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Thread: Country notebook:m.krishnan

  1. #1
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    Default Country notebook:m.krishnan

    The name of M.Krishnan is well known to lovers of wildlife. E.P.Gee describes him as an artist,an expert wildlife photographer whose motto must be 'every hair',and says that 'as a naturalist he has no equal'.He used his custom-built equipment for wildlife photography.

    He was awarded Jawaharlal Nehru in 1968 to study the status of India's wild animals which has suffered considerable damage as a result of human encroachment on their habitat.Krishnan's fascinating report,with superb photographs,appeared as a series of articles in the journal of Bombay Natural History Society and later on as a book titled 'India's Wildlife in 1959-70' in 1975.

    The ecological survey covered 35 larger mammals of Peninsular India.The book contains 171 pages and his observations supported by 242 photographs.I have quoted from his book on a number of occasions for sharing this treasure with our members and viewers.

    The birth centenary of this great naturalist falls in 2012.M.Krishnan contributed "Country Notebook" to the Sunday Statesman.He kept several generations of the readers enthralled with his whimsical,brilliant prose and acute observation of nature.Beginning Sunday,the 1st.January,2012, every Sunday, Country Notebook has started appearing in the Sunday Statesman once again to evoke nostalgia among older readers and to acquaint younger ones with the work of a genius.

    I shall chronologically quote only some excerpts/paragraphs from his re-published "Country Notebook" from time to time for our members and viewers.

    SaktiWild
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    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 25-02-2012 at 11:13 AM.

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    Default Voice of spring:01.01.2012

    ".....The koel is associated with spring inseparably in every Indian language.No bird has its voice so celebrated in romantic literature.There are other songsters in our country with more musical natures and more melodious throats, many others.I have heard the Shyama and the Racket-tailed Drongo in the same patch of forest,sweet,rich melody poured out in passonate song, and the Drongo's high clear greetings to the sun.The Magpie Robin, Laughing Thrushes and the Pied Wagtail, familiar birds all, have exceptional musical gifts and sing freely and charmingly.The Skylark's fragile ,pure voice comes down on field and fallow land in the countryside,the Fantail Flycatcher sings its tinkling little song in the mango groves and even the homely Bush Chat, sitting atop one's gate, is capable of a wild,welling joyous melody.How is that in a land where such birds around,the koel,musically far less accomplished, has had its voice so celebrater?
    The answer lies in the association between koel and spring,and love and spring. Surely it is not musical virtuosity that typifies spring but a certain restlessness of body and mind, a fevered burgeoning of spirit.The cock koel's loud,mellow cresendo of 'kuil-kuil-kuil-kuil' and the hen's torrent of 'kekarees and kiks', and the many abrupt,startled calls that follow the passage of both birds from treetop to treetop, have the quality of unrest and disquiet that permeates the air in spring.And the persistence of its calls from dawn till darkness,and during the enervating heat of the noon when all other life is silent, the voice of koel further echoes vernal unrest.No wonder,then, that it has been so unanimously recognised and acclaimed as the voice of spring. However the romantic poetry seems to know the black cock koel only- the barred and mottled hen, with a no less eager voice, is not mentioned in any verse I know of.
    ..............The koel,as everyone knows,is not burdened with consequences of spring as almost every other bird and animal is.There is no nest to build, no eggs to hatch, no clamouring young to be fed and cared for.The male koel induces the nesting crows to chase it,and while they are engaged in pursuit the hen lays its eggs in the crow's nest, leaving their hatching and the care of the progeny to the foster parents.This being so, it seems to me that no other bird is better suited to typify spring, the season of love and desire.For a love unburdened with domestic cares at the end must be the freest and most spontaneous love,and in the koel's springtime we find this rare freedom." -M.Krishnan
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 26-02-2012 at 04:34 AM.

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    Default Birds from a fairytale:26.02.2012

    "......Naturally,few birds ever come to the palms(Coconut trees),except to perch on the great leaves,but recently a pair of Golden-backed Woodpeckers have taken to visiting their trunks.They do not stay for long on any tree,but fly from one coconut to another,settling squarely on the vertical boles as casually as other birds hop on to boughs.I find these woodpeckers fascinating.They look so ornate and outlandish,like birds out of a fairytale,and as they run easily up the sheer surface,or slip down it,with no change in their rigidly held pose but for quick,sideways transpositions,they donot look like birds at all.Their movements have that quality of change of place,without obvious,free use of limbs,that suggests clockwork.But whoever heard of clockwork birds that also call to each other in long,harsh,chattering laughs and have the plumage and mannerisms of the creatures of the fantastic brothers Grimm!
    Actually these woodpeckers represent no exotic,romantic survivals,but extreme adaptation to a way of life.Their chisel-tipped beaks sound bark and crevice for grubs and wood-boring insects most efficiently,and their stiff tail feathers serve as props in their precarious stance.At first it may seem strange that things as flimsy as feathers should bear body weight of these woodpeckers(like weight of most birds)is surprisingly little,and tail feathers only help, in an adventitious manner, as a third leg.
    Woodpeckers are so used to verticle surfaces that movement along them is normal and easy for them-they have been observed asleep,stuck on to a tree trunk.
    The woodpecker clan is much given to contrasty colour,but no other member of this specialist family has the barbarous splendour of plumage of the Golden-back.The gold of its back is deep and glints in the sun,its crest is a pure crimson and its bib of white-dotted black and dark wings set off these rich tones emphatically.And its broad-winged,dip-and-rise flight,direct from tree to tree,is not what one would expect from a bird of its size,almost a foot long........."
    -M.Krishnan
    (First published on 21.01.1951 in the Sunday Statesman)
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 26-02-2012 at 09:03 AM.

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    Saktipadaji,

    The excerpts are very interesting and document the behavior birds in a very detailed manner. It can be seen how minutely the author has observed the birds and that is the reason why M.Krishnan was said to be 'a naturalist with no equal'.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this.

    Regards,
    Regards,
    Mrudul Godbole

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    Default Friendly Hobgoblins:04.03.2012

    "OTHER birds fly away.Or else they go about their business,unmindful of you,or sit passively,not knowing you are there.But the Spotted Owlet resents your prying into its affairs and takes pains to let you know that it does.It glares malevolently at you from round,unwinking eyes and bobs its round head up and down,the baleful yellow eyes still upon you and a torrent of gurgling,voluble swearing pours cut at you from its squat,softly-barred form.

    All the owls are apt to resent close scrutiny but none so expressively as this owlet,though it is never dangerous as some of the larger members of the tribe can be.The Spotted Owlet's intimidatory display has been called clowning, because it is so small we can afford to feel amused at it impotent anger and bowing,bobbing clock-face.Imagine the bird magnified to the size of its larger cousins and the demonstration would seem funny no longer, it would serve to scare people then all right.
    ......Where there are aged trees,with knots and holes in their trunks, the owlet prefers a nice dark hole in the wood, sufficiently deep for daytime retreat and siestas.Not that it has the traditional owl's intolerance of light. Spotted Owlets come out at noon sometimes to hunt prey and it has been rightly said that they are crepuscular because they fear not the sun but the mobbing to which other diurnal birds subject them when they show up in daylight.

    .....Owlets clutch at their prey with their comprehensive talons and catch them that way.Insects form their staple food, hawked in the air or pounced down upon from a look out post, but they take minor lizards also,and even little birrds and mice. I do not know why such a useful bird should be so widely abhorred but the curse of owl tribe is upon it and even today there are quite a number of people encompassing its destruction when it is incautious enough to take up residence near their homes.

    .......I am afraid we do not know our friends.I find the quaint, semi-cubist looks of the Spotted Owlet charming and its noiseless flight and bold behavior interest me.Other may not have my tastes (may be mine are depraved) but surely a bird so useful about the house and garden and such an efficient check on obnoxious insects deserves to be encouraged and shooting it on sight is no way to encourage any bird."
    -M.Krishnan

    (first published in the Sunday Statesman on 04.02.1951
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 04-03-2012 at 10:03 AM.

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    Shri M Krishnan's writings is full of observations unlike some of the present day journalists who depend on pompous usage of words.

    Tons of learnings for a beginner. Thanks Shaktipada ji for reproducing Shri M Krishnan's wise words.
    Sabyasachi

  7. #7

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    Saktipada ji,

    Thankyou for sharing these wonderful pieces. My earliest exposure to the writings of Mr. Krishnan was when I was 8, by the story book " Bommakka ", the tale of a country buffalo who defended her herd against a tiger attack. That tale is somewhere deep within my psyche. The illustrations done in watercolour was by Shri Pulak Biswas.

    I have unsuccessfully tried to get a copy of this book, I think my sons would love to read the tale.

    Cheers
    Dipankar
    Last edited by Dipankar Mazumdar; 05-03-2012 at 11:15 AM.

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    Default February Moon:11.03.2012

    "............Never in any time of the year, not even in November, the moonlight so seductively brilliant,so full of luminous soft magic....When I think of it,the response of men(and women) to the call of the full moon saddens me: unmindful of the many rich lyric passages in every Indian language linking moonlight with erotic impulse,they lug their dinner to the terrace and consume it there; and this is the only reaction to lunar light I have noticed among my fellows.

    But are the more natural birds and beasts equally uninfluenced or prudent ?

    I am afraid I have more to ask than to say on this question.Though given to late hours and nocturnal walks,all that I have noticed can be said in a few sentences.Many night drives along hill-jungle roads have left me with the impression that wild animals are less prone to make manmade tracks on a bright night than when it is dark.This is only an impression,but other with whom I compared notes had it,too.Some birds ordinarily diurnal,are active under a radiant moon:this is a thing about which I can be definite.I have often seen and heard crows, lapwings and cuckoos( not the koel only but other cuckoos also ) on the moonlit nights- less frequently tree-pie,the cuckoo-shrike,common patridge and commoner village hen!

    The stone-curlew is a bird of the dark,but is specially vocal on such nights and flies about then,and some water birds are simply affected.No doubt that activity of these birds is due to visibility being good---birds are much dependent on sight and can read print by a bright moon.It is well known that pigeons cannot fly in the dark and need clear light. I have tried releasing homers by moonlight but though tossed within a mile of their loft the results were discouraging: they want daylight.

    Not all the animals are equally susceptible to call of the moon.What intrigues me is not so much the identity of all animals that are,as what they do when they are not under a round moon.Naturally,the assiduous prowler by moonlight will see many nocturnal creatures,if he is lucky--hare, fieldmice in plenty, jackals,mongooses,jungle cats,perhaps even a civet or palm civet--but he sees them on such nights only because the visibility is good : they are out every night but go unseen in the dark.It is difficult to gauge any exuberance in their behavior that one can attribute,reasonably, to the moon because beasts are silent as a rule and moreover they are self-conscious and will not stand being watched.But the birds that respond to moonlight are vocal, and they seem to be in high spirits................."-M.Krishnan

    (This was first published on 18 February 1951 in The Sunday Statsman )
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 12-03-2012 at 06:29 AM.

