WHAT A PLANET!
Photographer, birder and herpetologist from Goa – Rahul Alvares takes us on a fascinating nature trail. He zooms in on amazing birds, reptiles and insects to highlight the multiformity of fauna that coexist on this planet.
The 36-year-old nature lover spent his childhood in forests and remote villages that initiated a strong connection with ecology. As a child, he would crawl after snakes and bugs to inspect them. This curiosity led Rahul to become a snake handler in his teens. While snakes remain his first love, Rahul recently self-published a book of photos titled Birds of Goa.
For Rahul, photography is a tool to create awareness about our diverse and incredibly rich ecology. ‘It is all around us, looking at these images will hopefully make people pause, observe and want to protect it’. He shares his photographs and encounters with creatures from the wild.
TEXT AND IMAGES BY RAHUL ALVARES
Wandering Violin Mantis
I came upon this bizarre creature one morning while birding with clients at the Paithona stream. To me this little animal seemed like some kind of a cross between a mantis and a stick insect (later a friend Lee from Malaysia confirmed its actual name for me). Its camouflage was so incredible that I had almost entirely missed seeing it despite the fact that it was over four inches long and sitting on a bare branch out in the open. As I continued photographing and observing it with fascination, I noticed it was actually hunting. A large white rhomboid shaped pad immediately behind its head seemed to serve as some sort of a lure for flying insects. I suppose they were being fooled into believing the pad to be a white flower.
White Crab Spider
This is a small but beautiful spider that I chanced upon in the Mhadei Wildlife sanctuary during the 2012 monsoons. This spider will generally sit inside white flowers and is practically impossible to discern when within the flower. Unsuspecting insects are grabbed and turned into lunch when they visit the flowers to feed!
I have no clue what species this belongs to. If you do then drop me a mail as I’d like to know! This chap was photographed in Mhadei Wildlife sanctuary. Unlike butterflies these insects remain pretty still most of the time and are therefore relatively easy to photograph.
Draco or the Flying Lizard cant actually fly. Like flying squirrels, gliding frogs and flying snakes, it can only glide. In order to glide, the lizard will first gain some height by running up a tree trunk and then launch itself into the air, fan out its patagium, and glide to another tree. The fanned out patagium is supported by its extremely long last six ribs. When the lizard is reasonably high it isn’t unusual for it to cover distances of 20 meters. That is quite a feat for a small animal. Apparently this lizard feeds more or less exclusively on ants. After photographing the lizard for a few minutes my friend dexterously tossed the lizard into the air for us to view a spectacular sight of the lizard gliding five meters to the nearest tree trunk!
I was called to rescue a snake that turned out to be a big bronze back snake. While I guided the snake into the bag, I noticed lumps at regular intervals on its underbelly. I guessed that it was a female about to lay eggs, so I decided to hold onto it. After a couple of days, the snake laid a clutch of fourteen cream coloured rectangular eggs. I released the mother immediately (they do not participate in the hatching of their eggs)and kept the eggs in a plastic cheese container in my room. I put them half buried in sand and sprayed their exposed tops regularly with water. Two months later, as i was giving up hope, the first baby ripped its egg shell with its special egg tooth and poked its head out. It spent the entire day absorbing the surroundings with its large bulging froggy eyes while its belly continued to absorb the last remaining part of its yolk sac (it’s only food during the two months it spent in the shell). In a couple of days it was dashing around in the container, over the peering heads of three more eggs that had begun to hatch.
Saw Scape Viper
This little viper is quite difficult to locate: picture searching for a ten-inch odd, drab brown snake, excellently camouflaged on brown ground, and you’ll know just what I’m talking about! These reptiles are among the most hot-tempered snakes on the planet and are quick to bite if provoked. They have good reason to be so aggressive; being small, they are in constant danger of being turned into a meal by hungry predators. Their aggressive nature must make predators think at least thrice before picking on the members of this belligerent little species.
Simply known as the Baron this medium sized butterfly flies with stiff wingbeats and occasional glides. At the butterfly conservatory, a friend Yashodan Heblekar managed to attract them with overripe pineapple and papaya. In the absence of these fruits one morning he used apple with wine, which worked quite well too! I used an external flash on all the pictures and was quite pleased with the interesting lighting showing on some of these pictures.
At the butterfly park in Cotigao I was fortunate to closely observe and photograph the strikingly colored caterpillars of the Tamil lacewing. The park runs a breeding program for these butterflies along with several other species.
Interestingly the Tamil Lacewing is not found in the state of Tamil Nadu at all. Heblekar tells me however that an attempt at renaming this butterfly to the Sahyadri lacewing was met with fury and rage on the internet and the butterfly therefore remains with the misleading original name!
Probably my favourite Kingfisher. They’re always found in pairs. Like most birds you’ll have better luck waiting for them to get close to you rather than going close to them to get your picture. I’ve never got to less than seven meters of them. So the pics are work in progress! These shots were all taken on my birding trip in Goa.
I love photographing this raptor! All the shots below are taken on my boat trip. Usually you’ll get much closer to them when you are in a boat as compared to if you approached the same on foot. And if you’ve got a fast lens then you’ll get a nice sharp shot of one taking off from its perch. If you’re really lucky then you’ll get shots of it flying away with a big fish!