Monday, August 26, 2013

A monsoon walk in the Aravalli hills

The Aravallis are a chain of ancient mountains stretching diagonally across Rajasthan. They also skirt past the city of Jaipur, and we have had occasion to explore some hills over the years. One of the things that strikes you is their sudden and complete transformation with the arrival of the monsoon. For many months of the year they are dry, rocky, sandy sentinels; looking down at the sweep of urbanization gnawing inexorably at their lower slopes. When the monsoon breaks, almost overnight the greenery bursts forth, with the hardy native plants trying to maximize their window of growth.

Today we have driven up to Udaijit's Dera Amer in the mist and the rain in Dushy's willys jeep. Several days of rainfall has caused forest rivulets to run, and waterfalls to cascade down from hidden folds in the hills that we intend exploring this morning.

Dragonflies and damselflies are plentiful in this season and I am keen to add to my list of species from Rajasthan. In particular, the brilliant sub-families of glories and rubies - many tending to favour forest streams, and of which I do not have any photographs.

 Yellow Staghorn Fungus - Calocera viscosa

Dushy makes this wonderful discovery of a type of jelly fungus sprouting from a tree stump. This is one of the joys of a walk in a forest in the monsoon. There is a great abundance of life forms, small creatures and wild plants that you are only likely to see over these weeks, until the rains roll around again next year.

Flame Lily - Gloriosa superba
In the dry months I wouldn't be able to find this species unless someone pointed it out to me. The plants lie almost dormant, virtually indistinguishable from the usual brown foliage. With the coming of the rains, the leaves tipped with clutching tendrils will clamber over the nearest plant; and the large showy flowers display their lovely colours. In the photographs above and below, this particular glory lily has climbed up a native thor or euphorbia.

Sesamum orientale ?
We have climbed up to some large rocks where a leopard likes to sun itself in the winter. Actually there is a pair of them resident in this area - one of the reasons that there are not many surviving dogs in the farms and habitations around here. These bell-like flowers were sprouting on tall stalks just below the 'leopard rock'.

Bearded Commelina - Commelina forskaolii
I love the scientific description of the 'winged stamen filaments' of the flower. They remind me a little of the tusks of a warthog! Though the analogy would probably make more sense if we appreciated the pugnacious nature of this 'weed': now carpeting the recently barren sandy soil with their rapidly spreading ankle-high stems studded with these tiny blue flowers.

White-naped Tit  - Parus nuchalis
The white-naped tit is now a rare endemic. We know of only a handful of locations around Jaipur that one could hope to come across this species. We have sometimes seen this particular species around Dera Amer, but only single individuals. Thus it is a delight to find 4 birds today. They appear to be two separate pairs, though from their vocalizations and behaviour it could be that these are a breeding pair with two juveniles. They are not very shy but the dense foliage and tangled undergrowth prevent a closer approach and taking of better photographs.

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse
I have sometimes seen the painted sandgrouse around Jaipur, and only occasionally the chestnut-bellied. This pair above and the male below make an unlikely picture in this grassy habitat. They are mostly encountered in sandy habitat as their name suggests.
Nearby, two different species of quails are calling: one, a loud drumming akin to a motorcycle engine (this is the barred buttonquail), the other, a shorter, fainter sound (which could be the small buttonquail or the yellow-legged buttonquail - the latter still on my target list).

Eurasian Cuckoo
The Eurasian Cuckoo is a monsoon breeding visitor to Jaipur. We find a pair together. Even after getting a decent sighting and taking of photographs, it would be difficult to discount some other cuckoo species; but I have heard them calling on other trips and hence the confirmation as eurasian.

Large Grasshopper
This large grasshopper (approx 4 inches) was quite well camouflaged on the stalk of a spider lily.

A small fluorescent green grasshopper. The size varies from a fraction of an inch to this particular individual at perhaps one inch.

Painted Grasshopper
This photograph is from earlier, but we do get the painted grasshoppers in the monsoon too. Their colours and patterning would suggest that they would be more at home at a fashion designer's studio than in the wild.
Common Banded Awl
There are some butterflies that look more like moths; and vice versa. This awl (a family of butterflies) is a good example.

Great Eggfly (female)
One of the largest butterflies that we get around Jaipur. The male is perhaps prettier (than the female above) with larger blue patches on the upperwing.

Bright Babul Blues (Azanus ubaldus)
I would have to say that I find most of the 'Blues' (a sub-family of generally quite small butterflies) very difficult to ID properly. The few books available and the information available on the net tends to be vague (or too technical) in pointing out the subtle differences among similar species.

What came of our quest: searching for the damselflies? 

Well, we did try and look for them near a few hill streams - but I'm going to keep that story for a different blogpost about dragonflies to follow soon.

Meanwhile, if you can help me ID some of the 'unknowns' in this post, please do email me at -

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