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    Default Blue Mosque-Pigeons:18-March-2012

    "....I have opportunities for observing the gradual degeneration of Blue Rock-Pigeon from a throughbread to a mongrel.Away from mixed city communities and the lofts of the fanciers,the Blue Rock is true to its type-in places,it is true to its name as well,and lives among precipitous rocks.
    ...Such birds are proportionately larger (because of longer and less tightly shut tails) than domestic breeds that resemble them (say,the Homer) and stand lower to the ground.Their stance is somewhat crouched,and they run swiftly along the ground unlike domestic pigeons.I think their flight features are softer than the racing pigeons-they do not make that laughing noise when they take off quite so audibly.And their flight is distinctive,swift,direct and low in the air-they do not circle much and fly point to point.The wing action is less smooth than in Homers and more up-and-down,more like a Tumblers.

    ...When Emperor Babar stopped his conquest for a moment to comment on the differences in looks and voice between the Rock Pigeons of his native land and India,he was better placed than I ,for they were less interbred here then.

    All breeds of domestic pigeons have evolved from the Blue Rock and if you allow half-a-dozen fancy breeds to mingle freely,their progeny will revert ultimately to the ancestral rock type.
    ...Wild pigeons are canny birds.A multitude of predators seek them in the air and on their breeding grounds.The fact that they are still numerous is proof of their wariness.But,of course one must remember how rapidly they breed.-M.Krishnan

    (This was first published on 4 March 1951 in The Sunday Statesman)
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 18-03-2012 at 08:06 AM.

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    Default March Roller:25-March-2012

    "........For the Roller is a sedentary bird at other times,respectable,even gentlemanly in a lazy sort of way.All day long it sits on some exposed perch,drab,squat and inert,indifferent to the blazing sun and breeze that ruffles its plumage.I have seen a Roller knocked off its balance and post by a gust of wind, pick itself up in air and resume its seat in the open in the most off-hand manner.

    From time to time it comes out with a deep chortle (not a specially refined sound,but guttural enough to have tonal strength), but nothing breaks its bore,slumped repose otherwise.Even when it sights some passing insect and gives chase,bursting into dazzling blues with the spread of its pinions and tail, there is nothing hurried or indignified about its movements-it flaps lazily along on board, sapphire and azure wings, like some gigantic butterfly, takes its prey casually from the air and then flaps in way back to its pole.

    What is gentlemanliness,after all, but a superiority to crude emotional displays(or its affectation when others are looking) ? The Roller has it even when feeding till late in March.

    Then all at once it sheds its reserve,and becomes a thing demented. Love is a powerful influence,even in the highest animals it has been known to induce a sudden, abandoned silliness.The birds ,however,whose emotonal lives are not screened by reason or self-consciousness, it often reaches its climax of expression in aerial displays and melody.There is a quickening pattern leading upto a grand finale in their courtship displays, or else an undercurrent of audible, welling fervour.

    But the courting Roller goes plain crazy, abandons its perch and flies about with maniac energy and aimlessness.It scours the heavens, not in soaring circles, not in steep,acrobatic loops, but just anyhow.The broad wings lose their good-nature flapping action and beat a pathless course for the bird through the air.At times it flies high and wild, when the colours of its flights and tail grow invisible and dark against the sky.So lost are the blues in the distance, so unlike its lubberly self is it on the wing now, that one who has not seen an ardent Roller before could mistake it for some other bird.

    And not cntent with this exhibition of incoherent flight, the Roller sings-all the time it is flying-an incredibly hoarse voice, but usually it is discreetly laconic.In March ,however,it sings as it flies, and its song is even more pointless than its flight, but fortunately confined to a single note, a long-drawn, grating shout.

    It climbs into the sky and dives recklessly earthwards, singing its harsh song unceasingly-on a stii day you can hear the courting Roller from half-a-mile away, and the increase in volume of the song alone is sufficient to tell you for its headlong descent.There are many unaccomplished musicians among birds, but few with such araucous or persistent voice.However, it is voice of love, inspired by the same feeling that prompts nightingale and the lark.

    Luckily, the inspiration passes.Once it mates and nests-the event varies with place and climate,but is from April to July-the Roller settles down to the business of perpetuating the species, a thing that it does with its usual sang-froid, and it has no time for giddy flights and song.Later still you find it on some pole in the sun,so staid and sober tat you would have passed the bird by but for a deep-throated chuckle."
    -M.Krishnan

    (This was first published on 25 March 1951 in The Sunday Statesman)
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 25-03-2012 at 08:03 AM.

  11. #11
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    A very detailed description of the behavior of a Roller. I have seen the Roller sitting in a strong wing not moving from the perch as mentioned in the post. Don't remember seeing it during the mating period, that would definitely be very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
    Regards,
    Mrudul Godbole

  12. #12

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    Greetings,

    Have the writings been collated in a single volume/ book which can be purchased?

    Rgds

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    Manoj Bhai,
    Kindly go through the preamble in regard to "Country Notebook-M.Krishnan" posted on 25-02-2012. For more than four decades (beginning early 50's till 90's) he contributed to this column in the Sunday Statesman every fortnight.

    His birth centenary of this great naturalist falling in 2012,the Statesman,Kolkata has been re-publishing these articles in the Sunday Statesman every week beginning 01-Jan-2012. I am now quoting select excerpts from these articles for the members and viewers of IndiaWilds.I ,like Shri Sabyasachi, used to wait eagerly for two weeks to read his writings since our school days.Now I have to wait for 7 days only.

    Kind regards,
    SaktiWild

    [ N.B:The Publication Division, Govt. of India brought out a small book titled-'Jungle and Backyard' in June 1961,(Second Edition,April 1967) containing only a very few of his early writings in the Country Notebook column. ]
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 30-03-2012 at 11:46 PM.

  14. #14

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    Saktipada ji,

    Thank you for the update.

    I would then assume that you would be keeping the column and would it be possible to share scanned copies of the same? I will try and see if Statesman newspaper will allow me to scan the same at their offices.

    With regards

  15. #15

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    Dear Manoj,
    No need to go to such extents, just register on http://www.thestatesman.net and search for " country notebook " you will get all the episodes being re- published currently.

    Dear Saktipada ji,
    Thankyou for reigniting the flame.

    I recently purchased a collection of M. krishnan's writings " Nature's Spokesman" and was delighted to find " Bommakka " there. Although i missed Pulak Biswas's watercolour illustrations, none the less it made for a delightful read out for my young sons.

    Cheers
    Dipankar

  16. #16

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    Dear All,
    I know I am intruding into Saktipada jis exclusive domain, none the less, This week's country notebook made an interesting reading. I am sharing for our members.
    Cheers
    Dipankar

    Voices of intolerance
    m krishnan

    I AM a good neighbour. In this overcrowded city, hemmed in on all sides with the houses of other men, I am impercipient. Especially do I take no note of the uproars that break out around me from time to time — I presume these are signs of life’s onward march here, just as the grating sounds from around the corner are tokens of the progress of trams and I am incurious. But on Friday morning I was awoken by such a varied and sustained din that overcoming my civic sense I rushed to the backyard and looked over the wall.
    The hubbub came from a Cassia in the compound of my neighbour to the east. A number of crows and Rose-ringed Parakeets had assembled about the tree and in its top branches, circling round, settling and circling again, screeching, screaming, cawing and demonstrating at something that sat lumped, indistinct and immobile in the heart of the tree. The something was almost completely hidden by foliage and flowers — it looked large, whatever it was, and apparently it knew there was little calm outside the screen of leaves. I took a quick census of the demonstrators since the object of their attentions was invisible. The crows (mainly grey necks) kept flying in and out and were too numerous to be counted but there were about two dozen of them and there were 17 parakeets.
    A surprising number, for although parakeets visit the neighbourhood they do not roost here and I had not thought the locality held so many of them. For a few minutes I had to rest content with watching the demonstration for the cause of it all gave no clue of its identity — I guessed it was a large owl that had strayed into the neighbourhood, incautiously.
    Then unable to suffer the prying eyes and the many-keyed curses of the birds, it broke cover, climbing down surprisingly to earth, a young three-fourth grown Bonnet Monkey with half its tail missing, that raced across my neighbour’s compound and streaked up the wall and from it up the tall coconut tree in the corner of my backyard. Promptly the frenzied crows and parakeets shifted en masse to the coconut, and with a plainer view of their quarry demonstrated against it even more agitatedly.
    There are no monkeys hereabouts — this one must have been a runaway from some gypsy’s troupe. From the coconut to the great wood-apple tree in my compound, from there through a row of coconuts to a mango and finally to the concrete parapets of my western neighbours, the fugitive took its wretched liberty, never descending to earth again, seeking the cover of foliage from the tormentors — and the birds followed every move in its progress in a vociferous mob. Only when that harassed monkey took to the housetops, abandoning green sanctuary and disappeared westwards to where there were no trees, did they stop heckling him.
    Then all at once the chivying ceased, as suddenly as it had begun some half an hour earlier.
    At first all this may seem trifling and hardly worth the record but I feel the incident is not without interest to the naturalist. For one thing, this was the first time I had seen parakeets demonstrating at a monkey, or any other creature, for that matter. Dewar, I think, mentions an instance of Rose-ringed Parakeets panicking at their roost when a hawk took one of them but this was something quite different.
    Though there were many more crows there, the varied voices of the parakeets almost drowned their cawing and the crows seemed half-hearted in their heckling by comparison. They just flew in from neighbouring perches to the monkey’s tree, and then out again, but each parakeet, before settling, circled the tree on stiff-held wings with every long graded tail-feather outspread, heaping shrill curses on the unhappy macaque’s head; they sat in rows craning over to peer through the leaves at their quarry till their heads seemed disproportionately big on the taut, thin necks, veiling vituperation, almost toppling off their perches in their excitement.
    I cannot imagine why these birds were so affected by the monkey — in the countryside where they lead an arboreal existence together, I have never seen them demonstrating at macaques. Anything out of place excites the birds of a locality and certainly that monkey was utterly strange in that setting but this does not seem to explain the obvious anger of the parakeets. The crows were merely a subsidiary force drawn to the scene of action by the parakeets — they were, as I said, almost casual in their protests.
    Another remarkable fact was the complete indifference of other creatures present. I noticed that the numerous squirrel of my compound and a party of White-headed Babblers there just then utterly ignored the monkey and its tormentors. Palm-Squirrels and White-headed Babblers are notoriously more given to demonstrating against enemies and intruders than parakeets, but they showed no interest whatever.
    Even more remarkable was the apathy of the human population. A gardener’s child threw a small stone vaguely in the direction of the monkey as it leaped from one coconut tree to another overhead but this was a purely formal gesture prompted by some dim atavistic obligation to throw things at fugitive creatures. After performing this rite, the child took no further notice of the monkey, well within his puerile range. No one else seemed even aware of the commotion in tree and air. One of my neighbours was shaving at a window seat and got up — I hoped he would step on to his terrace to see what it was all about — but it was only to get a towel before resuming his toilet.

