The silence that began from mid-March is still intact as May slowly passes by. The COVID19 virus continues to spread and the lockdown has still been the only medium to control the spread. Although it was difficult at first, even to imagine staying at home and not being in the mountains like the previous years, the perception started to change as I started observing nature closely around me. I have to accept/agree/say that it's been more than seventy days being inside and nature hasn't stopped surprising me with its brilliance.
My usual morning routine for the last two months has been waking up to the Asian Koel singing along with the Oriental Magpie Robin outside my room. And as their songs slowly fade away towards the distant trees, the Eurasian Cuckoo takes over the silence. It seems like the senses have now become accustomed to this urban setting with minimal artificial sounds. The ears tend to seek out for the smallest sound made by a bird while the eye is affixed to the computer designing, writing, and editing personal projects. A Blue-throated Barbet singing further in the distance would make me pause and wonder if it would ever fly towards the tree near my room and sing those notes.
And as luck would have it, on 20th May my wish was granted when the Barbet started tapping into a dead bamboo pole next to the house searching for insects. I didn’t go outside to take the picture which would have scared it, so I documented the moment from inside until it flew away.
Spotted Doves also seem to be around most of the time as they would navigate around the roof and the Persian lilac treetop while the Oriental White-eye and the Common Tailorbird continue with their routine of visiting the nearby trees to eat insects and sing their usual songs.
As the days in May progressed, I finally ventured out for an early morning walk to a nearby jungle. The walk was greeted by a White-throated Kingfisher flying to a branch overlooking a small stream in search of some fish while nearby the songs of a group of Oriental White-eye dominated a tree. Far in the distance, in between the Nepalese alder tree, were what seemed to be a couple of White-crested Laughingthrush making their way further up until hidden by the shrubs. A Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler was singing on top of its voice from another Nepalese alder tree and drowning out the soft tones of the Oriental White-eyes. Warblers were also singing and flying around the nearby pine trees. This was my first time to have noticed a pair of Chestnut-headed Bee-eater flying around chasing insects mid-air in Ichangu while a Verditer Flycatcher watched from a nearby tree. Back from the early morning walk and shopping, it was back to finding life in the macro world for May in the house.
During early mornings, the breeze would slowly push through the Holy Basil and disrupt the tiny Sweat Bees from landing on the plant’s small flowers. The bees would then navigate and land on the stamen of the flower while their tiny long hairs (scopae) attracted pollen which would be taken to another flower nearby. This repetitive process continues daily. As I sit nearby observing their daily ritual a parasitoid Spider Hunting Wasp (parasitoid - an insect whose larvae live as parasites which eventually kill their hosts) lands on the ground and moves around from one shaded area to the other and ultimately making its way to my thigh before flying away. Because I was busy photographing the bees, it was surprising to see the wasp bringing a spider along and placing it in my thigh and slowly starting to drag the paralyzed spider down towards its burrow in the nearby grass patch. This behavior was really interesting to see and looking at the outcome the photos weren’t perfect as I didn’t want to disturb the wasp which was very close. The parasitoid wasp will be laying an egg on the abdomen of the spider and the larvae will be feeding on the spider as it grows.
While I explore the macro world the life cycle of an insect becomes even more interesting, and how human disturbance can hamper a species, which in turn can affect the food chain. Another behavior I was able to observe this month was of a caterpillar constructing a cocoon cage before going into the pupae stage. The constructed cage looked very elaborate and this was my second time seeing such a structure after almost 6 years. As the days passed by I could observe baby Praying Mantis, Cicada, Lynx spider, a Jumping Spider on a hunt, and a lot of beautiful moths.
Biodiversity was an important word this month because May 22 is considered as International Day for Biological Diversity 2020. The term Biodiversity refers to an immense variety of living organisms found on earth and it can also be described for diversity in a particular region. Biodiversity in a region depends on the evolution of the living organisms over hundreds if not thousands of years which may have its unique characteristics to a particular ecosystem, species, or genetic diversity compared to other regions.
As you are reading this, there are several projects in Nepal and the world that are destroying or undermining the future of biodiversity. When forests are cut down it is said that for every single tree cut in the project area there will be 25 or more trees planted in another region. As this logic sounds very promising and would serve as a valid point for many that conservation is happening by planting more trees, the opposite can be true. Biodiversity that has been lost cannot be replaced by tree plantations in another region. Native forests are shaped by hundreds, if not thousands of years of evolution and ecological process. Another perspective of tree plantation is that a forest is not just comprised of trees, we tend to forget how important grasslands are, and just having a forest cover is not sustainable for a healthy ecosystem.
In the 1980s there was a massive reforestation program in Nepal by planting pine trees in the mid-hills. This was once hailed as a big success but as time passed by it led to some negative impacts. We have come to a time and place when the destruction of any natural resources will create a negative implication for the coming generations. Just like when there was rampant deforestation in the ’70s in Nepal, the replantation drive brought with it problems like water shortages which is still affecting the newer generation today in many regions. As the examples of the ecological disasters continue to mount up, it creates all the reasons why the decisions should be made on scientific bases and not on political or job merit bases. Projects with bigger implications should have an unbiased Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report which can predict a good future for the environment along with the return on investment from the project. But while saying all this the legitimacy of some EIA put forward in Nepal is questionable.
