Biodiversity around me: Landour, Mussoorie

Three years ago, little did I know about the biodiversity in and around Mussoorie. I relocated to this beautiful hillside of Landour just after marriage and was deeply fascinated by the beautiful landscape and rich biodiversity. The whistling Himalayan breeze blowing through the tree leaves endows life and hope in each and every corner of this beautiful hillside. With the changing seasons these evergreen trees always add charm and continue to succor the ecology and biodiversity. Diverse species of flora and fauna have taken shelter in this beautiful hillside. These biodiverse hillside has always inspired and motivated me. So, here I am penning down few of my observations associated with rich biodiversity in the area.

©Panoramic view of Landour, Mussoorie
©Woodstock school, Landour, Mussoorie

Two years ago, I observed fireflies in the area. Landour is located in the Lower Western Himalaya, in the Mussoorie Range. As summers have become comparatively more warmer in Landour, Mussoorie, fireflies were sighted more than usual across the region. During my interaction with the local people in Landour, I found that they have not seen fireflies in the area in recent years. I also noticed, sudden increase in the count of fireflies. There are various reports which show that with the change in the global climatic conditions the ecological habitat and distribution of the fireflies is also changing. These fireflies resemble as ‘Nature’s Lanterns’ to me. The article got published in a national science magazine (Down to Earth).

Nature’s Lanterns Are Dimming!!!!

©Fireflies near Woodstock school, Landour Mussoorie

While hiking in the hills nearby, I observed unusual high count of Yellow coster butterfly in and around Landour, Mussoorie. The Yellow coster butterfly is found mainly along foothills, but high pollution levels and ecological disturbance of their habitat in Dehradun valley might have compelled these creatures to migrate to lesser Himalayas. Yellow coster’s life is surrounded with many dangers during their entire life cycle due to predation. One of the common predator of Yellow coster is spider.

©Yellow coster and chrysalis trapped in spider web

They often use entrapment by weaving web to trap butterflies who get struck in their sticky net and slowly succumb to death. During field observation I found the chrysalis as well as adult butterfly entangled in spider web in wired fencing. Despite having green cover, the larva of Yellow coster chose wired fencing to metamorphose. Eventually, spiders must have discovered them and wove spider nets around them and ultimately causing death of butterflies. I tried to capture the spider through lens but unable to identify the species. There are many reports on spider predation on butterfly. Although I couldn’t identify the species, the region has different species of spiders also.

Yellow coster butterfly predation

©Yellow coster butterfly

This hillside is home to many mountain birds. The morning orchestra of the birds greets with a pleasant day. The Blue whistling thrush wishes pleasant good morning through its melodious song, the sunbirds hop from branches and leaf to lead sometimes get puzzled in themselves, woodpeckers, owls, coucals, drongos, orioles and many more. The chorus of the cicadas are also distinctively audible these days. The Great Barbet often comes to sit on the top branches of the Oak trees and sings it’s loud, unmusical call to mark its presence. The jungle cacophony continues till dark when Mountain Scops Owl whistles to its tune and Barn swallows busy making nests. Few days back I heard Himalayan cuckoo singing in the dense thickets.

An ode to the Swallows!!!

©Barn swallows in the nest, Mussoorie

Beside birds, different varieties of butterflies and moths also do pay visit. The troop of Langoors and monkeys can often be seen relishing new leaves and acorns. Pine martens secretly hovers around during night. Honey bees also hover around these freshly bloomed flowers.Besides, above mentioned species of birds and animals, Leopard sighting is also common in the area.

Whose forests are these?

©Langoor on Oak tree branches

While human beings are under lockdown during corona pandemic, the wildlife is thriving in different parts of the world. This small hillside of Landour, Mussoorie is also bustling with different species of Himalayan birds and animals. One can experience spotting wildlife in most unexpected terrains and mountain tracts. Recently, I found Himalayan Gorals in the area. The Himalayan Goral (Naemorhedus goral) is a member of Bovidae family. They are found in the Himalayan region, at an elevation between 1000 and 4000 m. These social animals live in herds. It is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List due to declining and hunting. They are also expert climbers and can easily camouflage with the natural environment. Gorals must have ventured the site in search of food and curiosity.