    This was first published on 22 April 1951 in The Sunday Statesman

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    Bhai Dipankar,
    Late Shri Krishnan is "Nature's Spokesman" and simply a "Religion" to any lover of wild life.We are all listeners to his eternal voices.It is so nice of you that you have advanced the posting by two or three days and spread his message much earlier.
    Thank you so much.
    Kind regards,
    SaktiWild

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    Default Shower Bath :15-April-2012

    "I CAME here early in April to keep my annual date with the southern summer.For a week all went well,slowly the budding heat burgeoned.Then suddenly massed clouds rolled up overhead and the rain came down in torrents.A passing shower,I said to myself,while it rained three inches and it passed.the sun burned fiercely in a clear sky the next day and the heat was all more apparent for the interlude.But since morning it has rained again today,the sky is overcast,the air cool,and it looks as though I must wait for my assignation.

    Seating on my leaky verandah,I have been watching birds in rain.I happen to have Dewar's 'Birds of the Indian Plains' with me just now-he has a chapter on "Birds in the Rain" in the book,and perhaps he wrote it not far from here.I would like to observe something original about reaction of the birds around me to the shower,but such things do not go by preferences and I have to confirm Dewar largely.He said that birds enjoy the rains acutely,and in India it is rarely that they are forced to take shelter from it.

    "They know naught of rheumatism or ague" they sit in the rain or splash about the puddles, delighted with the opportunity for a shower-bath,and afterwards there is a great shaking out of feathers and preening of wings and they are smart and fresh and glad. Dewar also comments on how the first monsoons bring feasts of termites and other insects for birds and nestlings, and softens terra firma for the probing bill of the Hoopoe.All this is true.An odd group of three Common Mynahs has been parading the gravel path outside for the past hour,wading into every puddle and splashing about, as if trying to drown themselves in the knee-high water,and still they are not drenched- their well-oiled plumage seems waterproof.

    I can hear the neighing call of a White-breasting Kingfisher and know where it is-on the top of a Casaurina pole in the backyard. Far out, in a field beyond the road, a flock of Cattle Egrets alights on the dazzling wings, surprisingly white in this grey atmosphere, and quarter the wet grass.There are Crows on exposed perches all around, determined not to miss a drop of rain.The only birds I can see that donot seem too keen on a shower-bath is a party of White-headed Babblers sheltering under a mango tree.

    Watching these birds, it is obvious that Dewar wrote about the reaction to the rain from accurate observation, but I cannot help feeling that he assigned a wrong motive for their behaviour.It is no craze for originality that makes me say this-it is that I can see no patent signs of joy in these rain-bathing birds.The lives of birds are ruled by instincts mainly and their responses and emotional expressions follow set patterns.

    There is a Crow sitting on a dead limb of a Neem not 20 yards from me, and I have been observing it closely for the past half-hour.It has been sitting there dully, unmoving except to fluff its plumage or caw in a sad undertone from time to time-the illustration is from a leisurely sketch of its obliging model. Now if the crow is enjoying the shower,I must say it takes its pleasure sadly; Poe's raven could hardly have made a less sprightly picture had it been out there,on that branch.

    Nor can I note any tokens of jubilation in the other birds out in the rain. Dewar says that the normally sedate mynahs shed their reserve when it rains and go mudlarking in the abandoned enjoyment.I am alive to the tonic properties of slush and downpour-it does one's soul good to get drenched and splashed with mud for all ponderous unlovely notions of self-importance and dignity are shed at once, and this sudden jettisoning and the feeling of lightness that follows moves one to frisk about and find life joyful.But I think the Mynahs I see are undignified only because they are bathing, bathing vigorously in two-inch water-few beasts or birds (bar all cats) look their best at their toilet.

    Birds are wonderfully equipped for extremes of climate and weather.And they enjoy dust-baths.But that is not saying that they may feel no discomfort from clogging dust and secretions in their plumage.It is not only that their addiction to rain is an unreasoned response, an instinctive utilisation of an opportunity to wash away dust and water-soluble accumulations from their feathers and skins? That would explain their "non-enthusiastic" but sustained insistence on exposing themselves to the first rains after every spell of dry weather."-M.Krishnan

    (This was first published on 6 May 1951 in The Sunday Statesman)
    Last edited by Mrudul Godbole; 01-05-2012 at 02:46 PM.

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    Administrator is requested to kindly correct the date as 15-April-2012(instead of March) as the article appeared in the Sunday Statesman yesterday.
    Kind regards,SaktiWild

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    Default Whistling in the Dark: 22-Apr-2012

    "The heat gains strength from day to day, inexorably.Soon it will reach its sure climax : already the mornings open, not brightly any more,but with a sultry frown, and by 10 o'clock most spririts flag and most voices are stilled.However there are spirits no heat can wilt and voices gaining fluency now.The Koel, which was stuttering in April, is in full, fervid song, and alone among the mammals Palm Squirrels cheep shrilly and maddeningly through the fierce day.

    Not they are immune to heat.Often I see a Squirrel resting in leaf shade in noon, inert and flat on its belly along a bough, legs dangling down either side, strangely like some bloodsucker in its limpness of limb and attitude.Presently it rises, and climbs the branch to the roof my verandah and halts on a rafter under the flat,radiant tile.Then all at once, a series of long,startling cheeps rend the stillness,each accompanied by an upward flick of the bottlebrush tail.From somewhere under the tile of the neighbour comes an unswering volley of cheeps,and the duet is on,each chirrup cleaving its way through the quivering air with the physical violence of an arrow,and penetrating to the brain.I get up,and chuck the first thing handy at the grey form on the rafter, and it scampers away,jabbering shrilly-a minute later it is calling again from the roof of the garage.

    Why do these creatutres assail the enervated midday silence with energetic voices,when even the crows are quiet? At no time are Palm Squirrels are shy or silent: They chatter intermittently through the day and even at night, startled into wakefulness,they jabber.However, at other times their voices, even in shrill alarm, lack the irritating power and rhythmic insistence of their calling in May.I think their long,loud spells of calling in summer have a sexual significance,but cannot assign a more specific cause.

    For though I have often heard the summer duet of squirrels, I realise my observation is too meagre for certain inference or attribution.

    Speaking of the Three-striped Palm Squirrel(the creature I write about), an authority says,"The breeding habits of these,the commonest wild animals of India,are imperfectly known."I know, from several years of living with these creatures, that these squirrels breed many times in the year and not always in summer.Only a week ago a baby squirrel, perhaps a few days old,wandered into my house,and I remember seeing baby squirrels, and watching adults carrying coconut fibre to the nest, at other times of the year.But I believe it is only in summer,mid-summer, these squirrels are given to long bouts of calling.

    Moreover, I know that both does and bucks indulge in this calling, and that it is not always squirrels of different sexes that call to each other.Perhaps these duets have only a social significance,after all.It is well known that animals that live more or less together like to keep touch by the free and frequent use of their voices,and it may be that feeling suddenly alone and uneasy in the hush of noon the squirrels start their insistent chirruping to reassure themselves and to provoke the voices of their fellows.-M.Krishnan

    (This was first published on 20 May 1951 in The Sunday Statesman)
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 22-04-2012 at 11:10 AM.

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    Default Pocket Dragons 29-April-2012

    " I KNOW an aged tamarind at the foot of a hill, far beyond the line of cultivation. No other tree grows nearby,not even sizable shrubs-the sour leaf fall of tamarind inhibits vegetation in the neighbourhoods.Only stones and a few dwarf,woody,hard-bitten plants cover the ground beneath the tree; and here on a sunny afternoon, I have seen more bloodsuckers together than I have anywhere else-basking flat on every stone immediately outside the circle of shade,or crawling about within it.Even in wet weather,sheltering under the great dome of tree, I have been more acutely aware of the company of "garden lizards" than in any garden, though not in such unpleasant profusion as when it was sunny.

    I have always wondered why bloodsuckers should foregather here in such strength, for the place is not especially rich in insect life or in anything else that is obviously attractive to these lizards.It is hard to get to know bloodsuckers, or understand their whims and prejudices, without being a bloodsucker oneself.They are different from other common creatures, so given to fits of passion and rage,distrust and imbecile behaviour.But then this is hardly surprising.They belong, properly speaking, to an age when we were not there, when great lizards roamed strange forests, flowerless and with green grooved trunks, and waded through primeval swamps.Dragons in myths and bloodsuckers in fact, are the survivals from the primitive part.

    I used to think in my ignorance, that these creatures had survived in such numbers, when so many of their betters had perished, because they were not good eating-that like the Keatsian nightangle, they were immortal because "no hungry generations" trod them down! But I know now that predatory animals are less fastidious than I had thought.

    Hawks kill and eat these lizards when they can, other birds take them occasionally, and mongooses and small carnivora reduce their numbers.Sometimes, it is true,the killer does not eat its victim, but the bloodsucker's looks provoke slaughter, however unpalatable its flesh.There is no survival value in not being eaten, if that does not mean immunity from attack.

    In fact, the only protection the bloodsucker has, apart from its retiring disposition and formidable looks, is in its sorroundings, in the tangled, thorny bushes and fences that it loves, and into which it retires so promptly from its enemies.I do not know anyone on this before, but it is usually the male bloosucker that leaves this protective cover or strays far from it.Then, on the more exposed ground, the male tries escape first, but when no tree or bush is close by, it puts on an intimidatory display, it raises and lowers its flaming orange body endlessly on its livid legs and throws out its bloody jowls and dewlaps.

    This display might well scare an impressionable foe, but the blackguardly Jungle Crow that attacks it has no susceptibilities.The bird hops behind his victim and with a quick, sideway tug at the tail, turns it over.The bloodsucker picks itself up, turns round and rushes open-mouthed at the tormentor, which side-steps the rush and repeats the attack on the long,obvious,unbreaking tail that is lizard's undoing.It is murder by slow degrees.Gradually the unfortunate creature is reduced to numb immobility,and the crow's assults grow bolder, till seizing the battered victim by the throat it flies away-to be mobbed by other crows.

    Often,however,some thick-leaved tree at hand saves the bloodsucker.It is expert at putting a massive trunk between the onlooker and itself-it was only by reminding myself that I belonged to a higher stage in evolution and could not allow my race to be disgraced by inferior patience and cunning that I could get the sketch of a bloodsucker on a neem tree for the illustration (incidentally,it was a brilliant, pure chrome yellow, with a black half-collar and a little red at its throat ).Bloodsuckers climb spirally, a habit that baffles enemies (birds,especially) when they are on trees.

    However,the males venture into the open quite often, resplendent in their frills and spikes and colour,and pay dearly for their daring.The ochreous females are bashful and sensitive to scrutiny as any pardanishin- they keep close to cover and they know ,somehow, when they are being watched.The age of pointed morals is as surely spent as the reptilian age (thank heaven), but it is fact that it is the modesty of the females that keeps the race of bloodsuckers still alive."-M.Krishnan


    (This was first published on 17 June 1951 in The Sunday Statesman)
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 01-05-2012 at 10:08 AM.

