Sunday, August 31, 2008

I've got tigers in my garden!

Striped ones and Blue too.

This Striped Tiger butterfly was dancing in the Myrobalan tree which is in bloom now. While his dancing partner flew away, he paused on this fading Dendrobium orchid to catch his breath.

Or perhaps to let it know that he hasnt forgotten how beautiful she had been a few days ago and how he had danced for her. I'm sure Den. Emma White appreciated the thought!

The Myrobalan tree is covered with a cloud of butterflies.... all coveting the precious nectar that its fragrance seems to be promising.

The myrobalan trees are native to Mumbai and is growing wild here. ( Frankly I was a bit uncertain about naming this tree because I'm not too sure but I checked up on a number of sites and it seemed to be a toss up between the myrobalan and the mahua, But,everything seems to point to it being a Myrobalan. If anyone knows better, please let me know so I can correct it here)

It is a pretty innocuous tree with even more innocuous flowers. But beauty seems to be in the nose (or proboscis) of the sniffer. It has definitely snared this Striped Tiger! (The flash of pink that you see in the photo above is just a wild morning glory that has just wandered over uninvited).

I have read about wild animals acting drunk when the myrobalan is in bloom. She seems to be a more accomplished seductress than she appears! Cunning little tree ... she's got them the old, old way. The way to any creature's heart seems to be through their stomach, after all.

As if not to be left out of all the fun, the Blue Tigers are very much in the scene too. Dipping and darting about to make sure the light falls just so on their wings so as to show up the pale blue markings that gave them their name.

Going back to visit old friends seems to be a habit with butterflies because I caught this Blue Tiger pausing on the dried up old flower stalk of last season's cashew. There were no flowers on this tree to lure the Tiger here yet it stopped here long enough for me to click it from various angles.

Can you see the flash of pale blue on the left wing which looks like white on the other?

You can see the Tiger and the cashew flower stalk more clearly in this photo.

The sunny interval in the monsoon season is the perfect time to watch butterflies at play in Mumbai. Usually photographing them requires quick reflexes and luck but by mid-day they grow lethargic in the sun and slow down a bit.

Having host plants for the caterpillars and nectar plants where the grown-ups can hang out and get a quick drink, increases the chances of getting one to pose for you.

The Lantana bush seems to be their favourite tipple joint. I think they like my wild lantana because its got no chemicals on it. And, of course, for all the other usual reasons too. I've left this clump of lantana only for the birds who love the berries, and for the butterflies who love the flowers. And for me ... who loves watching all of them!

Cosmos and Zinnia are other favourites with the flying rainbows. But, the strangest sight I ever saw was on a hole drilled by a couple of big wasps on my Pink Cassia tree. The two wasps drilled the hole and then hung around seemingly licking (if you can call it that) at the sap or whatever was coming out of the hole. Soon the whole tree was filled with butterflies, all trying to get at the sap too.

Even stranger was the fact that while feasting, they seemed oblivious to everything else. I could have brushed one with my hand and it would have just shuffled a step aside and then come right back again!

Every once in a while the wasps would fly off and the butterflies would jump in and feast. This even brought in butterflies I'd never seen before in my garden. I wonder if this a migratory one. I've never seen its picture in any of the sites about butterflies of Mumbai. (these two photos were from my pre-digital camera days and were taken with the camera on my cell phone so the quality is terrible, I think)

All those white string-like things on the tree trunk are just the roots of a Dendrobium orchid that I have mounted on to the tree. I wonder if that had anything to do with this strange phenomenon. But, I have another Pink Cassia tree in my garden with orchids mounted on that one too but that was not treated like an object of desire by any butterfly or wasp.

Nature has too many mysteries. Just when you think you've got one thing figured out, there comes the next puzzle. But as long as the puzzles are as beautiful as these , I dont mind. : )

Sunday, August 24, 2008

If this works...

First, let me say that this is not a new post but more of a post-script to the previous one. So, if you're reading this, make sure you scroll down to the next post "The birds and The bees ... and butterflies too"

The photos in the earlier post weren't enlarging when clicked so I just had to try again .

Hmmm... this seems to work fine so far. I dont know where I goofed but all's well that ends well. I dont know what I did that corrected things either.

My Red Ginger is finally beginning to look lush and exotic enough to photograph. As for the Ylang-ylang, its in full bloom right now and smells heavenly. Almost intoxicating!

This is just a bonus for putting up with my non-enlarging photos. Sorry!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The birds and the bees.... and butterflies too!

