Know your Bycatch before your Bitcoin. And take a good look at your toothpaste.

Lost at sea? Here are ready-mined terms and facts that are easier to comprehend. They might be hard to swallow but follow these leads in the right spirit and we could possibly see some tangible long-term yields across the globe.

cormorant

Did you know that for every kg of prawn you eat this holiday season approx 6-9 kilos, [sometimes more] other fish and marine species would die in trawler nets? The extra, unintentionally fished marine life called bycatch is discarded dead or dying. Often, these are juvenile species that don’t fetch a price but they definitely pay a huge sum themselves in terms of never reaching maturity or reproducing, thereby reducing their total species population.

turtle

Jan 2016-3

OK, so you’re a vegan. But you use plastic.

Get a taste of this. Scientists predict by 2025 the ocean will contain 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish. Plastics disintegrate very slowly into microplastics (sesame seed sized plastic bits) that move in the ocean, absorb DDT and collect in the currents. The fish, birds and turtles mistake these microplastics for food and bigger fish eat smaller ones. Their bodies can’t rid of the toxins fast enough and it ends quite tragically. This is called Bioaccumulation. It takes place within an organism when the rate of intake of a substance (in this case toxic chemicals) is greater than the rate of excretion or metabolic transformation of that substance.

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So what does your exfoliating face wash have anything to do with the price of fish?

Your favoured brand stands out in a shop shelf because it probably contains colourful microbeads (a type of microplastic) or tiny plastic pellets generously added to personal care, cosmetic and household cleaning products like your body scrubs, washing powders. And toothpaste. Teeth feel squeaky clean?birds on dead tree trunksYou’re a regular at the sea-front promenade. Ever wonder about the mangroves it replaced? Or why storms batter your city annually?

Mangroves reduce wind and high waves as they pass through mangroves, lessening damage during storms. Wide areas of mangroves have been known to reduce tsunami heights. Mangroves are carbon-rich habitats. Their dense roots build up soils, increasing soil thickness that may be crucial as sea levels rise. Mangroves and seagrasses capture carbon monoxide from the atmosphere a hundred times faster than terrestrial forests. Take a deep breath.IMG_20160715_171123

It seems appropriate to talk of human-induced Marine Death zones now. 

These are hypoxic (low-oxygen) areas in the world’s oceans and large lakes, caused by “excessive nutrient pollution from human activities”. Chemical runoff from our industrial waste, fertilizers and use of fossil fuel to our daily floor cleaners find their way into our rivers and oceans killing massive swathes of fish and marine species. There are 405 identified dead zones worldwide.

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Planning a long cruise?

I read that a one-week voyage on a cruise ship with 2, 200 passengers and 800 crewmembers generates 210,000 gallons of sewage and eight tons of garbage. Marine pollution analysts in Germany and Brussels say that such a large ship would probably burn at least 150 tones’ of fuel a day, and emit more sulphur than several million cars, more NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) gas than all the traffic passing through a medium-sized town.

Do take the kids [our future stakeholders] to see a coral reef a.s.a.p. #investintheenvironment

Be positive. Stay healthy. Be conscious. Happy holidays.

PS: And oh here’s some further reading for the beach.

Some sources and references via:
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/21/the-worlds-largest-cruise-ship-and-its-supersized-pollution-problem

https://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/how-do-i-tell-if-product-contains-microbeads/

https://www.marineconservation.org.au/pages/microplastics.html

https://www.treehugger.com/green-food/6-shocking-facts-about-seafood-production.html

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/oceans-plastic-fish-2050_us_569e9963e4b00f3e986327a0

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fishing_down_the_food_web

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/Huge-‘dead-zone’-discovered-in-Bay-of-Bengal/article16908928.ece

https://www.nature.org/media/oceansandcoasts/mangroves-for-coastal-defence.pdf

Photo credit: Lalitha Krishnan. All photos are copyrighted.

 

Jan 2016-22

Sharing my piece ‘Confessions of a porch photographer’ which was published in the Hindu.