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    I was not aware that they are also called as 'Bloodsuckers'. Thanks for posting this article.
    Regards,
    Mrudul Godbole

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    Default From the postbag :06-May-2012

    "WRITING from Jadavpur, near Calcutta, apropos the Postbag note of 3 June on Cuckoos and their onomatopoeic Indian names ,MCC says that the Koel or Kokila is often confused with the Indian Cuckoo( Cuculus micropterus-Bou kathokao in Bengali), though it is only the latter that belongs to same genus as the European Cuckoo ( C canorus) - which is also found in the Himalayas, Wordsworth's "wandering voice".He points out that the Koel is Eudynamis scolopaceus in Latin, and has no English name, but is still miscalled the Indian Cuckoo-he thinks this is becuse both are parasitic,both have calls that can be rendered "Cuckoo" both are associated with spring.

    ******
    Well MCC is quite right over generic affinity of the Indian Cuckoo with the English Cuckoo, the bird that inspired Wordsworth and Logan:Incidentally, in Elizabethan days this bird had a different literary significance:

    "Cuckoo,cuckoo!-O word of fear,
    Unpleasing to a married ear!"

    I have no wish to sidestep MCC's point and wander down the aisles of a literary causerie, but he mentions the Cuckoo in English poetry, and it is more difficult to write of the Koel without poetic allusions than of any other bird.

    ******
    Not the nightingale,not the lark has been so celebrated in verse :the poetry of every Indian language pays lavish tribute of the Koel.Indeed, no classical Indian poet can write of love or springtime without mention of the bird.When I spoke of Koel as a cuckoo I meant only that you belonged to the cuckoo tribe-the parasitic Pied Crested Cuckoo and non-parasitic Sirkeer are both cuckoos, though neither belongs to the genus Cuculus.I would also point out that the name Koel (it is Kuil in South) is quite onomatopoeic as "Cuckoo". As for association with spring, the Madras area (where Koels are singularly abundant, as Dewar remarks) the bird is first heard in March,or early April, and persists through May,June,July and even August-and the memory of its voice lingers in one's mind till March again! The Koels call throughout the breeding season and the breed as long as the crows do.

    ******
    However, MCC's main point was that it was wrong to call the Koel the Indian Cuckoo because the name belongs, scientifically, to Cuculus micropterus. That is quite so.It is even more wrong to call the Koel the Brain-fever bird (Hierococcyx varius), but this confusion of identity is also known. Indifferent observation,the love of cover of arboreal cuckoos,the lack of acquaintance with the tribe are responsible for such mistakes.Once the birds are known,it is impossible to confuse their voices.

    In a subsequent letter MCC adds that he has been studying the voice of the Koel lately and has noticed that "the male has two distinct calls: one is a long' Ku-oo' utter solitarily under cover of foilage: the other is a short 'Ku' repeated an arbitrary number of times in the mellow and pleasant voice of the cock.The hen's voice is shrill and high-pitched and the only call is a quickly repeated 'Kik', sometimes having a trilling 'Kukkuk' in the end".He adds that the male and female usually respond to each other,though in the early hours of the morning the entire Koel population of a place seems to indulge ia a chorus.

    *******

    The call notes of Koels have been well described in textbooks, but at the risk of treading much trodden ground I may add to MCC's succinct note.I take it the "Ku-oo" he refers to is the well-known crescendo of the cock,also syllabised as "Kuil-Kuil-KUILL", the "Koel,s fluted song" of Edwin Arnold.Both cock and hen indulge in a torrent of "kekarees" and "kik-kiks" when excited and alarmed, the hen's thin,high "kik" being distinctive.And the cock indulges in a longish shout,more like my conception of a war-whoop than anything I have heard at times.

    ******
    There are less coherent calls,or rather these calls are stuttered incompletely sometimes,especially early in the season.According to Sarojini Naidu,the Koel has yet another call.She writes of

    "the wild forest where upon the champa boughs the buds are blowing"(as these cussed flowers often will) and "Koil-haunted river-isles where lotus lillies glisten" and says the Koel sings "Lira! liree! Lira! liree!"
    I have not heard this call.

    ******
    It is the quality of fervid,restless excitement in its voice rather than any precise pattern of call or sweetness that makes the Koel the Voice of Spring.It is true that Koels call long before dawn, but MCC will keep awake on the moonlit night and listen, he wiill hear them calling at all hours of night.Let me end this note, so frequently in literary allusions,with a rendering of finest lines I know on spring unrest. The address to a lover who asks for a story:

    "Now,when the roving moon is out,and the soft south wind blows:
    When sleep is fled;
    And loud loud Koels usher in each watch of the night-
    Now is no time for stories."

    -M.Krishnan

    (This was first published on 1 July 1951 in The Sunday Statesman)
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 06-05-2012 at 10:54 AM.

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    Default Large Grey Babbler 20-May-2012

    "THE Large Grey Babbler, or "Gangai", is a bird of open hillsides and wooded scrub, and by no means a 'rara avis'. Writing of it incidentally, Dewar remarks,"This is commoner than I thought.It occurs in most districts of Uttar Pradesh".
    In the Dharwar area and adjoining Karnataka tracts, it is quite a feature of the countryside-its distribution in India is wide in not so arid places.But still I can find no mention of this babbler in the list of "Birds with Remarkable Cries" in books on Indian Ornithology, which is remarkable, for few other birds so dominate the locality where they live.
    This is no dingy,unobtrusive bird,though it is a babbler and untidy and it is not shy.Almost a foot long,it is a warm,blotched grey,rufescent on the cheeks,with dark rounded flights, an eye-streak that is clear when one is not too close or far away, and a long tail broadly edged with white on either side,that is distinctive and most conspicuous in its frequent passage from bush to bush.It loves the open,and does not skulk in the undergrowth or hide in foliage- you cannot miss this bold babbler,because of its size and blaze-edged tail;and even if you do, no matter you will notice its fellows.For it is highly sociable,even for a babbler,and goes about in parties invariably, in a loose string whether on ground,in bush or in air.And then of course,there is its voice.One would need to be stone deaf and almost blind to miss this bird where it occurs.
    There are many birds in our country with compelling voices,but they pass.Spring and the monsoons,resound in countryside with the voices of the cuckoos and rollers and even the hot weather at its peak stimulates certain birds,notably the barbets.However these voices are stilled when the seasons are past-even the koel is silent for six months.But rain or shine, the "quey,quey,quey" of the Large Grey Babbler is heard,in a chorus that persists right through the day.Only the night brings relief from their loud insistent calling.If we could record the total amount of sound by each bird in a year,I think this babbler would have the distinction of being the noisiest.
    The call of this bird has been well rendered "a loud, harsh quey,quey,quey" and I suspect the native name ("Gangal") is onomatopoeic.But these renderings do not convey the whining rhythm of the voice-the nearest I have heard to it is the noise produced by a bull-roarer (the kind that has a clay cup with a tightly stretched membrane over its mouth,instead of a wooden block).I have also heard a motor car,stuck fast in mud,come out with somewhat similar sounds.The loud querulous whine of this bird's voice dies down and swells with a quality of mechanical repetition.And it is as untiring as a motor.

    Like other babblers, the "Gangai" will unite in the face of a common danger, and since they are large and strongly built, hawks think twice before they decide to swoop down on a straggler.Once I saw a Shikara pounce on a Large Grey Babbler sitting on a bough, and the amount and volume of the victim's protests were astonishing.The Shikara was promptly 'mobbed' by the rest of the clan, the victim (which seemed uninjured) joining in the chase and only the superior speed of the hawk saved it.

    These babblers breed in the summer,perhaps they breed again,later in the year.The nest is not placed high up, but it usually in the heart of a thick,thorny shrub of tree and well protected.The nestling sketched for this note was taken on 14 July.It was then probably a fortnightly old and just able to fly a few yards.Incidentally, the head is carried well up,with the crown flat, in the live bird-the Jay-like pose of the head in the sketch from the dead,adult bird is never seen,and was unavoidable in the sketch as the bird was stiff."
    -M.Krishnan

    (This was first published on 5 Aug 1951 in the Sunday Statesman)


    The Article contained a sketch(not produced here) with the following caption:
    * A NESTLING
    **LARGE GREY BABBLER
    Argya,alcomi
    An adult sketched from a dead specimen.
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 20-05-2012 at 10:59 AM.

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    Default Birds of a Feather(White-headed Babbler) 13-May-2012

    "What do you suppose would happen if you and half-a-dozen of your cronies were to dispense with all privacy for a week and spend the time together,each hour together,awake or asleep?Well,murder could happen,anything could with no decent interval of aloneness, but this is certain:at the end of the week,if you survived it,you and your fellows have acquired an abandoned laxity of dress and conduct.Bristly chins and lose,amorphous clothes are inevitable,and your conversation would have changed to a babble.Prolong it to a fortnight and you could never change back to your fastidious selves thereafter.

    This is just what happened to the White-headed Babblers.They live too much together to keep up appearances,and they care no more.Actually they are not the frowziest members of the frowzy babbler family-that distinction must go to the Jungle Babbler.But their long straggling tails,their habit of hopping along with drooping wings,their lax plumage and weak flight all proclaim their caste,and they have the most unstable and querulous voices even among the babblers.

    They cheep and chuckle thinly to one another as they go rummaging about and at times their conversation takes on a hushed ans secretive tone- one could believe they were whispering and plotting,except that no one whispers in a high,weak tremelo.Then suddenly, and for no cause, they break into shrill,angry shouts and peals hysterical laughter.There is a squeaky commotion in the bush, and a string of loose-feathered, long-hopping babblers emerges: the birds whirr and sail on rounded wings to the end of the garden,where they grow suddenly casual again and turn over dead leaves in their usual, haphazard manner.

    Birds are highly emotional for all their strong instincts,but usually their responses are understandable and follow a set pattern.Few of them have the giddy temperament and moral instability of these babblers,the patent weakness of wing and wits.Perhaps I do them an injustice, for recently I saw a half-fledged White-headed Babbler sensibly and coolly in the face of real danger.This little one was sitting in a tangled hibiscus bush,somehow separated from the elders, when a pair of evil-looking crows noticed it and promptly commenced a combined attack.

    An infant of another kind might have panicked and rushed out to the beaks of baby-snatchers, but this one knew when, and where,it was safe.It dropped into the close tangle of the lower branches where no thick crow could follow, and stayed put in spite of determined efforts to drive it out.Then all at once,and appraised in some mysterious way, a squealing, yelling,furious mod of babblers arrived and flung themselves on the crows, who "fled precipitately".

    It is true that these birds can look like an old,faded feather mop with a few old quill pens stuck on at the tail end,true that they quarrel amongst themselves and have watery eyes and lunatic,white heads,but they have virtues that are not so common these days-courage,and unity in the face of danger.Every member of the wrangling clan will fling itself headlong at the raiding hawk that has seized a protesting babbler and as a rule the rescue is effective.There is a moffusil club somewhere-I think it is the Union Club,in Madura-that has a bundle of faggots in bas-relief over its door to symbolise the unbreaking strength that comes from unity.A party of White-headed Babblers would, I think,make a more decorative and truer symbol of this sentimemt".-M.Krishnan

    (This was first published on 15 July 1951 in the Sunday Statesman)
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 28-05-2012 at 07:16 AM.

