinkubia, Niruganigily,

Barringtonia

Barringtonia is an evergreen tree of moderate size, called by Sanskrit writers Hijja or Hijjala. The fruit is spoken of as Samudra-phala and Dhātriphala or ”nurse’s fruit,” and is one of the best known domestic remedies. Also called Stream Barringtonia or Itchy Tree (after a catepillar with irritant hairs that sometimes colonises the undersides of the leaves) Barringtonia is a tree 5-8 m tall with rough fissured dark grey bark. Leaves are obovate. Red flowers are produced on pendulous racemes about 20cm long. Four sided fruits are produced periodically throughout the year. Partly deciduous in extended dry periods. This species grows on the banks of freshwater rivers, the edges of freshwater swamps and lagoons and on seasonally flooded lowland plains, commonly on heavy soils. Found in Madagascar and tropical Asia, amongst other places. Propagation is by seed. Tolerant of heavy clay soils with poor drainage, it can grow in a range of soils.

These are the trees which bear very beautiful flowers. These flowers hang on the tree branches like garlands. The flowers has a very short life: only one night. By the morning, the branches which were laden with flowers begin to shed the flowers which plop like rain on the surface. Whole ground beneath the trees become a carpet of red color, which nature seems to have rolled out to welcome the passersby.


6.Traveler’s Palm

This plant is growing in the lawn in front of IEOT. Its botanical name is Ravenala madagascariensis Family: Strelitziaceae (Bird of Paradise family)

Traveler's Palm

Endemic to the island of Madagascar, Traveler’s Palm is one of the most interesting tree-like plants. Traveler’s palm is not a true palm. In part it looks like banana plant and in part a palm tree. Its long leaf stalks and deep green leaves resemble those of the banana and extend out symmetrically from the trunk like a giant Chinese fan. The leaves are up to 10 ft long and 12-20 inches wide. Young traveler’s palms have no visible trunk which, is underground. In adult plants, the trunk emerges above the ground, raising the symmetrical leaf-fan to heights ranging from 30-60 ft. The green palmlike trunk grows up to 1 ft in diameter and displays distinctive trunk leaf scar rings. The small white flowers, in a foot long inflorescence, are held in bracts. In these bracts and leaf folds, rainwater is collected. It is this rainwater collecting property of this tree, which can be consumed by thirsty travelers, what gives it the name traveler’s palm. The fruits are brown while the seeds are blue.


7.Kadam

The tree has names in Indian languages asHindi: कदम्ब Kadamb • Tamil: வெள்ளை கதம்பு Vellaikkatampu • Malayalam: Katampu • Kannada: Kaduavalatige • Telugu: Rudrakskamba
Botanical name: Neolamarckia cadamba Family: Rubiaceae (Coffee family)
Synonyms: Anthocephalus cadamba, Anthocephalus indicus

Kadam

In Hindu mythology, Kadam was the favourite tree of Krishna. Tree up to 45 m tall, without branches for more than 25 m. Diameter up to 100 (-160) cm but normally less; sometimes with buttresses. The crown is umbrella shaped and the branches are characteristically arranged in tiers. Leaves simple, 13-32 cm long. Flowers orange, small, in dense, globose heads. They appear like solid, hairy orange balls. The fruits are small capsules, packed closely together to form a fleshy, yellow or orange coloured infructescence containing approx. 8,000 seeds. The small capsules split into four parts releasing the seed at maturity. There are approximately 20,000 seeds per gram. It is believed to have medicinal value in curing astringent, ulcer, digestive, diarrhoea, expectorant, fever, vomiting. A postal stamp was issued by the Indian Postal Department to commemorate this tree.

Amaltash Trees in My Colony

Amaltash also known as cassia fistula, sanskrit name aragvadha or chaturangula. It blooms in the summer and wherever there are clumps of trees, it seems that sky is melting into gold. Such are its yellow flowers hanging in big bunches on whole of the tree with very scanty or no leaves at all on the tree.

There are a few trees of amaltash in our colony. Usually, they flower when the summer descends on the earth in these parts of India. But this year, these trees seem to have forgotten the time. Their biological clocks which keep track of the time seem to have gone loco. They are blooming just now in the January. As I have said, they are out of sync, so they have not flowered wholeheartedly, because flowers are not as abundant as they are when they bloom in the summer. Trees have become hybrids some portions covered with leaves and some with flowers.

Firstly, I thought that one or two of them might have made mistake in reckoning the time of year but all of them seem to have got some problem with their circannual rhythms. Here is a sample of tree.

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Everything is changing. We are the culprits for this. No others animal species molest the nature as we do. To create, short term comforts, we disturb the equilbrium exisiting in the nature. And we pay for this dearly when nature can no longer take it any more and with one mighty heave brings back the equilbrium.

Our colony

When in the year 1991, I got transferred to Mumbai from Silchar, the ONGC colony at Panvel was brimming with occupants so much so that I was allotted a B-type house that had been used as the storage for cement and other building material when construction was going on. After 6 months I got C-type accommodation but not before a flood entered our home. What logically everyone expects to happen in Assam happened with us here in Panvel. That was in 1991.