As our study and understanding of how nature works improve every year, education of youths about biodiversity and conservation could be enhanced. Generally, most people in Nepal have a basic awareness of native wildlife. But they may not have had the opportunity to discover how species are interlinked and dependent on each other. With a lack of knowledge on this part, there will always be consequences when it comes to conflict between nature and humans.
Nijgadh International Airport is one such example where the project has been planned at the cost of the age-old forest and that also 75.87 km2 of it. There have been protests and counter-protests regarding the construction of Nijgadh International Airport which in a way might have valid points on both sides. But now, even the country’s supreme court has ordered to not start the work on the airport and yet the people in the government ignores the law of the land that they took the oath of to protect, by stating that they are committed to starting the work in the recent presentation of its policies and programs in the budget session of the Parliament. This can say a lot about the people working in the government and also the political party they represent. Why is the process of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) created when it can be ignored by the government or anyone with ease.
When there have been commitments by countries worldwide through Bonn Challenge to bring 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030, Nepal in these times is focusing on projects that include deforestation and have more negative impacts than positive ones. Just when the government is basking in the fact that Nepal was successful in doubling the population of tigers, having a good no-poaching record of One-horned Rhino, this recent decision of having the pristine forest, and its natural habitat in the chopping block seems counter-intuitive. Megaprojects should happen but in today’s day and age, it shouldn’t hamper the environment and should be dictated by hard science, economic viability, and other statistics.
Airports are important for a country and for a landlocked country like Nepal it is crucial, therefore when planning one it should be thought out properly. A lot of problems arise when airports like these are created in areas that should have been in the protection status:
- Biodiversity – Killing of the natural diversity that has stood its time for hundreds of years can’t be justified. Mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, plants, etc in that region will be affected.
- Human-wildlife conflict – Its an Elephant corridor, high chances of bird strikes on aircraft with having the forest and river system close by, etc.
- Groundwater recharge - Water will be the most important commodity in the coming days and will be fought over for and large constructions like these create problems for the groundwater to be recharged.
- Weather and safety - The dense fog during winters and flooding in monsoon.
- Fuel - which we have to import and has been impacted by embargos like the one in 1989 and 2015 by India.
- Agriculture – The fertile land that is being cultivated now will also be used for the construction. The government should start saving such rich agricultural land for food protection and not just rely on imports which again brings back to the economic embargo by India in 1989 and 2015 and the latest COVID19 pandemic which affects the import of goods.
Along with all these problems, there are a lot of other effects including the health of the people and also the environment during the construction phase like air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, chemicals, and other contaminants affecting the air and water. And then there is the problem of climate change that is gripping the earth and its a whole new subject to address.
When there has already been an investment in the expansion of Gautam Buddha International Airport with the financed loan and grant aid from the Asian Development Bank wouldn’t it be counterproductive to have another international airport? A reminder that Pokhara International Airport is also being constructed with a loan financed by Export-Import Bank of China. With all these international airports being constructed in Nepal wouldn’t it be better to stay back and learn valuable lessons from these two international airports in regards to the operation of the airport both financially and physically before committing to a large sum of debt again? The country should be focusing on being debt-free but it is still on the path of getting itself drowned in more debt with projects that are hard to quantify on being an economic miracle.
It has been a long month and with the situation that is building up in Nepal regarding COVID19 with the unpreparedness shown by the government, it sure is hard to find a motivation to write. But as this segment has been going on for the last 45 months it has become a tradition. Below is the list of the flora and fauna I was able to document and well some that I missed.
Spotted Dove, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Blue-throated Barbet, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Warbler, Great Tit, Eurasian Cuckoo, Verditer Flycatcher, Ashy Dorongo, Long-tailed Shrike, Black Dorongo, Cattle egrets, Cockoo Shrike, White-throated Kingfisher.
Baby Praying Mantis, Cicada, Moths, Lynx Spider, Jumping Spider, Nursery Web Spider, Spider Hunting Wasp.
Nepalese alder tree, Mountain ebony tree (Koiralo), Persian lilac tree (Bakena), Holy basil.
I had announced in my previous month's blog that a new segment called “What we saw” will be starting soon. From June onwards I will be opening the segment for everyone worldwide. This will be a monthly segment as well so hoping to see the biodiversity in and around your region. I would like to suggest to everyone that I will be posting the images only after the proper procedures have been followed while sending the images so please read the terms and conditions.
The COVID19 pandemic is still ongoing so please do follow your government’s stated rules to stay safe. I would like to thank you for following Prakritinepal Blog as it has been encouraging to see the increase in viewers. May became the highest recorded month of viewers in the blog’s 5 years of history. I would like to thank you again for visiting the blog and seeing the flora and fauna diversity Nepal has. Do stay updated through Prakritinepalblog’s Instagram and Facebook social media links and hoping to bring you more interesting content next month.
Ajay Narsingh Rana