Murphey Candler Park

Not far from where my grandmother lives just outside of Atlanta, there’s a public park with a lake that I have recently visited several times to go birding. On eBird, the park’s hotspot boasts one hundred and fifty-four species of birds, so it was a natural place for me to check out, especially given that the park’s lake might attract some water birds I haven’t seen yet.

In addition to the thirty-eight species I saw myself during three morning walks around the lake–several of which will become Bird of the Day photos over the following months–I also enjoyed the forest scenery in this suburban oasis, and got to see Continue reading

Tar Sands Impact Air Pollution via Aerosols

Tar sandstone from the Monterey Formation of Miocene age; southern California, USA. Photo © Wikimedia contributor James St. John

Obviously we never thought that extracting oil from tar sands was ecologically friendly, but a new study published in Nature has found that, in Canada (but presumably everywhere else too), the process releases much more fine particle air pollution than previously believed. Bobby Magill reports for Scientific American:

In one of the first studies of its kind, scientists have found that tar sands production in Canada is one of North America’s largest sources of secondary organic aerosols—air pollutants that affect the climate, cloud formation and public health.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, showed that the production of tar sands and other heavy oil—thick, highly viscous crude oil that is difficult to produce—are a major source of aerosols, a component of fine particle air pollution, which can affect regional weather patterns and increase the risk of lung and heart disease.

Continue reading

The History of Organic Design

organic design

Carl Aubock II [Austrian, 1900-1957] Ashtray, Model No. 3597, 1948. Ashtray Model No. 4736, 1947. PHOTO: CoExist 

What about the world of design is organic? Literally, yes it involves environmental concerns, also the premise of using Nature as the basis for design. Design that grows – inside out – as the elements of Nature. CoExist delves into the history of organic design:

In the 1930s, the central belief of the organic movement was that furniture and architecture should reflect a harmony between people and nature. In furniture design, this meant natural materials like wood, and smooth, rounded forms. The bent plywood furniture of legendary French designer Jean Prouve came out of this period, as did Marcel Breuer and his laminated birch plywood armchair with a calfskin cushion. These designers prided themselves on being dedicated to their craft, and their pieces were painstakingly made and not easily reproduced. “They saw it as a unique work that refers to nature,” says Olshin. “These pieces tend to be unique one-of-a-kind studio work that’s not easily produced in mass quantities.”

Continue reading

Love For, Of the Planet

claude-and-norma

Claude and Norma Alvares are the pillars of conservation in India’s extreme tourist city of Goa. PHOTO: Rahul Alvares, Scroll

There’s a small but wonderful tribe of people who keep the dignity of life on the planet. Call them eco warriors, guardians of tomorrow, nature’s advocates. No tag can do justice to their lives spent preserving, restoring, and protecting life. Goa, the tourist mecca of India, has sundowners, music, beaches and a welcoming culture going for it. It is also the base of Claude and Norma Alvares’ environmental movement of over 40 years.

Continue reading

What Lies Beneath Your Feet

Farmers harvest sesame in Syria. PHOTO: JIM RICHARDSON

Farmers harvest sesame in Syria. PHOTO: JIM RICHARDSON

The 68th UN General Assembly declared 2015 the International Year of Soils. It aims to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions. According to scientists, soil is being eroded faster than that the Earth can replace it. So the next time the words ‘dirt cheap’ come up, think again and take not the soil below your feet for granted.

Dirt is not only rare, but it’s complicated. To the uninitiated, dirt may look like grubby generic mush, but actually it has character, individuality, and a taxonomy all its own. Soil scientists recognize twelve major orders of dirt, each divided into suborders, groups, subgroups, families, and series, according to its various allotments of minerals and organic matter. Each dirt has a pedigree. Furthermore, dirt is proactive. It’s not an inert blanket; it’s a dynamic entity.

