Wild Buzz: The lone Skimmer at Sukhna, and that pair of eyes! | punjab$regional-takes | Hindustan Times
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Wild Buzz: The lone Skimmer at Sukhna, and that pair of eyes!

What could be the reason for a lone Indian skimmer to visit the Sukhna lake, thrice in the last four years? Could it be a vagrant thrown off-course by extreme weather disturbances or is it searching for safe breeding grounds?

punjab Updated: May 15, 2016 00:09 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
A rare breeding record of the skimmer in North India, at Rancer Island, Pong, in April 2006; and (right) a skimmer at Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh, on May 7, 2016.
A rare breeding record of the skimmer in North India, at Rancer Island, Pong, in April 2006; and (right) a skimmer at Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh, on May 7, 2016.(Photos: DS Dhadwal, Mohit Kohli)

Sukhna’s lone skimmer

What could be the reason for a lone Indian skimmer to visit the Sukhna lake, thrice in the last four years? Could it be a vagrant thrown off-course by extreme weather disturbances or is it searching for safe breeding grounds? This ‘vulnerable’ species has been spotted at Sukhna for brief durations on April 19, 2013, by this writer, March 22, 2014, by Sarabjit Lehal, and the latest, on May 7, 2016, by Mohit Kohli. The Sukhna sightings are relevant because there are not many skimmers left globally (6,000-10,000) and the bird has gone extinct in South-east Asia. Skimmers are under pressure from sand-mining, fishing, pollution, dams etc in their breeding strongholds on the Chambal river.

Harike and Pong dam are the main wetlands where skimmers have been observed consistently and in significant numbers, though Harike has not reported skimmers in recent years. That leaves Pong as a possible destination for lone skimmers from Central India using Sukhna as a stopover. Such skimmer movements — within the sub-continent in response to ravaged breeding habitats — constitute a genuine ‘migration’, though different in scope and intent from trans-Himalayan flights of geese/ducks etc to Sukhna in winter.

The skimmer breeds March-May, the nest being a scrape in large, exposed sandbanks/islands. “Every year we are getting skimmers in March-April and they search for nesting grounds at Pong. The skimmer’s breeding was recorded for the first time at Pong in April 2006, and the species continued to breed every year till March 2013. Skimmers still visit Pong for a few months but do not seem to find a nesting place after 2013,’’ assistant conservator (wildlife) at Pong and author, DS Dhadwal, told this writer.

A most endearing wildlife rescue took place on May 9, 2016, when the Augusta County Sheriff’s office brought to the Wildlife Center of Virginia a bear cub, who had lost his mother and sibling to a hit-and-run road kill. The cub possessed the most striking pair of blue eyes, reflecting in them innocence and acute consciousness of loss and trauma. (Photo: Wildlife Center of Virginia)

A pair of blue eyes

Blue eyes do sway the human sensibilities, regardless of whether ownership lies with bears or bare blondes with blue eyes. In the 19th century Thomas Hardy novel, ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’, the main character is Elfride Swancourt, a young, beautiful woman with eyes ‘blue as autumn distance...A misty and shady blue, that had no beginning or surface, and was looked into rather than at’. Elfride, whom Hardy fleshes out as a passionate, headstrong character easily swayed into relationships, loses her mother early on in the novel’s plot.

Now, we shall cut across an Atlantic passage of time, and from fiction to fact, and arrive in the State of Virginia (US). A most endearing wildlife rescue took place on May 9, 2016, when the Augusta County Sheriff’s office brought to the Wildlife Center of Virginia a bear cub, who had lost his mother and sibling to a hit-and-run road kill. The cub possessed the most striking pair of blue eyes, reflecting in them innocence and acute consciousness of loss and trauma.

Had the cub not been a teddy-bear-come-alive or a less appealing orphaned species with say dark, beady eyes, the reactions may not have poured in or been so mushy. Renee Jacobsen was among the hundreds who wrote on the Center’s Facebook page: ‘’You do not have a bear mommy now, but lots of humans who think you are way too adorable for words are sending you their love.’’ Pam Bennett declared upfront: ‘’Oh! I just wanna kiss his little nose!’’

The cub is in excellent care and is being introduced to captive sows for fostering and eventual rehab in the wilderness.

A glimpse of the python. (Photo: Vikram Jit Singh)

For your eyes only

The jungle can be a safer place to walk than a city’s teeming thoroughfares provided the eyes, ears and nose lead the feet. It is crucial to know where one is to put one’s foot forward, especially in bush country. During my night rambles through jungles, I traverse routes recceed before and affording a passage of sight on all sides of at least 5-6 yards. Armed with a flashlight and a sturdy walking stick, I have never been attacked by wild animals (snakes/leopards/wild boars) at night or day because such foresight pre-empts bloody encounters. The animals that pose a consistent danger are stray/feral dogs, who feed on rotting cattle carcasses or maul deer, and whose blood-thirsty character has resulted in several attacks on myself.

During the afternoon of May 11, I was following a sambar trail deep into the Shivalik foothill jungles ahead of village Gurra, 15 km from Chandigarh. I was alive to the fact that the heat would have activated reptiles. The alertness paid-off when my eyes noticed the end of a tail sliding slowly though brushwood and making for the trail a few feet ahead of me. It was the tail of a Rock python and not of the similar-looking Russell’s viper. The gait was languid and purposeful, as if time itself had decelerated in deference to the mighty serpent.

The python’s skin merged perfectly with the brushwood. The rustling sound arising from the python torpedoing below the leaf litter was in concert with the winds ruffling the bushes. Had I not kept my eyes focused on the ground and instead let them wander and wonder over the spectacles afforded by the undisturbed jungle, I would have stepped onto the python. It was 6-7 feet long and the only part I eventually saw was its mid-section and that, too, when I parted the brushwood concealing the python with my stick. The culmination of the python’s camouflage trick was to play a lifeless log to my stick’s prod.

(Email the writer at vjswild1@gmail.com)

Also read, in WIld Buzz: A strange friend for Miss Peregrine