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close this bookBiodiversity in the Western Ghats: An Information Kit (IIRR, 1994, 224 p.)
close this folder9. Appreciating and conserving biodiversity
View the document9.1 Biodiversity and the media
View the document9.2 Role of non-government organizations in conservation
View the document9.3 Watershed management
View the document9.4 Energy conservation and alternatives
View the document9.5 Nature trails
View the document9.6 Sacred groves
View the document9.7 Rehabilitation of iron ore mine wasteland in Goa
View the document9.8 Reforestation to restore mining areas
View the document9.9 Mining: Social and environmental impacts
View the document9.10 Resource utilization in Uttar Kannada district
View the document9.11 Biodiversity of Dudhsagar valley

9.5 Nature trails

Many of us live in cities and towns, without close contact with nature. Nature trails allow us to discover the wonders of biodiversity: animals from ants to elephants, plants like strangler figs and tree ferns.

To appreciate biodiversity, you need to make careful observations and record these in a field diary.

Why nature trails?

Lectures, even on a subject as fascinating as nature, can be boring. Experiencing nature directly can help bring the subject alive. You need to study an area closely and unhurriedly if you want to understand the diversity and complexity of our environment and its importance to ourselves.

Nature trails are treks through natural areas. Trails can be anywhere: in the forest, hills and mountains, along rivers or roads, in sacred groves, on the seashore, through marshes, in private estates, and even in school grounds and public parks.

When on a trail...

· Walking is best. Dense vegetation, rivers and hills are no obstacle. Walk slowly and quietly-so you see more.

· Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes. Clothing must not be flowing or flap about, because it gets caught on vegetation and attracts animals' attention. Dark brown, green or grey colours are best. These colours help camouflage you so you do not disturb animals and birds and can see them better.

· Wear a hat or cap in hot, open areas.

· Carry a water bottle.

· Wear comfortable, tightly laced shoes or boots with rubber soles so you do not make noise or slip.

· Carry binoculars for detailed observation. A 7x50 pair is a good all-round choice: it has good magnification (7) and good light-gathering power (50/7=7). This means you can use it in poor light. A 7x35 or 8x30 is good only for daylight viewing, but is lighter and more convenient.

· Use a camera to record what you see. The best all-purpose camera is a 35mm SLR (single-lens reflex), because you see exactly what you are photographing when you look through the viewfinder. The best all-round lens is a 70-210 zoom with macro. You can use this to photograph anything from small insects, flowers and plants to birds, large animals and landscapes.

· Make notes with a notepad and pen or pencil. You cannot remember all you see and hear on a trail. Make notes of everything. You can supplement the notes with sketches, bits of hair, feathers or leaves.

· Carry a small first-ad kit.

· The all-important rule is: "Mouth shut; eyes, ears and nose open". Point out anything unusual to others and (if possible) explain it immediately. Any talking must be done in whispers. Even low murmurs must be avoided as the sound carries.

When on a trail...

Observing birds

Listen and look for the following calls and other noises:


Bulbuls, thrushes, robins

Chirps and twitters:

Babblers, sparrows and finches




Crows, herons, egrets

Cackling shrieks:

Woodpeckers and kingfishers

Moans and boomings:

Pigeons, doves

Drumming on wood- slow, single beats or rapid, merging beats:



Slow, swishing:

Eagles, owls, storks

Rapid whirring:

Partridge, spurfowl

Fast, loud flaps:

Pigeon, parrots, doves

Loud swishing:


Camouflage and mimicry

Many creatures are camou flaged or mimic other animals, plants or objects for safety- so look around carefully.

A length of vine may turn out to be a snake

A bird dropping-a caterpillar or spider

A dry twig-a stick insect or caterpillar

A small tree stump-a lizard

A dry leaf-a leaf insect or butterfly

Coloured flowers may contain similarly coloured spiders

Tree bark may contain moths, cicadas or spiders

Grass may hide spiders or stick insects

Gravel may contain lizards, moths or spiders

Leaves may conceal caterpil lars, butterflies or moths

Look for small invertebrates' homes: some spiders build webs in places like tree hollows, gaps in rock, between twigs of bushes, sometimes between two separate trees, hollows in the ground, pits, or under culverts. Spiders, scorpions, centipedes, beetles and other invertebrates can be found in rock piles, dry and wet leaf litter and under stones, rocks and dead trees.

Where birds nest

Bird flight patterns

Prominent characteristics of birds


· Remember to replace dislodged objects, or you may destroy some creature's home.

· Do not touch anything you are not sure about. Many small creatures are poisonous and can sting or bite.

· Look out especially for snakes, bears and elephants if these are known in the area. However, usually even these animals are not dangerous unless provoked.

· Always take an experienced guide with you. Do not walk ahead of the guide. He or she can spot danger before you can.

· Collect droppings, fallen flowers, feathers, bits of bones, small skulls, etc., in plastic bags. Do not kill living creatures to collect. Also, do not collect anything that is rare. Living things may be handled carefully for observation but should be released immediately afterwards in the correct habitat.

· Transfer all field notes to a journal in sufficient detail.

· Above all, walk quietly. Avoid talking, do not walk on dry leaves and loose stones, and walk with light footsteps.

· Do not litter any area in the forest.

Observing mammals and reptiles

Most mammals and reptiles are seen less often than birds. But you can often find evidence of their activities. Some clues:

Footprints, dragmarks

Identification, direction of travel, mode of travel




Identification, food eaten

Nests, dens, burrows:


Calls (mammals only):

Identification, behaviour

Smoothened bark:

Rubbing-posts for elephants

Shredded bark:

Deer antler rubbing-posts

Scratch marks on trees:


Observing plants

Like animals, plants are important components of biodiversity. Plants are the base for all life forms. Flowers which occur seasonally help in identifying the tree species. A basic categorization of plants is easy.


· Large size, thick, woody stem and leafy crown.


· Medium size with thin, woody stem.


· Small, with non-woody stem.

Climbers, creepers, vines

· Weak woody or non-woody stem, cling to other plants for support.

Observing plants

Unusual plants

Dead matter on the forest floor is ideal for finding mushrooms and other fungal plants. Bracket fungi grow like shelves on dead logs and stumps. These plants are saprophytes. not parasites: they live off dead matter.

Cacti are adapted to dry, harsh environments. They have fleshy stems containing water. Most have thorns or spines for protection.

Growths of moss-like plants on rocks and tree trunks are neither fungi nor algae alone, but a combination of both, called lichens.

Look for epiphytes such as orchids high up in trees in moist areas. These plants have specialized roots that dangle in the air and absorb moisture and minerals from the air.

Look for plants that feed on other plants. They have no true roots but draw water or food from the host. Examples are Loranthus and devil's vine.

Unusual plants

Prepared by R. Bhanumathi