Keep­ing cool the wild way

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - YOURSPACE - SUNJOY MONGA

The mon­soon has of­fi­cially ended. The land­scape all around, in the low­lands, up along the hill slopes and on the hill­top plateaus ev­ery­where, is pro­fuse with the most vis­i­ble gifts of the mon­soon – lux­u­ri­ant herbage, a cor­nu­copia of herbs, shrubs, creep­ers and their ilk. All of these col­lec­tively comes across as an al­most im­pen­e­tra­ble cur­tain. It is the time of year when I reg­u­larly ex­plore sev­eral patches, in grass and scrub, as well as in for­est-edge, for some in­cred­i­ble glimpses of na­ture’s games and de­signs. I’m no less fas­ci­nated by derelict and over­grown bits and spa­ces amid ur­ba­nia. These too re­flect lux­u­ri­ant dis­plays of na­ture’s mu­nif­i­cence, even if the eco­log­i­cal de­sign here is ut­terly al­tered by hu­man im­pact.

There is usu­ally a flut­ter of life amid the op­pres­sive heat and mug­gi­ness. Both seem to con­spire to cre­ate a par­tic­u­larly ex­as­per­at­ing, en­ergy sap­ping sit­u­a­tion, for hu­mans and other life forms. Yet, I no­tice that whilst we con­tinue to moan and groan, na­ture ad­mirably takes these hard­ships in her stride.

Birds are masters at cop­ing with the heat with re­mark­able be­havioural and phys­i­cal adap­ta­tions, even though im­ages of pant­ing, de­hy­drated birds alarm and elicit “Oh God, how these poor things are suf­fer­ing etc” re­ac­tions. But it’s not so much the post-mon­soon hu­mid­ity but the drier heat of peak sum­mer that birds and much of na­ture face the greater tri­als of life.

Ex­plor­ing my Mum­bai Sa­fari these days has also been an eye­opener in how na­ture re­sponds to chang­ing prey equa­tions. In many for­est-edge and scrub ar­eas this sea­son, I have no­ticed a dis­tinct paucity of macro-fauna this sea­son, es­pe­cially the flurry of in­sects. Where ev­ery step in grass and herbage would see scores of grasshop­pers and other crit­ters scam­per­ing, the un­miss­able buzz and bus­tle of ex­is­tence has been lack­ing in these weeks. And it re­flects in the dra­mas of the food chains, as the preda­tor num­bers too could seem low. Hunters like the nu­mer­ous pray­ing man­tises, lizards and their ilk, and sev­eral birds of un­der­growth seem to be re­spond­ing suit­ably. So amaz­ing are na­ture’s ways. How cun­ningly she de­ci­phers clues and re­acts.

The heat and hu­mid­ity also cre­ates a bout of colour­ful wild­flow­ers be­fore the ethe­real beauty of win­ter be­gins to en­velop the set­ting. Al­ready, the force­ful heat of the past few days has be­gun its ren­o­va­tion game. Ver­dant green has started to lose out to psychedelic golds, yel­lows, browns and rus­sets.

The calls of the sand­piper and plover rise in pitch on creek and coast, wher­ever we puny hu­mans let na­ture be.

(Sunjoy Monga is a nat­u­ral­ist, pho­tog­ra­pher and au­thor of nu­mer­ous books on bio­di­ver­sity)


Birds like the Ashy Prinia are masters at cop­ing with the heat with re­mark­able be­havioural and phys­i­cal adap­ta­tions.

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