December 24, 2011

Why did we decide to go birding in the Himalayas in winter? When I think back, I believe the answer must have been that in the heat of May we could not think of the Himalayas as anything but pleasant. So we moved up for our vacation at a time when each and every bird seemed to have migrated in the opposite direction. As a birding trip it was a disaster. But there was compensation. I’ve never had a view of Kanchenjuga as good as that. The featured photo is the view we had from our cabin window on a freezing dawn.

We walked the same trails in and around Lava and Neora valley that we did again early in spring this year. In spring the birds begin to return and you see a lot of activity. In winter that year there was not a single bird to be seen. The ferns were just opening up though, and I had wonderful shots of the fronds unfolding.

It was hardly a good time for moths and butterflies either. We saw the hardy Indian tortoiseshell (Aglais caschmirensis), a perennial sight at these middle heights. I spotted a single specimen of a fabulously patterned moth sitting one morning. I’ve never seen it again, and I can’t identify it. An expert lepidopterist refused to answer my question about it, so I assume she was also not sure of an ID.

We spent the day wandering around paths through the valley. Elsewhere I’ve written about the beautiful houses in this area. The traditional houses are either made of wood, or have a timber frame, filled in with woven mats and then plastered over. I love the beautiful contrasting colours that they paint the doors and windows in. Outside each house is either a small garden, or a row of flowers in planters. These hamlets are small and poor, but look beautiful. Although we saw no birds, it was a wonderful day.

Outdoor, indoor

The seasons keep changing. Varsha, sharad, hemant… How gender imbalanced! Four seasons give names to men: Sharad, Hemant, Shishir, Vasant. One to women, Varsha. And no one names their babies Grishma. Anyway, the pandemic which started in vasant has now lasted till the change between sharad and hemant.

This is the time of the year when this night-flying butterfly makes an appearance. Like all its cousins, the moths, it is lured indoor by our lights. You would have a hard time telling this wet-season morph outdoor at its normal perch among rotting leaves on the ground. The dry season morph is equally invisible among fallen dry leaves. I suppose it is the humidity during pupation that determines which morph emerges from the chrysalis.

But mostly this is a time when moths fill your house. In recent times in Mumbai I’ve been seeing a lot of the underwing moths, their drab upper wings closing over bright orange hind wings as they come to rest. But here are three beauties which I haven’t been able to identify. They are all small, between half a centimeter and half an inch! The photos show their sizes relative to each other accurately. You need magnifying glasses or a macro lens to examine them, but it pays off.

They’re back!

The moths I used to see on walls since last winter had disappeared around the time we went into lockdown. They are back again. I don’t know whether this was due to the anthropause, or whether this is a normal annual cycles. I must watch next March and April.

I can still only identify less than half of the most common ones. Here the two I know are the spotted Crotolina podborer (Argina astrea) and the yellow-tailed tussock moth (Somena scintillans). You can roll your mouse over the photos to get the captions.

I really must invest in a field guide to Indian moths. Any other enthusiasts out there? Anyone who can make suggestions about which book to buy for Indian or Asian moths?

Milliscale nature

If I cannot go out into nature, surely I can entice it into visiting me. Leaving balcony lights on at night yields a bonanza. In the morning, visitors still cling to walls. A pepper moth chooses to sit on a part of the wall where it is hard to see.

On first sight this bug (order Coleoptera) looked black. But when I peered at it, I found its colouring more subtle, dark ashy stripes over a dark reddish brown. Beautiful, when you peer down at the millimeter scale.

Right out in the open was a lacewing (order Neuroptera). I guess these feisty creatures are not afraid of anything of their size. Perhaps spiders and birds are different, but my balcony has not attracted a spider yet.

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