Continue reading

The BIG Backwater Conservation Story

A fish sanctuary in the making on Lake Vembanad, Kerala, India. PHOTO: Scroll

A fish sanctuary in the making on Lake Vembanad, Kerala, India. PHOTO: Scroll

We love the backwaters. Period. Every single time one of our Xandari Riverscapes houseboats puts out into these deep waters, our hearts swell with pride. Responsible showcasing the charm, the timelessness of these waters and its people brings us much joy. And when we come across conservation efforts to maintain the quintessence and soul of this stretch of paradise, we can’t help but let you know.

Spread over 36,000 hectares and three districts in Kerala, this is the kind of landscape that gives conservation ecologists a blinding headache – a resource-rich, highly-productive area that is pulled apart in several directions (waste-dumping, tourism, livelihoods, water security) and depended upon by conflicting communities who have no other alternatives. Lakes have been straddling this intersection all across India – from Chilika in Odisha, to the Bengaluru urban lakes, to Loktak in Manipur, to Vembanad.

Such heavy-use landscapes outside protected areas, however, also might hold answers to the future of conservation. Whether it is a large lake system, or forest fragments that serve as the refuge of a few species or a corridor for wild animals, or a forest fringe, or large agricultural swathes that also host biodiversity, a section of conservationists believes that the future lies in teamwork between nature and mankind.

Continue reading

A Volcano That Fanned the Arts

The deep volcanic crater, top, was produced by the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in April 1815 - the most powerful volcanic blast in recorded history. PHOTO: Iwan Setiyawan/KOMPAS, via Associated Press

The deep volcanic crater, top, was produced by the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in April 1815 – the most powerful volcanic blast in recorded history. PHOTO: Iwan Setiyawan/KOMPAS, via Associated Press

That the volcanoes have power is plain, cemented truth. You hear of their trail of ravage – ash, rocks, lava, evacuation, barren lands. The volcano vocabulary is dreary, if you may say so. But not the eruption of Mount Tambora. For this be the reason for many a flood, famine, disease, civil unrest and economic decline.

“The year without a summer,” as 1816 came to be known, gave birth not only to paintings of fiery sunsets and tempestuous skies but two genres of gothic fiction. The freakish progeny were Frankenstein and the human vampire, which have loomed large in art and literature ever since.

“The paper trail,” said Dr. Wood, a University of Illinois professor of English, “goes back again and again to Tambora.”

Continue reading

The World’s Lone Weaver of Sea Silk

Chiara Vigo is the only woman in the world who still works the byssus, better known as the silk of the sea, the same way women in ancient Mesopotamia used to weave it in order to make clothes for their kings. PHOTO: BBC

Chiara Vigo is the only woman in the world who still works the byssus, better known as the silk of the sea, the same way women in ancient Mesopotamia used to weave it in order to make clothes for their kings. PHOTO: BBC

The Italian island of Sardinia. A place where coastal drives thrill, prehistory puzzles, endearing eccentricities exist. As DH Lawrence so succinctly put it: ‘Sardinia is different.’ The island has been polished like a pebble by the waves of its history and heritage. And an indispensable part of it is Chiara Vigo, who is thought to be the only women left who can harvest sea silk, spin it and make it shine like gold. By her own admission, Vigo is neither an artist nor an artisan. She is a master. While an artist creates over inspiration and an artisan produces and sells, masters pass their art on. Like she hopes to.

Continue reading

Here’s How to See a Meal on a Banana Leaf

Eating on a banana leaf goes beyond the food; it's about science, energy, and teachings of yore. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Eating on a banana leaf goes beyond the food; it’s about science, energy, and teachings of yore. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

The rains have ceased and clearer skies bless our days here in Kerala as the calendar turns a page to August. The words are only beginning to be murmured but sadyakasavuand Onam can put the life back in any Keralite’s soul. Food, clothing, and a festival – in translation – who could possibly ask for more! And one thing that binds them all together is how true to the land they stay. The sadya in particular, once you look beyond the fact that it’s an only-hands affair and is best had sitting cross-legged on the floor, is an example of food science, forms of energy, folk teachings, and more.

