Fair of Face

IMG_7819_Processed

Ok, so this photo may or may not have been taken over a year ago. In my defence: #TBT. Or #TBM. Whatever.

Still, this remains one of my most treasured moments from our trip to Kenya.

Continue reading “Fair of Face”

The Internet and Nature: How I Got Here

So, on Thursday I gave a TED talk.

11295577_917167748336058_2548037623679392088_n

It was about this blog. And it was about birds. And it was about… well, it was about a lot of things.

Mostly it was about the Internet, and nature, and what happens, has happened, and will happen, between them – for better or worse.

And I think this would be a good place to tell you how I got to where I am today. In bits and pieces, and out-of-order.

But it roughly goes like this.

I suppose it began with a finish line. The Green Corridor Run, 2013. And a couple of pocket field guides for sale, a long deliberation, and finally selection of the butterfly one.

Then again, maybe it began with the rainforest project. Seventh grade science, the ecology unit, unsure but excited, walking up the steps and a huge Atlas moth, and me thinking: hey, I actually like this.

It was probably both. Though if we want to find beginnings, we’ll have to dig deeper than that: through rabbits, and clubs, and whales, and moving.

But that is not the time for that. This is the time for Project Noah, and butterflies, and a girl ready to discover the world.

On my first ‘excursion’ I walk fifty meters and find a lime butterfly. It is Chinese New Year, so they are abundant. Then, however, I do not know what species they are, and I fantasize about rarities, discoveries. Then Project Noah informs me they are unbearably common.

This does not deter me. I vow to discover. One day, I say to myself. One day. (In case you’re wondering, that day still hasn’t arrived.)

I traverse my condo armed with nothing but a bright green iTouch and snap blurry pictures of everything I find. Then I upgrade, to a digital waterproof camera I got for my tenth birthday. My photos are slightly less blurry and I try to figure out how to focus.

I am learning: about cruisers, about where butterflies hang out, about what hides under logs. About what surrounds me, what is there under the surface, what is there above it. About how things are not always what they seem. I learn about Cuban Todies and chat with people halfway across the world. I realize what I have been missing.

I get a 120% on the rainforest project. (The requirement for Project Noah submissions was 10. I had close to 100.)

On the bus home I write down the butterflies I have seen. Painted Jezebel. Lime Butterfly. Chocolate Pansy. I memorize the names. The green pamphlet becomes ragged. I look out the window, hoping for something. Once I see a flash of blue disappearing over a canal. I write down, under the butterflies: kingfisher.

CommonKingfisher_ProcessedLogo

Then, on the way home one day, I hear something calling from a tree. I run home and grab a camera. It is a juvenile yellow-vented bulbul, and it will take me places.

Beginnings in Bulbuls
Beginnings in Bulbuls

I realize photography works. I start examining other’s work critically. I am unreasonably proud of my first deduction: people like clear backgrounds. I take photographs, filling up hard drives faster than red-billed queleas destroy ecosystems.

I see a leopard, and it teaches me to step back.

Journal Journeys: The 'Chui' (Guest Post)
Journal Journeys: The ‘Chui’ (Guest Post)

I see more and more birds on my way home – rainbow lorikeets. Mynahs. Pink-necked green pigeons. As I wear out a groove in the butterflies within my condo, I explore the other avian denizens, one by one. (I am still exploring. It is hard to finish.)

And then, and then, and then. Bukit Brown Cemetery, MacRitchie Reservoir, snakes and birds and lizards and such, such amazing things. More and more and more and this world has opened up to me, full of wonder, and I am bursting to share it, so I start this blog.

IMG_4916

I realize I am not alone. I realize science is not a lab coat. I realize the Internet and biodiversity are not polar opposites.

I find problems. I look for solutions.

And I explore.

Journal Journeys: Face of the Maasai

MasaiFace_Processed

An excerpt from the journal of my cousin, Preetu (a fantastic writer who gives herself far less credit than she deserves*), about her experience in the Maasai village we visited in Africa to accompany rare evidence of my forays into portraiture.

“I remember, as a child, opening up on of those massive geography encyclopaedia things. On that page was a picture and a few words about a tribe called the Maasai. They were wrapped in bright red shawls and wore layers and layers of beaded jewellery. One can’t help but be intrigued by them.

I read what was written on the page, thought – Oh wow! –  and then shut the book and went on with my life.  Little did I know ten years later I’d actually be in their village singing along with them!

