RV Matters - 16 July 2018

A short hike was organised for the students of Class 8 to Nandu’s farm on the hill, close to Thettu (Diguvapalem hamlet) on Saturday. The weather was perfect – overcast, cloudy skies, cool winds..

We intended to spend half a day, learning about various things – life in a remote village, organic farming, tree-planting etc. We visited the three acres of land that Nandu’s family had set aside for raising trees (over 500 trees were planted over the last couple of years), a couple of percolation pits were dug to make water available for the plants and a thorn fence erected to keep out grazing animals. Nandu has been collecting seeds of native forest plants from the neighbouring forest areas and raising them in his nursery. They also had planted trees along the road going to Thettu village. All this without any monetary support from outside!

We divided the group of 51 students and six staff members into three groups – one went for tree-planting on the hillside, a second helped harvest tomatoes and the third watered the trees planted along the roadside, collecting water from the two water tanks (where water was pumped from the ground, 400 feet below the ground).

While we expected this would be a great learning experience for our kids, we were quite disappointed with the way the students behaved. The group that went for plucking tomatoes started throwing tomatoes around and trampled the plants. The group that went to water the avenue trees wanted to know if they could play with the water, throwing it on each other. Some students, despite being told not to litter the place after eating their breakfast (packed by our DH workers with so much of care and made it available to us at 6.30 am), left behind their half-eaten food packets and
grudgingly picked them up only after several teachers repeatedly asked them to do so. These instances of insensitive behaviour displayed despite several reminders and reprimands make us wonder why our kids are so indifferent when they are in a group, mostly self-absorbed and not aware
of their surroundings and their responsibilities.

Dr Santharam

RV Matters - 8 July 2018

I had a new “student” in my class last Thursday, just three feet tall (long)! I was in Class 8B a few minutes before the afternoon class to make a few drawings on the board before the classes began. I was almost done when I saw the first students coming down the corridor - “Sir, Sir... There’s a snake!” I heard this and turned around to see something slithering in through the door and coming towards me. I just stepped behind, trying to see if the snake was a venomous species. It was, fortunately, a rat snake, three feet long, a juvenile and very active. It took over 25 minutes for Seetha akka to catch the snake and release it. By then the whole junior school was out, trying to come into the class to catch a glimpse of the snake. My colleagues had a tough time controlling the crowd while I was in the classroom, making sure the snake did not disappear into one of the lockers.

This morning I had a lovely individual of the Blue Mormon in my garden, as it fluttered about the lemon tree. I was hoping it would rest on a twig and allow a good look at it but it did not oblige. There are several individuals of this large (wingspan 120-150 mm) butterfly this year. It appears to be a seasonal visitor to our campus, seen mostly during the monsoon months. Do look out for it.

We had a unusually large turnout for bird-watching this morning – over 15 students and 7-8 adults! The view of the campus, as we went towards the sunrise point, was breath-takingly lush. We hoped to see the YTB (Yellow Throated Bulbul) – two lucky souls saw one bird while the others were happily chattering away! But there were other highlights – a large bird of prey (possibly the Black Eagle), male Baya weavers in their resplendent breeding plumage and dusky crag martin (Craig Martin or was it Martin Craig? according to some kids!) gave us good views. The balmy weather conditions with overcast skies, a light drizzle and cool breeze made this outing an enjoyable one.

Dr Santharam

Bird Watching - 1 July 2018

TIME: 6.30 to 8.30 AM
ROUTE: DH to Bio-Diversity Park

It did not seem a very promising outing in the beginning. It was a dull day which meant not many birds… Yet, we saw all the four kinds of bulbuls, four kinds of cuckoos and even a rare bird of prey. Some birds were so tantalising—their song would be so loud as though they were singing right next to our ears, yet we had to look high and low to spot them. One such bird was the spotted babbler whose name was so misleading. We had to go on our knees to ‘spot’ him.

Bird List

24. white headed/yellow-billed babbler.
25. shikra
26. small minivet.
27. koel
28. magpie
29. indian bushlark
30. pale billed flowerpecker
31. yellow-eyed babbler.
32. pied bushchat
33. Indian robin
34. purple sunbird
35. jungle prinia
36. plain prinia
37. grey breasted prinia
38. rufous bellied babbler
39. Indian silver bill
40. loten’s sun bird
41. spotted dove
42. black drongo
43. common wood shrike
44. red rumped swallow
45. short toed eagle

1. white cheeked barbet.
2. coppersmith barbet
3.tailor bird
4. common iora
5. coucal
6. common hawk cuckoo
7. sirkeer cuckoo (malkoha)
8. pied crested cuckoo
9. plaintive cuckoo
10. white browed bulbul
11. red vented bulbul
12. red whiskered bulbul
13. yellow throated bulbul
14. rose ringed parakeet
15. spotted owlet
16. common mynah
17. grey partridge
18. painted spurfowl
19. small green bee eater
20. spotted babbler
21. laughing dove.
22. rufous tree pie
23. spotted/scalybreated munia

Bird Watching - 24 June 2018

Bird watching in the lush green valley of Rishi Valley never gets stale. This week, the percolation tank was a host to a wide array of birds. It is always a pleasure to observe some of these exotic water dwellers, sun basking on the banks of the dry water body.