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    Default 'The fretful Porpentine'-M.KrishnanTheStatesman03-June-2012

    "NOT being one of those untiring souls that raise vegetables and tubers in the countryside, or even a lover of flowering bulbs in orderly rows, I have never had to wage a personal war against porcupines.But I see them once in a way,motoring at night,and recently I saw them twice in my way,and was again impressed with their peculiar and effective manner of retreat.

    Of the animals caught in the beams of headlights step to one side of the road and stop,dazzled by the glare,as if not sure about their suddenly bright ground.But the porcupine makes an immediate gateway-there is a momentary pause and an outbristling of quills, sometimes even of a rattling of quills, and then the brute turns sharply and makes a beeline for a nearest bush.

    A porcupine in flight is a remarkable and indistinct sight-I can only think of a clockwork phantom in comparison.The stumpy,fast moving legs are hardly visible beneath the quill-boosted body,and this ,coupled with the linear directness of retreat,gives it the appearance of thing on small wheels propelled by interior clockwork and the outspread quills make it go suddenly pale and blurred and large.Halfway to the bush,the apparition grows darker and smaller as the quills are allowed to fall back; it stops dead in the tracks,turns at a sharp angle,and bolts into another bush before one has the time to recover from this surprise move.

    A wary beast and a cunning one is the "fretful porpentine", but of course its most peculiar feature is also its most obvious-the barrage of quills.

    Those of us who own a small rectangular box with sides of parallel porcupine quills, or a porcupine-quill pen-holder can have no idea of the resilience of these miniature lances on the live animal.A quill plucked from a newly killed porcupine can be bent into a "C" and will spring back into shape when one end is released.The stouter and shorter quills on the rear(these are more white,and near the tail these are all white) are painfully sharp and strong enough to pierce deep into flesh.

    I have never seen a porcupine attacking anything, but the story about it shooting quills at its enemies is just a story.Once I tried to irritate a captive porcupine into shooting quills at me, but naturally the poor thing could only retire to the farthest corner of the cage to escape my prodding bamboo.

    Porcupine rush at their tormentors in reverse gear,and at great speed, spitting them through.It is obvious, from the lie of the quills, that they must charge backwards to make effective use of their protective armour.Like many other rodents,they have highly vulnerable heads.

    Unfortunately for all concerned,porcupine flesh is much esteemed by predatory wild beasts.Both the tiger and panther will and eat porcupines-but extraordinary cases are on record of the great cats bring mortally wounded by the quills.I think I understand the mixed feelings of a feline sighting this spiky quarry.In my unsophisticated childhood, when I was sorely tempted by the vivid redness of the prickly-pear fruit,I had to face a similar problem!

    The tracing from a photograph* illustrating this note is of peculiar interest.On enquiry of the person who shot this panther,and the one who took the photograph,I learn the beast was shot at night over a bait, and under conditions which made a clear view of the head or immediate recovery of the body impossible.It was found dead next morning,a few yards from where it had been shot,the porcupine quills were noticed only then.I am assured that a hard tug at the quills failed to dislodge them and that they were sunk an inch or more deep in the flesh-also,that the lowermost quill had penetrated to directly under the right eyeball, so that when it was pushed about the eye was moved.

    There is an instance on record of a porcupine attacking a dead leopard (also,of the two animals inhabiting the same earth on the basis of armed neurality!) I am inclined to think that the leopard in the photograph was attacked after it was dead.Leopards(and all cats, unlike dogs)can turn their fore-paws around and clutch at things with them:I feel that the quills,painfully situated as they are, must have been disarranged or badly bent or even broken by the frantic efforts of the leopard to dislodge them,had it been alive when struck.Only the apparently undisturbed appearance of the quills makes me think this.Perhaps readers who have personal knowledge of the similar instances can shed further light on this not too obscure picture."-M.Krishnan

    (This was first published on 9 September 1951 in The Sunday Statesman )

    *Tracing from a photograph:
    A porcupine's quills in the face of a dead panther
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 04-06-2012 at 07:00 AM.

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    Default Cockneys in the country-M.Krishnan 24-June-2012

    "WHOEVER would think that Philip Sparrow,perky,cocksure and bumptiously dominant in the city,would lose heart in the countryside and become a mild and modest bird! It is windy space that works the change.The assertive,loud chirp is toned down by open air to a weak treble and,no longer sure of themselves in enhanced surroundings,the bird seek comfort in company.They go about in tight flocks,settling in a kit on threshing-yard and harvested field,gleaning and stubble together.And when they fly,high and long as they rarely do in cities,they keep together still and cheep to one another as they go dipping and rising overhead-their voices in passage,refined by tall air,have a tinkling,almost musical quality.

    Now I know it is all wrong to judge birds(or beasts for that matter)by our own experience and to attribute human motives to them.But I believe in the "one touch of nature" that "makes the whole world kin",and am unaware of scientific evidence against the view that animals can experience feelings and emotions known to us.Surely a bird feels fright and joy and depression as actually as we do-their manifestations may be very different in a bird and,of course,it is utterly wrong to ascribe intellectual appreciation or sentiment to it,but it feels these things all the same.

    Once on a beach near Masulipatam,I realised what loneliness could mean.I was walking along a vast expanse of flat grey sand,with a flat grey sea beyond,and there was no life anywhere around except for an occasional scuttling crab towards which I could feel any affinity.There was a level breeze blowing,no friendly bush or mound broke the dreary,grey flatness stretching away from me as far as the eye could see,and suddenly I felt puny and insignificant.My stride seemed bereft of progress and my tracks on the sand only deepened the conviction of my futile nonentity.I was a bug crawling hopelessly on,and I was quite alone in the gathering dusk.I have often been alone but that was the only time I felt the need for company.It seems likely,to me,that birds in open country are more gregarious from somewhat similar cause.I think that animals, in common with us, gain confidence in restricted settings.

    Naturally all diurnal creatures grow less jaunty as daylight fails and seek safe retreats,but I think the roosting of these countryside sparrows is significant of what I have been saying.They do not retire in pairs and parties to spend the night on a rafter or a lofty bough, but crowd in hundreds in a tangled bush or some low, much-branched tree, so thickly together that the foliage seemed suddenly doubled in the dark.Dozens huddle in rows along twiggy boughs,each now possessed of a confluent,coonobitic unity by the bodily contact of its birds.There is no prolonged hubbub at these roosts, as there is at the roosting trees of other birds.There is a confused chirping as the sparrows come in and settle,then the chirps go thinner and subdued till they fade altogether.By the time it is dark there is hushed silence,and the birds are huddled and immobile-but many of them are awake still.

    Other birds also roost thickly in bushes,in scrub.Mynahs,Bee-eaters,Munias,Grey and White Wagtails, all crowd into bushes or trees at sunset,often in hundreds.These same birds,in the less open habitat of cities and towns,are less massively sociable when roosting: there are exceptions,but on the whole they are definitely less sociable in urban settings.

    I believe it is too open,limitless expanse of the countryside that makes all these birds pack solidly together,as night draws in.There is safety in close numbers- or a sense of safety.However,the facts remains remarkable that sparrows,the most self-assertive and cocky of cosmopolitan creatures,should be so diffident,tentative and constantly together in scrub.-M.Krishnan

    This was first published on 21 October 1951 in The Sunday Statesman
    Republished on 24 June 2012
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 24-06-2012 at 10:18 AM.

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    Default The hunted hare M.Krishnan The Sunday Statesman 01 July 2012

    "The warm, brown-grey ball of fur that went scudding across the carpet with two excited children in its wake reminded me of my schooldays. Not that an infant hare graced school or home then, but in the massive,oppresive collection of 'selections from classics' that we had to endure was a delightful account of pet leverets by Cowper-I remembered,through 25 years, the only lesson that had not been an infliction.Naturally,my recollection of it were non-detailed:I only recollect the pleasure it had given me, and something about this little captive brought Cowper back to mind.

    The little one was barely a week old, but already it could outrun its pursuers with ease-the lack of cover and the open space in the room was against it,though, and the children cornered it between the walls.Moreover it feared little of humanity, being too young and inexperienced.It had to be fed its milk but ate "karike" grass, the favourite food of hares in this part, with relish(the wild outspread grass has been identified for me by a Forest Officer as Cynodon dectylon). The prick ears were black outside and there was a patch of black on the neck-it was a baby Black-naped Hare.

    Natural history books tells us how the hare is born with its eyes open on a hostile world and can run within a short time of its genesis. How this is a provision of kind nature to a defenceless, exposed infant. They also tell us how well a hare can run, with a speed and manoeuvre, but say little about the risks it runs all its life. I doubt if any other beast is food to so many mouths. Mongooses, jackals, wild cats,even leopards, all stalk and hunt hares in scrub and open jungles-eagles and hawk-eagles swoop down on them by day and when it is dark great,hush-winged owls are quite capable of kidnapping young hares.

    Hares are not prolific breeders,but still the continued undiminished.Their sharp senses and versatile speed no doubt serve them well. It is remarkable what an instant gateway a sitting hare can make-the quick kick against the earth of the hind legs, with the length of the foot from toe to hock, giving it a flying start. When going all out the livered kicks of the hind legs propel it onward in a low, long bounds, at times through spiky cover; but of course a hare can take a high jump right over a small bush if it wants to.However,speed is not the only escape that hares seek-I have often seen them escape by slow caution, too, and by staying inconspicuouly put.
    .....................
    .....................
    Then an intense clamourous beat of this small area, known to contain the hare commenced. After a while I stopped and became a still silent watcher. Presently the hare came creeping back, its long ears turning around in almost circular orientation to catch the bewildering shouts from all sides, each slow, forward step taken gropingly, as if it was lame in all its legs. It did not see me but crept on, and so tense and anxious were its looks and movements that I clean forget my duty and stayed frozen.

    After reaching the end of cover, my friends turned back, disgusted with the inexplicable escape of the quarry.

    "Anything come on your way?"one of them shouted ,sighting me.

    "Not a mouse," I lied with smug truth, as I crossed over to join him, and the hare lay down in safety of the twice-beaten bush."-M.Krishnan

    This was first published on 11 November 1951 in The Sunday Statesman.
    Republished on 01 July 2012.
    *Excerpts:Two paragraphs not reproduced here.
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 02-07-2012 at 09:29 AM.

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    Default Gay little fox :M.Krishnan The Sunday Statesman 15-July-2012

    "...............
    Our fox is a true fox,as much as the English and Himalayan red foxes.Only it is grey,and much smaller, no bigger than a big domestic cat.In fact,from some distance and in the uncertain light that it likes, one could make it for a well-nourished,somewhat leggy cat-but whoever saw a cat with such a fluffy tail or which was so sprightly!

    The little fox lives in open places,in flat country not overgrown by forest and scrub jungle.All day long it sleeps in its deep,cool earth in the sandy soil,secure from the heat and glare.And at dusk it comes out and is transformed at once from an inert burrow-dweller into a frisking,puckish thing with a rich,black brush as long as its body and feet that seemed to rebound from the air.Its high-pitched,quickly repeated call quivers through the darkening air,announcing its emergence.It takes a good look around,then begins the grim business of keeping its slim body and merry soul together,almost playfully.