Continue reading

The Incas and their Hand-built Roads

An exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian concludes that the ancient Incas were great environmentalists. PHOTO: BBC

An exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian concludes that the ancient Incas were great environmentalists. PHOTO: BBC

The Inca Road is one of the most extraordinary feats of engineering in the world. By the 16th Century it had helped transform a tiny kingdom into the largest empire in the Western hemisphere. And to the envy of modern engineers, substantial parts of the 24,000-mile (39,000-km) network survive today, linking hundreds of communities throughout Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Incredibly, it was constructed entirely by hand, without iron or wheeled transportation. A new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC shows why the Incan kingdom built a lasting infrastructure.

Continue reading

When Nature is the Weatherman

Its monsoon delayed and weakened by a cyclonic  storm and the El Nino, India is bracing for tough days ahead. PHOTO: Madhyamam

Its monsoon delayed and weakened by a cyclonic storm and the El Nino, India is bracing for tough days ahead. PHOTO: Madhyamam

All through the last weeks of May and the first days of June, most Indians have been looking to the skies. For answers and signs of the monsoon rains. With India being a predominantly agrarian country, the rains decide whether the country grows enough to feed its 1.25 billion people or relies on imports to satiate hunger and demand. And last evening, we saw the first signs of a healthy monsoon, amid fears of the rains being a poor show this year.

Continue reading

Veganism, say hello to jackfruit!

Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit and is found across Asia, Africa, and parts of North and South America

Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit and is found across Asia, Africa, and parts of North and South America

It’s the peak of summer in Kerala now. Here, the fruiting seasons are celebrated with an expo to encourage cultivation and to introduce the urban populace to some good old food traditions.At a recent jackfruit expo (watch this space for more on a mango showcase), the city-bred me who’d otherwise encountered the fruit only in flavored sorbet and ice cream figured what it was all about. Then I did some reading and this month-old article in The Guardian had me hooked:

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

The frontal view when a jackfruit is cut

Late last year, after 18 years of litigation, a senior government official in Kerala, south-west India was given a prison sentence after being convicted of theft. The object he stole was government property, and it was so large he had to have it cut up to get it home. A piece of art, perhaps? A precious metal? Actually, it was a 40-year-old jackfruit tree, and, once you’ve tasted its fruit, you begin to understand why he did it.

Continue reading

Kuttanad – “the rice bowl of Kerala”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you are like me, you enjoy the fresh air, green scenic views and appreciate a variety of cultures. Kuttanand, south of Cochin is a promising destination with its rich rice picking culture and its backwater systems. It also offers diverse species of animals, especially birds which can easily be spotted due to the open landscape.

Next on my Kerala bucket list!

To read more click here

(photo credits: Keralatourism.org)

CUBs Focal Species Close-up: Killdeer

Photo of Killdeer in Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve by Morgan Terrinoni

Photo of Killdeer in Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve by Morgan Terrinoni

 

If you haven’t heard of CUBs–Celebrate Urban Birds–yet, click here. Unlike the rest of shorebirds in the family of plovers, dotterels, and lapwings, Killdeer inhabit places other than the beach. Why? In part this is because they enjoy expanses of gravelly rocks and short grass, and there is only so much coastline. With all the parking lots, golf courses, well-maintained lawns, grazed pastures, and athletic fields in the US alone, it isn’t surprising that they took to the niches that were much more open to a ground-dwelling bird than the fairly packed shores. The fact that Killdeer have chosen homes that quite often happen to be in (sub)urban areas points to the relative comfort the species has for human proximity, and to a degree explains their successful expansion throughout North America as year-round residents. Continue reading

