Within the ten paces where I’d seen so many unknown plants, I also saw many animals. We look at an animal and immediately say, “That’s a butterfly. That’s a moth. That’s a bird, a mammal, a spider.” But we can’t do the same for plants. Our greater familiarity with animals extends to being able to identify species more easily. I’d dabbled with identifying butterflies in the past, so I wasn’t fazed by the female of the Chocolate pansy (Junonia iphita) which briefly sunned itself by the side of the road.
I waited there with Adesh and my companions for quite a while because we kept hearing the call of an Immaculate cupwing (Pnoepyga immaculata). This skulker in the undergrowth was completely new to me, and its new name gave me no picture of the bird. When I learnt its older common name, a Nepal wren-babbler, I had a quick flash of what it would look like: small and brown. I wish common names were not changed so frequently by the committees that have taken over bird watching. I was lucky to finally get a glimpse of the bird, and incredibly lucky to get a photo, whatever its quality. This bird is not rare, but it rarely shows itself.
I had time enough to spot and photograph a tiger moth sitting in plain view on top of a leaf in a cluster of lantana bushes. A moth which does not take the effort to hide is probably poisonous. Later I checked and found that it was Tropical tiger moth (Astora caricae) a member of the colourful family Erebidae. It produces distasteful chemicals which make it unpalatable to most predators, including its main enemy, nocturnal bats.
A mountain spring trickled down the cliff. The place was quiet except for the sounds of birds, and the soft babble of the water as it flowed in a tiny stream by the road next to us. It is so different being in the mountains. A wet stream on the side of a city road would certainly not be clean, and is something you would go out of your way to avoid. Here water of this kind is clear and drinkable. If you fill a bottle with it you see a little turbidity which settles quickly. A land crab scuttled out of the stream as soon as my shadow fell over it. It took shelter in a niche, and I could see nothing apart from a claw. It is hard to identify hidden animals.
Doesn’t everyone need exactly what they don’t have? During normal times I would be so wrapped up in busy-work all day that I had no time to think outside the box. In a life crammed with not-so-necessary meetings, unending traffic, pointless face-to-faces, a holiday was a time to unwind. You wanted the most picturesque. Now, in a time of travel restrictions, any get away is good enough. We are lucky to have spectacular destinations a short drive away. These are destinations that we neglected in the past. Now the idea of wading through seasonal streams in beds of volcanic basalt is wonderful. Everything outside your eyeballs is a source of inspiration. As your body exerts itself, your mind becomes alert. You see new things.
We came to a point where the stream ran below a low bridge. We were forced to cross the road. We weren’t the only ones. A land crab scuttled across the blacktop. I’d never seen a land crab walk before, and I’d expected the same ten-footed sideways gait as sea crabs. This one walked sideways on two feet! Bipedal land crabs should be easy to identify. Unfortunately I have no field manual. So I’ll leave it as belonging to the family Gecarcinidae and move on. I have to move faster than The Family when I’m taking photos, because she gets a little testy sometimes about my frequent photo stops.
Clambering over stones at the edge of the road I saw a mass of pulsating red. A closer look showed me the original inhabitants of India. These were centipedes (class Chilopoda). They have one pair of legs in each segment of the body. This distinguishes them from millipedes, which have two pairs of legs per segment. It seems that their ancestors lived in the Indian landmass 80 to 100 million years ago. The oldest signs of humans here are no older than 1.5 million years ago. I gave these unfriendly ancient natives of India a wide berth, and moved on.
The flooding water had moved loose stones on to the road. These scattered stones now stood in the way of the water still flowing over the road. I looked at the criss-cross of braided flow that resulted. Quite an interesting pattern. Worth a shot, isn’t it?
As we climbed proceeded along the stream on the other side of the road, more inspiration waited to strike. My strides disturbed a leap of grasshoppers (infraorder Acrididae). They jumped from the low grass on to stones. Most of them jumped away immediately into grass again. A few stragglers gave me an opportunity to take photos. Stubby little bodies, light green in colour. Huge hind legs, which could unfold at the knee to allow them to jump many times their body lengths. I saw this species again a couple of times. I should spend some time trying to identify them.
Just ahead, a small caterpillar on a rock in the middle of the stream posed a mystery. What is a caterpillar doing on a bare rock in the middle of flowing water? A mystery worthy of Hercule Poirot, I believe. There were rice fields ahead. This stream led there. Perhaps a clue to the origin of the caterpillar? My little grey cells tickled. I walked on.