A lot of people complain that they don’t see “a damn thing”, while out on a nature ramble. Just two words of advice need to be drilled into their heads (and which their teachers might have attempted a zillion times in school): pay attention! Put that damn smartphone away, stop gossiping and open your eyes and ears. Ears particularly because, often, what you see is what you first hear. Keep quiet, keep still, listen and look. Nature will come to you: What’s that rustle in the shrubs down there? Why are crows suddenly exploding out of that tree, cawing hoarsely? What’s behind that sudden jerking of those branches up there? And that trilling — it could only belong to bee-eaters…but that insistent, agitated “pee-pee-pee” from the undergrowth? An ashy prinia probably. And what the heck is that crawling up the leg of your jeans?
Even on a relatively inhospitable day, there’s a lot going on. On a recent mid-afternoon trip to the Yamuna Biodiversity Park — a project by Delhi University and the Delhi Development Authority — we were first brought to a halt by a small party of white-throated munias or silverbills, helping themselves to grass seeds. White-throated (and indeed other) munias always seem to be in a happy frame of mind as they chirrup and flutter around the tall stems of dried grass. There were a lot of flighty little warblers playing hide-and-seek amongst the grass, flicking up their long tails and fleeing the moment you focussed on them. The landscape at this time of year is all tan and biscuit, lion colours, interspersed with green. We watched with astonishment as a peacock vanished uncannily into the undergrowth, its glamorous tapestry melding into the foliage.
Cautiously, we emerged on the banks of the large water-body up ahead (rain-filled) as a flotilla of shovelors swam nonchalantly away. On the white guano splattered little “islands” in mid-water, the large cormorants had lined up, one or two spreading their glistening black wings out. They were festooned on the trees surrounding the lake too. There weren’t too many ducks, but that’s because they have discovered an even better winter resort nearby: what’s called “Phase 2” of the YBP abutting the Yamuna. Here, on a recent visit, there were flocks of red-crested pochards, some ferruginous pochards and one emerald-headed mallard (don’t admire them too much; they have the most appalling love lives, as do some other duck species) amongst the usual others: gadwalls, pintails, common pochards and shovelors. What caught our attention, were two or three whopping big gulls, not the usual black-or brown-headed gulls, but half a size larger: Pallas’s gulls. They have the typical glacial gimlet glare of big gulls, a little chilling — expect no mercy if you tangle with them. There’s an insolent languour in their flight and they are deceptively swift on those long, lean wings.
Back on the trail, we are halted by green pigeons, plump as cushions — deep in a berry-laden tree (a ficus of some kind), stuffing their faces. In tints of green, lemon and lilac, they merged perfectly into the foliage. There are usually more present than what you can see — they know they’re good targets and so like to keep out of sight. And yet, during early mornings or late evenings, they will sun themselves on exposed branches, offering anyone with a gun a juicy target.
The butterfly conservatory was quiet (not that butterflies make a lot of noise at the best of times!), with just a few vivid grass yellows, flitting around as well as the ubiquitous plain tiger. A couple of tawny peacock pansies sunned themselves. Here, the main attractions are the eggs and cocoons of the giant Atlas moths, safely ensconced in netting. They’ll spend 10 months in this state, before emerging as those huge, beautiful dark cream-coloured moths — who will not eat, but mate and die, all in a couple of weeks.
As for larger animals, they apparently successfully wooed the leopard back here. But alas, it had to be relocated — much to the chagrin of the park team — because society wasn’t mature enough to approve of its presence. Apart from nilgai, wild boar and porcupine, they have barking deer, too, here.
When you look around the park today, it is still almost impossible to believe that just 15 years ago, it was a barren landscape — a wasteland in every sense of the word. The lush landscapes you see here today have been regenerated from scratch and represent the ecosystems that exist in the river basin of the Yamuna, right from its source onwards. So yes, it’s wonderful to know that with dedication, hard work, a scientific application of research, and, most of all, non-interference from ignoramus know-alls, we can make good a lot of the damage we do to nature. There’s one thing we must never forget though: it’s taken 15 painstaking years to get so far and the park is still “work in progress”. It can take one day to destroy, say a rain forest, of the same dimension — or flatten a vast flood plain so that you can hold a pop-concert for “do-gooders” on it.