Black Breasted Weaver

Weaver Birds visit our area when summers are at peak. They stay here, make beautiful nests using the grass stalks and mate and raise the chicks for new generation. Most common are Baya Weavers which make nests on the acacia, palm trees which are difficult for predators to approach.

Birds choose the places to nest in the area where food and water is available and safe from disturbances.

But there is another variety called Black Breasted Weaver. It is master strategist in the choice of the area fulfilling all three criteria. They make different kind of nests and use the long grasses to hang the nests. I accidentally discovered the nest while stopping on the scooter near a roundabout near Ghaggar river bridge in Panchkula Haryana of India.

On the side of road are trenches and crests and a water pool, I saw the nest last year. This year also I saw these nest almost in the same spot. Area is very difficult to approach. I somehow approached at not so favourable distant but still very far for better pictures of this small beautiful bird. It makes nest if the tall reed grass and so much camouflaged that you cannot see it clearly. Only once or twice it sat on the top of dry grass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Land Stories 

Land used to be like one’s mother in India as more than 70% people were connected to land. Before the introduction of modern agricultural equipment like tractors, bullocks were used virtually for agricultural jobs like tilling the land, pulling the cart which the farmer used for bringing the produce and fodder home for cattle. Agriculture was completely manual and commerce was not in force. Farmer produced only enough for his family needs. Agriculture was dependent on the surface water available through rivers and rains.

Now the story is different. Even small farmers own the tractors which is economically not viable for small pieces of land. But it is a rat race. Many of them take the loans which become difficult to repay. A tractor can do many days work in a few hours. Need for manual labor arises only during the sowing of the crops. Bullocks have been faced out and are facing the same fate as the girls faced: they have become unwelcome.

Land is so much precious to the owner that hawks are on the outlook to grab any piece of it by hook or crook. Wars had been fought over the land. Most prominent example is the epic story of Mahabharata in which cause of the biggest battle between cousins was about the possession of land and women.

But as the cities are expanding at a furious rate, the value of the land is increasing. What the land can do to its owners will be illustrated by three scenarios.

Scenario No.1

State of Haryana was carved out from Punjab. It is a fact that people of Haryana were neglected by Punjab and so the state was separated from Punjab. But city of Chandigarh, which was the capital of Punjab was not given to any one of these states but made a union territory. It was also made the capital of both the states. The reality now is that the capital of both these sites is located nor in the centre but in one corner of the states.

As Chandigarh could not be expanded more, both Haryana and Punjab decided to construct the extensions of it on their own sides. Haryana thus acquired the agricultural land adjacent to Chandigarh. There were many villages in the area with farmers having small land holdings. All were given a meagre compensation. Overnight they become lost what they were dependent on. Being conversant with agriculture only, they faced difficulty to carry on their lives. They migrated here and there and on their lands mushrooms the concrete buildings with their owners being outsiders who could afford to buy them.

Scenario No.2

This one is a really interesting and shows how in same country but at different time points, the fortunes can turn for some. District of Mohali in Punjab was carved in such a way that it’s one side touched Panchkula district of Haryana. So some villages which though were very near to Panchkula became part of Punjab and their lands were not acquired by government.

These villages are situated near the ghaggar river and land is very poor for manual farming. The reason is that where the land is situated, the river flowed once and thus has left huge amounts of pebbles and sand covered with alluvial. Thus it is full of pebbles and bullocks were unable to till it.  Additionally there were uneven land surfaces which again posed challenges for farming.

Thus the land owners eked out a pathetic life. They lived hand to mouth. But somehow, barring a few they didn’t part off with their land which in any case no other farmer will buy due to poor quality.

But the demon of city expansion and opening of information technology parks and some pharmaceutical companies resulted in the large influx of people from interiors of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh,and so on resulted in the construction frenzy. There was no scope for expansion of Panchkula. So these adjoining areas became the focal points of building activity. Overnight, the land which was useless became the gold mine for the owners. They sold portions for a windfall. The farmers who have not seen money were dazed and it took them days to come back to reality from dream.

They constructed palaces for living. They became educated suddenly. As the money came, so we’re associations with powerful people like politicians. Some of them even began to grab the unoccupied or reserved lands. With a part of money bought tractors and modern equipment for remainder of land and procured cheaper land in the nearby districts. The elderly still can be identified to have done back breaking work but new generation is all like managers and leaders.

Scenario No.3

This story is similar to previous one but with small difference. It is from Sanand district in Gujarat. As the Tata nano car factory relocated here, the villagers nearby had windfall. Their used to be working as labors, peon and other lower rung jobs in the future Factories and manufacturing units for monthly wages like rupees 6000 to 15000 as their land was not fertile or due to lack of resources was not providing them with enough. Suddenly the arrival of entrepreneurs they became millionaires overnight by selling their land. After the initial excitement, Many of them have decided to carry on with those peanut wages jobs to keep themselves busy. More than hundreds of millionaires are working as helping hands in the factories there. The interest on their fixed deposits is enough for their requirements.

