Labels

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Fringe benefits

It's on the edges of formal meetings (and for that matter, even informal ones) that one chances upon moments of learning of a different kind; in those unexpected overflows of energy and fellowship that escape the confines of strict agendas and constricted sessions.

So it was that I joined a handful of others at the brave hour of six-thirty in the morning, in search of birds and tiny beasts, on the quirky yet charming campus of the (hopefully named) School of Ancient Wisdom, itself a place on the edges (of Bangalore city). We were led on this treasure hunt by Suhel and Vena from the Nature Conservation Foundation.

"There are no useful lessons to be learned from Nature," notes Suhel, with more than a hint of wry humor. Meaning, of course, we should not be looking to nature for answers to human problems or to address The Human Condition. Even though we (humans) may be responsible for much of the problems of nature.


"Bird watching is a bit of a misnomer," Suhel says, as we try hard to spot the coppersmith that had flown into the topmost branches of a flowering jacaranda. "It's more like bird hearing...or listening." But then, following his expert pointing finger, we do see the creature, twisting its neck this way and that as it called out to a potential mate.

We stop under a fig tree where we get into an extended discussion about the value of the species to the forest ecosystem, including the curious way in which a type of wasp helps pollinate it. No wonder, then, the last time I broke open a wild fig fruit,  hundreds of eager young wasps scurried out of a hollowed interior. "The domestic figs are specially bred, that's why they don't carry insects," Suhel explains.

A small bridge over a goldfish pond offers us a bird's' eye view (bad pun?) of the Jesus spider, lazily skimming its way across the water. Suitably impressed, we walk further into this modest tangle of greenery, and the naturalists point out the expertly tailored nests of the fire ants and the conical sand pits where the lion ant awaits its prey (I hear: "In the jungle, the sandy jungle, the lion ant sleeps tonight"--sorry, wrong lyrics right song!)

The lynx spider 
Soon Vena directs our urban gaze to a tiny, tiny frog clambering up a rock--so tiny I mistook it for a bug. She's been hanging back, peering at tree bark and bending over bushes. She waves us over to look at a lynx spider, its six bulbous black "eyes" (I imagine) watching us watching it. 

The tiniest frog I ever did see!


On the next bush are a couple of farmer ants, minding a mealy bug (at this point I have the Ugly Bug song running through my head). "These are the original pastoralists," quips Suhel (didn't he just say there were no lessons...?).





The ant minds the mealy bug

The short walk gave us glimpses of bulbul, golden oriole, magpie robin, swallow, crested heron, and several other birds I can't remember the names of.  Suhel tells us about the long and arduous journeys of the migratory birds and others chip in with pieces of naturalist non-trivia.

As we near the end of our circuit Vena chances upon an orb web in the making, its creator quivering in slight nervousness as the ground beneath vibrates under some half-dozen trampling feet.



We ooh and aah as silently as we can, watching the faint outline of the concentric circles of spider silk catch the light of the speeding sun, before we turn our steps softly towards breakfast.