Wild visitor at Lakeside

wild boar at LakesideWhile walking in our area of land set aside for wildlife this morning I met a local family.

Mum, Dad and baby wild boar were happily rooting away for breakfast. Although I wondered why they would be hungry after digging up some of the plants in our gardens last night!

Unlike boar that you might find elsewhere, these are not aggressive unless they feel threatened. On seeing (even hearing or smelling!) humans, they take off into the densest vegetation they can find. I always feel privileged to see them, but do wish they would not run away and hide before I can take a photo! Thankfully I have one that I took a few years ago. This photo was taken just after the dry season and before the new growth had come through. As you can see, this animal looked hungry. The boar I saw today were much better fed!

Boar can be a bit of a pest. Once Lakeside has settled for the night and no one is around they will come in and dig up the succulent roots of plants. It is just bad luck that the tastiest roots are those of the plants in our flowerbeds and not weeds!

You may see a lone boar (males tend to be solitary) or a pair. If really lucky you could see mum and dad with a family of little ones! Young boar stay with their mother until they are adult. In some places you can see as many as 20 boar in a group, although in this valley you are more likely to see less than 10.

The wild boar is the ancestor of the domestic pig and the two species will inter-breed. So, any feral pigs you may see on rubbish heaps on the outskirts of villages could well have some boar blood.

 Boars forage mostly at dawn and dusk and into the night so you are unlikely to see them during the heat of the day. They are omnivorous and will eat anything they find – grass, nuts, berries, carrion, roots and tubers, insects and small reptiles. They are also a menace for our ground-nesting birds as they will take both the bird and the eggs.

As the boar is one of the bigger mammals in the valley they don’t have many predators. A fox or local dog may take a piglet, but only the leopard will take on a full grown boar.

Is India neglecting its responsibilities to wildlife?

The wild elephants are still in the area, but not too close to Lakeside.

The forest rangers say that they have just come looking for food and water, but in yesterdays Hindu newspaper environmentalists say that part of the problem is the destruction of elephant habitat and ‘elephant corridors’ in the Reserve Forest, which is forcing them to change their range.

Let me just emphasise: RESERVE FOREST, set up as a protection for wildlife and a buffer zone between them and humans.  Why is human encroachment allowed? I would hate to think that people turn a blind eye for money. Or maybe there are just not enough people to enforce the law – if so there are plenty of poor local people who might be glad of such paid employment.

I do hope that this is not another case of India neglecting her wildlife for selfish reasons.

Wild elephant in Tamil Nadu

Wild elephant in Tamil Nadu

Elephants at Lakeside!

elephants at Athoor damThe drought is really taking hold.

For the first time ever, elephants have come over the Palani Hills to our valley in search of water and food. Five elephants visited over the weekend. The crowds of local people made them nervous so we kept our distance!

Today’s Hindu newspaper tells the story.

People in our area are hoping and praying for a good summer monsoon to help replenish water supplies, for ourselves and the animals. If we don’t get it we then have to wait until November.

On a positive note it has just started raining. Maybe the elephants have brought us good luck – and good rain!

 

Political chameleons in India?

You may call me a cynic, but as the massive elections finally draw to a close in India I wonder what, if anything, will change when there is a new government?  I would like to think that India will move away from the corruption which has plagued it in the past, and that some of the wealth of this nation will go to those who are most in need. But perhaps little will change – except the promises made by politicians.

This isn’t a criticism of Indian politicians alone. How many people around the world have been frustrated when the promises made by the people they voted for just don’t materialize?

Let’s hope that the new representatives who are sworn in will honour their election promises and not change their colours overnight – unlike like these wonderful Indian chameleons!

9 8 7 6 4

A rare glimpse of a rare animal – the Giant Grizzled Squirrel

I took this picture of a Giant Grizzled Squirrel yesterday. The photo was taken in the Palani HIlls of Tamil Nadu, but I won’t say exactly where as these animals are on the ‘at risk’ register and are protected. To find out more about these beautiful animals please see my earlier post here.

What a privilege to spend time observing this beautiful creature.

Great Grizzled Squirrel, Tamil Nadu, India

Giant Grizzled Squirrel, Tamil Nadu, India

Birdwatching in South India

Painted Stork

Painted Stork

Travel and Tour World have had a great article this week about migratory birds in Tamil Nadu, but there is one mistake in it – they seem to have missed out Lakeside!

Seriously though, although our valley may not be a bird sanctuary and does not have the huge flocks of birds that you will see elsewhere, what we do have is variety.

A few years ago students from the nearby Gandhigram University came to the valley each weekend for a whole year to catalogue the species which they could see.  Some birds were obviously local residents and here all the time, whilst others were migratory and changed with the changing seasons.  All in all, they identified over 200 species!

What makes our valley so unique is the variety of habitats within a small area.  Behind our property are steeply rising hills which create perfect thermals for raptors.  The hills are Reserve Forest which means that they are protected and so we have many forest birds in the area.  Moving down we have more open brush/woodland; then there are our gardens which attract even more species.  There is, of course, the lake with the types of birds that attracts, and as water levels fall we get the waders which like a more marshy environment.  To add to that there are the cultivated areas of coconut, mango, paddy fields etc.  If that is not enough we can take a short drive up into the hills and see more birds which like a slightly higher altitude and cooler environment.

If you are thinking of doing a ‘birdwatching’ holiday in South India then you must visit the sanctuaries in Tamil Nadu, but don’t forget the unique environment of Lakeside as well!

And if you are not a confirmed birdwatcher?  The majority of our guests say that they enjoy seeing the amazing variety, colours and sounds of the local birdlife, creating many memories to take home at the end of a relaxing stay in a unique, secluded rural environment.

Why not come and stay to see for yourself!