Thus as the Mark Twain once advised someone who came to him for investing the money to “invest in the land because they don’t make it anymore”, land can catapult your future.

How clean was water of Sukhna Choe once upon a time 

“Choe” in local language in Punjab means a stream or a rivulet. Sukhna choe is the name of stream after which the lake in Chandigarh is called. The choe passes through area of union territory Chandigarh, Haryana and Punjab before merging with Ghaggar river. Many unauthorized settlements have mushroomed along it particularly in Union territory of Chandigarh. Some industries have also come near it.

There was a time about 50 years ago when the clean water flowed from the dam but these days if you pass by the gates of Lake hardly any water flows there. At that time I was about 10 years old. Our elder sister was married in a village called Gazipur which is in Punjab and this choe passes near this village. We used to visit our sister many a times and water in this stream was so clean that we used to swim and bath in it.

Then after doing my M.Sc., I got the job and left this place. After 35 years, I have returned. I went to see the choe and was aghast to see its plight. A workable bridge with big pipes have been constructed over the narrowed span over it. Building activity has reached all around.

In the older times, there was no pass over this choe. Hardly anyone came here with vehicles. Farmers who have their land on the other side of stream used to cross it with bullock carts or on foot.

The black frothy water flows under the bridge through pipes. It is giving nauseating smell. Industries and effluent from households is discharged into it. Although union territory administration has installed effluent treatment plant to treat the effluent generated in the area of there jurisdiction, it is said that Haryana is discharging the Untreated effluent into it. There seems to be no coordination between the three agencies and also it seems corrupt people in the environment supervision agencies have turned the blind eye towards its plight.

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Still, I found a big flock of one bird species in the stream. This bird is called Black Winged Stilt. I think they don’t have anywhere else to go or have adopted themselves to the changed circumstances. But they seem to avoiding the frothy area down the bridge. They were largely seen in the area near a place where another stream of relatively cleaner water was confluencing with this stream.

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These birds have very long legs and 60% of their body weight is in the legs. The longer legs have advantage in that they can catch their food in deeper waters. They usually live in the groups and catch the insects and other aquatic animals.

Baya Weaver

It is very small sized bird which fabricates beautiful nests. These nests hang from the fronds of trees which have thorny in nature to ward off the predators like snakes which are a threat to their eggs. The entry of the nest is near bottom. So the nests are generally made in large groups on trees like Acacia and Palm fronds.

These birds generally live in large groups as can be seen from the number of nests made on a single tree. Secondly they prefer, in addition to the type of tree being acacia or palm, the location where food is easily available and also pools of water are there. They prefer to be near fields of Bajra ( pearl millet), jowar (sorghum) and teosinte which grow seeds at thr top. One can see, these birds making visits to these fields and back to the nest and listen to their chirping standing near the fields

Baya weaver is scientifically called Ploceus Phillippinus. It is found commonly in South East Asia. Flocks are found in the cultivated areas, grasslands where food is available in plenty and and raw material for construction of nests and specific trees are standing.

Like the humans, female of the pair dominates. There are intersting sequences while making the nests. It the male who make many template nests. These are then inspected by the female. Female destroys the templates which it does not like. When finally, the one is approved, both of them complete the rest of construction together. One can see birds in frenzy during the nest making activity is going on.

In North Indian states like Punjab and Haryana, the conditions for making the nests are fulfilled, nests can be seen in the rural areas. With the building activity the habitats of these birds are being destroyed and one has to go deep inside the rural areas to locate these nests.

I live in the area near Panchkula in Haryana where all around were grasslands and cultivated lands. But now these are being gobbled by buildings. Still there are some spaces where I found these birds and their nests. I used canon camera to take some pictures.

 

Nests hangings from the palm fronds
  



Baya weaver exiting from nest
  
Bird preparing to enter
  



A completed nest
 
  

2.6 Million Old Fossils found in Masol Village of Punjab

Shivalik mountains have been suggested to be 16 to 5 million years old. Much of present day Himachal Pradesh is situated in these hills. Punjab, Haryana plains sit just below these hills. This area has many perrenial rivers flowing through these states. Due to this, the area must have been rich in vegetation and plenty of water made which had made it an ideal place for many animals to inhabit it.

In fact, a research conducted jointly  by India-based Society for Archaeological & Anthropological Research (SAAR) and France’s National Scientific Research Center (CNRS) and department of prehistory of the National Museum of Natural History has found rich cache of diverse fossils of fauna which is being dated back to 2.6 millions years claiming them to be the oldest fossils shadowing the ones found in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia which are said to be 2.58 million years old.

The excavations were carried out in the Masol village of Mohali which is situated in the foothills of Shivalik.

In fact, more than 2,000 fossils of different herbivores have been found by the team during digging. These include Stegodon, an ancient elephant with tusks up to four metres, and Sivatherium, a giant giraffe.

