Posted by: cochinblogger | September 22, 2015

Dragonfly India Meet at Thattekad

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Earlier this month, I joined a group of dragonfly enthusiasts at their annual meet, held this year in the Thattekad bird sanctuary, which is about two-and-a-half hours from my house by bus. I’m primarily interested in butterflies, but I like dragonflies too, and this was a golden chance to get away from it all and spend a few blessed hours in the lap of nature. I’m glad I did! The team members were an eclectic lot, from students pursuing master’s and PhD degrees in odonata to zoology professors to wildlife entrepreneurs and also some nature lovers like myself. There was a representative from Kashmir, and one from Sri Lanka as well. They were a deadly serious bunch who conversed only in Latin. OK, that was an exaggeration, but most used only Latin names for the dragonflies that were spotted — with good reason, of course. Frankly, I was out of my depth, but it was a privilege to meet some remarkably erudite and passionate individuals during the two days I spent with them. Field trips in the morning were followed by classroom sessions and presentations. The organization was splendid, and Kottayam Nature Society, which partnered Dragonfly India in hosting the meet, did a superb job. They were the local experts, the boots on the ground, and they played their role to perfection.

I learned a lot about dragonflies, of course. I didn’t know that dragonflies have a pedigree of about 300 million years. Think about it. They pre-date the dinosaurs. Their eyesight is matchless. In fact, their head consists of mostly eyes. And they are justly famed for their flying skills — no other insect or bird comes close to them in that department. So, it should not come as a surprise that they are highly successful predators. But how successful, to be precise? In today’s world, when everything has a number tag, can the success rate of predation be quantified? Oh, yes, it can. The success rate of dragonflies is 95%, way, way above that of predators such as lions and killer whales. More here:

14 Fun Facts about Dragonflies

The bird sanctuary in Thattekad is small, but it is rich in bird life, and it was none other than the famed ornithologist Salim Ali who first surveyed the area. In fact, the bird sanctuary is named after him. As everywhere else, development has been eating into the vitals of the wilderness, and Thattekad is no longer the avian paradise that that had fascinated Salim Ali decades ago. Still, it’s there, intact, if attenuated. The forest lacks the big cats like tigers and leopards (though I wouldn’t rule out the latter, given the intermittent newspaper reports of leopard sightings and encounters even in villages), but elephants are plentiful. We saw evidence of this in the form of elephant dung and tree trunks from which the bark had been stripped. We were once advised to avoid a particular track as elephants were reported to be present further down. There was also the ever-present lurking danger of stepping on venomous snakes.

And that brings me to the learning from interacting with my team mates. A student from Bangalore showed me that the swivel-type LCD screen on my camera was capable of more tricks than I’d realized. A wildlife entrepreneur from Mumbai pointed out a fish spider as we waded in a stream. Many named dragonflies for me, distinguishing the common ones from the rarer species. A zoology professor had what seems to me the ideal footwear for trekking in the tropical jungle. He wore knee-length anti-leech socks, which his tailor has stitched for him, and rubber boots, also up to the knee. So he kept his boots on when wading in the water. Of course, water got in when the level was above the knee, but that wasn’t often, and anyway the boots are made of rubber. And more importantly, the professor told me, the knee-high boots protected him against snake bite: he could concentrate on looking for specimens in the jungle without worrying about stepping on snakes. That made sense, and I hope to be similarly equipped when I next venture into the jungle. I was treated with kindness throughout by the community, though I was in a sense, an interloper. A couple of dragonfly lovers from Kerala invited me to share a room they’d found after it became clear that there were more of us than beds in the dormitory.

It was over all too soon. I left the day before the meeting concluded; it was all the time I could spare. A bus deposited me in Cochin after a couple of hours — but I vowed I would return at the first opportunity. I hope to post some photos in the following days.

Before signing off, here is a song whose title, to my mind at least, sums up the quintessence of dragonfly hunting: Wade in the Water.

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