22 April 2014

A series of images to remind us of the beauty of our natural world. A friend once said, “that which you can’t see, you won’t conserve”. This, may be, is my way of reminding us all about what we are trying to save. 

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22 April 2014
Critically endangered birds of India

I found this image shared on BNHS’ Facebook page and was both intrigued and saddened. Of the birds on the list, I happened to see the Red Headed Vulture on my second safari in India. I couldn’t comprehend the excitement amongst other birders then. We also looked for the Great Indian Bustard in Greater Rann, their supposed breeding ground but couldn’t find any.

 

19 April 2014
Steppe Eagle - Greater Rann of Kutch

While driving toward a particular rocky hill in the Greater Rann of Kutch, we saw this magnificent raptor sitting right on top. The Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) is a big bird, about  60 to 80 cms in size, and is hard to miss. These raptors are migratory birds who spend their summers in the Steppes and then head south for winter. The ones that reside in the Mongolian and Russian region, migrate to India during the winter, crossing the mighty Himalayas in their journey. It generally prefers dry desert like surroundings and its diet consists mainly of small mammals and birds. 

Birdlife states that their population is decreasing and puts estimates of around 1 bird per 100 sq km radius. The best place to sight them is in their migratory path, where they form flocks of hundreds while crossing tricky terrain or feeding sites. 

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19 April 2014

A wedding selfie on stage with the bride and the groom. (at Poornima Convention Centre)

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15 April 2014
How to prepare for a birdwatching trip

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I have been birding for a while now and I must say, I enjoy it thoroughly. Birding is one of the easiest ways to observe nature. You just have to look out of your window or balcony, or visit a nearby park/lake and watch for birds. But, if you were to take a short trip for birding, this is when you need some preparation. Here’s my quick checklist of things you need before birding. 

Learn about the area

Learn a little about the area you are visiting. Speak to people who have visited the place before and know what to expect. Use the internet: a simple search on your favorite search engine for “«birding location» trip report” will tell you a lot about the place and its biodiversity.

Also, understand what to expect in terms of species. In my experience, while birding in India, guides will only show you stuff that you ask for. Make sure you know enough to tell the guide what you are expecting to see. A simple search on flickr, 500px or any good image search engine for the location will give you photos of species you can expect. Make a checklist if you can’t remember them all. 

Gear and Essentials

Here’s a list of things to follow/carry when going birding

  1. Wear comfortable and dull colored clothing. Birds are usually wary of people and you need to blend in to the surroundings as much as possible. 
  2. Birding involves a lot of walking, so wear comfortable walking shoes
  3. Carry a book and a pen to note down birds or their characteristics if you don’t know the name.
  4. Carry a cap or a hat if you plan to bird for long. 
  5. In cases of cold mornings, wear layers rather than a thick sweater. That way, if you do feel warm later in the day, you can shed that layer and be comfortable. 
  6. A good pair of binoculars (you can rent them if you don’t have one). A good starter would be this Olympus 8*40 binoculars.
  7. Most good birding destinations are away from the city, so bring some water and food along
  8. A field guide to help you identify birds. Grimm Skip (Birds of the Indian Subcontinent), as it’s colloquially called, is a great field guide for India. 

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For the photographers

If you are into bird photography, there are a couple of other things you might want to carry on the field. Here’s my list:

  1. A good camera with good zoom. A good semi pro camera with digital zoom should be good enough to start. DSLR’s allow for more creative options. 
  2. For the DSLR folk, buy/rent a nice wildlife lens. Most birds and animals will stay as far away from us humans as possible, and if you need shots of small birds, you will need the focal length. Anything upwards of 250mm to 300mm should be sufficient. You can rent from Tapps, Toehold among others if you are in the Bangalore area. 
  3. Carry extra batteries/battery grip and memory cards. And leave your camera bag in your vehicle if you are walking.
  4. You might also want to look at buying/renting a monopod if you are shooting in canopied forests or in diffused sunlight. This looks like a sturdy enough monopod to start with
  5. If you are going to a dusty place, get a cover for your lens and camera. 

Ethics

This is a heavily written about topic and there are tons of articles you can look up on the web. Here are some articles you can start with. 

Principles of birding ethics 

Here’s another that I really liked: The ethics of nature photography and the ostracising of photographers 

That’s it. Oh, and lastly, go along with a good group, that appreciates birdwatching, and you will find your birding experience to be even more rewarding. If you are in Bangalore, join the local birding community bngbirds

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6 April 2014

Cows road trip with catered meals

5 April 2014
“Man is Evolution’s greatest mistake!”

George B Schaller 

Unsure about the author. Picked up from an email signature on bngbirds mailing list.

