Thursday, 17 August 2017

Giving a facelift to Adambakkam lake

The biggest lesson that the Chennai floods in 2015 taught the city dwellers is the importance of preserving the natural wetlands for proper watershed management. A proper watershed management includes a balanced recharge-discharge of rain water. The lakes in the urban landscape play a major role in recharging of groundwater. Even after knowing their significance, it’s disconcerting to see how the lakes in the city are shrinking in size and are ill-maintained even now. One of the many lakes that is dying a slow death is the Adambakkam lake.

A satellite view using google map

Adambakkam lake replenishes the ground water table of the thickly populated resident area of Adambakkam, Palavanthangal, Nanganallur, and Velachery. Earlier this lake used to spread across 13.685 hectares, but now only less than 3.5 hectares remain. This shrinkage in size is due to massive encroachment by residential and commercial buildings.

The massive encroachment has not only decreased the water carrying capacity of the lake but has also resulted in sewage from the encroached area flowing into the lake. Commercial establishments located at the lake bund are discharging sewage directly into the lake. 

Dumping of construction waste has also degraded the quality of the soil.

In addition to, the settlements have occupied the lake with their herds of cows and goats that graze around the natural vegetation.

In addition to, the overwhelming growth of water hyacinth is also a growing concern. Water hyacinth, an invasive free floating species, has covered the entire surface of the lake. As already known, this growth prevents entering of sunlight into the lake and thereby decreases the oxygen content in the lake. Moreover this voracious growth of the plant has also resulted in the lake becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes. 

Despite these adverse factors, the lake surprisingly supports a wide range of urban wildlife that depends upon the lake for its survival. Sighting of fresh water species like little cormorant , common kingfisher, Moorhen, heliotrope moth is an indication that there is still hope for the lake.

In the past, there have been several media coverage highlighting the pitiable state of the lake. Despite the residents’repeated demands for restoring and de-silting  the lake in the past 15 years no action has been taken till date.  Only the increased involvement of the local residents and sufficient media coverage can transform the lake into a vibrant self-sustaining ecosystem.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A trip to Irrukam Island with CTC

It has been almost four years since I visited Pulicat Lake, which hosts tonnes of fishes and birds. As soon as I saw the forwarded mail from my sister for beach camping and birding at Pulicat from CTC, we both planned to register for it. Though the migratory season for flamingo is over, I wanted to make it only because of my golden days at MCC.

Being an MCC-an, my fondness for Pulicat is bit more than just as a birder. On seeing the word “Pulicat” I was soon taken back to UG days where we spent days at Pulicat for understanding wetland ecosystem, camping under stars, Professor Dr.Tilak and his wife singing songs for us in the night around camp fire, non-stop chatting and photobombing with my best buddies. One of my most unforgettable moments at Pulicat was when I spotted dolphins near the shore for the first time in lifetime.

As per the email instructions, I called Mohan, who lives nearby and has a car. My sister & I joined him along with Vignesh. We then waited opposite to Ashok Pillar for other members to join us. I was excited to meet Nagul (whom I am meeting after my first trek nearly 6 years ago), Elango, Chimbu and Vignesh (whom I have met them through other nature walks) and Bhargav (my bowling coach from previous farming event) and Saravanan (whom I know only through his mutual friends). After a brief introduction among another members who were also joining us for birding at Ashok Pillar, we all set to leave to Pulicat in 5 cars around 4’o clock in the evening. After an hour of driving, we took a wrong U-turn assuming the Baleno car, which was riding before us belonged to our group. Very soon, Vishnu (who was coordinating) called us to inform that we were travelling in the wrong direction. Then we took another U-turn towards Arambakkam and, soon to co-ordinate easily, Vishnu shared us location through Whatsapp group. Meanwhile when we were about to reaching Arambakkam, I received a call from Bhargav saying they were about to reach Sullurupeta (which is more than 20 km further away from our destination). After instructing them to return back to Arambakkam, rest of us waited at nearby Aavin parlour for a brief time. It was around 7’O clock when all of us regrouped and we took a boat at Arambakkam, where we had to ferry around an hour to reach Irrukam Island.

The boating at night was definitely blissful. With Waxing moon lighting the lake, cold water splashing on your face occasionally, the waters were neither rough nor gentle, setting the apt backdrop for a night ride. Suddenly something just flew into the boat. It was a mullet fish that had jumped out of water for its breath. Soon I and Prasad (who insisted on making it a BBQ) then caught and released it back into the lake.

