Thursday, March 29, 2012

The little tale of the little Spider Hunter

It is a common notion that in every walk of life there is something for humans to learn. A walk in the wilderness is no different. Every time, there is something new. Something unique. Sometimes surprising. Sometimes strikingly common. 

Recently, I was walking a trail in KMTR known as the ‘Green trail’. The name, originating in the honor of an old primatologist Stephen Green, who was one of the first persons to do ecological studies on Lion Tailed Monkeys and it was his work that helped build a case for protecting the mid elevation evergreen forests of Kakachi. Though, the name does not exist on official records, we use the name. What happened to all the work he did, one does not know. It never was published is what is heard. His legacy is not lost altogether. Some of the trails in this area, one will come across boards which bear alphabets N, S, E and W. These palm sized boards painted in red nailed to trees have stood the test of time of about three decades. They must have served as a route mark for green and his assistants when they were afoot following monkeys in the thick forest. 
the Western route of green near kodayar.

Most of the researchers in KMTR are aware of the green trail. A 2-2.5 km trail that starts from fern house and emerges out not far away from the origin on the main road. The trail can be walked either way and goes through some good undisturbed forests. Crosses three streams and provides ample opportunity to watch wildlife.
Myself and two other colleagues were accompanying our supervisor Dr. Ganesh and we were helping out with Long term Phenology work. Most of the time we spent looking up at the tall trees and noting if they were in flower, fruit, fall etc. It is a pain in the neck that much I can assure!
All through the trail, we noticed fallen leaves. Leaves which were eaten up but for the veins left intact. I had not taken note of this even though; I had certainly seen it before.
The eaten up leaf

 We went on and at a point, the trail narrows down and one has to pass through some saplings and wild cardamom plants. As we did that, we all heard a constant call of the little Spider Hunter. A pretty little bird with a long curved beak. The calls of the bird are often heard near wild cardamom and in the canopy where loranthus grows. They are known to be good pollinators as well. 
an old picture of the bird from nagarahole

We dint pay much attention to it and kept on. Close to the point, we were trying to locate a numbered tree and by chance, we noticed a clump under a sapling having broad leaves. The calls got ever more intense. A closer inspection revealed that there was something like a nest hanging underneath the leaf. I took a picture and it was pretty simple to deduce that it must be nest of the spider hunter.
We moved on, lest the bird should abandon the nest. Done for the evening, we returned the same way and luckily the bird had occupied the nest and flew out on our approach.
The nest was pretty intricate. Though I don’t generally indulge in nest photography, once in a while its good to document things. As one can see in the photo below, the nest is quite complex. The spider hunters are believed to build nests out of cobwebs. Presumably the name was coined when the bird was sighted in search of spiders or rather the cobweb. The nest was made completely of fallen leaves or rather I will say the un-eaten veins of the leaves. Interlinked with each other, the whole set up was linked to the leaf by some sticky material. I am not sure if it’s a cobweb but is certainly a strong material. The nest appeared empty. May be it had eggs inside but we did not check.
the hanging nest on a broad leaved tree whose name I seem to forget!

The fallen leaves, for a common man, seem like wasted resource. In many places, fallen leaves are collected as mulch for farms. Many places, people burn them. Fallen leaves are far from waste! In fact nothing in any sense is a waste! Humans are an exception.
The fallen leaves are potentially food for the million arthropods and microbes that help in recycling the nutrients back to soil. Some other critters like centipedes, beetles etc dwell in this litter. Anything from a skink to a snake is found in these litters. A wonderful leaf litter ecosystem one could easily say!
I had not known that the framework of a leaf could become useful for a bird, that’s hardly the size of the leaf! That’s something new I learn't. I look forward to catching a glimpse of many more mysteries of the forest. The more the time spent in forests, the more mysteries unraveled I would think!
 More on the bird on wiki can be seen here.