26 March 2014
More than half of all species in existence could vanish in the next century

I am waiting to read this book about observing people observing wildlife. It is rated as one of the top science books of 2013. Here’s the accompanying video

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25 March 2014
Birding trip to Shivanahalli, Bannerghatta National Park

I went on the third Sunday trail organized by the bngbirds group on 15th March, 2014. It was my first time in this nick of the woods :) and naturally, I was excited. There was a healthy group of about 25 to 30 folks who showed up (at 6:30 AM on a Sunday) in front of the Ramakrishna Ashram gate for birding.

The trails starts from the Ashram compound and then proceeds into the fringe areas of the national park. There is a huge green patch inside the compound and lots of bird activity near the flowering plants and the dining area. Highlight of this section was the Shikra that we got to observe at close quarters and near miss Asian Paradise flycatcher. 

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Note: when we were headed back, we noticed a huge brown fish owl fly right past us. Turns out it’s a resident in the compound and I suggest you spend some time in the coconut plantation looking for this big fella. 

Our group, of about 10 people, slowly proceeded towards the retreat area, a small house on top of a hill that overlooks a valley filled with tree tops at eye level. It’s a great place for birding and we found the leaf bird, small minivet, oriental white-eye and the common tailor bird here. We also got a distant sighting of the Coppersmith Barbet from this location.

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From the gate to this point is about an 1.5 hours of walking. We then proceeded to cross the fence and headed towards the Ragihalli caves. This trail is tricky and passes through a lot of unmarked private properties and I would advise anyone going here to take a guide along. The second part of the trail takes about 3 hours back and forth. Add that to the 3 hours back and forth inside the ashram, you should be prepared for about 5 to 6 hours of walking.

The harsh sun and soaring temperatures got to everyone, and we decided against going to the caves and finished our trail at a nearby private lake. We got to see many raptors in this part and also many Ashy wood swallows (lifer for me) in action.

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 Overall, this a great trail and I have heard the best time to visit it is December when the local biodiversity is augmented by migrants. Here are some tips:

  • You have to take a right on the Jigni road towards Ragihalli. It’s easy to miss this since the landmark is a bus stop which is essentially a thatched hut. Use Google maps. 
  • Shorts are a bad idea because the inner trail takes you through a lot of thorny bushes. 
  • Get ample food if you plan to do the long trail to Ragihalli caves. 
  • It’s extremely easy to get lost in this trail since it is far away from any roads. Take a guide along. We were lost for about 30 mins even though we had a guide who had visited this place multiple times. 
  • Ask the Ashram guys for resident owls and their locations.

For more photos from this trail, click here.

19 March 2014

We’ve disrupted so much that nature can’t possibly stand on its own anymore… We’ve gone hands on, and we can never take our hands off.

[…]

The species that survive are the ones we tell stories about. How we feel about an animal affects is survival more than anything we read in ecology textbooks. Storytelling matters. Emotion matters. Our imagination has become an ecological force.

Jon Mooallem, authors of Wild Onesone of the best science books of 2013 – at TED 2014. (via explore-blog)

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17 March 2014
Sociable Lapwing

Classified as critically endangered, the sociable lapwing (Vanellus gregarius) is a wader. Gregarius signifies that they move and function as a group. These birds are easily distinguished by their black crown and dark eyestripe. Their summer and winter plumage differs in the intensity of black on and gray on their chest and back.

In 2004, this bird was categorized as critically endangered with less than 600 recorded individuals, but a discovery of a super flock near Turkey (an unknown migratory destination for this bird) has bumped up its latest number to about 3000 individuals. The current categorization states that the population could decline by about 80% in 10 years. Reasons for the decline of this bird’s population is largely unknown. 

We drove for about 2 hours to find this bird in the Greater Rann of Kutch, which is the western coast of India and is the furthest migratory destination for this bird. We found a good bunch of them feeding on the ground, and in company with a group of Golden Plovers.

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16 March 2014
On winning the listserve lottery!

I joined the listserve website in the month of May, 2012. It’s a wonderful concept: One person a day wins a chance to write to the growing list of subscribers. The count currently stands at around 27,000 subscribers. For each one to get a fair chance, it would currently take about 73 years! So they pick one random winner everyday, and the winner gets to address the entire audience via their email. I have loved the concept from the day I heard about it and it was a great surprise when I got the email informing me that I had won.

