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 | May 30, 2020

Europa in Cochin Harbour

I shot this from Subhash Park on 12 December 2019.

It'll be a while before Europa takes to the water again. Click on the photo for a larger image.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | April 29, 2020

White-Browed Wagtail: Lockdown Encounter

This was one of a group of wagtails I met in a lane just off the arterial M.G. Road. The lockdown due to Covid ensured that the streets were deserted, and the birds had the run of the lane. I paused and watched them for a while. The individual in the photo is a male; females and juveniles are brownish. The white-browed wagtail (Motacilla maderaspatensis) is the largest of the wagtails, and is the only wagtail that has adapted well to the urban environment.

Khanjan is the Hindi name of the bird. "Khanjan-eyed" refers to someone with beautiful eyes, and it's clear from the photo why.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | March 31, 2020

Indian Pond Heron

Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii)

I see it most mornings on my way to buy milk. It would be next to the water, as still as a rock, keeping a sharp lookout for fish, frogs, tadpoles, dragonfly larvae, etc. I invariably pause when I see it. It looks at me. Our eyes meet. Then I resume my walk, leaving it to find breakfast.

Yes, I agree that it's not much of a looker. The typical hunched stance is ungainly, the body stocky, the colors dowdy. But appearances are deceptive. This unassuming bird has a couple of surprises up its sleeve.

First, when you approach it, it stands its ground. This is unusual; most birds are cautious to a fault and will fly away at the slightest hint of an approach. Not the Indian pond heron. It will allow you to approach very close, taking to the air at the last moment. And that is when you are hit by the second surprise. I remember the very first time I watched an Indian pond heron take off from the ground: one moment it was there before my eyes, the next moment it had vanished. In its place was another white bird that seemed to have materialized from nowhere. I was looking around for the pond heron, wondering if it had suddenly plummeted to the ground. A little later, it hit me: the white bird was the pond heron. Its wings are white underneath. It's a startling transformation.

The Indian pond heron is usually found near water bodies, but it is an adaptable bird, and I've also seen it foraging in garbage dumps in the city. Its habit of allowing close approaches has inspired the popular belief that it is very short-sighted (which it is not). In Sri Lanka, it is called Kana Koka, which means "half-blind heron." The bird in all likelihood allows close approaches as it trusts that its camouflage and immobility will enable it to evade detection. Its dull brown coloration helps it merge with the ground, and it can be hard to spot it on, for example, a mudbank.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | February 27, 2020

Queen’s Pride of India: Queen’s Crepe Myrtle

Common names: Queen's Pride of India, Pride of India, Queen's Flower Tree, Queen's Flower, Queen's Crepe Myrtle, Manimarathu (Malayalam), Kadali/Pumarathu (Tamil), Jarul (Bengali/Hindi/Marathi)

Scientific name: Lagerstroemia speciosa

Photo location: The above photo is from a splendid specimen on Park Avenue at the southern end of Rajendra Maidan, on the western side of the Gandhi statue. It is the tree hugging the lamppost.

Description: In urban settings, Manimarathu is a common avenue tree. It is a sturdy medium-sized tree that can achieve a height of over 50 feet in well-watered areas. In full bloom, it is a striking sight, covered with pink to purple (white is also seen) flowers that thrust through the foliage towards the sky. The petals have a crinkled texture, like crepe paper, and hence the name queen's crepe myrtle. The above photo is a medley of colors: the light green ribbed calyxes that will split to expose the buds, the dark green leaves, the yellow anthers, the bright red pistil capped by the purple stigma, the light pink sepals, and, of course, the bright pink petals. Older flowers (they last for two to three days) have a bleached appearance; the flower in the photo has likely just bloomed, judging from the bright colors.

Utility: The wood is valuable timber. It is resistant to water and so is used for making boats and canoes, as also furniture, railway sleepers, buildings, etc. Further, the tree has several medicinal uses.

In the Philippines, the tree is called Banaba, and Banaba tea (prepared from a leaf extract) is a traditional remedy for diabetes (some modern studies have confirmed anti-diabetic activity). In the Andamans, the fruit is used to treat mouth ulcers. The roots are an astringent, and the seeds are narcotic. The bark is used to treat diarrhea.

Uniqueness: It is one of the very few trees with showy flowers that also provides valuable timber. Besides, almost every part of the tree has medicinal uses.

Honours: The flower of Jarul is the state flower of Maharashtra. In 1993, the Indian Department of Posts issued a stamp featuring the tree.

Tailpiece: A charming little poem has been written about the tree (the poem is actually about a smaller related species, L. indica, but we will allow ourselves a little poetic license). Crepe myrtles, you see, are summer bloomers, and most summer tree flower colors are blazing oranges, reds, and yellows. By contrast, crepe myrtles with their cool pastel shades soothe the eye.

And now let the poet have the last word.

by Cathy Smith Bowers

When the heaviness of dog days
has had its way
with us, they bloom
to stay the doom

of summer's end. Such Popsicles,
these crepe myrtles,
to cool the day's
parched tongue! And where's

the truck that brought them? The little
bell? Clang goes the
ghostly driver
and then is gone.


1. The Book of Indian Trees by K.C. Sahni (Oxford)
2. Discover Avenue Trees by S. Karthikeyan (Ecoedu)
3. Remarkable Trees on the NII (National Immunological Institute) Campus by S. Natesh (Internet). I'm indebted to this source for pointing out and interpreting the poem.
4. Sharmin, T., Rahman, M.S. & Mohammadi, H. Investigation of biological activities of the flowers of Lagerstroemia speciosa, the Jarul flower of Bangladesh. BMC Complement Altern Med 18, 231 (2018).

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Posted by: cochinblogger | January 30, 2020

Night Sentinel: Barn Owl

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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


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.

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