RV Matters - 13 August 2019

Each monsoon, we get a pair of the Scaly-breasted munias visiting our house and explore the areas under the tiled roof, in their quest for a safe nest site for their young ones. They chose to nest on the wooden beam and wedge their nests between the beam and the tiles. For this, they spend enormous amount of time locating the grass strips and placing them carefully  together to make a large ball of grass in which they raise tehir family. The birds choose the site carefully so that it does not allow access to the stray cats that roam the area. The birds are quite shy and move away on seeing us. This year, I finally managed to get a few pictures of the birds and their nest. It is sad that despite their efforts, the nests are abandoned half-way through when the weather turns dry. But they never give up. Once the wet spell commences, they are back at work. A few days ago (around 6.20 pm) as I sat on the terrace, a few meters from their nest, the pair came to the nest and sat on the wires and flew to roost inside the nest. I hope this year at least they will successfully raise a family.

Dr Santharam

RV Matters - 23 July 2019

Driving along the Mudivedu-CTM road, last week, we had stopped by to take a look at the birds along the road. It was close to sunset and as we watched, a large eagle swooped down from the skies to land at the edge of a freshly ploughed field. As I moved towards it, expecting to see it feed on a large mammal or bird, I noticed nothing. Looking at its features, I identified the eagle as an Indian Spotted Eagle, a species not seen by me earlier in this area.

Wondering what the bird was up to, I observed more closely to see the bird pick something small from the ground and consume it. It repeated this act several times over the next few minutes and then I realized the bird was picking up winged termites that were emerging from the soil.

 Even as the eagle was engrossed in its feast, with loud noisy calls, flew in seven Common Mynas and a pair of Black drongos. They sat all around the eagle. For a while, I expected the newcomers would mob the eagle, forcing it to flee as they normally do not tolerate the presence of raptors near them. This did not happen. These birds too joined in the feast and started foraging on the winged termites, venturing quite close to the eagle that hardly paid attention to the smaller birds. This went on for over 10 minutes, after which the eagle took off and flew away after making a few sorties in the air.

Winged termites are a delicacy amongst birds and I have observed several times, several species like Indian Robin, Bulbuls, Sunbirds, Swifts and swallows, Babblers, Crows enjoying the bounty when these insects emerge in a swarm. Even large eagles and birds of prey catch them in flight. Termites are a source of protein and no one including humans (tribals, in particular) misses the opportunity to feast on them!

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Dr Santharam

RV Matters - 8 July 2019

For the last several months I did not hear even hear a single hoot, let alone the loud, quavering vocalisations they make at dusk as they break their roost. For a while, I believed like its larger cousins, the Mottled Wood Owl too had abandoned the valley following the severe drought-like conditions induced by the failure of the North-east monsoon last year, leading to a prolonged dry spell.

On the last day of June, the group of birdwatchers were surprised to see two large raptorial birds take off from a Tamarind tree under which they were standing. Even before they could recover from it, someone pointed out to a third bird perched on a branch, directly above us, immobile and staring at us with its huge dark eyes.

From its plumage colouration, it was evident the bird was a young one, recently fledged but not yet independent and capable of flying long distances. It regarded us with its large, liquid eyes and followed our movements as we took in our fill of the bird, which is never easy to observe for long periods of time.

We could hear several remarks expressing wonder and awe on seeing this owl, which is bigger than a Large-billed (Jungle) Crow but stouter and plump. One of the students remarked that unlike the cute, adorable looks of the Spotted Owlet, this owl had a sinister look and was frightening to behold!

Mottled Wood Owls have been a part of our rural landscape and play a vital role in containing populations of rodents that threaten our food production. We used to see them on the Big Banyan tree (BBT) years ago and promptly at dusk, they would let out their loud calls and hoots. For a while they roosted near the Junior School. I have also seen them in mango orchards, on densely foliaged branches.