Now, I have never addressed an audience of more than 1000 something people. I must say I was nervous, but I didn’t have the liberty of time as I found myself penning down the email in 10 mins whilst sitting in a hospital. After I sent the mail, I got about 150 odd people from all over the world writing to me and expressing their love/hate for what I had written. There were additions to the content of the email and also people who invited me to their homes for coffee/dinner. Here’s my letter

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The Letter  

Subject: ಜೀವನದ ಒಂಬತ್ತು ಸೂತ್ರಗಳು

Subject written in Kannada roughly translates to: “9 tips to make your life more comfortable” or “9 tips for contentment” 

All, 

My name is Ritesh and I am from Bangalore, India. I am an engineer by profession and I’m currently pursuing my dream of creating a software product startup. In my spare time, I read as much as time permits, play the guitar, take nature walks, and enjoy birdwatching. I also dabble a bit in photography and video making. I am a big fan of satire and dark comedy, and I’m writing some material that I hope to present at a comedy club.
After graduation, I found myself in an IT job and married my long time sweetheart Prateeksha. Both Prateeksha and I are rationalists and realists, and live in a crazy country called India. Having being born in an era where we had access to cable television, western media, and the internet; our values are a mixture of Indian conservatism and western liberalism, and we started realizing very early on the differences in culture, living standards, and expectations from life. 
We both decided to follow some rules to make our lives more comfortable and I thought it is best to share these ideas with the listserve crowd. 
  1. Do what you love and be the best at it. No recession or economic downturn can affect your earning prospects. 
  2. Pick up a hobby. Learn to play an instrument, pick up photography or just watch nature. It will give you peace of mind and will also keep you occupied. 
  3. Stay very close to your workplace. It might be more expensive, but the time saved is priceless, and it gives you more time with your partner and for your hobbies. 
  4. Buy a really comfortable bed - you sleep for almost a third of your life, why compromise on comfort? 
  5. Whatever tools and technologies your work requires, buy the best the money can buy. If you are a professional guitarist, buy the best guitar money can buy. If you use computers, buy the latest greatest thing. Better tools improve productivity and reduce frustration. 
  6. Eat healthy and eat at the appropriate times of the day. Don’t skip meals. During my post grad days, I neglected eating and sleeping at the right times and paid a terrible price for it. 
  7. TRAVEL - that’s all there’s to it in life. Experience everything life, culture and nature has to offer. Take at least 2 vacations a year. Need not be exotic but you should make a habit of it. Be aggressive about it.
  8. Socialize - make new friends, speak to old ones and build long relationships. Travel with friends. Visit every wedding, get together and birthday party. Don’t expect anything from anyone but play your part. Remember that your family and friends are you support structure in your time of need. 
  9. Find a partner who you can relate to. A person once told me, “you can probably have sex 30 mins in a day, the rest of the time, you need to talk”. Make sure you find a companion with who you can talk for hours. 
That’s it. I followed these simple rules and have found great joy and contentment in life. Every decision I take in my life, I assess the impact on these factors and I immediately find the answers I am looking for. 
If you have things that you want to add to this list, I would love to hear about it. Write to me and I shall collate all of them and put it out there (with the appropriate credits). Lastly, try Indian food. While the western world was urbanizing, mechanizing and growing their economies, we Indians were innovating on food. Ask an Indian friend for suggestions (should be easy to find one, there are more than a billion of us). 
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The Replies

Here are some points that people wrote in with:
  • We make 80% of life’s most important decisions before 30 - Madison
  • Ayla had this to say: “There is contentment in life when you strip away the job title, the partner, and best camera money can pay for, a great education, and the most grand of beds. A gourmet kitchen with lovely products is a blessing that so many are without, but contentment and happiness can’t be measured by it. Hopefully you can find that sense of inner peace that is unwavering and true wether you have the home of your dreams or are sleeping in the back of a hollowed out car. There is a unique joy inside us all and when we learn how to feed it with almost nothing, we become unstoppable because no one can take away anything that defines us or powers us forward.” 
  • Read. Everything, anything. Reading expands your base of awareness, and your mind. - Stephanie

