19 July 2014
“… relentless quest to pin-point the exact date of the main battle of the Mahabharata. Despite what the brainwashed pinko Commie agents tell you, we all know that there is nothing metaphorical about our ancient texts. It’s all literal. These events actually happened. As you can see, these aren’t just stories passed from one generation to the next until someone was thoughtful enough to note it down. Nope. These were passed around word for word, without the narrator’s biases or abilities of comprehension interfering with the narrative.”

http://scroll.in/article/670643/Biased-liberal-mafia-takes-on-India’s-new-head-of-historical-research 

Mahabharata is definitely the more believable text among Hindu mythologies, but there are still some outrageous things about the whole thing. Case in point Ghatotkacha. The problem with far right is the very essence of the paragraph, stubbornness to consider an alternate theory or think with an open mind. 

17 July 2014
Birding in the new world

I’m excited to be birding in the new world and observing new species of animals and plants. I have already been on 3 birding trips and I’m beginning to identify and spot common birds. I have heard from many folks that birding in the west is way different from birding in India. Even with my limited experience, I can already begin to see the differences in culture. 

I love the concept of open preserves and county parks that carve out a space for wildlifers like me to explore. These are small preserves and National parks that are marked and closed for private use. The landscape in my immediate vicinity is a mix of dry shrub thickets called the chaparral habitat. They can be likened to India’s shola grasslands in the western Ghats. 

I was lucky enough to be part of the Palo Alto annual bird count and I had a great birder friend, Vivek Tewari,  who took me along. We saw about 30+ species of birds in a span of about 6 hours. Obviously every single bird was a lifer for me and I got a good tutorial on the bio-diversity and ecology of California. Pictured below are two highlights from that day. My first shot of an Anna’s Hummingbird and a Gopher snake. In my last 5 years being a wildlife enthusiast I have never encountered a snake in the wild. On this day, we saw a total of 4 snakes in total, sunning themselves in the afternoon sun. 

I am looking forward to birding in the new world! 

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29 May 2014

explore-blog:

A final farewell: Maya Angelou on identity and the meaning of life in a gorgeous 1977 interview. 

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24 May 2014
“The problem with the normals and tech is the same as the problem with the normals and politics, or society in general. People believe they are powerless and alone, but the only thing that keeps people powerless and alone is that same belief. People, working together, are immensely and terrifyingly powerful.”

Everything is broken - on medium https://medium.com/message/81e5f33a24e1 

26 April 2014

Lots of gear but very little action this evening (at Bannergatta National Park)

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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