The rain lashes out on the wind shield as we drive down the winding roads to our destination Valparai . Wondering if the rain could hinder our plans on this trip , I demolish that thought immediately, rain being one of the main character of a rainforest . The huge trees that reach out to the sky with creepers clambering over them accompanied by the ferns and wild flowers form a wall of greenery on the mountains . As the rain mellows down to a drizzle I step out to experience the faint drizzle. The rain has made sure that anything and everything in the forest is studded with rain drops.
To my delight I noticed lots of butterflies mudpuddling on the ground . These butterflies get most of their nutrition from flower nectar. Though rich in sugar, nectar lacks some important nutrients the butterflies need for reproduction. For those, butterflies visit puddles. By sipping moisture from mud puddles, butterflies take in salts and minerals from the soil. This behavior is called puddling, and is mostly seen in male butterflies. That’s because males incorporate those extra salts and minerals into their sperm. When butterflies mate, the nutrients are transferred to the female through the sperm.
As I move on to have a closer look at the ferns interspesrsed with wild flowers .These tiny flowers are stunning with intricate details in all colors and shapes.These wild flowers include many endangered ones which need to be conserved .
The occasional chirping of the birds and the excellent weather made the walk a pleasant one. I did hear a loud cackling sound and my attention gripped on to a pair of Hornbills on a fig tree . The male hornbill and the female hornbill were conversing with each other probably discussing which direction to fly or where to have lunch . After a short discussion both flew away in the same direction. These birds are really huge and when they flap their wings to fly they make a characteristic sound .The loud whooshing noise emanating from hornbills as they fly is produced by gaps in the hornbill’s wing feathers and air being compressed in these gaps. Large hornbills lack feather that allow for smooth air flow. The wing beats of some species can be heard a half mile away.These hornbills are vital to forests as they are important seed dispersal agents to many endangered trees .
Incidentally “Saving Hornbills is saving forests ” was the caption for my son Suhas’s drawing competition conducted by the NCF to promote awareness about their hornbill conservation programs . I learnt about hornbills when I was looking out for information on them on the net. Suhas’s drawing was shared and like by many on facebook. As a result his drawing was featured in this years calendar.
Hornbills are majestic birds with a distinct beak . Hornbill have long curving bills that are mostly yellow and can reach lengths of 13 inches. The bill is an integral part if the hornbill’s skull and is used by the bird to feed, fight, preen, make nests and keep snakes from attacking the vulnerable parts of their body.
Hornbills primarily feed on fruit, figs and insects. Many species collect fruit in their neck pouch and hide them in caches. Some have to ability to clasp fruit, insects and other food with the tip of their bill and deftly toss it in the air and catch it their gullet like a person catching a piece of popcorn in their mouth.
Hornbills are generally monogamous. Many mate for life. Hornbills nest in tree cavities or rock crevasses that are sealed shut except for a narrow, vertical slit. The female is sealed inside the nest . The slit is about a half inch wide: wide enough to pass food through but narrow enough to seal out potential predators such monkeys raptors and other predators that feed on eggs and young birds. Males bring up to 13 meals of fruit a day to nesting females. One male was observed delivering 150 figs in one visit, regurgitated one after another . The females reportedly like some variety to their diet and have refused food if they are brought to much of the same thing.The great Indian hornbill feed in fruit, primarily figs, plucked from among the foliage.
Click to watch Wildlife biologist Aparajita Datta’s TED talk . She works to protect the 5 different species of seed-spreading hornbills living in the tropical rain forests in northern India.
The ramble in the rainforest was a totally enriching experience . Will be sharing more on this in the next post .
Images : Kannan A.S and Poornima
Sketches :Suhas Kannan.