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.

Breaking the mould – brick making in India

For as long as people can remember bricks in India have been made by hand. You can often see a small brick kiln beside the road where a family will make their own mud bricks and sell to locals. The quality of such bricks is not always good as the kiln is too small.

Close to Lakeside is a much lager commercial brick factory. A visit there is always popular with our guests.

The mud is put into the mould by hand…

…then tipped out.

There are about forty families employed at the factory. Couples often work together and are paid by the number of bricks they make.

The bricks are left to dry in the sun for about one week, being turned two or three times so that they dry evenly.

Then they are taken to the kiln. This is the same shape as the amphitheatres the Romans used for their chariot races.

The sun-dried bricks are carefully stacked in sections, each of which will be sealed off for firing.

Once the section is sealed it is covered with bricks and sand. The metal ‘lids’ cover the holes where the fuel is put in.

The fuel is a combination of thorn wood and cashew nut shells. These nuts have been roasted and the kernals removed. The remaining shell is very oily, this helps to create a fierce, consistent heat which creates a good quality brick.

The chimney is an ingenious design. It is on rails so that it can be moved from section to section as they are fired.

The firing lasts for one day, then the bricks are left for a week as they cool down.

The bricks are then removed by hand…

…loaded onto lorries…

…and taken to Dindigul where they are sold. Local people can buy directly from the factory.

As with all things in India, a new machine has recently been brought in to increase production. In this case, however, it has not meant the loss of jobs. The factory still employs the same number of people but produces twice as many bricks. The machine is still very simple and is labour intensive. It is fascinating to watch.

Some of the bricks are still made by hand, but I wonder how long that will last. Regardless of how the bricks are manufactured, it is a fascinating process and our guests always enjoy their visit.

If you come to stay at Lakeside, I’ll be happy to show you around!

 

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

The smallest temples in the world?

Somewhere in the jungle in the south of Karnataka are these tiny temples.

They have been here for centuries, if not millennia, used by the local tribal people as part of their animistic religion (believing that all things have a spirit or god in them and worshipping them).

I believe that there are three of these temples in all, one represents rounded hills, the second steep pointed hills and the third a squarer type of hill. The two that we saw are only around 40 – 50cm high and are within a few hundred feet of each other. The third is ‘lost’ as far as our guide knows, but the tribal people are likely to know where it is and still use it.

The small copper pot and stone-carved receptacle which you can see here are thought to be around 1,000 years old and are still used in worship. Our guide asked us not to disclose where these small temples are as the artefacts could be stolen by ‘antique hunters’ who would get a good price for them.

There is a sense of timelessness at these tiny temples, a feeling of being part of something ‘other-wordly’ and unique. People have risked the dangers of the jungle to come here; the wild elephant, leopard and tiger no deterent to their determination  to worship god in their own special way. Long may these places remain a hidden haven for the local people who see them as part of their past, present and future.

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

Drag net fishing in southern India

The lake from which Lakeside gets its name is fed by monsoon rains which fall onto the foothills of the Western Ghats – and onto us! Once the lake is full the water goes over the overspill to fill other lakes in the area, water that is used for irrigation of some fields but is predominantly drinking water for Dindigul.

When it is full the lake is more than 20 feet deep at the centre, and as it covers more than 500 acres this is a lot of water! Each year the local government puts the fishing rights for the lake up for auction – one man will bid to stock the lake and to harvest the fish. This man will then employ locals to fish the lake, and most days you can see them out in their little coracles.

As the level of the lake falls the fishermen are able to utilise huge nets which are set in a semi-circle and then pulled in to shore. This can guarantee a large catch of fish in a relatively small space of time.

The nets are laid by the boats . You can see a line of floats cutting across the foreground of the picture.

The men in the boats follow the net in, making sure that it doesn’t catch on any obstacles – and scaring the fish away so that they don’t try to jump out.

The scene from Lakeside.

In this picture you can also see some men in the water helping the net to move more freely.

Once the net gets closer to the shore the men in the water help to drive the fish further into the shallows.

One or two splashes can be seen as the fish start jumping…

…then it becomes quite chaotic as they all try to escape. You can see how big some of these fish are!

After a successful afternoon fishing it’s time to lay out the nets to dry before heading home.

And so ends another fascinating afternoon at Lakeside – all without leaving the comfort of my chair!

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