I got transferred to Assam second time in 2005. I was on leave in July when the flood attacked the colony and ravaged it. We are in the first floor and within minutes the water completely submerged the ground floor. A river was flowing outside in the street.

The flood of 2005 marked a watershed year in the history of the colony. People suffered big losses both emotional as well as economical. A fear psychosis developed in the minds of occupants and an exodus of residents began.

After this incidence, about 1/3rd of the flats in the ground floor are lying vacant. These flats were not even once thoroughly cleaned, disinfected after that. Slowly, the locks began to be broken. It seems that stray dogs-the whole battalions of which roam the colony, pigeons and mosquitoes have been given allotment in these flats. Mosquitoes are breeding and by the evening are on the rampage making every weapon like mosquito coils, good knights and sprays completely ineffective.

Everywhere on the roads, broken building materials are lying. Choice of trees which have been planted is very poor. On many lanes, the trees which are used for fuel wood have been planted. Then there are trees which when flower have so strong a scent that one can choke at night and many children suffer allergies at the flowering time.  Other trees exude a certain gummy substance which ruins the paint of the cars standing below them.

Many of the trees are under the vicious attack of termite. There are dead trees standing in the lanes giving apocalyptic warning about the colony becoming a ruin. It certainly looks like a ruin. It is certain that hardly any officer connected with maintenance ever visits the interior of colony.

Andaman Padauk

I visited a wildlife park in Meleng few days ago along with my 3 colleagues. The place is in the Jorhat district of Assam and about 30 kilometers from the town. There are tea gardens of interminable area which seem to spread like a baize colored carpets miles and miles.

After reaching there, we were escorted by a NGO guide- a Nepali boy to guide us through the jungle. He was very courteous and was very enthusiastic to show us many beautiful trees, vines and fauna. He showed us a python which was curled into a bundle and would not budge even after prodded with a stick. Along the path which we treaded were fresh feces of elephants excreta indicating that elephants were nearby.

There were some very rare and exotic trees and vines we saw over there; there were white pepper vines from which were hanging the bunches of pepper fruit. There were Rudrakash trees the seed of which are highly prized for making rosaries by Hindus in India for good fortune and peace. There were other trees from the bark of which incense exuded. Greatest surprise was the majestic trees called Andaman Paduak truly very tall trees. The guide told us that they have been planted here after being brought from Andamans. More about this tree is taken from internet and given below.

Andaman Padauk is a tall deciduous tree found only in Andaman. It grows up to height of 120 feet. The timber is highly prized for making furniture. Burr and Buttress formation add charm to the tree and used in making unique furniture.

andaman-padauk.jpg

King Solomon, proverbial for his wisdom in governing the Israelites during the 10th century B.C., must have really known his wood, too. He chose stalwart Padauk for the pillars of his temple.

French Kings Louis XV and Louis XVI were separated from Solomon by thousands of years. Yet, these 17th-century rulers also favored a red-orange Padauk they called narra. With it, royal woodworkers crafted kingly cups and chalices. Because water placed in these vessels turned yellow, royalty believed the “potion” had medicinal properties.

A century later, the colorful wood of Solomon and the Louis attracted even wider acclaim. As a veneer named amboyna, padauk was featured in Empire-style furniture.

Far removed from European pomp and furniture fashion of the 1800s, convicts sent to British penal colonies in the Andaman islands off Burma labored to supply the padauk sought by world craftsmen. In fact, Chicago’s Pullman Company imported much of this exotically beautiful and durable “Andaman” padauk to panel railroad passenger cars.

Wood identification

All seven species we recognize as padauk belong to the genus Pterocarpus. African padauk (P. soyauxi), sometimes referred to as vermillion, is the only padauk species readily available today. Others occasionally sold include Andaman padauk (P. dalbergioides), Angola padauk or muniga, kiaat (P. angolensis), Burmese padauk (P. macrocarpus), narra (P. indicus), and sandalwood padauk (P. santalinus).

Padauk grows in tropical climates, although the geography changes from rain forest to dry, nearly treeless plains with each species. You’ll find padauk in India, Indochina, the South Pacific, West Africa, and even southern Florida.

Except for squatty African muninga, most padauk trees look like elms, with large, spreading crowns reaching to a height of 120′. Averaging 7′ in girth, their slightly irregular, fluted trunks have smooth, yellow-tinted bark. Trunks often have no branches for the first 65′.

The leaves of some padauk species provide protein in human diets as a substitute for green vegetables. All padauks bear distinctive, round, inedible fruit banded by a flat wing that gives them a flying saucer-like appearance. In fact, pterocarpus means “winged fruit.”

Depending on the species, padauk’s coarse-grained heartwood varies in color from a lustrous purple-red to orange-red. With age and exposure to sunlight, it turns deep maroon. Quartersawn wood features a pronounced ribbon stripe. Sapwood never reaches market.