Saturday, July 23, 2011

Johnny Allen Auroville

Auroville after many years � Ian Lockwood

There are a kaleidoscope of personalities and lifestyles in the community but Johnny lives my idea of the vision. He uses locally available materials for construction, the power comes from the sun and biomass and the impact on the ecology is minimal. He is still using a biomass-fueled Stirling engine to make peanut butter and dosa mix and chutney every Saturday. This was the engine that had first brought my father Merrick here. I had tagged along on several trips in the early 1990s. Johnny’s home is set amongst towering trees, thatched workshops and cowsheds. He is just the sort of teacher that helps you understand the practical side of sustainable living. Lenny was given a personal tour of the Stirling engine, a compost toilet and models of housing units that Johnny is designing for young people.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Purple sunbirds

Purple sunbirds, at Sheila's window sill
Lifted my spirits, filled me with thrill

As they chirped and flitted and discussed
the fine art of nest building, oh how they fussed.

One day, maybe I will be lucky and see their nest
That they have made with such care, choosing the very best.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The heron that blinked

I learnt about the nictitating membrane in birds from these fine photos by Mr Ramanan.A nigh heron with a fish that looks too big to swallow! Fish are always swallowed head first, and its a skill learnt by chicks at an early age. I've seen darters and pied kingfishers tossing fish deftly, before swallowing them head-first. (Photo by Mr Ramanan)

Photo by Mr Ramanan. The heron has swallowed the fish. Do you see its eye? Now look at the next picture.
No, its not a case of removing "red eye", its the heron's nictitating membrane having covered the eye! Photo by Mr Ramanan

Click on the picture and zoom in, and take a close look. This thin protective membrane is an extra protection that birds, fish and reptiles have, (we dont). This translucent third eyelid closes and opens horizontally across the eyeball, clearing dust, moistening the eye, protecting it in some cases from extreme conditions.

So, for example, owls while out hunting would keep this membrane closed and eyelids opened, so as to keep their eyes moist for better vision, but (quite literally) keeping their eyes open for that scurrying mouse or hopping frog.

It seems that the little pink bit of membrane we have in the corner of our eyes is a vestigial nictitating membrane.