Monsoon, gone so soon

Gayatri Hazarika wrote this ode to the monsoon during the peak of the rains, but we lazybones are sharing it with you now so that you cherish the last gasp of the season, the final raindrops before winter desiccates the subcontinent. Enjoy this photo essay

Sun lovers and seekers of the picturesque, what do you do during the onslaught of rains – the monsoon? When the skies open up, the winds skate with abandon, and the sun diffuses into a chiaroscuro for days on end. When the only respite is a brief drizzle or a new mountain of clouds rising, as the skies downshift gear to rev up again.

Having an active but restless imagination, I tired of the monsoon romance soon enough. The roaring winds didn’t thrill and the spate didn’t bring joy – these barely carry any memories now. I looked askance at people who broke into rain melodies, and that too the same ones every year. Life for me was reduced to working in season-agnostic corporate indoors, and back home, perfecting the art of salvaging laundry from the terrace, with the raindrops close on my heels.

So, when two years ago, I stumbled upon the Lilliputian world beneath the pluvial foliage, it was a fall into the Rabbit Hole. This happened when work commitments pushed an end-of-season holiday into the monsoon timetable; from the sunny slopes of Ooty to a wet patch of rainforest in west Karnataka. This far, the birding calendar dictated my vacations. The rainy months being downtime for birding, I settled on a monsoon venue with opportunistic optimism, reasoning thus: Don’t the spring-breeding birds all sync their broods with the rains when insects are abundant?

But other things lay in wait for me – slimy, creepy, and crawly. Frogs, snakes, snails, moths, bugs and worms paraded the undergrowth, the dank foliage, the deadwood, the moss on the bark and the lichen on the rock, to grab eyeballs in monsoon primetime. It was their time of the year. And, as if the rains were a celestial aphrodisiac, they mated like there’s no tomorrow.

Their languorous world enraptured me. Each one told a story, sometimes vetted by field guides, and otherwise left to the imagination. Take for instance the foot-flagging behavior in frogs where males straighten their perpetually bent knees in a toe-touching stretch. This is a visual signal to warn other males, in the midst of cacophony that drowns sound signals.

Crouched with the camera and a maternal instinct to save the equipment from rains, I spent my hours clicking the bugs. My fancy for the new-found models caught on over weekends thereafter, in other monsoonal retreats.

A husband with insatiable curiosity, the correct field guides, and a stark resemblance to an encyclopedia with a talent for home-spun naturalistic yarns, opened the door to this, should I say, middle earth.

The romance is now back in the monsoon.

Here is a photo collage:

 

 

Posted from Agumbe, Karnataka, India.

Encounter: Robber Fly, raptor of the insect world

With the menacing  looks and businesslike patience of an assassin, the Robber Fly captures its prey on the wing

Robber Fly. The first time I heard that, I thought, “Why does it have such a name?” I learned that they stay on a perch waiting for any unlucky victim to pass by and quickly catch them on the wing, just as highway robbers waylay and attack passing vehicles.

I saw my first Robber Fly quite recently. While birding, something caught my eye. A large insect flew low, carrying something equally big in its legs. As I watched, it landed on a log. I looked through my camera and zoomed for a good look without spooking the insect. The fly-like predator was holding onto a cicada. I wrote it off immediately as a scavenger feeding on dead insects. Only later did I learn the true identity of this mean-looking fly.

Robber fly with its dinner, a Cicada

Robber flies are also known as Assassin Flies — makes them sound more vicious, doesn’t it? Vicious or not, they are voracious eaters, willing to eat almost any insect or small vertebrate that they can overpower, including other Robber Flies! Their hunting strategy is to wait on a perch from where they can scan the surroundings. When some unfortunate insect flies past, the Robber Fly intercepts and attacks it. The victim is then carried off to be consumed at leisure.

Robber Flies, which include around 7,000 species distributed worldwide, are grouped under the family Asilidae in the order Diptera, comprising ‘two-winged’ flies. They have strong spiny legs which help them grab their prey. Their huge compound eyes help them detect movements quickly. These eyes are protected from the thrashing wings or legs of their prey by outwardly projecting hairs located between their eyes. After pinning down the prey, Robber Flies use their strong and sharp proboscis to inject neurotoxic venom and digestive juices, which immobilize the prey and start liquefying its body from the inside. This slurry is then sucked up by the fly using its proboscis.

Beej adds:

Robber Flies deliver painful bites. While trekking in Brahmagiri, Coorg, I made the mistake of using deodorant and then wearing a sleeveless vest while walking the forest trail. For some reason this attracted Robber Flies. I deduced later that the deodorant had attracted a number of flies and other winged insects and the Robber Flies were in hot pursuit of easy targets. Occasionally, the Robber Flies bit me when I tried to fend them away with my hand. The bites turned into fluid-filled vesicles that hardened into bubble-shaped cysts on the skin between my knuckles and refused to go away for many weeks.

Text and photo by Arun Menon

The Green Ogre – Birds, Wildlife, Ecology and Nature notes from India.

Posted from Kurchi, Karnataka, India.

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