Sieze the night

Owl
Night visitor- Juvenile Forest Eagle Owl

I haven’t seen very many owls considering they dwell in the dark. In the last two years, I have probably seen them a total of four times. The love of birds also extends to these night dwellers and seeing them is a rarity. This happens to be a juvenile Spot-bellied Eagle Owl (Forest Eagle Owl) sitting in a heavily shaded tree in the late afternoon waiting for the sun to set before it starts taking plunges into the dark.

Gentle giants

elephant_headon
Marching on

Anybody who has ever had to stare at a blank sketchbook wondering how and what to start it with, knows what I am talking about. I was visiting a friend in another city and we decided to go to the art store. Needless to stay, I was broke by the time I left the store.

The recently acquired sketchbook was left untouched as I sat for months dissatisfied with all the proposed beginnings. And one fine day, a picture of this gentle giant heading straight on, gave me the push I needed. Though I messed up this piece using a combination of different nibs with varying thickness, I reached this satisfactory result.

Hold on a tad longer

Ten days ago, the world was informed of the sad loss of Sudan, the last male northern white rhino in the wild. The lure of the horn to the poachers has wiped out this species from the wild. The story isn’t very different for the rhinocerous species living in Asia. The greater Indian rhino once spread across the northern half of the Indian subcontinent is now restricted only to the northeastern parts. A trip to the Kaziranga national park in Assam got me up close to these giant herbivores. Thanks to sport hunting, this species was near extinction. The population bounced back eventually, until poachers came into the picture and the numbers dwindled again.

 

Rhino
Greater Indian Rhino

The one horned rhinos are still vulnerable but hopefully they wouldn’t face the same fate as their distant relatives in the African continent.

The tiny powerhouse

A friend who got back from her three months long work on turtles in the beaches of Costa Rica, couldn’t stop raving about the beautiful sunrises and sunsets and the colourful wildlife there. Among them were hummingbirds. These tiny birds travel far off in their lifetime and are known to have the fastest metabolism in the animal kingdom. My introduction to Hummingbirds was through an article I read three years ago. It sounded like a species from another world.

 

Hummingbird
The tiny powerhouse

The fact that somebody I know has traveled to that part of the world and seen this species, only makes me want to go and see it myself. But for the time being, a sketch of the bird has to satisfy the urge.

Hope to see one some day

For the sights one craves… Equipped with a pen, I drew as if the bird will come alive out of the paper. The great hornbill is one of the birds that I have always wanted to see and a trip to the northeast part of India around the hornbill festival reinforced that desire. Success stories from the conservation world related to hornbills had been the highlight of the conference I attended at Nagaland. But I didn’t see any of these majestic birds.

 

hornbill_head
Greatest among their kind

I have been told that one gets to see the great Indian hornbill in parts of southern India also. I hope to see this bird in the wild soon.

Birthday postcard

Obsession with handmade paper from Pondicherry led to making a birthday card for a fellow stationery hoarder. This time a 0.1mm rotring pen replaced my regular fountain pen. And over a period of six hours, I managed to finish this piece realising that irrespective of how fine a nib one picks, the choice of paper matters too.

Yawning_tiger
Yawning tiger

The consistent blotting of the ink on the paper didn’t help and there were parts that I had to go over again and again because the blotting diluted the effect of white. Despite the challenges, the effect of the yawning tiger in white on the dark blue paper was better than I ever imagined. I am glad the birthday girl liked it and this piece adorns her living room wall.

Learning from insect social networks

October 20, 2014

Insects like honeybees and ants live in groups that constantly communicate with each other. In fact, communication networks in some insect groups have been successfully compared to artificial technological information transfer networks. Drawing parallels between such highly coordinated processes in living organisms and their artificial counterparts, a team of scientists from IISc, IISER-Kolkatta and BITS-Pilani, seek a better understanding of network communication, to improve the existing information processing networks.

The survival of living organisms depend on the well-coordinated processes at different levels – the cellular and genetic levels, for example. Group living animals take coordination to a different level — schools of fish and flocks of birds rely on competent communication by every individual to all other members, at every point in time. Efficient transfer of information happens through communication systems, which hold good even when there are time or energy constraints.

Among non-human living beings, social insects like bees have some of the most complex societies. Scientists study them to understand communication between the members of a colony, which ensures division of labour between thousands of individuals. Different species of social insects have different modes of communication: bees in large colonies communicate using chemical cues or pheromones, while wasps in smaller colonies use direct physical interactions.