    It slinks along,crouches,pounces and dances around,chasing beetles,lizards or field-mice.Watching a fox at hunting,one is more impressed by lightness of its feet and amazing ability to turn at sharp angles at speed than by any serious purpose;but of course it hunts for its living.In a way,a fox is more dependent on its hunting skill than a jackal or wolf,for it does not smell out and feed on carrion or have the aid of pack-mates.However it is also true that its prey includes things that call for no great effort or cunning in their hunting,beetles,crickets,the teeming swarms of gauge-winged termites issuing from the earth after rains,even melons and other fruit.

    It is when the fox is escaping from an enemy that you see how nimble it is on its feet and how masterlfully it can jink.No other creature can turn aside from its course,when going all out,with the spontaneity and ease of the little fox,and this manoeuvre upsets the pursuer.Up goes the quarry's fluffy brush,as the chasing dog bounds in for the finish,and the fox has turned at right angles and gained several yards while the dog is still trying to recover from the impetus of its rush.And thanks to its small size,the fox can dart into any burrow that lies handy,and squeeze through narrow gaps.It is rarely that a fox is overtaken and caught.

    But however safe it is on its quick feet on the ground,a fox asleep in its earth can be dug out and bagged,literally,in a gunny bag and sometimes this sad fate overtakes it................

    One authority says," In its consistent destruction of rats and land crabs,it does real service to the farmer.and,besides these,it hunts a good many small creatures that do agriculture no good." I wish it were possible to get by some means,effective protection for this useful and delightful creature, but with wildlife preservation in the state in which it is now in our country,I can only wish."-M.Krishnan

    This was first published on 9 December 1951 in the Sunday Statesman
    Republished on 15 July 2012
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 16-07-2012 at 10:47 PM.

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    Unfortunately, these foxes are hunted. Loss of habitat is also another reason for their dwindling numbers. This series is so nice, that I feel tongue tied. He is a great inspiration.

    Cheers,
    Sabyasachi

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    Default Fish-Owls:M.Krishnan The Sunday Statesman 22-July-2012

    "Now that winter has set in, even in the South darkness come early and the day no longer turns to night with that dramatic suddenness beloved of Anglo-Indian writers of romantic fiction. From six O'clock till seven almost,there is a clear twilight that deepens slowly into obscure night. And now is the time to look for greater owls, for the cool grey evenings bring them out prematurely.

    Our owls do not say "Tu-whit-to-who", nor mope and complain to the moon- the lesser ones velp,chatter and shriek with demoniac gusto and the great owls hoot in deep, resonant voices that carry far.None of them,I think,has so unearthly as the Brown Fish-Owl. Soon after it emerges from its daytime retreat, its hollw boom comes floating down the dusk, startlingly sepulchral and near-sounding; later in the night, it sits bolt upright on its perch and chuckles in a muffled, snoring grunt. No doubt this bird is responsible of the evil reputations of certain countryside paths by night.

    This is one of our biggest owls, dark and mottled, with a heavy cubist build and a square, eared head. Its squat, erect silhouette hardly suggests a bird, in poor light- once, a friend and I mistook it for a monkey slumped on a rock. The fish-owl haunts ravines, watercourses, resting by day in the secret heart of some ancient clump of trees. It is no city bird, but at night it often visits village tanks or sits on rooftops staring percipiently into the darkness from enormous, round eyes.

    The fish-owl is distinguised from the great horned-owls by its flatter "horns" and the fact that its legs are unfeathered and naked. Its feet are strikingly like osprey's,covered with gripping scalesand meant for the same purpose, for holding slippery prey. However,it does not plunge headlong into the water after the fish but sails over the surface on hushed wings and lifts its prey out. Though it is much given to fishing, fish and crabs and such aquatic creatures do not constitute its sole food. It is known to prey on birds and small mammals and I believe it occsionally hunts fair-sized quarry, like rock-pigeons.

    I used to know a colony of Blue Rock-Pigeons that had their home in a large natural grotto in a river-rift george. Almost all the pigeons dis appeared from here suddenly, and a fish-owl was seen about the place at the same time. I realise that this is highly inconclusive evidence, and that it might well be that the departure of the pigeons had nothing to do with the entry of he owl on the scene-perhaps others, more comprehensive in their observation, can confirm or dispel my suspicions.

    I know of another instance of a pair of Brown Fish-Owls haunting the abode of pigeons, but I am almost sure that in this case the racing pigeons within were not its attraction. The owls used to come to sit on the domed roof of the loft, on a level with my bedroom window, and lying awake I have often watched them flying soundlessly about in the dew-drenched moonlight, returning periodically to the loft. I think these nocturnal fishers were drawn to the place by the small tanks around it. The way they flapped their broad wings rapidly, threshing the cold, luminous air to rise vertically without the hint of a swish was uncanny; they also used to sail around on spreadwings. Perhaphs they were courting, if such sapient-looking birds can descend to such frivolity, for they indulged in much pointless flight.

    It is said that the silent flight of owls help them in locating the quarry by its sounds, besides providing a warningless swoop down to the kill. There seems to be much in this, for they have marvellous sight by dimmest light, hearing is an added advantage when the prey is in thin cover.Obviously, a bird flapping its wings noisily can hear little besides its own flight, and since all owls do quite a lot of hunting while coasting around, the silence of their down-lined pinions must be of real value to them. Perhaps fish-owls are more dependent on sight than others of the tribe, and that is why they have such big eyes- but it is a mistake to think that aquatic creatures are silent; fish break the surface of the stream audibly, and even crabs can be heard if there is hushed silence all around."-M.Krishnan

    This was first published on 23 December 1951 in The Sunday Statesman
    Re-published on 22 July 2012

    * 'The Statesmam' may kindly be substituted by 'The Statesman' in the heading by the Moderator.I sincerely regret for the oversight.
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    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 30-07-2012 at 10:52 AM.

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    Nice to read this about the Brown Fish Owl. Shri Krishnan's observations are very sharp. We often we click images, however, we just look for a few attributes like sharpness and colour etc. People forget to see and show the body parts that are different. In this case he has written about the feet being similar to Osprey's for gripping slippery prey. Amazing. So much to learn from him.

    Sabyasachi

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    Default Mixed diet :M.Krisnan The Sunday Statesman 26 August 2012

    COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: Freebooters of the air:M.Krishnan The Sunday Statesman19August2012
    "......
    Looting KITES are quite a feature of our bazaars and city markets and I know a restaurant in a park, in the heart of a big city, where these birds have grown in so audaciously slick and habitutes prefer the dull tiled-roofed varandah to the charm of repast in the open with colourful shrubs around and grass underfoot. These freebooters of the air come a close second after crows in the list of urban fauna, but there are KITES in the country, too.

    There, with no meat stalls and crowded eating-houses, kites work harder for their living and are far less offensively familiar. They take to scavenging for their food, a more strenuous and less fashionable profession than picking pockets in cities. And in the remote countryside I have known kites actually hunts their prey.

    I know a lake in such a place where I have seen kites fishing. They sail low over the water and clutch at the slippery prey on the surface with their talons, often without success. Here they are awkward apprentices in comparison to the many expert fishermen around, birds equipped with long stabbing beaks or long, wading legs, other specialised features or at least the boldness to plunge headlong into the water. Elsewhere I have seen kites chasing maimed quarry or flapping heavily among swarming termites, which they seized ponderously in their grappling-hook feet.

    Once I saw a crowd of kites on the ground, in a forest glade. They had feasted with vultures and were preening themselves after the glut, before roosting. And once I saw a kite hopping along the grass gawkily in the wake of grazing cattle. Hunger had driven that bird into a fresh inroad on the path of degradation, but apparently a kite on terra firma can only lose its balance when when it tries to clutch with one foot at ebullient grasshoppers.

    That is just as well, for these birds have sunk sufficiently low. They are so common that we do not notice them, and we do the occasion is often too annoying for us to appreciate their air mastery. Swifts and falcons are faster and more dashing, vultures more effortless in their soaring, but for sheer manoeuvre on spread wings the kite is unbeatable. No other bird has its slick skill in theft- its noiseless descent on the unsuspecting victim and grabbing with a comprehensive foot. The kite has a strong hooked beak and a powerful build- it is surprising that it has not developed, beyond petty theft, to thuggery and murder, with its equipment.

    But perhaps that, too, is just as well. Those who raise poultry has no love for this bird as it is, and if it took to a more adventurous and violent way of life, the hand of everyone must be against it, in city and in village. And that would be no small waste of national energy considering the kite population of our country."- M.Krishnan

    This was first published on 2 March 1952 in The Sunday Statesman

    *First two paragraphs not reproduced.
    *The sketch of the bird not reproduced.

    After a few days, the Article may be shifted to Page1 and placed before the article titled 'Mixed diet' dated 26 August 2012 to maintain Chronological order.

    Mixed diet :M.Krisnan The Sunday Statesman 26 August 2012

    "DURING the past month I have again observed koels eating the poisonous fruit of the Thevetia, quite half a dozen times.I can add little to my earlier report (3 February) on this strange addiction, but they seem to to choose ripe fruit invariably, fruit that get detatched from their stalks easily, after two or three pecks.Ripening is a process that involves chemical changes and it is possible that this alters the proportion of the poison, Thevetin, in the pulp; but this cannot quite explain koels consuming these drupes with avid desire, and no subsequent regrets.

    I have not seen any other bird or beast evincing the slightest interest in the fruit of the Thevetia during this month, when I watched the trees more narrowly than usual, but an observer (whose interest was stimulated by my record of koels eating the drupes) tells me that he saw a Common Mynah pecking at one of these fruit on the ground. The fruit was brought to me, and showed beak-gouged holes, but since koel-pecked fruit fall to the ground with similar marks, it was not conclusive proof.
    However, the observer tells me that he saw his mynah peck at the drupe several times, and eat pieces from it. I intend no sort of scepticism, but would like verification of this instance; perhaps some readers can provide it.

    The Squirrel's diet is a topic that goes to my childhood.This was a smug squirrel, sitting up with a fruit in its forepaws, the primer from which I learned my Tamil; it stood for the first letter of the alphabet, and its successors, I learned that that the squirrel (I mean the common, striped squirrel* that enters our homes and lives so freely) is a harmless, lovable vegetarian that lives on fruits and nuts.Nurtured on this sort of natural history, I received a rude shock when I discovered (in my boyhood) that sqiurrels would eat eggs with relish.I need not have felt so perturbed over this unnatural lapse from vegetarianism: there is a large section of humanity that considers eggs vegetable.

    Years later, while trying to grow maize in my backyard, I found out the truth about the squirrels. They have a fiendish passion for sprouting corn, and will dig up and savage several rows in no time. Enthusiastic horticulturists can provide a list of rare buds and growing tips especially fancied by these vandals.