Bird List

Blue rock pigeon
White headed babbler
Rose ringed parakeet
Red vented bulbul
Golden backed woodpecker
Pond heron
Common hawk cuckoo
Spotted owlet
Black drongo
Common woodshrike
White-rumped munia
Scaly breasted munia
Ashy prinia
Baya weaver bird

Spotted dove
Whitebreasted kingfisher
Purple-rumped sunbird
Little cormorant
Coppersmith Barbet
Little grebe
Magpie robin
House crow
White-cheeked barbet
Red wattled lapwing
Tailor bird
White browed bulbul
Indian silverbill
Tickell’s flower pecker
Small green bee eater

RV Matters - 2 July 2018

Over the last week, I came across three dead snakes during my morning walks to the mouth of the Valley. Of these two were young Russell’s Vipers and one a Russell’s Viper look-alike – the Common or Rough-scaled Sand Boa. While the former is a venomous snake, the latter is a harmless snake.

There is a widespread fear and belief amongst many people that all snakes are harmful and should be killed without any hesitation. I have been regularly seeing many snakes killed and thrown on this road over the years by people.

We are trying to educate the local people about the importance of snakes in the ecosystem and also dispel their belief that all snakes are inherently harmful. A small illustrated booklet in Telugu/English is getting ready for release towards the month-end. It has been put together painstakingly by Suresh Jones and due to several reasons, it took us three years to bring it out. We hope with this publication, we could make a beginning in getting people to understand the snakes and hopefully will result in their survival. We may even follow-up this with a workshop and get an expert to talk to the villagers and demonstrate how to remove snakes without harming them from their houses.

Yesterday’s birding to the Biodiveristy Park was interesting and we could record several species of cuckoos – the Asian Koel, the Common Hawk-Cuckoo, the Pied Cuckoo (a migrant from southern Africa that rides the monsoon winds to migrate to India to breed), the Grey-bellied Cuckoo, the Greater Coucal and the Sirkeer Malkoha were all there. Earlier this summer, I had recorded the Indian Cuckoo whose distinct call-notes sound like “Crossword puzzle” or “boko-tako” for the first time in the campus. The calls were heard for just 2-3 days.

The flocks of butterflies have moved on. We saw our first velvet bugs for the season as well as the seven-spotted cockroach yesterday. With the monsoon active, we could expect to see several other monsoon creatures over the next few weeks.

Dr Santharam

RV Matters - 25 June 2018

For those of you on campus who care about wildlife, this is a great opportunity to observe the large gatherings of butterflies – mainly 2-3 species Blue Tigers and Crows. Early morning is a good time and one of the places to observe is at the entrance of the Asthachal where 5-600 butterflies can be seen flying under the canopy or perched on the branches. This perhaps is a part of the migrating flock, a phenomenon that occurs at the onset of the southwest monsoon every year. This congregation may not last long and so if you really want to see them, do so over the next few days.

There is, surprisingly, some water in the Percolation Tank and apart from the Pond Herons, we came across a pair of Dabchicks and a Little Cormorant this morning during our birdwatching session. Baya weavers are nesting on the Acacia trees and there is a red-wattled lapwing on the shores. Redrumped Swallows were gathering mud pellets to line their nests.

But one distressing thing that I noticed was the profusion of Parthenium along the path on the bund. Also I was distressed to see remnants of a picnic – plastic-coated plates, glasses and other nonbiodegradable stuff left lying along the bund as one enters from the Veg. garden side. We had, some years ago, erected a barricade to prevent cyclists and those on motorbikes from using the path but that is now fallen apart and we need to put up a fresh barriacde.

Dr Santharam

Millenium Alliance Award

Rishi Valley Institute for Educational Resources (RiVER) has been awarded the prestigious Millennium Alliance Award for 2016 in the education category. (http://www.millenniumalliance.in/) The award, which is in the form of a grant for specific projects, has been instituted jointly by USAID, Govt. of India, FICCI, ICICI Foundation and UK Aid. With this award we look forward to taking our unique Multi-Grade Multi-Level (MGML) Methodology to impact early learning outcomes in more children across the globe.