Deodar cones dispersing seeds in winter. Photo credit: Lalitha Krishnan

How did I manage to get published? I’m clueless. I only know that The Hindu-Open Page editor’s click of approval transported me to a new level of thrilled.  All those zillion rewrites, years of rejections and no replies from other publications finally paid off. This piece was way shorter, the timing was right perhaps–around Salim Ali’s birth anniversary–and I think my writing struck a chord with nature-loving folk who are missing the ‘wild’ connect. Reading their appreciative emails brought me as much joy as writing. There is no greater reward. Will I get published again? I can’t tell but you will know if I do.:) Why don’t you read the article (via The Hindu link below) and tell me what you think of it in the comments space?

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/confessions-of-a-porch-photographer/article20217923.ece

A Grey langur watches me watch him. Photo credit: Lalitha Krishnan
A Grey langur watches me watch him. Photo credit: Lalitha Krishnan”

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” – Henry David Thoreau, in Walden, or Life in the Woods

 

The curious case of an owl which wrestled a woodpecker for housing benefits.

I recently witnessed a pint-sized owl (Asia’s smallest) taking on a woodpecker. It happened even before I could shout out “owlet”. I barely believed what I had seen. I’ve been following this particular owl couple for a month now. I noticed they make three different owl calls or utterances*. Unlike what I’ve heard, these little munchkins are easy to spot and observe. That’s mostly because they’re also active when I am—diurnal and crepuscular birds—calling, mating, giving me multiple chances of focusing right and behaving like they look. Adorably.

I watched them turn their heads poltergeist style multiple times. It’s fascinating and spooky at the same time as they have false eyes on the back of their head that seemed to look directly at me. I was warming up to them until I saw one of them literally clash with this little yellow crowned woodpecker while it was on the verge of squeezing into the burrow which it had carved out with the finesse of a master craftsman. I know that for a fact because I’d documented the woodpeckers last year and marveled at the time and effort it took them to renovate the hole-in-the-tree into a home that’s woodpecker worthy*.*  When I heard the woodpecker shriek, I thought its fate was sealed; it was going to end up as owl tapas. But that wasn’t the case.

One morning I responded to owl hoots and walked out with the camera but I just couldn’t locate them. Dumbfounded and annoyed, I almost gave up. Suddenly there was a flutter of activity and I saw the male make a dash for the tree hollow. I absolutely knew then, that the woodpeckers were evacuated from their premises and were probably house hunting again. The female was calling from inside the hollow which I why I never spotted her.

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The male owl was carrying a pale, largish insect which it promptly began feeding to its mate. The lifeless insect was probably a cicada. They’re plenty around; their deafening buzz crescendoes overhead. I noticed the owls feeding on them twice; they must be beak-smacking good. Watch the video.

I miss my old neighbours but I’m keeping an eye out (spying actually) for my new ones without intervening. If I see hungry little owlets peek out of that hollow anytime soon, I’ll let you know. Follow me.

Read more about the woodpeckers here: http://bit.ly/8LifeSkillsFromABird

Watch collared owlets makes three distinct calls:http://bit.ly/MyCollaredOwlet

8 life skills to be learnt from a crafty little woodpecker.

  1. Never disclose your location to just anyone.

For the past month or so, every time I leave the house, I’ve been hearing a rapid flutter of wings accompanied by a slightly high-pitched screech, followed by gentle tapping. I spent weeks looking for what I recognized to be a woodpecker but never caught it perching in one place for too long. It seemed strange; I kept hearing it in the middle of the afternoon when sane birds take cover. So what was this pesky little bird up to? It was doing nothing but distracting me and probably warning its mate of imminent danger.

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The brown fronted woodpecker (female) is cautious at all times.
  1. Be conscious of your surroundings.

Blame it on the fact that I am a wildlife enthusiast of sorts and curious enough to spend the better part of my day looking for anything that I can digitally capture. Luckily, I do not have the distractions of employment interfering with my rambles; and so it came to be I noticed an old hollow with fresh drilling marks.