    However, I recently noticed a redeeming feature in the diet of these rodents.Some weeks ago a long patch of earth made its appearance in the brickwork of my verandah wall. I resolved at once to demolish it the next day for white ants a menace where I live. That evening I saw two squirrels feeding off the new-formed store.They broke the crust of earth with repeated shoves of their noses and licked up the termites as they tumbled out of their roofless homes.There was a methodical lack of haste, almost a rhythm, in the termite-eating of those squirrels-they demolished a few square inches of the crust, then stopped to feed, then extended the breach.But after a while they seemed to tire of this slow repast and scampered away. I saw them the next day at the termite-crust, and again a few days later.In a week they almost demolished the entire patch, but there were tunnels and thick areas beyond their noses, and I left nothing to chance.One cannot afford to where I live.

    Incidentally I heard squirrels calling at noon-a long, sustained "cheep-cheep-cheep"-to one another in the first week of March, and also heard the monotonous, ceaseless "tonk" of the Coppersmith that day. Summer has officially arrived in these parts somewhat prematurely, as it has in many other places."-M.Krishnan

    *Sketch of a Common striped squirrel

    This was first published on 16 March 1952 in The Sunday Statesman.
    Republished on 26 August 2012.
    Last edited by Mrudul Godbole; 21-04-2013 at 03:46 PM. Reason: added the 19Aug article before the 26th Aug article

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    Default Lost in moody introspection: M.Krishnan The Sunday Statesman 2 September 2012

    "THERE are three wells around my compound, just outside, in the territories of neighbours.The brackish water deep down in them is not potable, but my neighbours use it for their kitchen-gardens. They have dug irrigation channels from the wells to the plots of vegetables, with steep earth banks and miniatures dams to regulate the flow of the precious fluid. Frogs, tadpoles, water-boatmen, mole-crickets, and a variety of worms, grubs and flying insects inhabit this region and recently a White-breasted Kingfisher* has taken up residence in my backyard from where it can command a comprehensive view of the aqueducts.

    It has many perches here, and shifts from one to another, but its favourite seat is at one end of a clothesline, in the shade of foilage. It sits inert and slumped and seems wholly lost in moody introspection-but in fact it is watching for lesser life in the inundated field of vision. Other birds that sit up for their prey adopt a similar attitude in vigil, rollers, bee-eaters, buzzards. The concealing value of such repose is obvious even to colour-sensitive human eyes. I have to look about me to locate this kingfisher in spite of the dazzling contrasts of maroon and blue and white in its plumage. Vivacity, even a perky stance, undoubtedly catches the eye; our dusky robins prove the truth of this.

    This kingfisher has little fear of men, or else it is so absorbed in its watch for small fry that it does not notice my ponderous approach. If I do not make straight for it but observe a certain circumspection and silence, I can get to within three yards of its perch without alarming it (incidentally, what matters is a slow approach without jerky movement rather than silence-the bird seems indifferent to my whistling). It is then that I see how brilliantly it is coloured, and it is wide awake for all its slouched stillness.

    I venture too near and it is away in a vivid streak, with a hash cackle. The great sword bill, sheathed in immobility and shade when the bird is sitting, flashes redly in flight, followed by the blue and white of the wing and tail. It flies straight to the well, then dips sharply and alights on the well-post, and is once more lost in dejected reverie.

    The government, trying to induce the rice-eating peoples of the riceless South to sample other grain, could well this bird for its emblem, for it has renounced the limited diet of its tribe and taken to more varied and cosmopolitan fare. Its build is the build of a kingfisher, and its great bill is the authentic implement of a fish-hunter, but hundreds of generations ago it grew independent of pool and stream and finned prey, and often it lives far from water. It feeds on any small thing that it can seize in its big bill and batter to death-lizards, insects, grubs and worms, tadpoles, and even fish on occasion.

    In summer it hunts the vicinity of wells, not for the sake of fish in them, but for the creeping and crawling life that the moist earth attracts. During the monsoons, when the water stagnates in roadside ditches and dips, I have often seen this bird fishing for tadpoles and minnows in the puddles-but the monsoons have not often been with us lately. The five successive years of drought that have afflicted this area must have fixed the tendency to hunt land-living prey even more firmly in the White-breasted Kingfishers here. This is the only Indian kingfisher that has developed this terrestrial bias, but in Australia there are kingfishers that have forsaken the water completely.

    There is one peculiarity about this kingfisher that I have noticed, and that I am quite unable to explain. Sometimes it flies into limited settings, into a room or verandah or shed, and then it seems quite helpless and flatters weakly about, suffering itself to be caught where other birds could have escaped with ease. So weak is it on the wing then, so torpid and slow, that it seems acutely ill, or else quite dazed. I have caught White-breasted Kingfishers in this way thrice or four times, and I have known others catch the bird in similar circumstances. It lies unprotesting in the hand, and the amazing lightness of the bird (birds are much lighter than we think) lends further probablity to the feeling that it is very ill- but toss it clear into the air, and it flies briskly away, to resume its hunting. This kingfisher nests in long, narrow tunnels in the earth, and one would think that it is used to restricted spaces. Perhaps it is sudden fright, at being cornered by men, that is responsible for its lassitude on such occasions."-M.Krishnan

    This was first published on 23 March 1952 in The Sunday Statesman
    Republished on 2 September 2012

    * Sketch of the bird not reproduced here
    **In the heading, the date may please be read as 2 September 2012
    Last edited by Mrudul Godbole; 10-09-2012 at 10:59 AM.

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    Default Grey Shrike.....M.Krishnan The Sunday Statesman 09 September 2012

    "I HAVE just returned from a drought-stricken suburb where only the tangled grey of spiky shrubs relieved the flat, baked brown of the landscape. The trees were few and far between, the grass was withered and such life as there was clustered, open-mouthed, around a few deep wells. Even the crows and goats seemed reluctant to leave the delightful shade of the village neem trees, which were in flower, but walking across the desiccated open I found a drier life in possession. Brown grasshoppers rose from the brown, sparse grass underfoot, there were finch-larks in the fields, bloodsuckers ran splay-legged to cover the fences at my approach and, at long intervals, big Grey Shrikes sat austerely on the bush tops, very much at home in that desolate setting.

    A pair was together, from which I concluded that these stern birds had weakened already under a seasonal urge. The Grey Shrike loves its own company and keeps relentless vigil over its territory, allowing no kith and kin to violate its privacy. But then summer comes spring is not far behind, and for a while it relaxes its strictness and suffers a mate. It sings a sweet, tinkling song and then that no one would expect from looks and habitual laconism; but even then it is not given to flutterings and fluffy displays; it comports itself with a dignity and restraint exceptional in the love-silly world of birds.

    I always thought this shrike one of the most aloofly distinguished of our birds. There is the hint of silver in the grey of its plumage and the big, square head,the top-heavy build, the heavy, hooked bill and broad, black eye-stripe all convey not only the suggestion that its love of thorn-scarred wastes and its unsociable habits confirm. Other shrikes that live in somewhat similar places have similar natures, but somehow the tribe has earned for itself an undeserved reputation for blood lust.

    These are the "butcher birds", a tribe repugnant to the sentiment of Western writers of popular history. Quite recently I read an American description of a typical shrike, where the bird was damned with all the lurid exaggeration that the writer could command, as kill-crazy, callous, bloodthirsty murderer that lurked in bushes and throttled innocent little birds. I have never been able to understand the importing of human concepts of virtue and morality into a study of natural history, in all seriousness, but even granting that this is good form, I cannot see how shrikes are any the more bloodthirsty than other birds that watch for their prey from a perch and pounce down on them.

    Such birds usually hunt insects or other small creatures, but occasionally they tackle more substancial prey, weak enough to be overpowered but not sufficiently small to be swallowed in a mouthful or killed at once-nestlings, large insects with tough shells, or lizards. Birds better equipped for rapine, sparrow-hawks for instance, can kill sizeable prey quickly, but shrikes have to use much force to still the struggles of the occasional large victims, and there is no question of cruelty or blood lust involved. In fact, far from killing madly in excess of their needs, shrikes have developed the prudent habit of impaling surplus catch on thorns, against a rainy day, and it is from this peculiarity and not from their murderous violence that the name "butcher birds" has come to them.

    Incidentally, I have never seen the Grey Shrike's larder in the warm plains, though I saw a lizard neatly impaled by one of these birds in the hill station. The number of things I have not seen are very many, and proves nothing, but it is possible that in the hotter plains, where putrefaction is rapid, shrikes are not much given to stocking larders?"- M.Krishnan

    *Sketch of the bird not reproduced.

    This was first published on 13 April 1952 in The Sunday Statesman

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    Default Grey necks.....M.Krishnan The Sunday Statesman 16 September 2012

    "CROWS are sitting in pairs on treetops, late in the evenings. They choose a foliage-free bough, high up, and for an hour before dark they sit close, indulging in caresses with their bills and saying low, sweet nothings to each other (of course, crows have a language-Seton claimed to know a bit of it). I have seen dozens of these courting couples in the past week and there is no doubt that the local grey necks have exchanged a communal life for a connubial one. Shortly they will nest and rear their young and young of the Koel, with loving care-incidentally. I have yet to hear Koels here (where they are plentiful) in spite of the premature onset of summer; apparently their love-life of the crows.

    The grey-headed House-crow is the commonest bird of town and countryside, and so varied in habit and intelligence that it is always interesting to watch. More than one observer of Indian bird life has devoted an entire book to it and still how little we know about it! Does it pair for life? Nothing definite seems to be known on this point. The one sure way of finding this out would be to ring a number of crows with distinctively coloured rings and watch them over years- strong metal rings would be needed, as these birds have powerful and clever beaks and will peck at and remove rings made of celluloid or similar material. Both birds of a pair must be distinctively marked- I used to know a white-flecked crow and watched it nest in successive years, but could never be sure if its mate was the same each year. Grey necks live in a flock in the off-season, when not nesting, and roost in company. It may be thought that this sociable winter habit would be conducive to promiscuity in pairing, when the breeding season comes again, but need not be so- there are monogamous birds with a gregarious habit.

    One thing I am fairly sure of, after watching House-crows and Jungle-crows for years, is that the former are far cleverer in the wing. They are less clumsy in build and movement, though less powerful, and on the whole I think they are more intelligent than their jungly cousins. It is in fight, however, that their superior skill is obvious. When the termites swarm and both kinds of crows are feasting, the grey neck's comparative air mastery is clear.

    A House-crow will shoot up from its perch, chase a fluttering insect on quick flapping wings and take it surely- it is more given to hunting winged prey in this manner than most people think. Moreover, some grey necks are noticeably more expert than others.

    Recently I had the occasion to verify the truth of this.

    I was sitting at a table in an open-air cafe on a beach one evening and was offered a plate of "chaklis"- which I thought unfit for human consumption after sampling. After my usual thrifty habit, I looked around for non-human habitues to whom I could donate the burnt, twiggy, garlic-spiced dish. There was a thin dog with soulful eyes watching me and, further away, there was a pair of casual grey necks, apparently more interested in a tete-a-tete and the seascape than in me. I turned my back on the dog, for I find yearning canine eyes beyond my will power, and tossed a bit of the "chakli" into the stiff crosswind. The crows jumped into the breeze and one of them caught the morsel deftly in its beak- they never take things in the air in their feet- and swallowed it in mid-air. I tossed another bit high and, as if by magic, five crows shot up after it.

