02 Nov Sundarbans – buzzing with activity at low tide
The vast mangrove forests of Sundarbans have an awe inspiring appeal to them. I somehow like to use the words mystic, mythical and mysterious to describe these forests. While ambling along the backwaters in a boat, one can hardly ignore that strange, lingering feeling which seems to remind us of the fact that these forests probably hold much more than they actually show. The thick and the dense growth give very little chances of sighting much of the wildlife there. However, the less one sees, the more enhanced the feeling that something is watching us from behind those thickets.
Mangroves grow in one of the toughest of environments. The high salinity of the water around and the constant tidal changes have forced the trees that grow there, to evolve some amazing adaptations in order to survive. The highly saline water is very low in oxygen. So, in order to ensure aeration, basically, be able to breathe, the trees have developed upward facing roots known as pneumatophores, which extend out of the mud and the water’s surface, thus helping in gathering the much needed oxygen.
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Similarly, the animals that are a part of this ecosystem seem to have understood these tidal changes too and have adapted their lifestyle to be in tune with them.
As the high tide comes in, the entire forest seems to fall silent. Nothing much moves and no sound is to be heard other than the splashing of the waves onto the inundated mud banks and the branches and leaves of trees which seem to be floating on the surface of water. After a period of six hours, when it is time for the low tide, the water starts receding, the mudflats get exposed and the whole place seems to come alive.
A cast ( what a group of crabs is called ) of Fiddler crabs come out of their burrows and go about their feeding routine. They pick up a blob of mud in their mouths, sift out the organic matter in it and discard the rest. They can be seen all over the mudflats.
The male fiddlers go around waving their enlarged major claw ( this action of theirs, looks like as if they are playing a fiddle, hence their name ) as a sign of declaring their dominance and their territory.
It is said that the females show preference to the male with a bigger claw as he is supposed to have a bigger burrow for his home. The female, below, seems to have chosen her mate.
And agrees to enter his home but not without some pushing and shoving.
The other numerous species one can see on the mudflats are the highly characteristic amphibious fish, the mudskippers. They too go around engaging in some amount of feeding activity and a little more of territorial fights with their neighbours.
With their mouths open, they swim around and throw themselves over and around their competition, in an apparent display of strength.
At times, bringing their bloated mouths together, may be sizing up each other…
Always interesting and funny to watch these highly active guys go on about their business.
The big number of these crabs and mudskippers crawling on the mud banks, draw in the birds from their resting spots, offering them a good meal. Here is a Black-capped kingfisher snacking on a crab.
Reptiles like the Water-monitor lizards also come out to the banks to bask and on seeing the juicy creatures walking around in front of their eyes, can’t seem to let go of a good snacking opportunity.
For the huge salt-water crocodiles, these tiny crabs and mudskippers don’t seem to qualify as a worthy meal :) They just come out to have a good amount of sun.
Many of the mammals like the Spotted Deer and the Wild boars find the low tide a good time to come out to feed as well. Tigers too, seems to move around, crossing the wide channels, preferably when the tide is low. Here’s Spotted deer getting some good grazing time.
That’s one buzz of activity as the tide goes low. This sharp contrast between the tides can really be felt by anyone visiting the place. Sundarbans, thus, holds a lot of mysteries, waiting to be unveiled. An experience that has few equals.