WHEN THE CLOCK STRIKES CUCKOO!
Unlike the harmonious calls of the Indian and Eurasian cuckoos, the piu-piu-pipew-pipew-pipew yelps of the African migrant, the Pied cuckoo, can sound somewhat guttural. Perhaps, it is so charming a rake, so handsomely plumaged that it doesn't need a sugary tongue. The male only needs to dangle a hairy caterpillar in front of the female before commencing coupling operations.
The rest, as they say, is 'history and her story'! On June 1, as I trekked through the Shivaliks in the vicinity of villages Gurra, Choti-Badi Nagal and Kasauli about 15 km from Chandigarh, my ears were regaled by an opera of sweet, emphatic arias rendered by the Indian Golden oriole, Indian pitta and other feathered friends. But my ears were also pricked up to pick the Pied cuckoo's call as I knew it was time for its weak, wobbly flight to our region ahead of the monsoons.
I was not disappointed because I picked the cuckoo's yelps amid the symphonic harmony and saw it fly across a ravine. I saw two more cuckoos that day, and one each on June 4 and June 5 at the 17-18th hole complex at the Chandigarh Golf Club and the Sukhna lake respectively.
Ever since the Bangalore-based National Centre for Biological Sciences initiated the 'MigrantWatch' (MW) citizen science programme in 2009 for tracking the cuckoo's arrival in India on the steam of monsoon winds blowing from the Horn of Africa, I have been reporting its first arrival in the tricity region. The cuckoo is popularly known as the 'Rain bird' or 'Monsoon bird', and migrates from Africa to cunningly lay eggs in nests of Turdoides babblers.
I asked MW's Raman Kumar to lend perspective to Pied cuckoo sightings for 2015 across India. Kumar first cited two April 2015 sightings from Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand but deemed these pre-summer/abnormal as the cuckoo ''may occasionally be seen much earlier as some individuals are likely to stay back (in India) during winter.”Coming to the 2015 summer, Kumar stated the first sighting was from Darbhanga (Bihar) on May 9: "Last year, the first sightings in the north were from West Bengal (May 21). About one week after that, many more sightings started coming from Gujarat/Maharashtra. It seems we are seeing the cuckoo in North India relatively earlier this year compared to last year. However, a clearer picture will only emerge after some time when we have more data to carry out detailed analysis. These 'early' sightings could also be due to the fact that this year we have many more observers reporting sightings (thanks to eBird's growing popularity!)," said Kumar.
A CULL OF SUKHNA INVADERS?
A Brown roofed turtle at Sukhna. PHOTO: NARBIR KAHLON
In last week's column, the threat posed by the foreign species, the Red-eared slider (RES), to native turtles at Sukhna lake was highlighted. The Sukhna houses native species such as the Brown roofed and Flap-shelled turtles. But how to tackle the RES, which can usurp the habitat of native turtles? Shailendra Singh (PhD), director, Turtle Survival Alliance, India, an NGO engaged in sterling work on turtle conservation, suggested: “The RES is creating a problem world-wide. It is reported that the European pond turtle has reached a critical stage due to RES. Under preventative measures, the European Union banned import of sub-species of RES (Trachemys scripta elegans).
A few years ago, RES were seized in thousands in Kolkata, which we had proposed to be euthanised but the state government decided to keep them at a rescue centre; (un)fortunately, all of them died. I suggest the RES at Sukhna be caught and culled as they might overtake the entire lake in some years.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which categorises the RES as one of the 100 most invasive global species, recommends: “RES can be captured by hand or through various trapping devices. Floating boards used by RES as basking sites seem very effective when equipped with baited cages on top. Sniffer dogs can be used to detect and remove both turtles and their eggs; eggs can also be found and removed by following females at nesting areas.”
Since the UT Forest and Wildlife department had in December 2014 culled domesticated geese following the detection of bird flu, I emailed photos of RES at Sukhna and Singh's management proposal to Chief Wildlife Warden, Santosh Kumar, and his deputy, Birendra Choudhary, on May 29. Kumar was not very open to the idea of a RES cull. On June 4, to a query of mine, he replied: “Our people visited (the lake) but were not able to locate or sight any one such (RES), but saw a few eggs. We are keeping a survey watch and as water further recedes in the lake by June end (we) will take action for evacuating (the RES).”