  • "Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these." - Sachi Mohanty
  • Find a sport you love and play regularly. Exercise will never be a chore and the rest of your life (health, mind & spirit) will all benefit from it. Your social circles will be larger and more diverse, too. - Luke Melia
  • Timothy said, “I did want to point out that many of these suggestions are only achievable by people in upper income brackets. So perhaps you should add “Be born wealthy” somewhere at the top.”
  • "Always try to be a better person than yesterday.Be it at work, your hobby, your family, your relationships, always try to improve even if it’s just a little bit, always try to learn something new, even if it’s a new word (and I’m sure you do that already because you read as much as possible). The compound incremental improvements will make you an exponentially better person in years to come." - Angel Leon
  • Be compassionate. Don’t forget the poor, the ill, those who are lonely. Smile at strangers and be open to all people. We are all here together. - Eileen S
  • fuck it and just have fun. We’re all gonna die, sooner than most of us would like, and we worry too much of the time about stuff that ultimately will never matter. That’s time that could be spent having fun (at least 30 mins a day ;), and it’s a way to honor the glory of existence by reveling in it as much as possible. Not to be selfish, and of course there’s more to life than pure pleasure, but I think the latter is important and, at least in some countries and by some people, too-often neglected” - Abraham Epton
  •  Discover your artistic side- it will keep you creating and expressing yourself in such a beautiful, therapeutic way. I speak almost 6 languages and each one really contributes to how I can see the world and how i can express myself…But there is something so beautiful about the expression of art- no words, just feelings. - Michelle Soufian
  • Practice a sport.the best thing is the boost in self-esteem and also self-confidence that practising a sport can give you! You don’t even have to train very hard, you just have to find a sport that gives you please and that is fun for you. - Paulo Ribeiro

  • A higher price doesn’t automatically make a better tool. Spend enough money to get adequate tools. If they make money for you, then upgrade if you want. ‘Eat at regular times’  is a bit of conventional “wisdom” which is mostly false. - Howard Harkness
  •  to listen to read the greatest epic poetry available to you.” - Michael Hopkins
  • 1. Fire / remove / avoid all people in life who do not have your best interests in mind. They are toxic and can kill you. 2.Pursue enlightenment (perhaps through the teachings of Anthony DeMello). But this can be off putting, painful, and lead people down the wrong path if not truly open to it. So I’m cautious on suggesting this. 3. Think and act logically, ideally with no religious pretenses. Being a non-theist is the best way I know to think rationally and open-mindedly. See Sam Harris on YouTube and elsewhere. - Kevin Brophy

It was fun reading all these additions to the list and thanks to everyone for writing in. 

16 March 2014

Went on the third Sunday birding trail at Bannerghatta today morning. We started from shivahalli ramakrishna ashram and proceeded towards ragihalli caves. Lots of birds spotted, and we were even lost in the forest for a few brief moments. Nice way to start off a Sunday.

15 March 2014
Birding trip to Nandi Hills - March 2014

Sagar, Abhilash, and I went birding at Nandi Hills last sunday morning. Given the distance, we met up and left for our destination at around 5 AM. I don’t need to mention how awesome the road to Nandi is, and with Abhilash’s Honda, the drive was brilliant. 

There were about 1000 people on top of the hill. And a big line at the ticket counter, which was terribly understaffed. Lucky for us, there was nobody around the popular birding hotspots and we spent a good 4 to 5 hours spotting birds. Here’s the list of birds that we spotted:

  1. Grey wagtail
  2. Tawny bellied babbler
  3. Little Egret (on the way to Nandi)
  4. Black Kites (on the way)
  5. Rose ringed parakeet
  6. White cheeked barbet (calls)
  7. Chats (couldn’t make out which one)
  8. Sunbird female
  9. Asian Paradise Flycatcher male - Rufous 
  10. Asian Paradise Flycatcher male - White morph
  11. Oriental White-eye
  12. Tickell’s blue flycatcher
  13. Ashy drongo
  14. Puff throated babbler
  15. Blue capped Rock Thrush
  16. Pied Thrush
  17. Red whiskered Bulbul
  18. Swallow (couldn’t make out which one)
  19. Malabar Whistling Thrush (calls)

Here are some tips if you plan to go

  • Leave early morning if you want to catch the sunrise
  • Bring some food along. Ex: biscuits and bread
  • You will find a lot of bird activity around the flower garden/nursery area - right next to the large tank
  • Head towards the rocks by taking the inner trail through the canopied forest area next to the tanks. 
  • Keep a lookout on the ground for babblers and thrushes. 
  • If you come by car, don’t bother standing in line for tickets. Take the car inside the fort and park there. The Rs 100 parking ticket covers people as well. 
  • The endangered malabar wood pigeon can be found in the park area which is closed to public now. We asked the local attendants and they were kind enough to allow us to go in but we couldn’t find the pigeons. They told us the pigeons only come there in the evenings post 4pm.

Here are a few photos from the trip. I couldn’t get too many good shots owing to the overcast conditions and also the thick canopy. 

15 March 2014

read more at http://pn.ispirt.in/piracy-and-freemium-killed-the-indian-software-buyer/