Friday, 12 August 2011

Welcome Showers

While most of India has been hit by the South west Monsoons, Tamil Nadu as usual, has picked up only some of this rain. To get our fair share of downpour, we will have to wait till the end of the year, for the North east monsoons. Maximum temperatures are still in the 33 deg C - 36 deg C range.  However, even the occasional light showers that we've been getting are a blessing. The layers of dust on the trees have been washed off, the smaller plants aren't wilting any more, the city seems greener and everyone is more cheerful.
Lush View from the Western Side of Our Roof
Rain has Goaded the Lantana to Bloom
With each brief spell of rain, there are a few new appearances in the garden.

A recent appearance is the Keezha Nelli or Phyllanthus niruri. In Tamil, "Keezha" means down/under and "nelli" means berry. Under the leaves of this plant, you will find tiny green mustard seed-sized fruits. It is this feature that helps me distinguish it from other similar looking weeds. Though in Ayurveda, it is regarded highly, it is in reality an unassuming weed that chooses to spring up anyplace. As a child, I remember my mother telling me about its anti-jaundice properties. It also has several other medical benefits, including kidney stone prevention. With several trials underway, allopaths are seriously  looking at its potential. 

Phyllanthus Niruri or Keezha Nelli (in Tamil)

Tiny fruit on the Leaf Underside
Mushrooms have also been sprouting in parts of our garden.

Pushing Through the Dirt
A Fine Umbrella for Some Bug?

Like most Indians, I haven't a clue about which mushrooms are edible and which aren't. It's hard enough for an expert. Traditionally labelled as "tamasic", since it springs out of rotting and decaying matter, mushrooms haven't enjoyed a favourable reputation in India. We are beginning to change that as we discover the joys of eating them. Yet, the more orthodox among us, still like to keep away from these fungi.
Mushroom with a Reed Fused into it.
While mushroom cultivation requires a tightly controlled environment, I like the way these wild mushrooms choose to sprout anywhere with gay abandon. If only I could eat them!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Nests in the Garden

A crow nestling has emerged in the crow's nest that I'd written about in my earlier post. There were three eggs but only one baby crow made it into the world.
Crow Nestling: Nearly 20 Days Old
This is one spunky little chick that's always demanding food and attention from its parents. Actually it needn't bother. Both its parents are very indulgent and are forever fussing over their only baby. Tasty morsels are brought to it all day. Often, some of it is deposited on our bathroom windowsill. The other day, we had a large chicken foot placed on our windowsill. The hideous image of the severed foot completely freaked me out. But I imagine it was a treat for our baby crow.
Screaming for its Food: Like all Babies, Bird or Human

Another bird's nest that came to my notice is an exquisite tailorbird's nest. Abandoned by the birds, I was free to examine it from all angles. The nest is most impressive. Two large leaves have been delicately sewn together with plant fibre. 
Abandoned Tailorbird's Nest
Underside: Sewn together with Plant Fibre
The inside is lined with soft material, specially beak-picked by the parents. The tailorbird is a tiny bird, with a high-pitched chwee chwee call. Always flitting from branch to branch, it hardly ever stays still. And though I spot it ever so often, I've never been able to capture this bird with my lens. At least now I have shots of its workmanship.

Inside the Nest: Warm and Cosy
There's one more nest in the garden, that deserves mention. A hornets' nest. Though beautiful, this nest mostly evokes dread in me.  Here's a zoomed in picture of the nest, courtesy of my neighbour. The nest being on the top (fourth) floor of our building, my simple, point and shoot camera could not measure up to the task.
Hornets' Nest: Made of Chewed Plant Fibre and Wasps' Saliva
After a lot of research on the Internet, I've come to believe that this is the Greater Banded Hornet or the Vespa Tropica. Please correct me, if I am wrong. 
Greater Banded Hornet / Vespa Tropic: A Dead One
The sting of this wasp is rather painful. We know this for a fact as we've recently had two victims. While a bee stings once, a wasp can sting repeatedly and without any apparent provocation. What is more worrying is that a small percentage of people are allergic to the stings and if stung, can go into anaphylactic shock, which is potentially fatal.

In cooler climes, most wasps die in winter. But the so called winter in Chennai may simply go unnoticed by the wasps.  While I find the presence of the hornet's nest threatening, (especially on hot days), and am even contemplating its elimination, I'm also hoping I don't have to meddle with nature. Would the wasps do me a favour and relocate some place else. Or is this wishful thinking?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Today's Garden Visitor - The Rat Snake

This morning, a snake was spotted in the building's common garden. While snakes have been spotted ever so often in our garden, this one seemed worthy of special attention. At over 3 feet, it seemed too long to ignore. Most city folk don't know much about snakes. In fact,  many of us could easily mistake a worm for a snake. So for us urbanites, whether we can tell if a snake is venomous or not, is too much to ask for. Whenever a snake is causing inconvenience in Chennai, the Guindy Snake Park is contacted. The snake park employs a bunch of extremely professional snake catchers who are open to distress calls related to snakes.

Snake Catcher from the Guindy Snake Park
When the snake catcher arrived, he identified it as the rat snake. This snake is quite common and pretty harmless to humans. As its name suggests, it feeds on rats. However harmless they may be, snakes aren't welcome in urban dwellings. So it was bundled into a cloth bag and taken away to be released in the wild. With one less rat snake around, if the rat population rises, we have only ourselves to blame.

Holding the Snake Tight
My son and I were thoroughly impressed by the snake catcher. Without a hint of fear, our man held the struggling creature, strongly in his hands. These men are known to expertly handle even the deadliest of snakes, often with just a crowbar or even their bare hands. What they rely on is their excellent acumen, honed over generations. The snake catching Irula tribe are one of the best snake catchers in the world. Now I know who the hero of my next story for my son will be -- the Brave Snake Catcher from Guindy.