A green campus with abundant bird life

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Our cities are increasingly getting converted into endless urban sprawls. Crores of people spend months together in these concrete jungles before they get a chance to take a break and go to rural areas or natural habitats outside the city. Some are lucky to at least have a leafy neighbourhood, but most urban denizens have to live with the endless grey colour, devoid of green. This is the irony of our cities today. On top of that, with excessive addiction to mobile phones, television, internet, malls, multiplexes and other avenues of entertainment, an increasing number of people, particularly
youngsters, have stopped missing Mother Nature. Although, these materialistic pleasures do have their role in our lives, sooner or later most of us long to go back to our roots, at least for some time.

But fortunately, there are some places in the nooks and corners of our urban world, where greenery continues to hold on. In case of Pune, the 8 th largest city in the country, the hills dotting the cityscape, the lush streets of cantonment areas, Empress Garden, some parts of Mula and Mutha river fronts, Katraj Zoo, Sarasbaug, Peshwe Park, Pune University and the various educational institutes provide respite from the dull and boring grey colour of cement. The 17-acre Kothrud campus of the 35-year old Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT) Group, nestled in a C-shaped valley at the base of a hill range, is an excellent example of such green heavens.

As one enters the campus, the tree-lined internal roads are a striking feature. Scientific and common names of many have been displayed near the trees, some of which provide shade and others display attractive seasonal flowers. With the winter on the wane and the spring season around the corner, the stage is set for a riot of colours. Indian Laburnum (Bahava) with its tresses of bright yellow flowers, which are also known as Golden Showers, is conspicuous. The elegant white blossoms of the stately Indian Cork Tree (Gaganjai), along with the scarlet, purple and yellow flowers of Flamboyant Tree (Gulmohar), Jacaranda (Neelmohar) and Copperpod (Soanmohar) respectively add a different hue to the vibrant campus in summer.

The umbrella-like spread of Raintrees in a couple of places provide the much needed respite from the sun in the hot season, while fruit trees like Mango, Indian Plum (Bor) and Wood Apple (Bael) beautify the premises at other places. The fragrant off-white blooms of Mango waft with the breeze
coming down from the surrounding hills on February evenings. If the moon is already out, it adds to the charm, coupled with the mild rustling of the dried pods of River Tamarind (Subabhul). The highly medicinal Indian Lilac (Neem) adorns the pathways, while fronds of Indian Date (Shindi) are decked with nests of Baya Weaver in some places. The majestic Tree of Heaven (Maharukh) graces the premises at a prominent location, while Indian Almond (Deshi Badam) add to the canopy. The lofty African Tulip (Pichkari) with its orange-coloured large flowers attracts a lot of birds. Other trees and bushes that one is likely to come across include Charcoal Tree, Weeping Fig, Scarlet Bush and Champak (Soanchafa).

Several buildings have extensive lawns covered with neatly trimmed Elephant Grass, dotted with Temple Tree (Chafa), Rose, Peacock Flower (Sankasur) and Hibiscus (Jaswand), with Bottle Palms standing on the periphery. These patches add to the eye soothing ambience and provide a good place for outdoor self-study to students under the shade of the taller trees. Moreover, the boundary of the campus is lined with myriad other species like Fish-tail Palm, Australian Cheesewood, Sacred Fig (Umbar, which attracts birds in large numbers during the fruiting season), Soccer Ball Tree (named so because of the shape of its fruit), the colourful Bougainvillea (Boganvel), Yellow Oleander (Bitti), Night Jasmine (Parijat, with its delicate flowers) and Indian Ebony (Kanchan, with its pink blooms). The plant wealth seamlessly merges with the natural vegetation of the surrounding hill range, various parts of which are called as ARAI Hill, Vetal Hill and Hanuman Hill.

An area that is rich in green cover is bound to attract birds. Apart from the ubiquitous House Crow and Blue Rock Pigeon, a range of avian friends can be seen or heard here. This is a welcome break from the usual buzz of cell phones, roar of automobiles and the incessant drone of dozens of other
man-made noises.

The feathered folk range from dainty sunbirds to mighty kites. Purple-rumped Sunbird and Purple Sunbird are the two species most commonly seen. Any time of the day, one can hear their sweet chirps as they jump from branch to branch and flower to flower in search of nectar. They can be seen deftly inserting their slender curved beaks into the flowers, while their shiny purple backs glitter in the sunlight. They offer a scene of utter peace.

The mysterious calls of Greater Coucal (Bharadwaj) are often heard in the mornings. If the bird is spotted flying against the sunlight, its brown wings look golden! The pleasant short whistles of the black and white Magpie-Robin (Dayal) are music to the ears. Come summer, and this song bird starts enthusing the avid listeners with its melodious long breeding call, perching on a tall tree or wire. Bulbuls, a common bird in urban leafy neighbourhoods are present here too. Red-vented Bulbuls jumping on the low bushes bordering the internal roads and the more graceful Red-whiskered
Bulbuls calling from the higher branches are a daily routine.

On quiet afternoons, staff stationed near the windows on the backside of the campus will hear the consistent “puck puck puck” of the cute Coppersmith Barbet, merrily digging at some dead branch to make a nest. The slender bluish-green bodies of Green Bee-eaters flitting acrobatically mid-air to
grab insect morsels are a wonderful sight. Their intermittent calls resemble the gentle tapping of small glass bottles against each other. The equally acrobatic Black Drongo competes in grabbing insect grubs. The brownish Ashy Prinia with a grey head is another small bird that is common and advertises its presence with its sharp call. The ubiquitous Common Myna is often seen gambolling around with the audacious “Tri tri tri” call.

In areas where the premises adjoins the range of hills, the soulful “Miao” of our national bird can be occasionally heard. Calls of Grey Francolin (Titar) can be heard in some instances. High above in the heavens, Black Kites – identifiable by the V-shaped cut in their tails – can be seen soaring on the thermals. The loud warning calls of Red-wattled Lapwing disturbed by some passer-by cannot be missed. Finally, the avian treasure of MIT Kothrud campus can be summed up by the presence of nimble Indian Grey Hornbills, which can be seen perched on tall trees or uttering shrill notes. This bird is widely distributed across Pune city and this campus is no exception.

Animal life in such urban green pockets is limited due to lack of connectivity with larger habitats. Palm Squirrels are often seen scurrying across the lawns and paths with their long tail equalling their
body in length. As the evening approaches, bats of various species are seen flying in search of winged insects or seasonal fruits. As they say, “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.” If the urban dweller opens up his senses to the wonders of nature, he can still discover such beauty around him.
It only takes a little observation and sensitivity to appreciate the amazing creations of Mother Earth.