“His bill an auger is…”

” His Bill an auger is

His Head, a Cap and Frill

He laboreth at every Tree

A Worm, His utmost Goal

~Emily Dickinson

You name a bird, Emily would have sung about it! Emily’s magic brings the woodpecker and places the bird right before your eyes!

The black rumped flameback woodpecker is the one that is commonly seen around my house in Kerala. That reminds me, I have never seen the bird sitting on a branch idly. They are always on their toes (seriously! They have zygodactil feet, with four toes, for strong grip) engrossed in the rhythmic carpentry work.

I learnt some interesting facts about these hardworking folks in vibrant armour and cap. (courtesy to outdoor revival.com). They are the only ones among birds that do not collect twigs and grass to build nests. They construct spacious wooden houses to dwell in and are said to be the proud owners of some luxurious homes. Woodpeckers drill out chambers and are primary cavity-nesting birds. They change their cavities often and this love for moving houses, make them good samaritans as the old homes are by default donated to other small birds and small animals like squirrels.

It is amazing to know that the woodpecker knocks at tree trunks around 12,000 times a day, an average of 100 times per minute! Nature has her way of protecting their little brains. A bone loops around the brain and that saves it from injuries when the powerful hammering happens. The upper and lower beaks are of different length, hence the impact of the hitting is evenly distributed. The woodpecker’s tail is strong and sturdy and acts as a third leg.

Woodpeckers have bristles in their nostrils to filter the dust! To protect the eyes from the debris that fly around while they chisel the wood, there is a third translucent eyelid that moves forth and back keeping the visibility in tact at the same time. Amazing are the ways of Mother Nature!

Woodpeckers are the drummers and not the singers among the birds. As they don’t have vocal cords, they tap on metal or wooden surfaces to communicate.They are monogamous, one mate for a lifetime.

Ted Hughes too has written about the Woodpecker, about its bouncing rubber brains and about the poor oak that cries in terrors and pains as the bird bangs on the wood! Dickinson being my favourite her Woodpecker is my favourite too!

And Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar are the three places where these drummers are not seen!

Gorgeously Generous January!

It has been seven days and January seems to be kind and generous so far, lavishly gifting splendid dawns and sunrises. Everyday dawns with a vibrant and cheerful note, unlike the grim, gloomy mornings of last year..

It is believed that January is named after Janus the Roman God of beginnings and transitions. The god who is depicted with two faces, looking in opposite directions. One towards the Past and the other to Future. As per the Roman farmers’ almanac Juno was the tutelary deity of the month.

While distressing news pour in from all quarters of the globe, let’s hope that Janus and Juno together would make the transition a brighter one leading to happier, peace filled times!

Here is my first post of the year; I’m sharing some of Saigon’s January mornings.

Here’s wishing everyone Love, Happiness, Peace and Prosperity throughout the year! May Peace and Love prevail our Earth!

” With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” (Desiderata)

Meet the Lilliputians! Chevrotains aka Mouse-Deer

The smallest hoofed mammals in the world, chevrotains are in the lime light since the beginning of this week! The news that scientists spotted the silver backed chevrotains or Vietnamese mouse-deer after 30 years in the jungles of southern Vietnam is doing the rounds on media. It is said that there are 10 different species of chevrotains in the world, mostly seen in south and south east Asia, west and central parts of Africa. The silver backed ones are the most elusive, say the scientists.

My encounter with the timid, tiny mouse-deer was quite unexpected; spotted two to three of them among the dark shades of a corner in the zoological gardens. This happened a few months back. Big surprises come in small packages! I was elated at the sight of these adorable creatures that I have never seen before! It was a tough task to click a good photo as they were too shy and were startled even at the sight of birds; I somehow managed a few decent clicks. After reaching home I did some research, gathered some information about the mouse-deer.

A tiny package of a mouse, a deer, a squirrel, all in one is what the mouse-deer looked to me! They belong to Tragulidae family. Unlike deer, they don’t have antlers or four chambered stomach. They have two fangs projecting from either side of their lower jaws. These needle like fangs of the males are fiercer than that of Dracula’s, they say! They use it while fighting with their rivals.

These tiny creatures are preyed upon by many animals, including man. They are seen to lead secluded lives. The spotted chevrotains are seen in some parts of India. I realised that they are seen in Kerala too when a friend mentioned that she has seen one. In Malayalam they are given a term meaning puny; kooran or kooramaan (കൂരൻ, കൂരമാൻ). That throws light on a term of endearment my great grandmother used for my then toddler sister. Later when I grew up I used to wonder where the word ‘kooran’ derived from! She would have been referring to the dimunitive figure of my sister.

