Posted by: cochinblogger | July 10, 2009

The Blue-Veined Beauty

Hi, this is Cochin Blogger at your service. I’m based in a town called Cochin (officially, Kochi) in the state of Kerala, which is perched at the southern-most tip of India. It’s just a stone’s throw from Sri Lanka, and is famous for its unique natural beauty. Kerala is a slim, blue-veined beauty, with canals, backwaters, lagoons, rivers, lakes, ponds, and puddles galore, a thin strip of land caressed by the waters of the Arabian Sea.

Kerala’s trademark is tropical fecundity. It’s a paradise that is still largely unspoiled because of the low level of industrialization. Kerala first hit the international headlines when it voted the communists to power in 1957, this being only the second time communists anywhere in the world have formed a popularly elected government (the first time was in the tiny republic of San Marino).

Right, I’m signing off now. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. 🙂

Posted by: cochinblogger | December 13, 2019

The Papaya Hunt

The White-Cheeked Barbet (Psilopogon viridis) is found only in South India. It rarely descends from the trees, where its colors and size make it invisible. These are shy and cautious birds, quick to return to their safe haven, the canopy, at the slightest sign of danger. They are frugivorous; that is, their diet consists mainly of fruits.

This individual (all photos were taken from an upstairs window of my house) was forced to break cover as it was on a mission: Operation Papaya. Having detected a nearby fruiting papaya tree, it mounted a systematic surveillance operation. The objective? To get in the first strike when the fruits ripened, ahead of the other birds in the area. It would check out the papayas daily, tapping with its beak to check if they were ready. It would also perch next to the unripe papayas and gaze at them longingly in a human way.

And it would not go straight to the papayas; no, no, no! It would first station itself on a near-by mango tree, from where it would watch the papayas for some time. When it judged the time was right, it would fly to the papaya tree. It would then sit there for a while, observing its surroundings. Only after this would it approach the papayas. Even then, when it was right next to the fruits, it would not touch them immediately but again look all around. Sometimes it would even disinterestedly turn its back to the papayas. Finally, after all these preparatory rituals, it would allow itself to approach the papayas and peck them.

Clearly, it was making sure the coast was clear and also throwing any bird that happened to be watching off the papaya scent. And one day, its patience and determination were rewarded: it was indeed the first to taste the ripe fruit.

Having watched this tiny but feisty bird for a few days every morning, I became familiar with its mannerisms and calls. I no longer see it outside my window (perhaps it has found a more enticing fruit elsewhere?), but I do hear its signature raucous call now and then.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | November 30, 2019

Butterflies in Trouble


I nearly stepped on it before I saw it lying on the ground near the gates of my house. It was an unusual place for a butterfly to alight on, the concrete floor with grooves along which the iron wheels of the external gates rolled. Was it dead? It wasn’t moving, but it was upright, and the wings were not limp but held aloft. Yes, it was alive, but motionless. My first thought was that a bird had caught it and then discarded it, injuring it in the process. I bent over to see if the wings were injured. No, the wings were intact — and at that moment, they fluttered weakly. There was no sign of injury on the butterfly (a male Great Eggfly, I think).
And then I saw them — the ants! There were a couple of them on the butterfly’s body, but whatever was preventing the butterfly from flying away probably had something to with the two ants in front of the butterfly’s head and almost touching it. I don’t want to think about what they were doing to the butterfly, though they did not move. Had they grabbed the butterfly’s proboscis? Or had they paralyzed it with stings? The ants and the butterfly appeared to be locked close together eyeball to eyeball, in a life-and-death staring match.

I picked up the butterfly and placed it on a wall. Perhaps that would help? No, the ants rode along with the butterfly, and the butterfly did not fly away as I’d hoped it would. I then did something rather silly: I blew on the butterfly, hoping to scatter the ants. Instead, the butterfly dropped out of sight on the other side of the wall, taking the ants with it. I continued on my way. Undoubtedly the ants would have finished it off.

I once saw a butterfly trapped in a spider’s web. It was a large butterfly, a Common Bluebottle, and it had almost struggled free. A lone strand of silk attached to the tip of one wing was all that prevented it from flying away. The small spider did not dare approach the much larger butterfly and crouched in its corner of the web, watching intently, waiting for the butterfly to weaken from its incessant struggles to free itself. It was my first ever butterfly close-up photo. My previous attempts to get close to them had not succeeded, much to my frustration. I wondered if I should free the butterfly, save Beauty from the Beast, but instead decided to let Nature sort it out. In the photo below, you can see the strand of spider web attached to the topmost point of the butterfly’s upper wing.

A little later when I returned to the spot, the butterfly had made good its escape.