 

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The female brown fronted woodpecker drills its nest out of a hollow.

 

  1. Be ready for contingencies.

Feeling like a photojournalist about to enter the NG hall of fame, I started by keeping my camera cleaned and charged, my SD card empty, played my music real low and kept an ear out for any tapping throughout the day.

 

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I was surprised by the size of some of the wood chips the woodpeckers cleared out.

 

  1. Keep your house clean.

In the meanwhile we were expecting houseguests and as is the norm at our home, just before their arrival we conducted a monumental clean-up effort. As you can guess, this included wiping our windows clean. And we have a lot of them! As I drew the curtains to proceed, I realised I was standing four feet away from the tree hollow. And lo and beyond there was the brown fronted woodpecker sticking its little head out.

 

  1. Always work in good light.

Whilst spying on the woodpeckers, I noticed they were most active when the sun lit up the inside of their hollow. They were using natural light to their advantage and mine. Though I was photographing them from behind a dark glass window, they were perfectly lit up as I captured their activities.

 

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Woodpecker using its bill to disperse wood chips to the wind.

 

  1. Share responsibilities as a team.

Though the pair worked together I rarely saw them both at the hollow at the same time. One of them would spend a few minutes inside the hollow carving out the nest and then would take time clearing out the wood chips before starting again. Reminded me of me cooking while my spouse did dishes later. An arrangement that always works out well!

I also noticed the woodpecker pick up wood chips and with a quick shake of the head and bill, disperse it to the wind instead of just dropping it off like dead weight. They left no trace of their nest building that way.

 

  1. Use all the resources you can.

In my enthusiasm, I shot a lot of shaky movie clips at different times of the day before I realized I could just as well have planted my tripod in place. I found better use of ankle weights (which I never use) for weighing down the tripod in the hope my mountain dogs wouldn’t topple it over. They have the uncanny knack of snuggling up by my feet just when I don’t want them to!

 

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The old tree hollow was refurbished with a lot of skill and effort to make a new nest.

 

  1. Whatever you do, give it your best shot.

These minuscule woodpeckers have been drilling out their home to perfection for a few weeks now.

I tried to get a glimpse of the inside of the nest but it was deep and cleverly spiralled out. Making it relatively safe from larger predators! They had functionality and safety all figured out! Makes you wonder why the word birdbrain has such negative connotations. Seriously!

 

  1. Be patient.

As you can see, I was rewarded with a private viewing of the secret life of the yellow-crowned woodpecker.

Woodpecker chicks are hopefully on their way soon. Their intelligent parents are bound to teach them more than 8 life skills to survive. I have seen timber martens claw away at a woodpecker nest before and I’m hoping they never sniff this one out. Hope you enjoy the photos. All of them were shot through my (recently cleaned) window.

I would love to hear your comments.

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A related article about bird intelligence  via HuffPost India

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why you should visit a nature reserve closer to home.

 

Invite an expert and take your family along.

We have a saying in India, “the home-bred chicken is as ordinary as your daily dal (lentil)”. If you have a nature reserve or green and wide open spaces in your backyard, you’re likely to take it for granted. You don’t visit it because you think it’s not going away. That’s how I felt about Jaberkhet Nature Reserve (earlier known as Flag Hill), which is only a twenty-minute walk from my home. I walk the forest trails often but not often enough. I visit the reserve to click photographs without quite observing or consciously listening.

Recently I joined an organized walk with expert environmentalists from two different fields: Chris Hails and Dr. Gopal S Rawat. Chris Hails who works at the Director level for WWI in Switzerland was recording bird sounds at the JNR while Dr. Gopal S Rawat, Dean, Faculty of Wildlife Sciences,  Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, was walking us through the local ecology of the area.