The sun beating down on our backs as we stepped out of our jeeps onto arid land.  The glint from this woman’s necklace caught my eye. Strange faces surrounded us. Unfamiliarity and curiosity painted on their faces, as was on ours. We scanned the milieu and found about ten to fifteen small huts arranged in a badly shaped circle and dung.  We manoeuvred skilfully past all the dung as the vibrantly dressed woman led us to centre of the circle and their little settlement. The head of the tribe saw our discomfort as we walked on the cattle excrement and tried to put us at ease by telling us that stepping in cow poo – to put it plainly – was good luck. Not that that really changed much.

We were told that this was where all the cattle was kept. The cattle were now out grazing with most of the men as well. Soon our family was divided into smaller groups and each group was escorted into a hut. The smell of smoke stung as we walk through the narrow passageway. It led to a rather small unassuming room, the only one in the hut. With our heads bent we looked around, bewildered yet amazed at the dark cramped room. This was the residence of four people and two goats. The darkness was attributed to the one hole of a window that might as well have been absent.  One thought that was on everyone’s mind was – How?! The sunlight blinded us as we re-entered the central area.

On our way back to the camp my mind was filled with smiles on the children’s face as we spoke to them and shook their hands, the sound of their voices as they chanted in unison, and the quiet jingle of the beads they wore with so much pride.

The book hadn’t even come close to explaining what they really were.”

Dwarfish

Dwarf Mongoose

There are two species of mongoose regularly seen on the Maasai Mara. The more common is the banded mongoose, but the dwarf mongoose – a small African carnivore found in groups of 15 or less – is also spotted, though less frequently. I expected to leave Kenya with that added to my list of ‘what I’d wished I seen’, places the secretary bird and martial eagle then seemed destined to live.

But a curious combination of fate and luck conspired to the ends of preventing disappointment. When at the checkpoint between the Mara Triangle Wilderness Zone and the Maasai Mara National Reserve, I got out the jeep – with my camera, of course – to stretch my legs.

This proved to be a very good decision.

wFfqFKSAunFrdQoqg7gWS3UYLsiVD8fskVtN5jl8bJUsPvoXeFtLI6kDaBir4ZyKQVhmDw=w2512-h986

Not only did I spot a new species of weaver (which *hint hint cough cough* I have still not identified and therefore has not been added to the Grand Bird List yet), I also saw a small group of mongooses heading off into the shrubbery. One particularly curious individual had perched himself on a rock to observe the surroundings before they all disappeared.

I held my breath, and crept closer very, very slowly. I could see the mongoose tensing, getting ready to run. Luckily, he delayed his flight till the last moment.

Dwarf-size mongoose, maybe. Dwarf-size experience? Definitely not.

Solitary Spoonbill

EurasianSpoonbill_ProcessedLogo

An African Spoonbill rests on the banks of Lake Nakuru in Kenya. This lake was formerly famous for its migratory flamingos; however, when heavy rainfall skewed the salinity balance that had been its primary attracting feature, yearly numbers decreased as the pink birds moved north. Nevertheless, the reserve centered on the water body is home to a variety of endangered animals, including the White Rhinoceros, Black Rhinoceros, African Lion, and Rothschild’s Giraffe, to name just a few.

The namesake contours of this bird’s bill offers it an evolutionary advantage: by opening its bill and swinging it side to side in the water, it not only demonstrates foraging specializations that have evolved over the years for different species, but also easily catches the crustaceans, insects, and fish it is partial to.

Bustard

IMG_7465_Processed

One of the most endangered birds in the world is the Great Indian Bustard, which also happens to be one of the heaviest flying birds. Found in India and Pakistan, it is critically endangered on the IUCN Red List with a population that could be as low as 250 individuals. Its counterpart in Africa is the Kori Bustard, which is possibly – amongst the males, at least – the heaviest living animal in the world capable of flight. Its only competition is the Great Bustard, a species found mainly in Europe with (again, possibly) the most sexual dimorphism between the male and female. While the Kori is not as endangered as the Great Indian, it is near threatened due to hunting and habitat loss.

Little in Green

IMG_6685_Processed

A Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus) perches on a branch on the banks of the Mara River. Little Bee-eaters should not be confused with Little Green Bee-eaters (Merops orientalis); they are both two very distinct species – the Little Bee-eater is largely restricted to Sub-Saharan Africa with the more common Little Green Bee-eaterm found in areas ranging from Ethiopia to Vietnam.