Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 3

This will the third and last segment on birds for some time to come. After this I'll get back to showing off pictures of things that don't fly off or dive under water without a moment's notice, but stay squarely centered in viewfinders.

#12 Spot-billed Duck: Anas poecilorhyncha.
Also known as the Spotbill, it's the one in the centre, behind the twigs. That's the best shot I got of the bird. It's being flanked on both sides by:

#13 Little Cormorant: Phalacrocorax niger.
Cormorants were the most common birds there, I think. It was the same with Ranganthittu 3 months ago. There are three species of cormorants found in large numbers in India, this one being the smallest and darkest.

#14 Indian Cormorant: Phalacrocorax fuscicollis
Slightly bigger, a little browner. They swim much lower in the water than ducks, giving them an almost Nessie-like appearance. This particular bird dived under water and did not resurface for at least 20 seconds, and it re-surfaced quite far from the place where it dove in.
(I like my silhouettes. :))

I haven't been able to make up my mind about the bird on the right. The Indian and Great Cormorant species are far too alike, and having enough morphological variation amongst themselves to be easily differentiated.

#15 Oriental Darter: Anhinga melanogaster.
The bird on the right, with the snake-like neck. Wasn't easy to identify, this.
Melanogaster means black-bellied, by the way. Drosophila (the fruit fly) and some species of buttonquail also shares the same name.

#16 Purple Swamphen: Porphyrio porphyrio poliocephalus.
Yes, a swamphen. Who knew such birds existed?

I can't get my head around why birds evolved such fancy colours. It's certainly not as a part of some fiendishly clever camouflage scheme (Purple in a swamp?). Yes, I know, colours and the display of fancy plumages is a big part of bird mating rituals, but surely there must be a more substantial evolutionary reason, like co-occurance with some other vital trait.

#17 Brahminy Kite: Haliastur indus.
The bird on the left. I remember them being very common in Delhi, and I've seen quite a few of them in Bangalore as well. Very distinctive white plumage on the head and neck, chestnut everywhere else. Usually identified with the Garuda of Indian mythology, the eagle vehicle of Vishnu.

#18 Black Kite: Milvus migrans.
At least, I think it's a black kite, cannot be sure. Too many birds which are similar in appearance. Could be a Lesser spotted eagle, a Steppe eagle, or a Common buzzard. The last of them is the most likely alternative. Eagles are bigger and half well-built feet unlike kites and buzzards, but it's difficult to check both size and the nature of the feet from this photograph.

There. 18 birds seen in some three hours. Not bad, eh? There would've easily been double the number of species there, if not more. With this being off-season. One little lake supporting this many birds. Hard to believe.

Pictures 5 and 6 courtesy Arun Verghese.

Also see:
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 1
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 2
And the road becomes my bride.
Shine on you crazy diamond.

A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 2

OK, now for some pictures taken in a more natural setting. Note the simultaneous decrease in image quality. I have a dozen crappy images for every single one I've put up here.

Common Kingfisher: Alcedo atthis.
Not sure which subspecies the bird belongs to. Way too small for real identification.

Grey Heron: Ardea cinerea.
Lovely bird, glided around on top of our boat for quite a while. Note the bent neck, a characteristic while herons and egrets fly. Storks and cranes fly with a stretched neck. Wanted to capture this bird on the ground as well, but alas.

Little Egret: Egretta garzetta.
Closely related to the Grey Heron, but very different in appearance. The black beak and legs distinguish the little egret from other species like Great Egrets and Cattle Egrets, both very common in India and elsewhere. The picture below was not taken at the lake, but at the base of Balamuri falls: there's water splashing everywhere, the quantity of water making up for the lack of height, and there you have this bird, standing silent and still, without a care for the surrounding chaos.

Eurasian Coot: Fulica atra.
Very duck-like, but do not belong to the same family as ducks, geese and swans. The adults are all black, except for a white facial shield that extends to the beak, and a thin red ring around it.
Eurasian Coots and a Little Egret
#10 Spot-billed Pelican: Pelecanus philippensis.
Apparently a very small pelican, it still looked pretty huge when it landed on the water next to our boat. Wish I had captured the landing on camera.

Lesser Whistling Duck: Dendrocygna javanica
These two were going around in circles for at least half an hour. I could see the same pair bobbling up and down there from various parts of the lake. Taken from the observatory tower there.

If you already despair of these, there's a third segment yet to come.


Pictures 5 and 9 courtesy Arun Verghese.

Also see:
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 1
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 3
And the road becomes my bride.
Shine on you crazy diamond.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 1

Bird photography is highly frustrating. Success rates are very, very low. And then you have to spend hours and hours trying to figure out what you captured on film.