Anjan Nandi and colleagues have studied a tropical wasp Ropalidia marginata to understand the flow of information within a colony. They found that the flow of information between individuals is by pairwise physical interactions, like dominance behaviour, which plays a major role in the regulation of activities of the workers in a colony. For example, foragers that find food receive more dominance over the non foragers, and the extent of dominance varies depending on the circumstances (higher during starvation while lesser during excess food). Apart from dominance, wasps also use paired behaviours like grooming, soliciting and food sharing for flow of information.

There are also global structures that emerge from the two way interactions: the average path length for communication and the average density of interactions could be determined from individual interactions. In other words, the building blocks of a network formation is identified by studying the local structural elements.

The analysis revealed that networks constructed from dominance behaviour in Ropalidia marginata is structurally similar to different biological and technological regulatory networks. Further, the networks are sufficiently robust and capable of efficient information transfer. Even though one would expect a wasp colony to be less complex because it has fewer individuals, a comparison demonstrates that there is a common design principle involved in different biological systems who have evolved to perform similar tasks

The paper was published in the journal Royal Society journal Interface during second week of October 2014.

– See more at: http://iisc.researchmedia.center/article/learning-insect-social-networks#sthash.dTC6r0Oh.dpuf

Of jungles and birds

I am sure I am not the only one who loves birds. My way of imprinting the sight of these birds deep into my memory is by drawing them. And ever since my first stippling piece (when I didn’t even know that putting together these dots had a term for itself), I have stuck to this way of drawing.

When I was asked to make a card for a friend’s birthday, my first thought was a bird in stippling. I love colourful birds but with the restriction of specific inks that one finds for these super fine nibs, I narrowed down to one which is easily recognisable and not very colourful.

Woodpecker_profile_whiteBG
Lesser golden backed woodpecker

 

My pick was a lesser golden backed woodpecker sitting on the ground and looking up instead of its usual place on a tree trunk.

Conservation perceptions

July 2015

India, being rich in its biodiversity, needs to make space for both its ever growing human population as well as its wildlife to live in harmony within the limited supply of resources. Most of the laws and policies related to efficient utilisation of these resources for the sustenance of both population is decided primarily with the help of experts from the fields of ecology, conservation and environment. For the first time, a group of ecologists, environmental and conservation scientists, took a step in reaching out to the general public for their opinions and concerns. A nation-wide survey was conducted consisting of 572 respondents mostly from the educated, urban and sub-urban population who were asked to list up to 10 most important questions that need to be addressed for better management and conservation of biodiversity in the country. The final outcome of this large scale assessment has been summarised into a list of 152 questions spread across 17 broad themes. Within the high ranking topics of concerns were ‘Policy and Governance’, ‘Biodiversity and Endangered species’ and ‘Protection and Conservation’.

In previous surveys, mostly the experts or practitioners had taken part while this survey uniquely involves a whole wider population. The authors believed that a wider representation would help in highlighting the important issues as per the public and also help them avoid biases that experts tend to develop as a result of their knowledge in their respective fields of expertise. The involvement of people from various parts of the country also helped in identifying the emergent problems in the local contexts.

There is a pressing need to understand the changes in the environment and what drives the changes in it. The survey highlights the priority issues which can be used as a guiding framework for conservation practitioners, researchers, citizens, policy makers and funders to direct their effort’s in India’s conservation landscape. Many issues identified as a result of this survey are relevant at a global scale while there are many others that are of importance at smaller scales (country, region etc). Thus the region specific assessment helps in looking at customised solutions for the local conditions. Dr. Varun Varma, first author of the paper, said “our analysis reveals themes with lower than average emphasis compared to other studies, such as – marine ecosystems, ecosystem function and services. The lack of emphasis is suggestive of lower awareness and/or press coverage of issues within these themes.”

Most of the respondents of the survey was limited to the literate section of the urban areas. Subsequent surveys could use more resources like the print media, and manpower in order to be more inclusive of the participants. Usage of vernacular languages could help reaching out to the rural population also. Nevertheless the present study was a huge leap in widening the representative class of citizens in the environmental and ecological issues in the Indian context. People are an integral part of the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems. Their active participation helps policy makers and scientists make better decisions.