Bustling wildlife amidst pandemic: Himalayan Goral

©Himalayan Goral, Mussoorie

Few days ago while hiking, I spotted this little owl camouflaged in the woods. The profused branches stealthed the little bird from casual eyesight. The Collared owlet (Glaucidium brodiei) also  known as the Collared Pygmy Owl is the smallest Owl in Asia. This cute little bird of prey can be easily identified by the help of eye spots on each side of the nape. It is also known as “occipital face”. This diurnal bird makes a distinct call,  also called as mellow whistling.

Collared Owlet / Collared Pygmy Owl: Landour, Mussoorie

©Collared Pygmy Owl

While the world is suffering due to high pollution levels and congestion in the cities, this hillside is endowed with refreshing mountain breeze, every nook and corner of this mountain side with bliss and positivity. The hustling leaves, swaying pines and the wild flowers, distant cymbal of cicadas and song of mountain birds. The nature is  in perfect tune with the divine rhythm of life.

A bewildered profusion…

©Deodar trees, Mussoorie

My encounters with diverse geologic terrains and the complex interaction of climate, soils and rocks, water, animals, (including insects and fungi) and plants as the defining elements of a natural forests inspired me to study the biodiversity in the area.

Geology around Woodstock school, Mussoorie

©Woodstock school,Landour, Mussoorie

The area around my residence is surrounded by thick patch of mixed Oak and Pine forest with occasional Rhododendron and Maple trees. There is a big Oak tree just outside my window and I am highly influenced and inspired by it.

Oak tree beside my window!!

©Oak tree beside my window

The Oak tree is a climax species in the region. Besides being significantly important to ecology, Banj Oak tree supports wide biodiversity. It provides fuelwood, fodder and timber and plays a vital role in conservation of soil from erosion and landslide, regulating water flow in watersheds and maintaining water quality in streams and rivers, and support high native floral and faunal diversity, thereby providing numerous ecosystem services to mankind in the region. Different parts of the plant such as seeds, leaves, fruit and dry gum resin is used to cure various ailments such as toothache, diarrhea, asthma, hemorrhages, tonsillitis and snake bite.

Oak tree flowers: Landour, Mussoorie

©Oak tree flowers

Recently, there was gregarious blooming in Oak tree. The inflorescence of Oak tree is very interesting.  Besides, I have seen various trees blossoming with vivid shades of red, yellow, white and pink in the forests.

Where have all the flowers gone??

©Oak tree flowers, Landour, Mussoorie

Rhododendrons (known as burans locally) and Reinwardtia sp.(phyuli), Kachnar (Bauhinia sp.), Horse-chestnut trees, wild daisies and Rumex. Due to global climate change, early blooming of Rhododendrons was observed in the lesser Himalayas (Landour, Mussoorie).

Rhododendrons and a tale of love!!

©Rhododendron in full bloom, Landour Mussoorie
©Horse-chestnut flower

The Rhododendrons are usually are in full bloom during the month of March , but this year they started flowering since the end January. Climate change will have adverse affect on the pollination ecology alongwith bird and insect behaviour.  

©Rhododendron tree with flowers

But, I was startled by the sight of Bamboo flowering along the hilly roadside of key roadway connecting Mussoorie and Dehradun (Mussoorie to Dehradun road). I was happy to see flowers of bamboo, as its a rare phenomenon but at the same intrigued also, because flowering in bamboo is not considered as a good omen in different parts of the world.

Bamboo flowering: Nature’s alarm!!!

©Bamboo flowering, Mussoorie
©Synchronous flowering of Bamboo, Mussoorie

I also celebrated Phool Dei festival which is a traditional festival of Uttarakhand. It celebrates the close knit relationship between man and nature.

Phool Dei: Celebrating nature and mankind

©Flower bed

I found certain forage species in the vicinity of Landour, Mussoorie. I experienced locational ecological variance of phytodiversity due to altitudinal variation. It happened so, when I celebrated Green Diwali. Landour, Mussoorie is located in lesser Himalayas with altogether different geographical topography as compared to West Bengal and Assam.

Foraging in the wild: celebrating Green Diwali!!!!

