Friday, 24 October 2014

An Enemy for Rhododendron?

Many areas of the UK (e.g. Snowdonia and Brownsea Island in Dorset) have been overgrown by Rhododendron, transported from its Himalayan home by gardeners. This has had detrimental effects on our native flora and fauna. It was interesting to note that the pictured larva appeared to be eating the plant's leaves in the gargen of the Tibetology Institute in Gangtok (Sikkim).

Sikkim 2014 Natural History Highlights

As usual, there was such a mass of new things in the Indian Himalayas, that it was difficult to make a choice. I have gone with 3 wise Hanuman langurs (Semnopithecus entellus) in West Bengal and Indian muntjac deer (Muntiacus muntjak) in the Himalayan Zoological Park. Birds included a Wall creeper (Tichodroma muraria) at Teesta V, female (yellow) and male (red) Short-billed minivets (Pericrocotus breviostris) at the Tibetology Instiitute and a nice close up of an Oriental magpie robin (Copsychus saularis) at Saramsa Gardens. There was an Argiope spider conveniently next to a Hindu sign at Teesta V. There were impressive insect galls on leaves at the Tibetology Institute. A green-eyed fly was spotted at the Hidden Forest Retreat and a Bibio species at the Himalayan Zoological Park. Got a nice shot of a Praying mantis at the Tibetology Institute. Striking butterflies included a mineral-seeking Red helen (Papilo helenus) at Teesta V; a nectar-taking Paris peacock (Papilo paris) at the Hidden Forest Retreat; a Tropical fritillary (Argynis hyperbius hyperbius) at Temi Tea Plantation as well as a Red-spot jezebel (Delias descombesi) and an Oriental striped tiger (Danaus genutia) both at Saramsa Gardens. Moths included an Owl moth (Erebus macrops) at the Hidden Forest; an Oleander hawk moth (Daphnis nerii) at the Guru Padsamabhava statue; an enormous, brown Saturniid, a banded moth and a Lappet moth (Trabala sp) all at Hidden Forest and a much-spotted Antipercnia belluaria in Gangtok centre. A strikingly-coloured caterpillar was pictured near Rumtek and black and yellow larvae completely defoliated a tree at the Hidden Forest. Little Japanese umbrella-type fungi (Coprinus sp) massed at the Hidden Forest and a single, pink flower was revealed in Rumtek.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Up Up and Away in Pakyong (Sikkim)?

The proposed development of Pakyong airport in Sikkim is also not without problems. This would be a high-altitude commercial (with additions for military use) airport which, in theory, would greatly improve the accessibility of the area. Certainly there is general local (but not from the all the people in direct vicinity to the development) enthusiasm for the project. I am uncertain whether it would really bring in the envisioned masses of older and richer tourists (these, one must also say, are not without attendant problems in other parts of the globe). It might well change the nature of the 'Sikkim experience'. The project has involved the construction of 200 foot high retaining walls (said to be already showing signs of bulging at half the proposed height) and pile-driver induced damage to residential and commercial properties in the near vicinity). One must also note that this is an earthquake zone. Currently, the development is delayed by legal challenges and strike action by workers (who appear to want 'danger money').

Is Hydroelectric the Answer for Sikkim?

We have had a look at some the the actual and planed developments along the Teesta river in Sikkim (NE India). This 'green' electricity really isn't so 'green' when you take into account the carbon footprint of making concrete, the likely effects on ecotourism, the displacement of people, effects on rivers downstream, the decimation of unique river fish species etc. Sadly, it appears that some of the engineering companies (apparently often with little prior experience of dam construction) have gone bankrupt but there seems little possibility that the structures and mess they have left will be removed (remediation doesn't seem to be part of the contract in this part of the world). I can't help thinking that the driver in such developments is more for the profits for engineering companies than an expression of a real concern for 'green energy'. The dangers of dam building in an earthquake zone also appear to have been not fully considered.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Solar Versus Hydro Power in India?

It is interesting that the recently elected Indian PM is apparently a solar power enthusiast (, although there have been reservations about where he proposes to site them. It is also the case that India is still currently increasing its extraction and use of coal. Given this development, does it suggest that there might be a toning down of the drive to generate hydroelectric power by, for example, damming major rivers in places like Sikkim? Certainly, solar power can be a lot cheaper that hydroelectric (one must also note that the concrete used in dam construction is a major generator of atmospheric carbon dioxide- a so-called 'greenhouse gas'). I suspect, however, that all means (renewable and non-renewable) are likely to be employed to feed India's voracious appetite for electricity. Certainly, economic 'growth' appears to be the obsession. As we are going to Sikkim again this weekend, we might be able to obtain an update.

What About the Next Forty Years?

Disturbing news that the WWF have claimed that the planet has lost half its wildlife over the last 40 years ( It's a bit difficult to establish how accurate such a claim is and most of the featured examples seem to be taken from well-documented mammals and birds in reasonably accessible parts of the world. Putting an optimistic slant on things, it could be the case that the losses have been at least partially compensated by increases in smaller, less-remarked species. This, however, seems unlikely to detract from what is clearly a downward spiral. Given the postulated increases in the world human population and the inability to do much that is meaningful about climate change, one can't be in any sense bullish about what will happen to animal diversity over the next 40 years.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

An Ex-Parrot?

It seems that a £260k programme to eradicate the South American Monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) fr SE England has been largely successful ( The bird is apparently down to its last 50 feral members. The problem of this particular bird is that it apparently builds messy communal nests, often on electrical installations which can produce 'shorts' especially when they become water-logged. About 30% of the birds have been killed and many eggs destroyed but one wonders whether any of the 're-homed' individuals will again escape (this is presumably how the birds came to be in London in the first place). The fate of the equally alien Ring-necked parakeet seems less urgent as it isn't into communal nesting.