Wild Buzz: Love, upside down
At Shanti Kunj Park in Chandigarh’s Sector 16, walkers cannot help but be dazzled by colonies of the Indian flying fox or the Indian fruit bat hanging from large trees in dozens. They make one hell of an unending racket during the day. These large bats can be seen flying in waves over the Rose Garden at dusk like endless formations of bomber aircrafts reducing Berlin to rubble during the hellish nights of the World War II. A voracious fruit eater that forages on guava, mango and litchi orchards located in the countryside adjuncts of the tricity, these bats also help themselves to an assortment of fruit to be found in bungalows’ gardens in the heart of the spaced out urban habitation.
It is currently breeding season for this mammal and a female will deliver but one pup after an evolved, expressive and vigorous sexual session with the dominant male. Dominant males establish sexual privileges over a harem of 8-15 females and engage in vicious territorial fights to ward off sniffing Don Juans. The sexual habits of bats have been recorded by field scientists as inclusive of a male performing cunnilingus on the female and the latter reciprocating with fellatio while copulation is underway. Male bats are recorded as grooming their sexual organ before copulation.
All these practises serve to lengthen the period of copulation between these fox-like mammals endowed with boundless promiscuity and libido. Couple that with known longevity, a bat in captivity survived nearly 32 years. For all the seeming upside-down discomfort of their existence, it is evident bats have done exceedingly well in their romps among tree rooftops!
The tricity region sports an abundance of bat colonies because of the presence of mature trees (especially of the ficus preferred by these creatures), wild and cultivated fruit trees and a chain of check dams, including Sukhna Lake, that serve as perennial water sources for bats to skim over, quench their thirst and regulate body temperature. They can fly long distances to forage at night: a study in Brazil recorded fruit bats flying 200km to find their favourite food!
A grace in Sukhna air
While veering towards the regulator-end, walkers at the Sukhna Lake may have noticed the most graceful of bird flights, as if they were sailing and bobbing in the infernal air. Migratory whiskered terns are white birds adorned with a black mask, grey-black underparts and they undertake regular forays over gently rippling waters and dripping labourers pruning lotus weed tops. They stage an appearance at the Sukhna in April and May. The march of summer has bestowed upon this species a tuxedoed breeding plumage — splashes and enclaves of black or grey that offset the bird’s predominantly white colouration of winter gone by.
Terns prefer the Sukhna in large numbers during those summers when it is drying up as they rest and roost on mudflats and silted isles. As the lake is currently brimming with water, only a dozen terns have arrived and they have colonised two small pieces of driftwood near the regulator-end. The terns don’t let any other avian species sit there though among themselves they regularly quarrel and jostle for space. They throw hoarse abuses and threats at each other while grabbing balcony seats in the driftwood’s limited capacity hall!
I leave it to the inimitable descriptions of bird behaviour penned by Dr Salim Ali to capture the essence of Sukhna’s endearing winged tourist: “Flies gracefully back and forth over a marsh, bill and eye directed intently below for signs of life. Plunges into water for fish or stoops on insects or crabs on the ground and bears them away in its stride. Although possessing webbed feet, terns hardly ever alight on water....When not hunting they rest on a rock or mudbank on their ridiculously short legs.”