Wild buzz: A memory of jade | punjab$dont-miss | Hindustan Times
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Wild buzz: A memory of jade

In August 2012, I visited the Birds’ View resort in the Mashobra hills (Kasauli). Run by Chandigarh resident and golfer, Amardeep S Gill ‘Romy’, I was regaled with anecdotes of wildlife by the owner as we stood in the balcony that commanded a view of verdant peaks draped in a muslin mist, forested valleys and glimpses of Chandigarh.

punjab Updated: Sep 11, 2016 11:49 IST
Vikram Jit Singh

A MEMORY OF JADE

In August 2012, I visited the Birds’ View resort in the Mashobra hills (Kasauli). Run by Chandigarh resident and golfer, Amardeep S Gill ‘Romy’, I was regaled with anecdotes of wildlife by the owner as we stood in the balcony that commanded a view of verdant peaks draped in a muslin mist, forested valleys and glimpses of Chandigarh. He told me of Barking deer/Goral bounding away on slopes and how pet dogs had to be secured from canny leopards. Gill mentioned that his staff and he had seen a green snake on the Parwanoo-Kasauli back road and near the resort. My curiosity was piqued at this description but I could not pin down the species’ identity.

The viper killed by a vehicle on the Dharampur-Kasauli road. (Photo: Dr Ujagar Singh)

Time drifted on and the mystery jade snake retreated to the attic of my memory until last week when I came across a photograph of a dead green snake killed by a vehicle on the Dharampur-Kasauli road. I emailed the picture, which had been clicked by a Muktsar-based orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Ujagar Singh, to experts and it was identified as the Northern White-lipped pit viper (Trimeresurus albolabris septentrionalis). I got back to Gill and asked if the dead snake was indeed the ‘’green snake’’ he had referred to in 2012, and his reply was in the affirmative.

There are not many photographic records of this venomous snake from Himachal Pradesh, but the good thing is that this species is not medically known to have bitten many natives. But Gill says that he is sighting fewer vipers as habitat is being destroyed. The viper dwells between the pines and scrublands on the slopes. ‘’People tend to kill it on sight as they morbidly fear all snakes”, adds Gill.

THORNS OF THE DEEP

The spreading shadow of weeds upon the Sukhna Lake appears as an eye-sore to walkers and bogs down boating activities. But to the 11 weed-removal workers from Bijnore (Uttar Pradesh), the weeds’ saw-like teeth are like rolls of concertina wire guarding the murky depths. According to the field staff of the UT fisheries department, the teeth are so hardy that even fish can’t nibble away. As workers remove the weed manually, teeth cause a rash and abrasions. At night, when workers rest, the abrasions lead to an insatiable itch. The resultant scratching causes sores, nodes and boils. ‘’We apply oils of Shisham and Sarson to relieve itching”, worker, Arjun Tomar, told this writer.

Weeds identified as najas marina by botany professor Amrik S Ahluwalia; (right) workers displaying their lower limbs ravaged by the weeds. (Photos: Vikram Jit Singh)

Weeds contractor, Shamsheed, has got workers to increasingly remove weeds through boats and rakes rather than wading into the water. ‘’It cost me Rs 11,000 to treat one worker who was hit all over by sores. Earlier, the administration had stationed a doctor for workers but currently no assistance is provided’’, said Shamsheed.

I have been interacting with weed workers since November 2010, keen to know their intimate encounters with aquatic biodiversity. They echo the truth of the words: ‘’The only difference between the scary and beautiful is knowledge’’. No worker has been bitten by the aquatic snake, the Checkered keelback, otherwise notorious for vicious bites when provoked, and neither have big fish or turtles nipped workers. ‘’We realise that snakes are more scared of us than we are of them. Snakes keep a distance from us. We do not fear the lake’s wild creatures’’, explains Tomar.

In the last few weeks, workers cleared a swathe of weeds starting from the Lake Club. But weeds come back fast as they are rooted firmly in the lake’s bed. ‘’Whenever the lake dries up, JCB machines should be deployed to de-silt and uproot weeds. That is the only solution”, concludes Shamsheed.

THE MONGOOSE MEERKAT

A grey mongoose and (right) booted warbler at Saketri. (Photos: Munish Jauhar)

The lands of Saketri situated behind the Sukhna Lake are an accessible weekend getaway for birders and naturalists. These lands sport a matrix of open grasslands, scrub, trees, croplands and water that throw up resident, migrant and passerine species. Last Sunday, CEO and Founder, GreyCell Technologies, Munish Jauhar, clicked delightful snaps of Chandigarh’s state animal, the Grey mongoose, standing up in a posture reminiscent of the iconic Meerkats of Africa. Mongooses use their tails, which may be as thick at the base as their body, for balance while surveying their surroundings. He also chanced upon a bird in a tree, which he could not identify. Later, Jauhar submitted the bird’s picture for identification, and opinion started to veer around to Sykes’s warbler in preference to Booted warbler, primarily since it seemed to possess a larger bill.

Since the Sykes’s has never been recorded in the Inter-State Capital Region (areas falling within a radius of 50 km from Chandigarh), excitement mounted. But warblers can be a cryptic bunch of birds. The identification debate attracted the attention of the renowned author of bird field guides, Tim Inskipp, who tilted towards Booted warbler. Inskipp’s reasoning is instructive: ‘’Booted and Sykes’s are very difficult to separate, even in the hand, and making an identification simply on the basis of a ‘larger bill’ is grossly over-simplified. To me, the bill does not look particularly large and could fit either species. Other features visible here that suggest Booted warbler are the presence of a dark mark on the lower mandible near the tip, a broad supercilium flaring behind the eye and a slight buffish wash on the flanks and vent.’’

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