During our trip to Tal Chhapar we hadn’t spotted a raven (Corvus corax). You don’t see them in most of the central plains or peninsular parts of India. So when we heard one at a place where we’d halted, we quickly scanned the area around us for a sighting. We’d stopped in the middle of rolling fields. I saw it fly up from behind a distant rise and wing it away from us.
I was slightly disappointed about getting such a short view of it. I looked at the photo I’d managed to take, and it looked funny. It seemed that there was something white in its beaks, but I couldn’t quite see what it was on my camera’s small LCD screen. Loath to go away, we stood there, and our patience was rewarded. It came back and dipped behind the same rise. Again it rose from there, and this time it flew directly towards us. There was certainly something in its beak.
It landed quite close to us, and now it was clear that it held an egg in its beak. Intriguing. It must have raided a nest. Many birds lay somewhere between two and four eggs in a nest, so it had certainly taken away at least half of the eggs. I thought it would eat it right there and got ready to shoot photos of a raven feeding.
It laid the egg on the ground. I was happy that I could see part of it. As it lowered its beak I was ready to click. But it missed the egg. No, it was digging a hole next to it! It quickly pecked a hole into the wet ground of the farmer’s field and pushed the egg into it. It turned around and picked up a large clod of mud in its beak and dropped it over the egg, covering it entirely. Unfortunately I missed the moments when it was dropping the mud over the hole.
But you can see in this photo that the egg was now completely invisible to me. It patted the mud down by stomping on it, and flew off towards the nest again. A third time it came back and we saw it fly in a third direction. It must have emptied out the nest completely, because it didn’t come back. I know crows and ravens are nest robbers, but I hadn’t seen them cache eggs before. It’s probably not new to most people, but I was happy that I could take photos of a fair bit of what happened.
In spite of the heavy smoke in the air, I stood outside and photographed nothing in particular. I was glad that I had an N95 mask on, it was good at filtering the smoke. I’m not good at identifying flowers and plants, so I take photos at the least opportunity, hoping that when I get back home I’ll be able to figure out what they are. On one side of the path that The Family had taken I saw this very common weed with lovely flowers, the Himalayan Daisy fleabane (Erigeron emodi) as I found later. I find it hard to tell the fleabanes apart, so I take photos of several features: the stems, the leaves, and the flowers. As I was busy doing this I heard a raven call.
It takes me a while to figure out whether I’m seeing a raven, but its call is absolutely distinct from those of other corvids of India. This Northern Raven (Corvus corax) was calling insistently. When I looked up, I saw it flapping about a ficus tree with fruits. There were movements behind a branch; a Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta). The bird circled the monkey, calling furiously for a while, and then flew off. I’d not been able to take a photo, so I followed it with my camera as it sat on a distant pine, still calling. In minutes it was back on a different branch of the ficus, calling again. The monkey barked back at it, and they continued this tiff as they kept eating the fruits. Clearly a territorial disagreement. I hadn’t seen these two species in a conflict before. I was happy to be out even on such a horrible day.
Before the vacation I tried to find out what walks we could take. My lungs are not good for steep climbs, and I didn’t know how well The Young Niece would hold up to climbs. So I looked for flat walks or gentle ups and downs. I found a nice flat walk at an altitude of about 3 Kilometers above sea level. This was the walk from Jalori pass to Serolsar lake, a distance of six Kilometers each way.
At Jalori pass we took in the sight of the snowy peaks of the distant high Himalayas part of the way to Manali. It was windy and I was happy to be bundled up in several layers. As soon as we walked away from the blacktop road at the pass, the wind dropped. This is typical of a pass. The road passed below a ridge which The Family would climb later to get a better view of the distant mountains. Then the path passed into an oak forest. At this height these were all Himalayan brown oaks (Quercus semiscarpifolia).
An oak forest is alive. There were mosses growing on the bark, and I was sure that there would be insects under that. I wondered whether there are any woodpeckers in this area. I could only hear the deep cry of ravens flying above the canopy. A couple of groups of older people passed us, smiling encouragements at The Young Niece. I was slowing everyone down by trying to take photos of a butterfly which I hadn’t seen before. I was to find later that this was the common satyr. We stopped at a fallen tree trunk which had interesting mushrooms growing on the shady underside of the log.
I was warm, and beginning to shed my layers. Unfortunately, I did not think of asking The Young Niece whether she would like to shed a layer or two. After about three Kilometers of walking she overheated and started feeling giddy. We were bringing up the rear. The Family and The Lotus had walked ahead and were out of sight behind a turn in the road. The Young Niece sat down on the edge of the path, and started taking off her layers. That’s when I found that she’d overdone the warms and had on twice as much as I would have suggested. I called out to our scouts to turn back. As we sat there and waited, a raven came to rest on a branch in front of us and examined us carefully. It croaked a couple of questions which I could not answer. When The Family came back, it decided to fly away.
The family brought news of a copse of rhododendron in flower ahead. By this time The Young Niece was looking almost her normal colour. “Shall we go on?” she asked. The Family and I looked at each other. We didn’t know whether it was the heat or the altitude which had given her trouble. 3 Kilometers is not that high, but the youngster has not been up in the mountains before. We decided to play it safe and go back. I noticed a lot of Himalayan wild strawberries (Fragaria nubicola) flowering here, runners threading through fallen oak leaves. Lower down they were already in fruit. I’d persuaded The Young Niece to eat the small but flavourful berries. The flowers are not too different from those of the Himalyan musk rose; the easiest way to tell the difference is by the size of the plant it grows on.
The Young Niece was probably feeling guilty about cutting the walk short, because she was taking part in the exploration of wildflowers with more enthusiasm than usual. There were some things growing on the oaks (photo above) which completely stumped me. They were thick and fleshy like cacti; nothing that I’ve seen before. We saw a couple of varieties of tortoiseshell butterflies. On a bunch of dry flowers I saw spiderwebs: evidence that there were more insects here than we had notices. Soon we were back out of the forest and near the ridge. We hadn’t walked very long, but we’d seen several different things. As The Lotus and The Family went to look at the peaks in the distance, I walked with The Young Niece past the bunch of shops at Jalori pass into the oak forest below. She would be better lower down and without too many warm clothes.