Out for a walk….

I am not an adventurer or a traveller going to places, where exotic species can be observed.. but every weekend we have made it a habit to go out for a walk into the forest… It does not matter what path we take, for around us is the not so well known ‘Kalatope-Khajjiar Wildlife sanctuary’ and its importance can be gauged by the very fact that the total area of this sanctuary is going to be decreased from 69.7 sq kms to just 11.9 sq kms… The Kalatope sanctuary is primarily a coniferous forest and has a typical vegetation, which is unlike the mixed forests of the same altitude. And this too is fast depleting with the developmental fallouts of road-making, tourism and construction…

But even in this fast diminishing forest there is no lack of variety…. one just needs to be  appreciative, to realise the beauty of nature…. A good example was our routine weekly foray….

A ladybirds conference happening on a twig.. the difference in the number of spots on a ladybird usually signifies a different species (but not the only identification criterion), and it seems, interesting.. As we walked further, we suddenly spied a good sized ‘Morel‘ mushroom, looking carefully I saw that it was infested with tiny worms.. so wisely we left it to spread it’s spores into the soil for the next harvest (which can take up to five years)… As we move ahead, a white flower stood erect in our path, it  seemed unknown (well new for me at least)… quickly whipping out the ol’ camera I snap off a few shots of this little herb.. about 3 inches in height.. looks very similar to some of the other wild flowers to be found this time of the year… I’ll leave the identification for later.. A fungi growing on a piece of dead wood… looks like a jelly fungi, hmmmm… (will identify it back at home).. and the then on another dead tree nearby there is a slime mold.. growing like  fuzzy candy on a piece of stick.. (of course in a miniature form).. this is called ‘Stemonitis sp.’ difficult to identify properly without a microscope (I satisfy myself with the genus)… AHA.. I sight the white flowers of the ‘wild strawberries’, mmmm I could almost taste the season on my lips as I spy the ‘Wild raspberry’ flowers also growing on a shrub nearby…. And then as we move on… something under the dark underside of a fallen tree catches my eye… (by now I am quite good as spotting something unusual on the wood).. which is usually a bug or a fungi.. This one seems to be a ‘Slime mold‘ again.. could be belonging to the same species as I found earlier.. the ‘Stemonitis’ or there was another one ‘Arcyria’.. I feel quite happy at even having remembered this much.. (going by the fact that I almost failed in my high school science exams)…. Walking along the forest tracks, on a mild sunny day, after a few days of rain seems blissful. It is the time when one finds everything from birds, bees to flowers and mushrooms happily blooming and buzzing… And talking of mushrooms, we find one next to the path… a medium sized, brown colour, I take note of it’s surrounding and keep it in my sample box. Later at home I’d keep the cap on a piece of paper, where it would leave it’s spore prints which help in determining it’s species, next to it we find another mushroom growing on a rotten piece of wood… This has to be a ‘Polypore’, since it has pores on it’s underside. Great…!!! As we go further, I felt like chirping with the birds, but before I could let my euphoric yodelling echo in the mountains….. we find another mushroom…. and this one looks simply too good…. shaped like a cup, it is aptly called as the ‘Devil’s urn’…. It has been a fruitful day.. and not finished as yet… The paths are lined with the ‘Gerbera Daisy’ a flower from the ‘Aster’ family, and they look so beautiful…!! Around in the forest, I also sighted the ‘May Apple’ flowering, which I think is called so, be cause around the month of May it will bear large red fruits, and thus the name… The forests are full of wondrous things.. and once my eyes opened to these wonders, it became like a playground…. Now we sight a big silverish growth on a dead Cedar tree… a close examination and a conference before we decided that it was not a nest but a fungi of some kind…. and of course later we found it was a species of ‘slime molds’…. And then we decide to take a rest on the grassy patch in front of us… but here too, a butterfly (an ‘Indian Red Admiral’), decides to come and check if we are worthy place to sit and sun itself.. and sits on my knee contentedly while I click away… and then my attention wonders away to a small lump of white which seems to be moving, examining it closely, we found a small bug carrying it’s food/house (don’t know) on it’s back…. will wonders never cease, I think as we move back towards our home… but even in this last leg of our walk we come across a mushroom colony on a decaying trunk… doing their task of re-cycling the waste in nature.. and for the last time that day I again sit down next to the trunk, photographing what I know to be a species of the Coprinoid mushrooms…

Back home after a whole day in the forest, tired but happy, I set aside the material for research and identification… the walk providing not only breath of fresh air and exercise.. but also the opportunity to study and learn about these life forms co-existing with us on this earth. I know that after this where ever I might live.. I’ll always be aware and looking out for the beauty of nature… be it in desert, mountains, seas… where ever…..

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The ‘Jungle’ tales….

Every walk in the forest is a new experience.. each time a different tale to see. Especially, when one starts to understand the language of nature and the life that inhabits the forests. Animals, do not come up to us and  introduce themselves… they leave their signature all around and it is up to us to read the signs… I marvel at the old timers who could tell by the rustling of leaves, or by the way the ground was disturbed, if there was an animal around… for me most of the time it is wind moving the leaves… but I am learning…. ( I’ve put records of animal tracks on the page ‘Animal tracks…’ since  did not find much information on the Internet about things like Ghoral tracks, martens or droppings of animals…)

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One can see easily, when the animal had passed, by the freshness of the tracks.. and poking the droppings .. (yuk… yuk…) you don’t have to poke the scat with hands..!!. But reading all these signs makes a forest walk really interesting… for most part, animals would try to avoid human contact…. thankfully.. but reading the signs also make you aware of the nearness or how recently had any particular animal had been there… and avoid them…

Usually, I’ve noticed that the animals mark out their areas and one would notice their droppings or prints in a particular place signifying their habits, making it easier to avoid them… on the other hand making it easier to hunt them too…..

This along with the beautiful wild flowers, butterflies, bugs, beetles, trees, cool breeze or the misty mountains, etc… make it worthwhile being in the mountains anywhere in the world. But when I see all the tourists (mostly my own countrymen) coming to Dalhousie (Chamba district, Himachal Pradesh, India) and for that matter anywhere in the Himalayas, and sighing painfully and complaining… what is there to see here… so borrrrring…. no excitement…!! I feel like sending them instantly down the hill… and wondering why they came here at all…

Unfortunately we have no Nature education center’s running next to each wildlife area.. if that had been the case we could have more informed and environmentally sensitized people…  But, a trend of getting tourist groups as eco-trail tourism has been catching on … just hope these people will keep to the peripheral forest areas and not litter them, or, spread noise pollution and scare away the animals.

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