Karanji Lake, Mysore is a good place for a beginner to do it though. They have an aviary, a butterfly park (open air thing, so you have a good variety of butterflies there only in November), a 30 foot high observatory tower, plenty of nice spots on the lake shore providing a good view of the birds, and the piece de resistance is that you can go boating around much of the lake. No other bird sanctuary gives you so many options. The aviary there is really cool, letting you walk up to within mere feet of exotic birds.

I've spent at least 7-8 hours spread out over the past 3 days rifling through wiki pages trying to identify all the birds we found at Karanji lake on Saturday. It took me insanely long just to identify one ruddy bird, and although I've improved a little since then, this was no mean feat. And even now I have a few birds that I am unable to identify.

#1 The Indian peafowl Pavo cristatus.
Both the albino and the coloured varieties, breathtakingly beautiful. All words are superfluous.

#2 Indian Sarus Crane: Grus antigone antigone.
One HUGE bird. Almost a metre and a half in height, it's the tallest of the cranes. Very distinctive colouring. Kept in one half of the aviary, we weren't allowed to go too close to them.

I wonder why the species name is antigone. In Greek myth she's the daughter of Oedipus, born of the infamous incestuous marriage. Can't see any link there. Antigone also apparently means "unbending" and "in place of a mother" in Greek. The whole baby-dropping thing has to do with storks, not cranes, so that it can't be the latter. Hmm... cranes and storks don't bend their necks while flying, but herons and egrets do. Lemme know if you think of a better reason.
#3 Helmeted Guineafowl: Numida meleagris.
Funny looking things. Had trouble identifying them as these birds are native only to Africa. Apparently they've been domesticated a little over the past century, and introduced extensively in various parts of Europe.
#4 Wild Turkey: Meleagris gallopavo.
I think this is a wild Turkey. The colouring seems a bit unusual. May in fact be a very ugly chicken.

I know, I know, clicking pictures of birds caged in an aviary isn't real bird photography. Wait a while. Next up: A little bit of Ornithology: Part 2.

10.00 am

#5 Muscovy Duck: Cairina moschata.
Finally managed to identify this duck. Was rather hard to place as it's a native of the Americas. Scary looking fella, but allowed me to get within 3 feet of him.
Pictures 1,4 and 7 courtesy Arun Verghese.

Also see:
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 2
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 3
And the road becomes my bride.
Shine on you crazy diamond.

And the road becomes my bride.

Ze wanderlust has had me in its grip for quite some time now. If only it had caught me a little earlier. The last few years seem like such a waste of time now. Kodai last December was my first real fun-trip in a long time, I suppose... though a trek expects a lot of effort in exchange for the fun and pleasure. Weeks later I visited Kanchi and Mahabalipuram when dad and the brother had come over, but somehow, as wonderful as both places were, their effect on me was not very profound.

It was the Mysore trip in March that really kindled that wandering spirit, that desire go see exotic places, to try and take home some of that magic. We had visited Ranganthitoo and Karanji lake for the birds, Somanathpura for the exquisite Chennakeshava temple there, and Mysore for the Jaganmohana Art Gallery and to see the palace lit up by a million lights.

Last weekend I returned to Mysore, and it seems like Mahishasura's mythic capital finds it impossible to disappoint. Our itinerary was a little different this time.

First stop, the Mysore palace, to see the interiors by day. It's been nearly 10 years, I think, since I went in last, more than long enough to get you to forget the grandeur of the place. Oh I would have given any amount of money to be allowed to photograph in there. From its multi-domed ceilings to it's exquisitely enamelled floors, columns adorned with Apsaras to peacocks in tinted glass ceilings... in every direction and round every corner there was a photograph begging to be taken. (I wonder how many strings were pulled for this to be taken.) I lost count of the number of times my hands itched for the nonexistent camera.

The next stop in our trip was Jaganmohana palace again. You don't say no when presented with a chance to see Ravi Varma originals, even if you've been there 3 months prior. (The pictures on the site don't do justice to the paintings, not by a long shot.) Or to see the Glow of Hope by Haldenkar, hung up in a room all by itself, the room lit by a single 60W bulb. The lady looks as if she's lit up only by the lamp she is holding.

After all that, we went over to Karanji lake again, armed this time with a better camera (the 12X zoom works wonders), and a lot more time to kill.

Hmm. This is beginnning to look like a travel blog. Must make amends.

Next up: A little bit of Ornithology

PS. Yes, I stole the title from a Metallica song. I am not ashamed to admit that I'm revisiting their songs after some 6 years. You heard me right. I like metal. I also like classic rock, old pop, western classical and MS Subbalakshmi, but I like metal. Time to start labelling, people.

Also see:
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 1
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 2
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 3
Shine on you crazy diamond.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Your result for How good of a Calvinball player are you?...

Your Grade= A+ Good knowledge and excellent strategy!

71% Game_Knowledge and 96% Game_Skill!

Amazing. You are part of the 4.3% of the population that landed in this category.* You know the game and its history well, and you did amazingly well when it came to playing Calvinball strategically.

