Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Photographing the Slender Loris

We made plans to sight and photograph the Slender loris, after been coaxed by a birding-pal to make some calls to the person well versed in the loris's habitat and its behaviour. Unfortunately, the guy who pushed the whole thing couldn't join us.

Deepavali has become a real torture these days, gone are the days of earthen lamps, poojas and sparklers. It's become more of a status symbol to burst the loudest "bomb", burst crackers till mignight, so it was a welcome relief to drive down Tumkur road with hardly any traffic and the setting Sun in our view.

Our contact person is affectionately called Mastroo,its a kannada term for a teacher. He's a teacher by profession,but not all teachers are addressed that way. Mastroo had conducted a couple of surveys in that area to find out more about the slender loris. He's also been intrumental in educating the villagers about this species, thus ensuring its survival and well being atleast around this area.

If one is going to a new area, it's always better to have a local contact, one who can guide you and take you to their favorite places.And, its only fair you return the favor when one gets an opportunity.After a slight delay, formal introductions and changing a flat tire, we reached the village, beyond which is loris country.We were thoroughly entertained by Mastroo, with his anecdotes regarding the loris, the more we listened to him, the more we wanted to see the animal.I don't go out with a lot of expectations, it's better to get great photography opportunites and feel lucky and blessed in a way, than feel like time utterly wasted and having your hopes crushed. Listening to Mastroo, I had a nice feeling about this outing, i was sure to get home with some good images and a big smile on my face.

Action started as soon as we took the turn at the far end of the village. Standing bang in the center of the road with eyes wide open and a little shocked to be in the spot light was a fully drunk old man! Cheap country liquor is what sells in rural India,his limbs had a mind of its own, he slighly turned at an angle, took a step back, but his upper torso was headed straight towards the bonnet of the car. After a couple of quick moves he regained his balance and slipped into the darkness by the roadside.

While crossing the village tank bund, we saw something slither across the road, it could only be a snake.This couldn't have been a cobra or a rat snake. With the engine still running and the headlights on, we got down to see a snake about 2-3 feet long and as thick as a man's arm.Mastroo, who is also an expert snake handler, identified it as a common krait, one of the most deadliest snakes in India, about 10-15 times more poisonous than a cobra.A lifer for me, and was glad to see a live snake on our roads for a change!

Beyond the tank are small agricultural fields, on either side of the road with hedge rows made of bamboo, lantana and others.Surprisingly this is the abode of the slender loris, not some reserved forest or a National park.We decided to take a small pathway with agricultual fields on both sides, couldn't make out what was grown there though, bamboo clumps with a small stream running through on the right, and lantana bushes on the left. With torches in hand, we broke up into two teams, and set out.Since we didn't know what to expect, we didnt bother getting our cameras and flashes ready and I was glad i had good walking shoes on, after the krait sighting.

We would stop at even a slight rustle in the shrubs,get confused with the shadows falling on the branches behind, we scanned every tree, shrub and clump.After an hour of searching and not even a glimpse of the animal, i was already making plans for my next visit. Our technique was quite simple. Scan the place with a touch, and keep a lookout for any refection of light from the loris's huge eyes, their eyes are supposedly bigger then their brains. Slow,quite and short step forward, two steps back and an extended gaze into the darkness turned into a brisk walk now.

As I turned a corner, i pointed my torch onto the tree in front, more due to the natural arm movemnet while walking rather than anything else, but what i saw, were two brilliantly shining balls in front, i made a dash towards the tree beyond some lantana bushes, but the slow moving animal gave me a slip.I was a little surprised by the size, i had assumed it to be almost as big as a domestic cat, but its almost half that size, and the eyes are just unmistakeable.I had seen him, albiet for a few seconds only.

We walked for another hour or so and decided to turn back. 3 more sightings, all very brief, but now we were pretty sure that this animal had quite a presence here.About, half way towards our car, we got to see an adult who held his ground. He was climbing a small branch when we shone the torchlight on him, he stopped climbing, turned towards us, rocked his head side-ways and perched still, for a complete minute. No one uttered a word nor moved an inch, I forgot I had my camera with me. He probably got bored looking at the light source, turned around, bent forward and slipped into the lantana bushes.

What an incredible experience, no matter how much we try, it takes a courageous animal to make our day.If they all decide to make it a frustrating outing, there's not a thing we can do.But, when something like this happens, you can only wonder at the beauty of what you just experienced.Experiences like this mean a lot then just taking photographs.We heard that Loris's eat grasshoppers like how we eat raw carrots, just imagine an opportunity to photograph that! Someday hopefully.

With smiles all round and a good sighting, we decided to head back.We must have been around 20 feet or so from the car, when I happened to look up and see something white and fluffy precariously placed on a branch, which leaned onto the pathway.On closer inspection, i realised i was looking at the under belly of a Magpie Robin, not one but two birds huddled together. A famous ornithologist from our area had once mentioned about birds sleeping on small branches and very close to human pathways to avoid predators like snakes.I could have stretched my arm and scratched the belly of the bird, if i wanted to. Isn't that a wonderful privilege in the wild?

While returning, Mastroo got a call to rescue a snake which had entered a house in the newly formed layout off Tumkur.The person at the other end was dead sure that it was a cobra.We reached the spot, only to see a beautiful shiny black rat snake coiled around the window rod.

It was well past midnight when the snake was rescued, thanked Mastroo for the wonderful company and we hit the highway towards Bangalore. Stopped at a roadside dhaba for some chicken curry and roti. Food served at Dhabas mainly have a north Indian flavor to it, but this one was a dhaba with a difference, the chicken curry had that typical grinded masala of rural south karnataka flavor to it.Lots of onion/garlic and spices and a good portion of chicken, but cut into very small pieces, and i loved it.Perfect evening, there's always tomorrow for photographs!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Stick Insect?

Looks like a stick,maybe a twig, and brown dry. You can snap it between your fingers, if you wanted to, without a sweat.You may get a pat on your back, for spotting it.Its been stomped over by all kinds of creatures, without most of them realising it.

The very features, that makes this creature appear weak/vulnerable to us, is also its strong point. It blends perfectly in its habitat. What appears as a harmless stick or a twig, maybe a stick insect if you noticed it move,is actually a praying mantis, a supreme predator at its level of the ecosystem. It uses its camouflaging abilities for effective hunting. It's so effective as a predator, it's even used as an organic pest controller in some parts.

Well, there's another way of looking at the whole thing. Isn't there an old adage which goes like, In one's strength lies one's weakness?