Wildbuzz: Of dancing bees, wandering hunters and a brief encounter | columns | Hindustan Times
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Wildbuzz: Of dancing bees, wandering hunters and a brief encounter

Bees migrate long distances in winter, like birds, from colder hills to the plains, and return in spring/summer.

columns Updated: Jan 21, 2018 13:43 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
A Common buzzard near Banur in Patiala district.
A Common buzzard near Banur in Patiala district.(Vikas Salil Sharma)

THE DANCING BEES

Every two years or so, the Markandas plush garden bungalow in Sector 16, Chandigarh, receives unexpected visitors. They are Giant honey bees, who unfailingly make their hive at the same spot outside a bedroom. “Then they themselves fly away also.

Our men refuse to shoo them because they say the hive’s return is auspicious. I wonder, might this be their migratory route,” was a curious query from Mona Markanda addressed to this writer. I directed the query to Dr Neelima R Kumar, a dedicated bee researcher at Panjab University zoology department. Interestingly, the answer to that had won Austrian ethologist Karl Von Frisch a Nobel Prize.

As Dr Kumar explained, bees migrate long distances in winter, like birds, from colder hills to the plains, and return in spring/summer. They will do this for decades, returning to the same hive spots in tricity winters. But some worker bees will not return to the hills and remain put in the simmering plains.

The migration would stop, were the hive burnt down by hysterical householders. If that “mass murder” does not happen, then the “over-staying” worker bees communicate with the main swarm at the time of winter migration through what Frisch’s studies established were “round and waggle bee dances”. It is that peculiar dance communication of worker bees which, over the flow of seasons, successfully guides the swarm from the hills to that particular kothi in Sector 16.

To us, the swarming, returning bees may also seem to effect dances of pure joy, rendering their many-splendoured salutations to the Markandas. For, they know, the householders will host them, not roast them!

WANDERING HUNTERS

As migratory waterfowl — ducks, geese and coots — descend on the Mote Majra wetland near Banur, can their ace hunter be lagging far behind? Over the past few weeks, following the harvest of the aquatic crop of ‘Singhara’ (Water caltrop), birds have in the mid-migration season flocked in good numbers to Mote Majra.

But they have to be ever vigilant to the azure skies as the other migrant, the Peregrine falcon or the ‘Duck hawk’, has also flown in from its summer breeding grounds in the Eurasian Arctic tailing waterfowl flocks.

The migratory Peregrine is broad-chested, the world’s fastest creature and an aerial predator par excellence, prized for falconry and enjoying long association with humans. A symbol of prestige among royalty and wealth, the migrant falcon is one of the most studied of all birds. Dr Salim Ali noted that the falcon would often stoop at a duck falling to a sportsman’s gun, and so intense its concentration that it would stoop again and again after the initial miss, heedless of gunshots fired by the irate hunter to arrest the hijack bid!

Another notable and rather uncommon migratory raptor observed in the vicinity of Mote Majra is a pair of Common buzzards, frequenting trees and poles around a tubewell just off the Banur highway. Buzzards hunt by striking smaller birds in mid-air or ambush field rodents/reptiles from a perch. Or, even walk along and nab locusts and grasshoppers!

BRIEF ENCOUNTER

Was a judicial stamp required to certify that migratory waterfowls at Sukhna lake were less in numbers this winter, it came on Friday at dusk. A surprise walker along the long nature trail and ‘Bird Walk’ was the chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court Shiavax Jal Vazifdar and his better half enjoying a cool, relaxed Friday evening. We bumped into each other and exchanged consensual notes on dwindling birds due to brimming water and consequent lack of food and basking sites.

Justice Vazifdar was armed with a stern-looking, steely walking stick. His lordship, himself rather dapper and well disposed, clarified the handy weapon was reserved for that old rascal of the jungles, the wild boar! Boars were the only creatures he was a bit fearful of while enjoying the spectacle of sambars and red junglefowls strutting across twilight trails.

Among the tiny Parsi community’s formidable array of cultural accomplishments are passions for classical music and nature, with some gents of pucca shikari lineage.

The Godrej family contributed immensely to wildlife conservation and seeded from its family tree is Rishad Naoroji, the billionaire raptor wizard and author. Naoroji is one of India’s established connoisseurs of western classical music and is particularly charmed by sublime, intimate chamber forms such as sonatas, trios, quartets, quintets and sextets. Justice Vazifdar, too, nurtures a passion for touring wildlife reserves such as Ranthambore and Bandhavgarh. He insisted I must visit Bandhavgarh, not only because of its natural originality and tigers, but its heritage associations with the legendary Tansen.

(vjswild1@gmail.com)