Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Our garden hosts two bird nests

There are 3 trees and a few shrubs in our garden.  Commonly seen birds in the locality are House Crows, Crow Pheasants, Mynas, Barbets, Koels, Great Tits, Rose-ringed Parakeets, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Indian Gray Hornbill, Purple-rumped Sunbirds, Pigeons, Spotted Doves, occasionally Spotted Munias, Kites, Kingfishers, Magpie Robins and Common Tailorbirds to name most of them.  That's quite a handful!  House Sparrows, of course are extinct from our locality long ago due to various environmental and social reasons. I'll show pictures of the birds  later.  But first I'll show how the Sunbird and Tailorbird made their nests in our garden.

Since there were so many birds visiting the garden searching for seeds or insects to feed upon, I have always wondered where they could be nesting.  One day in March 2008, I noticed a knotty thing overhanging the yard passage. It was the long branch of the Holmskioldia shrub.  The knotty thing was about 8 feet above the ground.  I thought it might be some nest.

This is the Holmskioldia shrub with attractive flowers.  The sunbirds love it for their nectar and frequently visit it but at that moment, I never thought it was the work of these sunbirds .......

until I took a closer look from another angle after some time.  Lo and behold!  I could recognize the curved beak of the sunbird!  Here was the young one peeping out!

There you are, closer!  I used the flash and the eye mirrors it. Look at the nest.  The white papery material is the cellulose which these Weaver Ants secrete to build the nest.  These sunbirds use it for their home as it is also a nice cover. The white colour means the nest is newly built, in this case at least.  They collect the fibrous material and also some soft cottony material for the bottom as a cushion.  I got to see it after it abandoned and went when the siblings grew and flew away. 

Instantly, it became a routine to watch the nest.  Fortunately, they were not much scared about our movement right below the nest.  The parents of course visited when we were at a safe distance.  I could hear two distinctive tweets from the nest made by two little ones, but I could see only one peeping out.  It was confirmed only when I saw this picture of the mother feeding the young ones - look at the two open beaks.

Even the father helped in feeding, bringing in little insects.  See the change in colour of feathers.

By this time it was 3 weeks of observation and see how the cellulose has faded in the summer sun.

After some time, I could hear the tiny tweets near the shrub as it was already flying out and getting lessons about searching food and flying to safety from their parents.  Gradually, I began to realize that the nest was no longer required as there were no visits or signs of activity in it.  I was not wrong.

Watching it for over a month was such a joyful experience for all of us at home.  I had kept the abandoned nest for many months until it withered away.   Lovely Nature! I had watched so much that I could recognize the tweets of the young ones even after 3-4 months when they flew in!  

Here are a few more pictures: 

One of the very rare occasions the sunbird took a dip in our birdbath, at least when I could capture it on camera.

This is the female Sunbird.

This variety is called as "Purple-rumped Sunbird" (click for Wikipidea info.) - notice the distinct change in appearance of the male bird.  These are very commonly found birds the size of the Sparrow. 

There are also many Common Tailorbirds in our area.  I've seen it from the time I was very young. This is also the size of the sparrow, maybe a wee bit smaller in my estimate.  Tuvvi Tuvvi is its famous call, often used by poets and song composers!  Its call is quite melodious, but listen to this noisy song with 'tuvvi tuvvi..' lyrics in a 1986 Kannada movie, a shame to the bird's reputation!

Now listen to its pleasing melody I captured in my garden in my YouTube video.  My garden fills with this music every now and then when a few of these fly by at their own times and it has the 'power' to absorb the heavy traffic noise outside!!  I knew this was called a Tailorbird because it sews up its nest.  But had never seen one, except in pictures.  

Very recently , while my morning coffee was going down the gullet during my beside-the-pond-sitting-on-the-stone-bench session, I noticed the huge leaf of the Almond Tree folded like a packet.  Closer observation revealed that it was a nest of the Tailorbird.  I could confirm instantly that it was that because I had by chance come across a fallen dry nest while sweeping up the leaves of that tree in February (when they all fall off).  

 It had a nice cotton cushion in its bottom and the sides of the huge leaf was neatly hemmed using strong fibre through holes to pass the 'thread' - not for nothing it is called the tailorbird!  After a couple of months, I was pruning the branches of that tree.  While clearing up the fallen branches, I noticed another nest.  Oh no! I felt.  