Granite Ghost – Revisited

As the monsoons blow through Kerala, the native dragonfly and damselfly populations in the area appear to wax and wane along with the water levels. A sunny day by any water body guarantees sighting at least one species, but as is only so common during the season, overcast days dominate the calendar. Nevertheless, Kerala’s entomological biodiversity remains  as strong as the summers, during which dozens of Odonate species whizz back and forth teritorially over their little stretch of pond-shore or riverbank.  The main reason that these insects are not out in force as frequently as the rest of the year is that they are most active in hot and dry climates, particularly in direct sunlight. Contrarily, monsoons traditionally offer respite to natives, being wet and (slightly) cooling. When they’re not visibly hunting or mating, dragonfly and damselfly populations are probably strongest in the larval stage – extraordinarily aggressive aquatic predators. I got lucky a few days ago on a sunny day on the backwaters when I saw a Granite Ghost – in my books a rarer species of dragonfly that I’ve only sighted once in Goa.

Continue reading

Odonata Hotspots

It’s always a delight when I stumble upon a pond or stream with dragonflies and damselflies flying around, defending their territories, basking, hunting, and propagating, their very existence a pleasure for me to witness. However, the rare joy is when I find a gem of a habitat – an area so ideal for odonate life that while I photograph one new species, I have to avoid being distracted by the other four or five more colorful new species I’m simultaneously seeing out of the corner of my eye. I had one such explosive pond-wading experience several days ago while visiting a spice estate near Kumily.  Continue reading

Reflections in the Rain

The song of the rain washes over me.  It soothes my soul and calms my buzzing thoughts.  Never would I have imagined forming a sense of respect and admiration for this wet, and often noted, overwhelming natural phenomenon.  Yet, the monsoon rains of Kerala are magically revitalizing, relieving, and so much more.

Like blessings the droplets fall on my skin, awakening my soul from its lazy trance.  I am increasingly able to understand how artists find it inspiring, how birds find it song-worthy.  I am as thankful as the parched earth that I relinquished many of my hesitations towards the rain; my mind is open and ready for more.

When the rain ceases and the sky reveals the sun’s rays, it is a rainbow I hope to see.  I find its colors in the cheerful tunes of the birds, the slow rustle of the leaves, and the intermittent chirps of the emerging insects.  These few, along with many other, “colors” create a reflection of hope in the puddles of my mind.

As my days increase, I do not expect my puddles of misunderstanding, disbelief, or hesitation to completely dissipate.  I only desire that, like I have with the rain, I am able to find positive and inspiring reflections within them.

Beauty of Jordan: Wadi Dana at Dawn

This is a series of posts on Jordan’s natural wonders, which will mainly include only one or two pictures and a brief description per post. I’m working at Feynan Ecolodge for this reason; Jordan is beautiful, culturally, historically, but most of all naturally. The wilderness here is something else, and it is my duty to share that beauty with the world. Continue reading

Feelings on Ficus

Ficus. The word brings to mind many things – the juicy sweetness of a ripe, freshly picked fig; the summer heat of any tropical or Mediterranean setting; fertility. But recently, Ficus means one thing to me: strangler figs. This may sound morbid, and in a branchy way, it is. Many species of ficus begin their lives epiphytically –  generally after a seed is dropped by a bird or arboreal mammal onto the upper branches of what will become a host tree. Over time, the seeds will germinate and sprout aerial roots, which make their way to the ground by either hanging freely or by crawling down the host tree’s trunk. It is not at all uncommon in Indian forests to see roots hanging from the canopy.

Continue reading

Gavi’s Gangly Forest

In early summer the forests of the Western Ghats are roaring with the sounds of insects. Crisp dried leaves crackle underfoot, and monkeys howl in the distance. I didn’t really expect to see animals – any intelligent enough to survive would be sleeping in a cool hollow somewhere. Despite the heat, the woods are beautiful, and the scenes unfolding before my eyes as we trek deeper into the reserve grow more and more unusual, with trees’ limbs and roots seeming to grasp and grope. Continue reading