My garden is a very busy place now. The monsoons have taken a break (to draw in a deep breath, I think) and all the insects in the world seem to be holding a convention in my garden. Everywhere I look, there are swarming, flying, buzzing creatures, eager to get on with their busy, busy lives.

This big carpenter bee seems to be determined to mine all the precious pollen from this Sky Flower (Thunbergia grandiflora). I had planted them to climb over my wire fence and to hopefully soften its harsh looks. What I had not anticipated was that it would become the happy hunting-ground not only for a whole bevy of very serious carpenter-bees but also for some gorgeous Purple Sunbirds.

The sunbirds are some of the most exquisite birds I've ever seen. "Tiny little darts of sunshine" is the closest I can get to describe them. The male is a dark purply-chocolate brown, capped with shiny emerald and amethyst on top, with a bright yellow stomach. With every movement of its perky head, the irridiscent green and jewel-purple feathers shimmer and sparkle in the light.

You can get a rough idea of what I mean from this photo of one perched on the root of my Vanda orchid. I'm sorry, it's such an atrocious photo but I was too excited on seeing him pose for me. They normally dart away faster than thought.

His girl-friend is a bird of a totally different colour. As drably dressed as any bird can get but still very watchable because she darts from one flower to the other, dipping her curving beak deep in to sip the nectar.

Can you see her wheeling away from the hibiscus flower she had just been feasting on? In this photo, though, she looks as if she were part of the flower, doesnt she? Go on, click on the photo and you can see a larger, clearer picture of milady Purple Sunbird (though there is nothing purple in her .... her boyfriend flaunts the royal colour !)

The start of the rainy season always sees the Zephyranthes in full bloom. These Rain lilies or Thunder lilies, as some call them, were a favourite in my childhood home. So much so that I made sure I planted a few bulbs in a corner of my garden here. Now the few bulbs are more like a dense carpet of flowers every monsoon.

I was too late to take photos of the Zephyranthes field this year (and I still havent got over that yet). But guess what I did get to record for posterity ...

(Yes, I do know there are weeds in there. Its the monsoon season ... what do you expect? Every year the rains wash off the lovely, rich top-soil, leaves behind the stones, and bring out all the weeds. Aaargh! )

Ma Nature's ingenious recycling project !

These white and orange spotted, chocolate-brown caterpillars were already fat and sleek from all those Zephyranthes leaves they had tucked into. I wonder what the grown-ups would look like. Could it possibly be a Common Mormon?

I cant see anything remotely common about them, though!

In another corner, some wild morning-glories had conveniently grown over my baby anthuriums and lent their dense foliage to shade them from our cruel summer sun . But a couple of days ago, I nearly leapt in fright to see a mob of orange, bristly, violent-looking caterpillars methodically stripping it of all the leaves.

Now just multiply that by about a 100 and you'll begin to get an idea of what is going on there. You think that is scary? Picture one of these bull-dozing its way straight you, letting nothing stop it, and shaking its bristles at you with every undulation.

I didnt see a single bird or animal even beginning to look as if it were interested in tasting it. In fact, my normally crowded garden was looking decidedly deserted when Bristly came out for his cross-country marathon. I'm simply not surprised !

So what stopped me from squishing him out of existence? The dream that some day he would look like this !

( click on photos to enlarge)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Cuckoo about Curcumas

It was early morning when I saw this wild Curcuma. It was nestled up close to the rough, exposed roots of an old cashew tree. With the sun just opening up the skies and sending out one tentative beam to paint the tips of the flower, it looked as if it was on fire! A fireball wrought of fragile crystal, suspended above an emerald bed .

It was so exquisitely pretty that it stopped me in my tracks for a minute . And then, I ran for my camera. I just couldnt resist circling around to get a photo from the other side. And what do you know ... it was just as gorgeous from the other side too!

From this side, I soon saw what I had missed earlier. A view of the true flowers, complete with bright yellow path highlighting the way in for all pollinators. "Just follow the yellow brick road..."

My curcuma is not just a pretty-colour type of flower, though it obviously has that too. There's something so 'architecturally' striking about its form.

When I looked around, there were more curcumas in flower and bud but there were quite a few varying shades and hues. Were they the after-effects of cross-pollination or just varying shades at various stages of flowering? I think I'll have to wait till next year to find out because my wild curcumas dont rebloom for me. The foliage remains for a couple of months, growing progressively more and more ratty . Then they just die down and cut out all above-the-ground activity till the next monsoon season. And its time to bring on the show-stoppers!

( click on the photos to enlarge )