It was still under construction and still a lot of work to do. Now more work after losing it.  I could not do anything now. In the meantime, my friend Krishna Rao, knowing my interests, told me about a 'sparrow' making a nest in his home on his Betel leaf vine and even showed me a picture. Now I could tell him that it was THE Tailorbird's nest. 

After that happened, my pond-side 'spotting' took place.  See now. I was prepared with camera.  

 There it was!  They were flying in and out frequently now, meant that there were some inhabitants already in the nest and I could notice some vibrations too, just like the shake of a car when someone in it changes seat!

In the afternoon, I could hear the tiny 'tuvvi tuvvi' near the window.  I grabbed the camera and caught the above scene through the wire mesh. Indeed it was the baby already out with its tiny wings.  LQQks like a real baby!

Again in the evening, there was a photo session as I noticed the entirely family out, making a lot of noise and the tiny tweets sinking in with that of the parents'. I noticed this fella up there not having any fear or not knowing what to do next.

The parent was tweeting hard while perching close to this intruder.  Sensing danger is their top priority esp. in these times when they have additional responsibility of protecting its siblings. When they are not 'nesting' they would not do that or come as close as this.  In the meanwhile, the tailless youngster had managed to fly up to the cornice where the parent had come with a dose of food. Notice in the above picture the long tail feather plumage.  It will be elongated during the breeding season.

It is now feeding into its beak.

I think there were two babies.  This one (right) was some distance away and here it seems to be asking for food - it was getting dark by then.

After that I went in home and when I saw in the morning, interestingly, the nest had its bottom up!  The branch had grown a bit making the nest to tilt.  I now thought that it might have been the reason for them to be out of the nest as its entry was facing down!  See here.

The garden appeared silent today.  Wonder where those Tailorbird family was!  Hope the two youngsters survived. 

As a matter of coincidence, my friend Krishna Rao sent this video footage only yesterday.  He has compiled beautifully.  See and enjoy.  


Here are 'collaged' pictures of our 'Winged Visitors':

Most birds need water to dip or to drink.  Let's provide them a bit of facility with birdbaths, which is not difficult at all.  Look how they enjoy splashing in the water!  

I got a stone birdbath made a few months ago and here the RW Bulbul enjoys the splash.

Hope splashing in this blogpost also was enjoyable!


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting - how I have done

I like this logo!

In 2008 I had contributed an article on rainwater harvesting for a garden website.  Read it here in this link. (Click on it).  There are many pictures showing how I began to do with crude methods using mostly available-at-home materials with little or no investment.  But the purpose was served for the time.  I have also given some basic information about the subject there and so repeating here would only amount to duplication. So, please visit that link.

The amount of rooftop rainwater that can be collected during a season can be estimated using this calculator in this link:
or here:
Here is an interesting site.
You can view your house rooftop using Google's satellite imagery to calculate the catchment area!

Mysore's rainfall is about 80cms. per annum (in about 52 rainy days).  If it falls on a 1000 sq.ft. roof area and the whole lot is collected, it would amount to about 1,88,640 litres of water, which is a lot of water!  It is calculated @1 inch of rain on a 1000 sq.ft. area will have 2358 litres.

I collect from a rooftop area of about  380 square feet into the sump through filters. Using that calcuator, I get about 65,000 - 70,000 litres per annum. A rough figure from wastage from 'first flush' deducted. The sump capacity is about 7000 litres.  We will be using municipal water supply usually but during the regular rainy season, I stop the supply and utilize rainwater which keeps topping up the sump. Without watering the garden our daily consumption would roughly be 500 litres.  I do not use the hose pipe to water plants, nor do clean the car and vehicles with it.  I also collect directly from other spouts in barrels and use it for gardening. If it is more than sufficient for gardening, I divert it to the main sump by which time, water will be clear of sediments. Since we do not use it for drinking or cooking at present, I have allowed both to collect in the common sump.  If space affords, a separate sump exclusively for rainwater is the best option.  One can also make a partition in the sump.  Bigger the capacity, the better.  

In the yard.. helpful for gardening
 PET bottles can be useful as it has many options like that!
 Simple direct collection on the balcony.
 PET bottle again. It has many options for angles!
 Collection from 3 spouts at a single point. Small balconies above bays.
 In the open yard - they can be used to flush the bath and toilets (requires carrying by hand, but it saves flushing and hence, pumping up from the sump). This part gets a lot of water.  The extra outflow runs out into the yard.
In the open yard again... more collection.  Useful for washing clothes (after all the particles settle at the bottom and the water is clear) and flushing the drain or gardening. Water must be emptied within 5-6 days to prevent mosquito breeding as it stays open.  This area no longer gets the flow because of some renovation.