Being nocturnal, they are subject to harassment at day by birds like the crows and treepies and so need quiter places to retreat. We need to keep this in mind while planning our usage of the land in our campus and set aside quieter, densely wooded areas for such shy denizens.

Dr Santharam

RV Matters - 28 June 2019

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While out birding, two weeks back, we noticed two species of birds (the Brahminy Starling and the Common Myna)– both cavity-nesters – carrying something in their beaks. Close examination revealed they were the leaves of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica). Why were they carrying the leaves? Did they consume them?

 Walking further, we saw the common mynas entering a cavity on the coconut tree trunk near the Vegetable Garden. There were several active nests and some had chicks. I have also seen the Brahminy Starlings occupying nest cavities. The birds were carrying the leaves to the nests.

Leaves of the neem are well-known for their medicinal values traditionally and now with research, scientists have discovered their anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties besides other medicinal values. Birds seem to have independently discovered these values and have been using them in their nests to protect their chicks from harmful bacteria and fungus. Several research papers now confirm this. There is so much out there we can learn by observation.

Dr Santharam

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RV Matters - 17 June 2019

Here is the first installment of “RV Matters” for the new academic year. From this year, I would be travelling a bit and am not sure how regularly I can write this column. I do hope others at school will chip in when needed.

We all have been waiting for rains and that seems to be the major topic of discussion in the valley. I had been on campus more or less through the vacation and it has been a rather hot summer with temperatures steadily hovering in the neighborhood of 40 degrees C. There have been a couple showers late in May and early June but otherwise it has been totally dry. The Hundri-Neeva canal too dried up the day after the elections! The weather forecasts, too, have not been promising.

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On our first bird-watching trip last Sunday (16th June), there was a sighting of the Pied Cuckoo, now also known as Jacobin Cuckoo. These birds have been here on campus at least since June 1st. They have been regularly calling, especially at nights, from the Duranta Hills. Pied Cuckoos are known to be summer migrants to this part of the country and their arrival coincides with the onset of the southwest monsoon. So there is some hope that the birds will attract some rains to our parched campus. Let us wait patiently. Birds and other creatures can be better at predicting weather than our educated weathermen!

Dr Santharam

Rishi Valley School: Alumni Association Office (AAO)

Dear alumni and friends,

As you may know we recently began the foundational work for the setting up of an Alumni Association Office. Read more about that here.  

We are looking for the right person to take on this role. The person that comes on board will have to understand the school’s philosophy, be attuned to its working modes and be adept at forging connections and building relationships between alumni, school, teachers and students. Here is a more detailed description of the role and requirement: Download 

We seek your help in sharing this in your networks and helping us to identify suitable people for the position of the AAO. Interested candidates can send an email to: aaoffice@rishivalley.org with their CV and a brief note on why they would like to be a part of the AAO.

Thank you.
Chatura Padaki (on behalf of the AAO)

RV Matters - 26 April 2019

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This morning as I picked up the newspaper kept on the teapoy in the Visitors' lounge in Rishi Valley, I noticed the newspaper and the floor nearby was having a white stain from bird droppings. Expecting to see the familiar Indian Scops Owl pair, I was surprised to see a large, white, heart-shaped face staring back at me. It was then I realized the droppings were larger than usual. Moving back, I got a better look at the visitor perched on the top rafter under the tiled roof. It was a barn owl!

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I had seen this bird just once earlier in the campus and was thrilled to see it. I hurried back home, picked the camera and got a few shots. After a while, the bird became nervous as a few more staff members joined me to take a look. A little later as I moved to get a better view, the bird moved and flew out to a nearby Peltophorum tree. 

An hour later, towards noon, I went to see if the owl was still around and there and there it was. Took a few more snaps quickly and moved away, not wishing to disturb the bird.

The resident Scops owls were away, perhaps busy, raising a brood in a nearby tree-hole. Wonder what they will have to say when they see a new occupant in their regular haunts!

I hope water will continue to flow and bring about some positive changes to the vegetation and animals as well as people’s lives here.

Dr Santharam