Keeping cool the wild way
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.