    Presently there were well over a dozen of grey necks. I kept on tossing the twiggy inducements into the breeze and when the plate was empty I ordered another. I learned much from this brief spell of flighted offerings to the crows. In spite of their packed numbers, they never collided in the air and only once was one of the several fragments thrown up together allowed to land. One crow- I am certain of it as I never took off my eyes off this bird- was far cleverer than the rest; its interception of the parabolic trajectory of the morsels was sure and easy. It did not swallow its first catch and went for the next bit as well without dropping the first one, repeating the astounding performance till it had four bits crosswise in its beak. Then it was forced to retreat for a brief spell of swallowing.

    All the crows were grey necks- Jungle-crows don't care much for the strong crosswind on the beach. I would much have liked to prolong this tossing experiment, but when the second plate of burnt offerings were finished I noticed that everyone in the cafe, including the waiters, was staring at me in undisguised amusement and this forced me to call for the bill and leave in a hurry. Perhaps some other day when I can summon a less self-conscious mood, I may complete the experiment."- M.Krishnan

    *The sketch of the bird has not been reproduced here.

    This was first published on 4 May 1952 in The Sunday Statesman
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 20-09-2012 at 11:36 AM.

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    Default The Sea-king's Eyrie : M.Krishnan The Sunday Statesman 23 September 2012

    " HIGH up in a towering casuarina, a hundred feet above the ground, the Sea Eagles had built their ponderous nest. It was wedged firmly into the trifid, ultimate fork of the trunk, a firmly-knit stack of thick twigs and dry branches, looking more like a pile of faggots than anything else. It was hollow on top, though I could see the depression from the third-storey terrace of the building from which I watched, for the eyrie was well above the level of housetop but the way big nestling disappeared from view everytime it waddled to the centre from the rim of the next showed as a hollow.
    ***

    The sea was not a mile away, perhaps not even two furlongs by air. One of the parent birds mounted guard on the treetop, a few yards from the nest, while the other sailed away on a foraging expedition. These were White-bellied Sea Eagles, almost as big as a vulture and much more shaped in build, with slaty-brown backs, the head, neck and underparts white, sail-like wings broadly edged with black, and a short, fan tail. The adults looked strangely like overgrown gulls, the grey and white in the plumage and length of the wing suggesting a gull, but they sat in the manner of eagles, upright on the treetop, talons gripping bough firmly. The wings projected beyond the brief tail in repose, their tips crossing.
    Through my binoculars, the bird was startlingly near and clear; I could see the grey, hooked beak, the powerful talons, even the dark apprehensive eyes. It was watching me intently, with obvious distrust. Thereafter I cared to do my watching from the shelter of a pillar or the parapet, not too obviously.
    Off and on, for a fortnight, I watched these sea eagles, and learnt not very much about them. One of the adults is slightly the larger; I thought this was the she-eagle. This one it was that stayed near the nest, watching most of the time. Much of the scouting for food, for the entire family, fell to the lot of the other eagle. Sizeable fish seemed to form staple diet, though once a forager returned with a long, dangling prey that looked like a sea snake-but probably it was only an eel. The grown birds fed by turns, after parting with a large piece to the offspring. There was a patrician lack of haste about the feeding and flight of these eagles that was impressive: who would believe that it is these same birds that flog the air above the sea with untiring wings and chase each other in giddy flight, clamouring raucously all the time, earlier in the year!
    ***
    The youngster was about three-quarters the size of its parents, and much more cognizably eagle. The feathers on the head and neck were not white and sleek as in the grown birds, but streaky, pale brown, and the stood out in hackles. The body was a dark, mottled brown- the colour one associates with raptorial birds This fledgeling progressed rapidly during the fortnight, and when I saw it last (on 1 May), it was standing on the nest-platform and flapping its wings gawkily, though it has not yet essayed flight.
    ***
    The food-laden return of the parent bird was the signal for crows to gather around the nest, or fly over it. Not once I see them profit by this watchfulness: they never dared to get on to the nest, to try to snatch a morsel, though they would sit all around, close by the tree. At times one or the other sea eagles would leave the nesting tree and sit in a neighbouring one (also a casuarina), and when this happened the crows mobbed it immediately.Apparently, away from the location of the nest, they were not afraid of it. Frequently they forced to big bird to take wing and fly away from their attentions, with a harsh, mettalic, reiterated call, but once I saw the eagle dive at two crows that were annoying it and send them scattering for dear life.
    ***
    I was told by the gardener of the house, that these sea eagles had nested here for years, that every year they reared their progeny on this same nest, that he did not know what happened to the youngsters when they grew up but the old birds remained there right through the year. The nest looked as if the accretion of many years had been added on a structure that was originally no small thing. We estimated that it was a rounded cube, about four feet each way. Even allowing for interspaces and hollowness of its top, it must have contained over hundred sizeable pieces of wood, and have weighed about 200 lbs. How did these seafaring birds acquire the large, dry branches that formed the cross-beams of the eyerie? Did they pick them off backwaters, or did they wrench from greenwood, as Jungle-Crows do? I cannot answer these questions, or find someone who can, but it seems reasonable to suppose that much of the nestling material was, originally,flotsam."-M.Krishnan

    *The sketch of the nest and birds not reproduced here.
    The article was first published on 18 May 1952 in The Sunday Statesman
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 24-09-2012 at 07:21 AM.

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    Default

    Very interesting description of this rare bird. Saktiji, do they build a new nest everytime? Is it the same couple who nests there or it would be different as it is mentioned that the gardener said the birds were nesting there for years. Thanks for sharing.
    Regards,
    Mrudul Godbole

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    Madam Mrudul,

    The elegant White-bellied Sea Eagle is the largest raptor in the Sundarbans. It is a resident and common bird and breeds here. It is more common in the southern part (core area) of the reserve towards estuary.The watch tower at Netidhopani just inside core area has also been closed for tourists.
    The Sea Eagle is also seen inside buffer zone near some particular locations (Panchamukhani,Gomdi) with some luck. It does not like disturbance and moves high up in the air with the approaching launch and flies towards deep inside forest may be towards its nest.Sometime it is joined by another. It is seen in a particular area throughout the year and one may have a chance sighting of its nest on a tall tree far off from the river. It does not build its nest anew each year. However, it has to be reinforced naturally.
    These birds usually remain partners (called mates) for life. My naturalist friend closely associated with the Sundarbans immediately confirmed it.
    Kind regards,SaktiWild

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    Default The fastest thing on legs: M.Krishnan The Sunday Statesman 07 October 2012

    " I REMEMBER watching a display by India's first jet-propelled aircraft, along with a milling crowd. There was a little boy by my side who was most informative- he told us the difference in flight and motive power between these planes and ordinary ones with propellers, pointed out peculiarities and explained the relative speeds of light and sound to a dear old lady. Thanks to the young scholar, we all knew at what speed the jet-fighters tore through heavens, looped loops and zoomed high again, and I joined in the general expression of wonder and applause.

    But now, well away from this little boy and arithmetically-minded crowd to whom 600 mph meant so much, I don't mind confessing that I was not thrilled, specially. Yes, it was a fun watching those planes perfom those evolutions, and no doubt they were faster than the ones I have seen before, but they conveyed no sense of magnificient achievement of space to me. For one thing, their speed, as they went far above, was an abstruct thing that needed thought, even sophistry, for its appreciation; and even when they came near and were patently dynamic- well, they were engines, just big, loud engines, and their power and speed was mechanical, chemical and inhuman.

    It is the living, mascular speed of animals that impresses me, even a squirrel dashes for safety. That is a speed I can appreciate, a quickness I can envy and marvel at. If you like speed, and want to see something sustained in its effortless, rythmic impetuocity, you should watch a herd of black buck going all out for a few miles- there is tangible real speed for you.

    Black buck are the fastest things on legs in India, and perhaps anywhere in the world. As Dunbar Brander points out, even the now extinct hunting leopard can not match the buck for speed, though swifter from a standing start and for the first few furlongs, the hunting leopard is purely a sprinter and soon get spent. Black buck can keep their pace for 10 miles or more and when going flat out can attain 60 mph- a superb speed, not reached by any motor vehicle so far over the ground they inhabit. The muscles of black buck is like catapult rubber, and its hooves are not hard but elastic, its wind is almost inexhaustible and its vitality amazing.

    No other animal I know of can keep going with such ghastly injuries, not even the great cats. In particular I recall a gravid doe (does are usually faster thn their overlords)that had lagged behind, and had a leg blown clean away by a bullet meant for the buck. The gun and I got into a jeep and went after the wretched thing to put it out of its misery. The black-cotton soil was very flat and permitted a very fair speed, but for two miles the crippled doe kept running far ahead, while our pity turned to wonder and admiration, before it fell exhausted and was shot.

    The buck have a curious habit that is often their undoing. After outdistancing the chasing enemy easily, they turn at an angle and run across the path of the pursuer, so that by anticipating the mood and changing his direction slightly the gun can frequently get to within range, as they cross in front. Dunbar Brander suggests that this habit might be due to the desire of the buck to prove that they "have the legs of the enemy". Quite a likely explanation, but at times I have seen chased buck turn, not across the line of pursuit, but away from it. They seem to run in a curve, once they are clear of immediate danger, and they persist in their curved course once they are set on it. Naturally, this explanation leads to the question: Why do they have this running in a curve? That is also a habit shared by certain other animals, and a circuitous explanation occurs to me- but let's not have it.

    Black buck are unquestionably among the most beautiful of world's beasts, and are exclusively Indian. Once they lived in vast herds all over the country, but are fewer and more local now. In certain places in South India for example, they are dwindling steadily and must soon be extinct unless immediate help is accorded. It is true that the slaughter of buck by "sportsman", irrespective of sex, numbers, or laws, is largely responsible for this dwindling, but there is a more pernicious though less immediate cause. Black buck live in open country, always, and such terrain is most easily cultivable and, so,most cultivated. Buck do not take to desert conditions: they must have green fodder.

    A substantial part of their diet consists of grasses and plants like the wild bitter gourd (whose fruits they love), but living in the midst of crops (their original homes having been brought so largely under plough), they often help themselves to food crops. This, while providing a ready excuse for shooting the crop-raiders, leaves them to nowhere to go. The animals of the open will, I think, be the last to receive any recognition from those interested in the saving of our wonderful, vanishing wildlife, one of our richest national assets.

    The fauna of flat country require plenty of living space, adequate grazing and a certain remoteness from cultivation if they are not to be tempted. These conditions are unlikely of realisation in India today, when every acre of land is held precious, though sometimes left fallow and often so poorly tended that it yields a negligible return. In any case, I think the beasts and birds of open country must look to the black buck for their salvation, for it is one claimant for protection among them whose arresting looks and swift charm might succeed in attracting notice."- M. Krishnan

    *The sketch of fleeting black buck not reproduced here.
    This was first published on 22 June 1952 in The Sunday Statesman
    Last edited by Saktipada Panigrahi; 07-10-2012 at 03:20 PM.

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