©Floral Rangoli

So, I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t find the traditional Bengali 14 shaak/foliage in this terrain. But where there is will there is a way, I made my mind to collect locally available edible green leaves/ herbs to prepare authentic 14 shaak recipe and traversed through various woodlots, thickets in and around Landour to explore wild edible leaves/foliage.

©Stinging nettles

During the course I came across Common nettle also locally known as Kandali (Urtica dioca L.); Black nightshade also locally known as  Khalarkoi (Solanum nigrum L.); Timru (Zanthoxylum alatum Roxb.); Bathua saag (Chenopodim album); Khatti-mithi (Oxalis corniculata L.); Bhangjeera (Perilla frutescens (L.) Britton); Almoda (Rumex hastatus D.Don);  Kanalya (Fagopyron esculentum Moench.);  Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale Weber) and many more. The edible leaves of these plants are used in the preparation of some local dishes and have immense medicinal value.

©Rumex sp.

These plant species are so intricately associated with the lives and faith of the local people here. I was overwhelmed, when I found Oak being worshipped in a temple near Mussoorie.

Holy Oak Tree: Worship of Oak tree!!!

©Holy Oak tree

I also came across an old temple on Mussoorie-Dehradun roadway. The temple on the hilly roadside was constructed on a boulder and the very foundation of which was supported / bulwarked by a Bhimal tree (Grewia optiva). Bhimal tree is a very important and multipurpose forest tree species.

Nature’s bulwark: Bhimal tree (Grewia optiva) securing a temple, Mussoorie!!!

©Temple supported by Bhimal tree

Although I have penned few of my experiences, the information presented in this blog is far from complete. However, effort is to collect information and continue studies and further update more information  and go on for the quest of knowledge of the biodiversity of this particular area.

During recent years I have observed deteriorated ecological condition of these beautiful trees in Landour and adjacent areas. There are frequent incedences of forest fire in the area.

Recurrent forest fires: Landour, Mussoorie

©Forest fire near, Landour, Mussoorie

The rapid urbanisation and expansion of the Mussoorie and adjacent areas is paving way for ecological as well as habitat degradation and the adjacent forests and environment are facing challenges. Alongwith the huge influx of tourists, garbage littering has always been a major issue in the hillside.

Passive degradation of Himalayan ecology: Oak trees in Landour, Mussoorie

©City expansion and new settlements, Landour, Mussoorie

But apart from the above mentioned issues, there is an important aspect which I like to draw attention through the article. The Oak, Pine and Deodar forests are also dying slow death due a botanical component also, climbers and vines. Nature has its own way of signaling disasters. Since time immemorial, the signs and signals given by nature and wildlife has averted many disasters. It’s important for us to recognize and decipher the signs and act judiciously to prevent and further protect our race.

©Deodar trees uprooted

I believe humanity is suffering due to the destruction of Forests and the lost wilderness. Forests and wildlife help contain diseases and epidemics from further transmission into humans. Various research studies show that the global rise in temperature has forced iceshelfs and glaciers to melt and further releasing unknown pathogens in the environment. The aftermath of globalisation and urbanisation has created ecological imbalance. Now, neither science nor capital can bring back the departed souls.

©Creepers on trees

The knowledge and conscience which we have gained today comes from nature, and primitive forests. The rich biodiversity in our surroundings and forests are great teachers and through ages they have taught us humility and respect for each other and also towards the environment.They have inspired to inculcate healthy and happier approaches to lead life. Our brains have evolved in such a manner that even today one finds solace and tranquility in the arms of nature and pristine forests. Forests and biodiversity within play an important role from birth till death of a human life. They are the avenues which have clues to solve the greatest wonders.

A ray of hope: Landour, Mussoorie

©One morning in the hillside of Landour, Mussoorie

Thank you!!!

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Published by Dr. Chandrima Debi

Hi, I am Chandrima Debi. I am a Doctorate in Forestry and an independent researcher. Ever since childhood, I experienced deep-rooted connection with nature, forest and wildlife. I have written various research articles, case studies based on geology, forests, medicinal plants, biodiversity and conservation. Through this blog I share my experiences with nature and forests around us and aid towards the protection and conservation of biodiversity, wildlife and the values associated.

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