My high school classmate and friend Ramesh Kikkeri who is an organic farmer and environmentalist, suggested me to try a full sand filter that works from the bottom.  So tried it.

It works on this line:

It worked well for sometime, but there was clogging of the central inlet pipe sooner than I expected and removing it for cleaning was quite cumbersome. It was supposed be easy, but even if I flushed the water from the bottom, the clogging was too much and it did not drag down the particles.  So it was time to have a rethink. I met U.N.Ravikumar who along with Ramaswamy was among the first to implement rain water harvesting methods in the city.  I invited him to take a look at the system.  He saw all the other crude methods and suggested me to go for a fixed system.  It was enough inspiration.  So, upon his suggestion, I replaced the 'Ramesh filter' with the new one which that worked with gravity (inlet from top and outlet from bottom).  I procured the filters from one Gururaj, though I could have made them myself.  He made the first flush and the sand filter for me, including stones, sand, net, sponge and all fittings for the barrel.  He charged a reasonable Rs.1,300/-. See next part.

Rooftop rainwater that flows down carries many particles.  I found out that in our house and location, the dust particles are way too much, reasons being the closeness to a road with heavy traffic and old gabled roofing.  Such dust is called 'fugitive dust'.  It is almost amorphous. The 'Gururaj set' with one 'first flush' was insufficient to cope with and it quickly clogged the main sand filter.

Look at that!  It's too much.  You can't see the blue sponge, now clogged up with particles!  Picture taken during a heavy downpour.

The first flush is like this, inside:
There is a plastic ball inside the holed pipe. It blocks when the barrel fills to that level and all the water that flows thereafter will flow into the main filter.   This barrel will hold up heavier particles.  Flushing this often esp. during a rain will help keep water cleaner.

This is the 'improved' set of filters.  The first flush tank is seen at the back. It collects the first flow.  This picture was taken in unused condition when I set it up. The main sand filter is topped by sponge layer 1" thick.

Later, I added one more filter using a sponge to reduce the load on the main filter. When it is raining, I wash this sponge often esp. in the first few minutes so that dirt does not escape to the main filter and quickly clog the sponge layer there.

It is collected in a small bucket.  I have made a 3" diameter hole in its bottom. I keep it on a collection basin which I have made too.  You can observe how I have cut the hole in steel and fitted a pipe to it. This is similar to the one to which the conical mesh is fitted at the first stage.

The picture below was taken when it actually rained and water is flowing through the down spout, conical mesh, first flush, first sponge bucket filter and then into the main sand filter.
This system was insufficient to keep out the fine dust particles and even some chips of cement paint (old house with lime plaster) that collects on the crevices of roof tiles and other corners and they flow down with heavy rain.  They seem to mix up almost continuously for a longer period.  The main sand filter clogged too quickly which resulted in overflow and wastage of rain water before filtering.  So what did I do?

I added a 'second flush' in between the first flush and the main filter so that clogging of the sand filter is further reduced, also its maintenance.  I bought a recycled barrel (30L, food grade) and removed its lid to use my own. See it in the picture below. Luckily, it was a barrel that previously contained enzymes for agriculture and narrowish, suitable for my purpose. The higher it is, the better the chances of the heavier particles of dust staying down!  The inflow to this fills up from the bottom through a pipe with holes in the bottom. This is to reduce splashing which would disturb the particles and aid in its escape from the top.

This is how the new filtration set is: 
See below, how the conical mesh filter at the initial stage works in holding back bigger particles which can be leaves, little twigs etc. In our case, there can be a lot of caterpillar poop (like tiny mustard seeds).  Those hairy caterpillars abound the city in the rainy months, more in old houses with gabled roofing.  Some live beyond and their poop come down with the first rain many weeks later - as you can see here.  We use the water that gets collected in our main sump only for washing purposes.  For drinking, we collect the 'municipal supply' directly in the mornings.
This has to be removed manually.