The boatman dropped us on an uninhabited, pitch dark portion of Irrukum Island. After a brief inspection on the island, the boys went to pick solid stones for setting up BBQ grill. Wire mesh was laid over the smoking coal and Neetha and Senthil grilled thealready marinated chicken. There was a heavy fight among non-vegetarians to grab their portion of chicken. Initially I was around the fire, later when I released there was another team cutting the fresh veggies, and I went to help them in processing it. Latha teacher, Yuva, Saravanan and Chimbu were cutting the paneer, capsicum and mushrooms and pineapple. As soon as the chicken BBQs were over, we asked non-vegetarians to leave and make way for us to prepare the veggies. Meanwhile Raghav, Senthil and Bhargav with help of others set the campfire and others members settled around it. Chapatis and gravy was distributed for dinner. As there was still a huge fight for BBQs, Vishnu planned to prepare BBQs in individual skewers, so that all of us at least would at least get to taste one. Yuva, Chimbu, , Minu, Vishnu, Saravanan , “Kutti Papa” Sanghavi and I sat around the fire and prepared the BBQs. “Full bottle” Vignesh applied the sauce meticulously and sprinkled black pepper over the Veggies. Soon we all began to have our own conversation and had fun on our own. Though there were too many “kakaas” to snatch the prepared BBQs, sitting near the fire ensured that I got the BBQs of my choice. I loved the pineapple and mushroom BBQ. The sauce was perfect, neither too sweet nor too hot, which made it perfect for the veggies and complemented their flavour. By the time we finished preparing everything, the whole camp became silent and went to sleep.

My sister and I were planning to sleep on the sand and soon I heard Ed Sheeran‘s Thinking out loud song, which made me to settle beside Yuva’s blanket. When I was about to sleep, suddenly someone informed us that Nagul is going to get married. Neeta, Jegan, Vishnu, Chimbu, Nagul, Vignesh, Saravanan, Yuva, Nisha and I formed a gang and we were curious to know Nagul’s love story. Very soon most of them were sharing their love story and how they met their better halves. We tried our best to involve Elango in the conversation, but he successfully dodged us. It became an absolutely sleepless night discussion. Of all the stories I listened to, Jegan and Neeta’s was the best. It was around 3’o clock and mist had settled down, wetting our sleeping bags.

As we were feeling hungry, Saravanan and I planned to havechapatis . So we moved towards the food site, while others were asleep. All of a sudden, Sanghavi, who was woken up by the chill, joined us for next round of dinner. While we were eating, we started off with other discussion and by the time we realized that it was very late,it was already 5 in the morning.

The team PC: Saravanan Rathnavel

Around 5:30 in the morning, there was a loud whistling sound in the campsite. It was Raghav with his whistle to to wake up everyone. Around 6:30 am, we boarded the boat after cleaning up the campsite.
My first cheerful sight was a pod of pelicans floating on the water just 200 m away. When we were about to start our ride, a colony of black-headed gulls flew over us. As we were boating towards the inhabited side of Irrukam island, we happened to see flocks of birds waddling on the water on either sides of the boat. We witnessed a tern grabbing a fish out of water. After 20 mins, Vignesh who was sitting beside me shouted “flamingos”. With hungry eyes, I searched across the direction he showed me and I finally was able to spot a stand of three flamingos wading in the water. The boatman halted the boat at a decent distance so that we weren’t disturbing them. For a while we stayed to watch the one of most gracious migrants – the greater flamingos. The flamingos walked in the water for a while and then they synchronously bend down and started feeding with their heads down. It seemed as if they were dancing for a song played at a relatively slow pace. Considering the fact that they are filter feeders, which mainly feed on the planktons and shrimps, their formidable size amazes me. 
Greater Flamingo. PC Saravanan Rathanavel

Painted Stork. PC: Elangovan Visvanathan

Pacific Golden Plover - Breeding adult, PC: Elangovan Visvanathan

Pacific Golden Plover - nonbreeding adult, PC :Elangovan Visvanathan
We then resumed our journey towards further north, where we witnessed a congregation of Pacific golden plovers along the muddy banks,which aremedium-sized migratory birds. Among the congregation, there were breeding adults with black patches on their face, forehead, breast and belly with a strikingly white border. To make others easily register the name of that bird, Elango called it as “thanga (golden) pushpam(to rhyme with plover)”.

We asked the boatman to take us for another round as we were having a really good time. So he took us to the other part of lake where the water wasn’t deep enough. The confident swimmers stepped down on to the water and visited a dried patch of land nearby. I was tempted and I got down from the boat. It was only a knee-deep and was safe to move around. Nisha, my sister who was also tempted, followed me. She somehow misjudged the height of the boat and fell into the lake. Thankfully there wasn’t any physical injury. She had her phone inside her pocket which got drenched and it was sangu for the phone. This incident did not deter us from a brief profile shoot there, after which we resumed our ride towards the village side of Irrukum.

For breakfast, we went on the shores of Irrukum, where we were able to get access to drinking water for preparing Avaal. While cooking was going on, Elango, Nisha, Mohan and I went towards the dried lake in search of the waders. Nagul and Raghav joined us later.

We were able to spot flocks of little egrets, swifts and pacific golden plovers foraging there. While moving towards the lake, we realised that we were at the forage site and we didn’t want to disturb or threaten them. We stayed at a safe distance and stood silent for a while and then returned towards inland to see if we could see any land birds.

