Wildbuzz: The snake show

The snake has taken advantage of fish seed introduced recently into the pond for birds. The fish try to flow against the current emerging from the drain but are blocked by a wire mesh.

punjab Updated: Sep 30, 2018 09:41 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Vikram Jit Singh
Hindustan Times
Wildbuzz,snake,wildlife
The checkered keelback in ambush mode at Nagar Van. (Lalit Kumar)

The Checkered keelback is a common, non-venomous snake species of the tricity and one longish specimen surfaced in the Mohali residence of former Punjab chief wildlife warden Gurmit Singh last Wednesday, triggering the proverbial storm in the evening tea cup.

But the specimen under discussion here is unique because humans can see it in action through the day at a particular vantage point, a ready and unusual visibility for this reticent species.

The keelback inhabits the City Forest or Nagar Van, where it lays ambush just outside a drain surging with a blend of polluted and rain waters empties into a beautifully landscaped pond. Visitors can gently, and as silently as they can, step onto the bridge leading to the pond and observe the snake right below. Be warned, loud talking and noise leads to the snake swiftly retreating into the “bunker”, a close-by hole in the embankment.

The snake has taken advantage of fish seed introduced recently into the pond for birds. The fish try to flow against the current emerging from the drain but are blocked by a wire mesh. The snake obliges with a quick snap of its mouth! If the Nagar Van staff are to be believed, this snake has grown fast due to the abundant fish, which oblige by virtually strolling into the motionless, lazing snake’s jaws!

The snake caught the eye of Chandigarh-based Vastu consultant, Lalit Kumar, who loves Nagar Van and nurtures a passion for nature and the cosmic forces that determine planetary life. “To me, the snake was merely discharging the duties imposed on it by God. It was simultaneously enjoying the waters, gobbling food and taking a sunbath without frequent change in posture or expense of effort,” Kumar told this writer.

The koel perches on a chair (at right) enjoys a bowl bath on the dining table. (Chirag Cheema)

Of koels & adultery

House crows, as much as householders, are oft left confused and tricked by the multiple manifestations of the Asian koel. I receive queries from readers on a mysterious bird in their gardens or houses, which turns out on scrutiny to be the omnipresent koel. Certainly, most of us discern the koel’s songs more acutely than its feathered form. One such query came in last week from Mohali resident Chirag Cheema. He attached pictures of an impish, restless, rescued bird lording over his house and his family’s affections. Most puzzling was the fact that the birdie had cultivated a disdain for his feathered fellows!

“We rescued this really small black baby bird as it was being attacked by stray dogs in the park. It has been two months and we have been feeding and looking after it and are now planning to release it. We initially assumed it to be a crow (as it was all black). However, two months later we know for sure it’s not a crow. This bird shows no interest in pigeons, crows, parrots or any other bird, which regularly visit our house for feeding, but loves water so much that every time it spots water, it jumps right into it! Based on your extensive familiarity with birds, could you hazard a guess which bird this is?” wrote Chirag.

I wrote back explaining that the bird was an immature, male Asian koel. Koel parents do not build nests but deceitfully lay eggs in nests of other birds, such as crows. This is termed “brood parasitism” and common to the cuckoo order of birds to which the koel belongs. Crows bring up koel chicks as surrogate parents, thinking them as their own brood, and blissfully unaware they have been cuckolded.

Can’t really fault koels for an ancient sin because the Supreme Court just de-criminalised adultery, the human adaptation of cuckoldry!

(The writer can be contacted at vjswild1@gmail.com)

First Published: Sep 30, 2018 09:41 IST