It was a rare opportunity and privilege to walk with these two very knowledgeable people besides being a great way to spend a morning.  I began to hear and learn new things every step of the way. The  JNR* has undergone an astounding transformation in a short span of time. Revived species of plants are visible everywhere. The forest is resounding with bird calls.  One sees a variety of scat. The reserve takes on a different look every season. Right now, the Rhododendron trees are adding vivid bursts of red to the hillside. JNR is also home to various animals and birds that we didn’t know existed in our vicinity but for camera-traps that have digitally captured them. Seeing is believing!

I came away with a deeper appreciation of the space I share with wildlife and more respect for conservationists like Hails and Rawat, and their fellow environmentalist Sejal Wohra, who runs the reserve with a lot of passion and sparse funding. Moreover, it made me realise that the onus of preserving wild spaces like this rests equally on people like me and you – the community. 

Nature reserves and green spaces are vulnerable and do disappear to make way for “developmental” projects for several reasons. When that happens, species disappear overnight. So please, if you haven’t already, do visit a nature reserve or forest/lake/natural open space close to you. Pack a picnic lunch. Learn about species you share the habitat with. You may well be surprised by who and what resides so close to you. Take your friends along. Donate. It’s easy. Volunteer. It’s a little harder but certainly doable. Contribute in any way you can. Start a club. Share on social media. Keep your backyard and enjoy it too.

*JNR is a part of an initiative set up as a private partnership between the owners of the land (the family of the Late Shri J P Jain) and Sejal Wohra (Programme Director WWF-India). Thanks to their joint efforts JNR is a perfect example of what can be achieved with the cooperation of locals and the know-how of professional environmentalists.

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The local villages are involved in the protection of the reserve. Tree lopping and cow grazing have altogether stopped. The local are receiving training and employment and have turned into protector of the forests

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If you would like to get involved with JNR write to sejalwohra@gmail.com or visit http://www.Jaberkhetnature.com

 

 

 

Tigress, Tigress Burning Bright

William Blake knew what he was talking about when he penned his poem, The Tiger. I saw this beautiful tigress scent her territory in Corbett, seemingly unperturbed by jeep loads of tourists capturing her every move. It was around 3-4pm , her coat looked like it was aflame in the dappled light. She confidently strolled ahead of us scenting every tree – letting us know we were trespassing.

Watch her on my You Tube channel:

 

The Tiger by William Blake.

TIGER, tiger, burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

 

In what distant deeps or skies

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand dare seize the fire?

 

And what shoulder and what art

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand and what dread feet?

 

What the hammer? what the chain?

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? What dread grasp

Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

 

When the stars threw down their spears,

And water’d heaven with their tears,

Did He smile His work to see?

Did He who made the lamb make thee?

 

Tiger, tiger, burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

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When Street Dogs Attack Wildlife

Dogs on the hunt

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I was out with friends in the Little Rann of Kutch on 18th Jan 2016,  exploring the sanctuary for Asiatic wild asses and birds, when we came across this beautiful lone Nilgai (Indian Antelope) standing perfectly still. It was a great photo-op. As I zoomed in I noticed its eyes were focused at a point somewhere behind us.  Thinking it odd, we took our shots and moved on. Before we knew it the Nilgai turned around and started sprinting away with two dogs in hot pursuit.  Very soon a third dog joined the hunt. The chase continued for a quite a while. The antelope was tiring but the dogs looked like they would go on forever. As much as I love dogs,  I mentally rooted for the Nilgai.We didn’t quite expect to see wild dogs or a hunt. I did a second take when I realized these were strays. The sanctuary fringes a village. Never before have I seen strays attack wildlife.  There was nothing friendly or domestic about these dogs. They were plain wild. There was something wrong with the whole scenario. It wasn’t the same as watching a wild animal hunting another wild animal!

We kept our eyes on the animals till they disappeared from sight. What happened to the Nilgai? I’ll never know but I’m beginning to think something more needs to be done with managing strays. The incidents of humans being attacked by strays are multiplying. Now they seem to have found new hunting grounds.

Watch the chase here on YouTube: Street Dogs Chase Wild Nilgai