It was already 9’o clock in the morning and it felt as if we were being baked alive. All along the way we walked, the banks were densely populated with Prosopis and it was difficult to sight any bird in bright light. Although we sighted a Red Rumped Swallow perching on an a power cable. Then we returned back to assembly point. We were on time and they had already prepared excellent lemon aval upma with roasted groundnut. I took my share and was sitting on the banks, staring at the open water hoping to see the mullet or cat fish again in the day time. Soon there was a Brahminy Kite and a Red Wattled Lapwing flying over our heads. As soon as we finished our breakfast, fruit mix was prepared and distributed. After that we had a formal introductory session, where each of us has to introduce themselves and share their overall experience about this trip.

After a group photo we returned to Arambakkam. The boat journey was a bit difficult because of the harsh sun. We reached the shores of Arambakkam around 11 AM. After formal goodbyes, new friends & nicknames and unforgettable memories and jokes that we made on each other, we all set back to Chennai.
The Birding team

I thank the entire crew for being cheerful and make the trip comfortable. Special mentions to the food committee for the tasty food and making it close to eco-friendly. Usually, in the treks that I go, we procure food materials in plastic (Noodles/soup). By packing food in tiffin carriers, plastics wrappers were saved. I should definitely thank both organisers – Saravanan and Vignesh for giving me this opportunity. Thank you people, I felt as I had known you for ages. I also thank Mohan for dropping us near our residence.

Here is a list of birds we spotted
Spotted Pelican. PC :Elangovan Visvanathan
1.     Spotted Pelican
2.     Black Headed Gull
3.     Indian Cormorant
4.     Caspian Tern
5.     Whiskered Tern
6.     River Tern
7.     Painted Stork
8.     Pacific Golden Plover
9.     Black Headed Ibis
10. Greater Flamingo
11. Red Wattled Lapwing
Black Tailed Godwit. PC :Elangovan Visvanathan
12. Brahminy Kite
13. Swift
14. Intermediate Egret
15. Grey Heron
16. Black Tailed Godwit
17. Red Rumped Swallow
18. Crow
A Wandering trogon  (myself) PC: Prasad 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Bumblebees and Flowers : A Sparking Electric Love

Are you one among the many “newly born” photographers who would like to take pictures of bees buzzing around the flowers? If so, have you ever noticed them dancing in the form of figure 8? This dance is usually referred as Waggle dance and is performed by the worker bees to communicate all necessary information about their food resource to other bees. Having said that, aren’t you eager to know the reason behind it? Despite the differences in shape, size and colour of the flower, they are quite successful in finding it. So how do they do it?

To put an end to all such questions, researchers of the University of Bristol studied on bumblebees and have concluded neither the sight nor the smell of the flower helps them to locate it. They have special biological ability to sense electric field, called electroreception. Animal such as sharks, dolphin, and electric eel which either live in poor lighting or have a poor vision use this ability to locate their prey.

Bees are covered with tiny hairs around their body. When they move around, due to atmospheric friction, they become relatively more positively charged when compared to a stationary grounded flower (negatively charged). This difference in the electrostatic charges causes bending of their tiny hairs, which are then sensed by the mechano-sensory neurons that are present at the base of the hair sockets.  This effect is very similar to the static charge created in a balloon, which when rubbed against silk and brought near our skin, causes our hair to stand up. The same process is used to identify the presence of a flower. Once the honeybee has sat on a flower and collected the nectar from it, it becomes positively charged. This helps the honey bees in avoiding the flowers that they have already visited.

While neurobiologists throughout the world are working on understanding the visual perception and sensory system of insects, this finding throws light on their navigation system. Electroreception might become the new future for better navigation system, which could be even implemented in automobiles for a collision-free ride.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Is higher education mandatory?

It is very evident that in recent years many graduates want to pursue their higher studies. Many countries around the world have brought international programs with attractive scholarships and better funding to encourage eager minds. This incentive has made many students to opt for higher education rather than to start working full time after their graduation.

In professional courses like engineering, medicine or business management, the graduates are taught only the basics and as a result get only the overall idea of the subject. Even though internships and projects are provided as a part of the curriculum, the depth of knowledge required cannot be obtained at the graduate level. A postgraduate degree or higher education would help one to specialise in their subject of interest and thereby would help them to be the master in handling their situations relevant to their subject. Moreover, in today’s competitive world, there is an inevitable pressure for a candidate to be the best, which has made higher studies mandatory for better professional placements.

Even though, in higher studies, one is trained to become a specialist, there are certain jobs like auditing, doctor, teaching which requires long years of practice to become an expert. Nothing can match work experience that aids in acquiring practical knowledge. The bookish knowledge that one would get by studying higher education can never match a hands-on learning and on-site experience. An illiterate fisherman would be able to navigate around the sea; where as a marine engineer has to study to do the same.

Thus, the requirement of higher graduate degree completely depends upon the field of study and complexity of the subject. In addition, at times, work experience cannot be replaced by higher education.