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Wildbuzz: For whom the bells toll

ByVikram Jit Singh
Apr 30, 2023 12:48 AM IST

The sturdy nilgai has weathered the injury for months, but the result of his isolation is that he has embraced ‘public life’. He wanders around the parking lots and along the road like a stray cow, very comfortable with humans

Sukhna Lake and its precincts are a stage for nature’s life and death struggles. Observant walkers at the lake have taken heed of a novel addition: an injured, male nilgai, who has abandoned his herd and taken up residence in the scrub forests to the left of the road from the golf range to the government fish seed farm. The injury to the nilgai’s left flank seems to be a grievous one, likely to have arisen from being butted by the horns of a dominant male nilgai. The lingering injury bleeds sporadically and the nilgai conveys visible discomfort while answering nature’s call at his regular defecation points marked by dung piles.

The injured nilgai at Sukhna Lake. (Vikram Jit Singh)

The sturdy nilgai has weathered the injury for months, but the result of his isolation is that he has embraced ‘public life’. He wanders around the parking lots and along the road like a stray cow, very comfortable with humans. But a pack of stray dogs could make his sheltered life at the Sukhna hellish and death may finally get the better of him.

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Meanwhile, as I was taking a close look at the injured nilgai, a commotion of avians from the boundary wall of the fish farm adjacent to the Garden of Silence caught my ear. A quartet of spotted owlets was up in arms and shrieking. Each owlet was taking turns to fly at a tree, peck at something and return to a safe perch. House crows joined in with an indignant tone to their cawing, but cunningly desisted from owlet-like strafing.

Upon focusing my binoculars, I observed the trauma of helpless parents. The yellow loop of a rat snake, a renowned tree climber and accomplished predator of bird eggs and chicks, was visible at the opening of a tree hole that led to an owlet nest. But the relentless owlet attacks did not dissuade the hard-pecked snake. Instead, the snake withdrew completely into the nest hole, leaving the owlets outside at a complete loss. They would have imperilled their lives had they dared to chase the hunter deep into the cradle of their chicks. The commotion subsided, the tree acquired a funereal air with helpless parents perched right outside the hole like shrunken mourners who had not the heart left to peep into the mortuary’s doors.

Naturalist and wildlife explorer Chinmay Deshpande’s ethereal image of a tree, fireflies and Milky Way.

The enchanted night

The Firefly Jar is the quaint title of the recently released novel set in South Carolina by author Laurie Beach. The title evokes memories of childhood, long before artificial lights illuminated gardens. Kids would steal mummy’s empty jam jars to imprison fireflies that often died as they took innocent delight in the bioluminescence or glow that emanates from the abdomens of these flying beetles due to a chemical reaction,

A hopeless romantic, Beach weaves these wonderful lines: “Slowly, she unscrewed the lid of the firefly jar, releasing them into the night. One by one, the bugs escaped, blinking their excitement to be free at last. Her heart nearly burst with joy as they hovered around her for several seconds before taking off in all directions, a celebratory dance of light, a twinkling firework show in miniature.”

Awareness has grown and kids are discouraged from making fireflies captive. They can be taken to the jungles where nature itself is an infinite firefly jar releasing them into the unfurling night. The waterbodies in the Shivalik foothills are excellent spots for firefly viewing as is the Sukhna lake’s regulator-end.

I discovered a firefly haven near Siswan village, a tiny, obscure dam with an outlet stream that meanders merrily and gurgles like a Gulmarg brook. The fireflies were like flashmobs of the night -- drifting sparks emerging from an invisible cosmic fire. The spectacle of the night ‘winking and pausing’ in the guise of innumerable fireflies over the dam’s waters took my breath away. To adapt from Wordsworth: ‘Continuous as the stars that shine, And twinkle on the Milky Way, Ten thousand fireflies saw I at a glance’.

The stars layering the black dome above and the Siswan fireflies were as if one. The fireflies glimmered over transparent waters. And it was as if distant stars had stolen down to earth in the quiet of the night as humanity slumbered. Away from gaze, ‘flying stars’ were revelling in baths having slipped off their modesty in the veil of darkness.

vjswild1@gmail.com

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