It is interesting to learn that in Indonesian and Malay folklore mouse-deer appear as tricksters. Kancil stories are popular in these regions. Sang kancil, in the folk tales and fables, is a clever mouse-deer that triumphs over stronger and bigger animals. Sang kancil’s song goes like this

“Am quick and smart as I can be

Try and try, but you can’t catch me

Be quick and smart, little friends and thrive well!

May your tribe increase!

Fairies’ sweepers, so says the poet!

“Peacocks sweep the fairies’ rooms; They use their folded tails for brooms;

But fairy dust is brighter far

Than any mortal colours are;

And all about their tails it clings

In strange designs of rounds and rings;

And that’s why they strut about

And proudly spread their feathers out

~Rose Fyleman

Isn’t that a lovely poem! I chanced upon this poem by Rose Amy Fyleman, an English poet who was well known for her fairy poems for children. The poet says the peacocks were the sweepers of fairies. Thus the idiom ‘proud as a peacock’ is fully justified!

Peacocks fascinate everyone with their resplendence. Poets say, when the rain clouds gather in the sky the peacocks dance with joy! The birds were familiar through poems and stories, in my young days. Other than zoological gardens or some temples they were hardly seen elsewhere.

The birds were seldom seen near human habitation those days. But in recent years, they have become a common sight. In most parts of Kerala, including our small village Anakkara, peafowls are seen fearlessly strutting around, flaunting their iridescent plumes and train.

The shrill shrieks of the peafowls from the paddy fields in front are quite normal during my visits to amma. Along with the chirp and tweet of the smaller birds, Anakkara mornings have become noisier with the cacaphonous calls from these birds! The bevy of peafowls parade in the fields across the road with the chicks, forage around the house and walk across the road without any fear.

Caution! Peahens crossing the road. Madam Peahen is hurrying to join the ‘party’ on the other side of the road!

Some peacock facts I learnt recently: Peacocks shed their train after mating season, hence Man can gather the feathers by not harming the bird, unless he wishes to be too greedy. Tiny crystal like structures present in the feathers give the shimmering blue and green colours of their plumage. Usually there are three to four females and a male in a harem of peafowls. A peahen’s crest has sensors and is attuned to the vibrating frequencies of the rattling of the male’s train!

Contrary to my belief, the white peafowls are not a specific species. They are the ones with a genetic mutation called leucism, that causes lack of pigmentation.

It looks exciting to follow the colourful trail of peacock tales! The bird has a prominent place in Greek, Egyptian, Roman and Hindu mytholigies. Hopefully I shall unfurl the stories in another blog post.

A boatful of blooms…

Tet, the Vietnamese new year is round the corner. Colours of tet as well as an air of gaiety fill the streets and even the river!

The sight of this boat filled with vibrant flowers, gliding through Saigon River filled me with joy in the morning! Marigolds and chrysanthemums are as significant as yellow apricot and pink peach flowers during Tet festivities.

The city is all set for Tet. Hoping that the year of the Pig brings Peace and Happiness to all!

Let’s take a gander at these gannets!

A forty minute long pleasant drive from Albany, through scenic farmlands and small vineyards on both sides, takes you to Muriwai beach with its black sand dunes, wind sculpted tall trees, flat rocks and cliffs lined with flax plants. Muriwai beach is one of the few places in the world where gannets nest on the mainland.

A smooth trail up the flattened rocks would take less than fifteen minutes walk and as you reach the raucous gannet colony, the viewing platforms help you get close view of the birds. Gannets are native to New Zealand. I find the Maori names for the native birds quite interesting as I feel that the names sound like the bird calls! There are Kereru (pigeon), korora( penguins), kaka, kea(mountain parrots), pukeko (swamp hen) and so on. Gannets are called ‘Takapu’ in Maori.

There are flat rocks and a flattened cliff below, where hundreds of gannets nest. Like most of the native birds, gannets too are fearless in human presence. The gannets look elegant while flying yet there is something comical about their gait. Is that a smile or a frown? Those clearly outlined beaks leave you baffled! Nevertheless the gannet in flight is magnificent, spreading their two metre wingspan, they glide and swoop wth grace.

A magnificent gannet in flight

It is pretty fascinating to know that gannet pairs bond for life. The female lays one egg, both male and female take turns in hatching the egg; they warm the eggs using their webbed feet. Gannets co-parent the young ones. When they are about four months, the young birds take off to Australia crossing the Tasman sea and after four years return to New Zealand to breed and never to go back!

Smile please

The birds have binocular vision and have air sacs in their face and chest, under their skin, which help them while diving deep into the sea to catch fish. Their excessive eating habits led to the slang ‘gannet’ for a gluttonous person!

In the golden light of the setting sun the sight of hundreds of nesting gannets of Muriwai Beach was a splendid experience!