A hunter on the prowl – the praying mantis

Hunting bugs on the wall of the main house.

Hunting bugs on the wall of the main house.

I have written a few posts on the birds and animals you might see at Lakeside, but there are also some fascinating insects. Both of the photos in this post were taken on the veranda of the main house fairly early in the morning. It is obvious from their colour which one lives in a verdant bush and which one makes it’s home in dry or dead leaves!

The praying mantis (or mantid) gets it’s name from the way it holds it’s front legs like a person praying.  These insects are carnivorous hunters, well adapted to their way of life. They have a triangular head on a long “neck,” (part of an elongated thorax) and can turn their heads 180 degrees to scan their surroundings with their two large compound eyes and three other simple eyes which are located between them.

Mantids are usually green or brown which provides excellent camouflaged as they live on plants where they lie in ambush, waiting for their prey to come to them, or slowly and patiently stalking it. They use their front legs to reach out and grab their prey with reflexes which are so quick that they are difficult to see with the naked eye. Once they have a hold of their dinner the spikes on the legs dig in to prevent the meal escaping.

The praying mantis will eat moths, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, and other insects; they are also cannibals and are not averse to eating their own kind. The most famous example of this is the mating behavior of the adult female, who sometimes eats her mate just after — or even during — mating. Strangely, the male doesn’t seem to be put off by this!

Is this a dead leaf?  No, it's a hunter on the prowl!

Is this a dead leaf? No, it’s a hunter on the prowl!

Life-saving camouflage for ground-nesting birds

I recently read an article in The Hindu newspaper about threats to ground nesting birds from a variety of causes ranging from shrinking habitat to feral dogs and grazing animals. Over the last few years we have had red-wattled lapwing and Indian nightjar nesting at Lakeside so I found the article very interesting. I agree with the article that we need to plan how to preserve the habitat of such birds whilst also fulfilling the needs of the human population – not an easy task!

If you would like to read the article you can find it here.

The following photos of ground nesting birds were all taken at Lakeside.

red-wattled lapwing eggs

red-wattled lapwing eggs

Young red-wattled lapwing

Young red-wattled lapwing

Indian Nightjar eggs

Indian Nightjar eggs

Indian Nightjar on nest - great camouflage!

Indian Nightjar on nest – great camouflage!

Indian nightjar chick within minutes of hatching

Indian nightjar chick within minutes of hatching

Gaur – a natural hazard on the golf course!

Anyone who plays golf will know that there can sometimes be natural hazards on the course which may interfere with play. But I would bet that most people who play golf in the western world have never had to cope with a natural hazard which is found on our local course!

My husband, Pete, is a keen golfer and will occasionally drive up to Kodaikanal for a round. In that area you will find the gaur – a huge bovine that looks like a bull on steroids! Although it is classed as vulnerable the gaur is quite common around Kodai. They like to come onto the golf course at night to graze – and can cause havoc on the greens with their enormous hooves! To combat this the groundsmen erect and maintain a net fence around each green; the holes in the netting are large enough not to interfere with the flight of a golf ball but the net appears as a barrier to the gaur who will walk round it!

Netting surrounding the green on Kodaikanal Golf Course

Netting surrounding the green on Kodaikanal Golf Course

The gaur is the tallest species of wild cattle, a full grown male can easily be 6 feet at the shoulders and some can reach over 7 feet! It is very strong and massively built – they can be almost 11 feet in length (2.5 to 3.5 meters); the average weight is around 650 – 1,000 kg with the occasional big bull reaching up to 1,500 kg; females tend to be about three-quarters the size of the males. Both sexes have huge horns.

Gaur are among the largest living land animals. Only elephants, rhinos, the hippopotamus and the giraffe consistently grow heavier. This is definitely one hazard that you would not want to meet on your local golf course!

This is not my photograph, but it certainly shows the size of these beasts!

This is not my photograph, but it certainly shows the size of these beasts!

Giant Grizzled Squirrel – threatened inhabitant of the local forest

Grizzled squirrel

There is a small river valley near here where we take guests for a walk to experience the natural life on offer in the foothills of the ghats. There are always birds to be seen – ranging from small minivets to black eagles – and sometimes a langur monkey or two can be seen playing in the trees. There are also deer and gaur (Indian bison) in the area although I have not seen them. What I have seen though is the Grizzled Squirrel.

The Grizzled Giant Squirrel is a large tree squirrel that is only found in patches of forest along the Kaveri River and in the hill forests in Tamil Nadu and Kerala along with a few places in Sri Lanka. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the species as near threatened due to habitat loss and hunting. A Grizzled Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary (covering over 480sq. km) was set up in 1988 in Srivilliputtur, Tamil Nadu to protect ‘Ratufa macroura’ which is the smallest of the giant squirrels found in the Indian subcontinent. The squirrel has a head and body length of 25 to 45 centimetres (9.8 to 18 in), and tail measuring roughly the same or more giving a total length of 50 to 90 centimetres (20 to 35 in). It has small rounded ears with pointed tufts. The home range of an individual is between 1,970 and 6,110 square metres, and the species breeds just once a year, producing a single offspring.

The squirrels spend most of the day feeding, although they do take a ‘siesta’ during the hottest part of the day (just like most of the local inhabitants!) They feed mostly on fruits and seeds but when these are scarce they will eat tender leaves and shoots. Unusually for squirrels these animals tend to build two dreys (nests), usually in forked branches so that they can make a quick ‘get away’ in any direction if threatened.

I’m not sure why the squirrels are in this area (there may be a forest ‘corridor’ linking to the sanctuary) but I feel very privileged to have seen them. In order to protect the animals I won’t say where this spot is so if you want a chance to see them you will just have to come and stay at Lakeside!

Grizzled Giant Squirrel