This suggests that you probably have a natural talent in Calvinball. You have learned that the trick to doing well in Calvinball is not brute strength, but quick wit. With your natural ability you could go far.

You are definitely already talented enough to beat Calvin. A match versus the quick-witted tiger would be close. I'm going to give you the edge, but his superior knowledge of the game might propel him to victory.

* This is a made up number.

Take How good of a Calvinball player are you? at HelloQuizzy

Friday, July 4, 2008

Know your city better.

We Bangaloreans are very proud our love for travel. Indeed, search for Indian blogs on adventure sports, treks, travel or bike trips and most of what you will get is those of people from namma bengaLuru (I refuse to say Bengalooru. Make me.)

While we seek to wander off at a moment's notice, be it to a weekend hike in Kudremukh, a fishing resort on the Kaveri, or temples just across the state border or a palace in a nearby city, how many of us have truly tried looking for things closer to home?

Is Bangalore so devoid of places worth visiting? Sad sods we are, yearning for pretty things far off while carelessly treading on treasures much closer home.

This is true irrespective of scale. We yearn for Athens when Madurai is next door, its goddess still living. For Versailles, with Amba Vilasa hours away. For the snows of Jungfrau when Leh is so much closer. For Switzerland while Kashmir sits idly by. For crusader castles when we haven't seen Mehrgarh or Chittorgarh.

I don't mean to be jingoistic, believe me, I'm the last person to be overly patriotic... all I am trying to say that there is so much we overlook. Beauty, it lies almost entirely in the eyes of the beholder.

Anyhou, I set out to find places to see in Bangalore which I'd never quite been able to before.

First stop, the Tippu Summer Palace. Tell me true, how many of you have actually been there? Sure, you might have passed it by on your way to the city market, or glanced at it while praying to kote Srinivasa, but how many have stopped for a look?

A small, pretty little thing built of wood and stone, only a fraction of the original palace remains today. A charming place nevertheless, it's serene and well maintained. The landscaped lawn all around with the trademark yellow shrubbery (of Karnataka tourism or the ASI? I don't know which,) adds to the effect.

Some of the original paint on the walls and ceiling survive to this date.

To the right of the palace, you have the compound of the Kote Srinivasa temple. With the gopurams recently painted, it makes for a rather fetching sight from the palace... towers rising up from the trees.

It's criminal, how modern Kannada movements have portrayed Tippu Sultan in very bad light. Tippu was no Malik Kafur, he was no Aurangzeb. Muslim he might've been, but he was an Indian muslim nevertheless, and a Kannada muslim at that. People scoff at the records of how he bailed the Sringeri Shankara Matha out of financial troubles. Talk of Bangalore and all you hear about is Kempe Gowda. He ate boiled beans there and built four itty bitty towers. Boo hoo. Tippu completed Lal Bagh, which Hyder Ali commisioned. Bangalore as we know it today was shaped much more by this man than any other. Yet he is tainted for what? Usurping power from the weak Wodeyars? The Golden age of Wodeyar rule we like to so fondly recall took place a century after Tippu.

Tippu building his summer palace adjacent to temple is but another example of his secular rule in southern Karnataka. In Srirangapattana you see the ruins of his palace flanked on one side by the famous Ranganatha temple, on the other by a mosque. In Bangalore you see the same. Heh, it's funny to think that the Hindu Marathas plundered Melukote (the Cheluvanarayana temple there being quite rich) during muslim reign in Karnataka.

(In case you were wondering, I'm totally for naming the new airport in Bangalore after Tippu. I'm tired of all Gowdas. Okay, I know that I'm not being fair, clumping together the likes of Kempe and Deve. Even so.)
Next stop: Venkatappa Art Gallery and the Government Museum. Also known as: Those Buildings Next to the Vishvesvaraya Tech Museum.

Admit it, anyone growing up in Bangalore would've been to the Visvesvaraya museum half a dozen times as a kid. Venkatappa Art Gallery was always That building down the road, and well, I'm willing to bet that most of us didn't even know that there was such a thing as a Government Museum there.

Both lovely places, the latter built using red bricks in a neoclassical style the Brits were so fond of. The Govt. Museum has a nice little collection of assorted Indian artefacts, from bronze age pottery to Chola statues.

Venkatappa Art Gallery has these lovely low-relief carvings on plaster of paris made by Venkatappa himself, meant at one point to adorn the walls of Amba Vilasa in Mysore.

From the museums one can see the buildings of Mallya's UB city. I was pleasantly surprised to find them not the least difficult on the eyes.

Please know that the holier-than-thou and the sanctimonious attitude was largely directed inwards. Maybe it's the sojourn to yonder distant lands looming large, I've become more aware of things and places around me.

Many thanks to Veeru alias Veerappan and his trusty Kinetic.