This is what I made for the 'lid'. This barrel would fill from the bottom and 'overflow' into the sand filter, leaving behind more heavier particles at the bottom. The force will make some finer particles to escape and we cannot stop it.  An old plastic bucket bottom was cut up to fix the pipe as here.  After one rain, I saw that it worked nicely as you can see particles stopped here before entering the barrel.  

 This is how the second filter gets its inflow. Observe the sediments trapped.  Picture taken during a heavy rain. I have aligned it in such a way that water first falls into the bucket area and then overflows into the central pipe and also through the holes, into the barrel. The brim of the cut up bucket is higher than that of the central gray (inlet) pipe.

Lots of debris trapped!  Otherwise, it would have gone further to clog the sponge and sand.  Now I can remove it easily from here!
This is how dirty water can be in the second filter.  With continuous rains, it will be progressively cleaner. You can see the pipe that allows overflow diverted into the sponge bucket filter which is actually the inlet for the main sand filter.

Picture below shows the valve to flush out dirty water from the bottom (cleaning purposes).

Let me now show how the main sand filter is made.  It is a 100L barrel, sufficient for the volume of inflow for my location. Bigger the catchment area, bigger the filter volume.  Inflow pipe on top right and filtered outflow pipe with holes at the bottom.  90mm pipes are fine for my location. 

The bottom is filled with stones up to the level of the holed pipe, which is about 6 inches from the bottom.

Fine Nylon mesh is used to hold sand. See the fingers for comparison of mesh size.

The clean coarse sand 'bundle' is kept on the stones. 

We can tie the corners of the nylon mesh for easy removal.  The second bag will be placed on top of it and then comes the sponge. 

In the meantime, I also learnt that dividing the sand into two parts will help easier removal for cleaning as it would also be lighter to lift up. So I put one half in another separate mesh bundle. The sponge on top will hold up the escaped particles and when they further escape, the first bundle catches them.  So it will be the first bundle that would require cleaning up more often. 

In this picture I have removed this sand bundle out for cleaning. You can see the dark colour which is nothing but fine dust which prevents good filtering and causes clogging.  The gaps between sand particles are extremely tiny.

This is clean, coarse sand. See the difference in colour.

Since this sand is coarse, we can clean it easily by rinsing it in a bucket of water a few times. On the right bucket (pictured below) you see it darker. It is the first step of cleaning.  Running the fingers or some implement to stir the sand while in water, will remove the very fine dirt (which is actually fugitive dust).  Pour the 'dirty water' out (may be into some plant bed).  The left bucket is cleaner sand as it is waiting for one more rinse. This should be done till stirring brings out no further floating particles and this sand can be put back into the nylon mesh.

This is cleaned sand ready to be put back into the mesh. You can observe the colour difference with the above picture.

The filter is asking for cleaning when we observe an overflow from the top even during a moderate rain and by observing a thin outflow into the sump.  It means the sand filter has clogged.  This operation could be necessary about twice a year or more depending on the amount of dust in that area.  Cleaner surroundings may require less cleaning. 

We get crystal clear water.  If rooftops are clean and well maintained, the water is potable. Many who are practicing it vouch that they use rainwater for drinking also (tastes wonderfully - water is 'tasteless'?) which is supposed to have cured some ailments too, besides rainwater-cooked food being tastier and vessels remain free from scaling. It is the purest water we are letting go by.  Catch it, it is free.  In some states of the USA, there are laws to prevent such collection!!

One thing that is yet to be done by me is preventing runoff.  

Runoffs could be diverted into wells or pits - not into drains!  But in our case, we have to divert at present into the open drains - to flush out man made garbage - in the absence of regular cleaning.  There is a worse picture which I will not show here!

During childhood I used to play in the rainwater that flowed near road kerbs and floated paper boats in the fast stream that eventually flowed into storm water drains.  Many times when it rained after my school, I used to walk home making the feet with shoes and socks wet in such roadside streams soon after the heavy rains.  It was such fun, but did not realize that it was awful to wear the shoes the next day!  As I grew up, I began to wonder how much water went down the drains. 

It is time the citizens realized the value of water.  It is a horrible sight for me to watch the servant of a rich family (there are many who do this without a care) close to our house use a huge hose pipe every morning to clean the owner's two cars and the pavement next to their compound!  Water floods the road! 
Harvesting and conserving water is every individual's duty.
Every drop of rainwater is precious - save it.
It might be the very drop that will quench your thirst one day.
Collection of rooftop rainwater is easy and not expensive! Let's do it - when we can wherever we can!