And that brings me to the most dramatic predation on a butterfly that I have witnessed. I was out looking for butterflies during the lunch break at work when I spotted a butterfly wing lying on the leaf of a plant at an unusual angle. It wasn’t moving. When I approached to investigate, I came upon an extraordinary scene: a praying mantis had grabbed the butterfly (a Common Crow) and was eating it alive. I watched in horror as inch by inch, the butterfly disappeared, head first, inside the ravenous maw of the insect (photo below). All that was left of the butterfly was a few bits and pieces on the leaf, as the mantis, feast complete, licked its forelegs and resumed its praying stance on the plant.

And why not? After all, its prayers had just been answered.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | October 31, 2019

Adrift in the Shadows of Modernity

He's there for the fish and the other flowers of the sea: crabs, prawns, mussels, and so on. He's learned his skills from his father and the elders of his community. He's independent, dependent only on the sea's bounty and on no one else. It sustains him, his family, his community. But for how much longer?

It's a lifestyle that is under threat, like many traditional occupations the world over. The oceans are being overfished, and each year the catch dwindles further. It is unlikely that this man's son will follow his father's footsteps (or rather, his father's wake). The day is not far when this will not be a viable occupation.

Then we will not see solitary fishermen on their traditional boats anymore (by the way, the photo was shot from Subhash Park). Hulks of metal will rule the waters. And that would be a sad day indeed.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | September 28, 2019

Amplexus

I've read that there's more nature in the humble backyard than this world dreams of, and I've seen this for myself in small ways. A few days ago, I was treated to another reminder. The rains haven't stopped, and as a result the yard has become a frog playground. They hop out of the way when I approach, and we go our separate ways. True, one adventurous frog did manage to find its way into the house. Another was found clinging to the front door. Yet another was found dead in the garage. But these close encounters are rare. We generally stay out of each other's way.

A couple of days ago when I stepped out to lock the gate, a frog skipped away from my path. But the jumps were labored and not as athletic as usual; upon closer inspection, I saw that what I thought was one frog was actually two frogs: a smaller frog was atop the larger frog at the bottom. Of course, they were mating. I went back in for the camera, and the result was the photo above. Most male frogs are smaller than females. Once they land on top of the female, they will not let go, not even when under threat. Frogs can stay in this position (called amplexus, Latin for "embrace") for days. This marathon embrace, however, is not a feat of stamina, as the male frog, lacking a penis, does not penetrate the female but waits for her to discharge eggs, which he bathes in sperm.

Frogs are found in a variety of habitats, from ponds to trees. The frog's skin needs to be moist, and so frogs will usually be found not far from water, which is where my amorous yard couple will deposit and fertilize their eggs. Tadpoles develop in water. However, barring a few exceptions, frogs and tadpoles cannot survive in saltwater, and hence one waterbody where they are not found is the sea.

I now recall a couple of disturbing frog memories I'd rather forget. I once had to dissect a frog in the biology lab in school. And — the lord have mercy on my soul! — sometime in the 1990s, I tasted frog legs in a toddy shop. I've heard that the legs would be cut off and the frog tossed away, left to die a lingering death. Frog legs are a delicacy in many parts of the world such as China, France, and Indonesia, and India used to export millions of frogs. However, thankfully that practice has stopped.

Frogs are carnivores. The larger frogs even kill and eat mice and smaller frogs. Their main diet, however, consists of insects — including the mosquito — that are reeled in with their long, sticky tongue. It's a simple equation: more frogs = fewer mosquitoes. Living as I do in mosquito-infested Cochin, the more frogs in my yard the merrier.

One regret I have about taking this photo is that I had to use the flash. I tried artificial lighting, but it didn't work. However, I did take a few precautions: one, I shot from a distance, zooming in. Two, I shot from the rear. And finally, I pressed the trigger at the precise moment when their eyes half-closed (in ecstasy?).

For information on frogs, I consulted my copy of the excellent Wildlife Great and Small of India's Coromandel by Tim Wrey.

Update: Thanks to reader Manish (see comment below), I now know that I had photographed toads, not frogs!

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Posted by: cochinblogger | September 25, 2019

Sign of the Times

Shot in Puthencruz, which is not far from Kochi city. I was told that a couple of weeks ago, a vehicle hit the post, flipping the sign upside down.

Why has nobody bothered to flip it back the right way up?

Well, I’m not sure I have the moral right to ask this question, given that I did not do anything about it myself.

Posted by: cochinblogger | August 15, 2019

Of Right and Wrong

Posted by: cochinblogger | August 12, 2019

Crow Pheasant Portrait

I saw it under a sun shade of a neighboring house when I opened my windows in the morning. It huddled against the wall, cutting a forlorn figure. Normally cautious to a fault, it'd have flown away immediately upon seeing me, but now it didn't move. It had been raining continuously, and the bird had left its usual roosting place, the near-by neem tree, to dry off. This was a worried, perplexed bird that seemed to be asking: "What is the world coming to?"

Photo credit: My older son.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | August 4, 2019

The Bridge on the River of Life

Posted by: cochinblogger | July 23, 2019

The Barbaric Arts

Posted by: cochinblogger | July 11, 2019

On Catching Trains

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