Stegodon
sivatherium

The study adds that before this find, the oldest sites were in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia dating back to 2.58 million years.The team has also found 14 fossils of Leptobos, pre-historic ancestors of modern-day cows that weighed up to 320 kilogrammes

Leptobos
Leptobos

These rare fossils, excavated between September 2009 and March 2015, were bubble-wrapped and dispatched to a French lab.

The team says that it is a multi disciplinary effort involving specialists from the field of geology, geomorphology, sedementology , physics, palaeontology , taphonomy. The research paper on these fossils has been called “Taphonomical studies of the Plio-Pleistocene Transition Fauna of Masol in Shivalik Frontal Range, Northwestern India”. Due to the tectonic activity in this region, many fossils buried deeper have moved to shallower depths.

The scientists have already conducted paleo-magnetic dating electron spin resonance (ESR) tests on the fossils to know their age.

The Punjab government is planning to start eco-tourism trail of these villages in Shivalik Hills where fossils of wild camel, horses and bulls dating back to nearly three million years have been found. Besides the scenic beauty and wild life of the area being major attractions, Siswan Dam site is picnic spot and can be developed further as a tourist destination.

Siswan Dam

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Cactus Garden in Panchkula Haryana India

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Panchkula in Haryana India is a part of what is called Tricity. Tricity is Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab and Haryana and also a union territory. The adjacent areas of Chandigarh were developed following the pattern of Chandigarh. So there is Mohali in Punjab and Panchkula in Haryana adjoining the Chandigarh. These three comprise the Tricity.

There are many attractions both natural, historical, religious and man made in the tricity. One of these is Cactus Garden located in Sector 5, of Panchkula. It is Asia’s biggest garden devoted to rare and endangered species of Indian succulents, was named after its founder Dr J S Sarkaria.

The Cactus Garden is a regional collection of cacti grouped by growth forms and specific genera. While walking through the garden you will be able to view dozens of species. Popular groups are Opuntias (prickly pears and chollas), Ferocactus (barrels), other succulents include Agaves, Columnar cacti, Echinocereus (hedgehogs), and Mammillarias (pincushions). There are beautiful adenium plants also called desert roses which bear numerous beautiful flowers.

There are lawns, fountain and shady trees thoughtfully placed around the periphery of the garden. In short the garden is very lovely. It is just opposite the market where one can have meals, snacks and there are big showrooms of major companies.

The majority of cactus species are pollinated by numerous species of bees, a number of which specialize in cacti. Cactus bees are all solitary, but in some species the females congregate by hundreds of thousands at nesting sites to dig their individual nest burrows, which are densely concentrated in an area of a few thousand square feet. Cactus pollen is packed into these burrows to feed the grubs, which the parents do not tend. Some cacti are pollinated by birds, moths, or bats.

Here are some pictures we took in the garden.

Travels along Morni Hills Road

Morni is a hill station about 55 kilometers away from Chandigarh. Morni in local language is referred to peahen. The name is derived from the name of girl of a local ruler. There were many small princely states all over Shiwalik hills. The rulers were mostly Rajputs many of whom owed allegiance to Mughals.  Morni hills were ruled by Rajputs from Sirmaur which is near Nahan in Himachal Pradesh.The place is situated in Shiwalik hills and can be reached through a road from Panchkula. The map of the road is given below:

The road is serpentine because hilly area begins just after crossing the Panchkula and after a continuous climb for about 20 kilometers from Panchkula, the path begins to descend. I have gone up to point where this descent begins.

There are hills covered with wild shrubs and trees including teak. When you begin the journey towards Morni from Panchkula there are hills covered with thorny acacia trees. Hordes of monkeys roam along the road. All day they are there squatting on edges of road and climbing on the adjacent trees. People who came to visit Shiva temple near Berwala, gave them banana and other eatables. This causes the menace to normal visitor who is afraid to get down.

On the way, is Gauri Shankar temple which is seldom open. It seems more of a private property of some Guru who enjoy immense clout over politicians rather than a public place as the temples are generally opened to public. After about 8 kilometers there is small bridge on a seasonal branch of Ghaggar river which is dry in the summers. There is a place with dense trees and foliage along the river which is marked as a bird sanctuary. But you have to be very patience for sighting the birds.

There are few fields where farmers can be seen working. The area beyond Panchkula suddenly takes on an idyllic character. Hills along gorges seem like walls of brown mud completely devoid of greenery except the exposed roots of some trees at the top. In these walls, one can see parrots clinging  on to the holes which they must have dug for raising their nests.

One can also come across, the men and women sitting in the cars stopped at different spots engaged in cavorting activities from the city giving slip to their legal partners. Groups of young boys and girls can be seen drinking and making merry. Due to the drunken driving in the hills many a times fatal accidents have been reported.

There are Langoors also hiding in the bushes and occasionally coming into open on the road or to cross the road. They seem to be shy of humans and avoid humans unlike the monkeys. There are many birds and trees which bear flowers and adorn the landscape.

Birds


Trees


Animals