Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bangalore Bird Race 2013

Having signed myself up for the Bangalore Bird Race, which was set to take place on the 20th of January 2013, I prepared by reading about the birds of Bangalore and bought new binoculars after the old ones got lost. Bangalore Bird Race is a day-long event where birders from all over Bangalore travel within a 50 km radius of the city in order to see who can see the most number of bird species. This year, seven of the thirty-six teams participating decided to go birding together, and my team, Team Ibis, was one of them. This was our plan:
1) Madiwala Lake- Look out for Bluethroats and Spot-billed Pelicans
2) Bannerghatta National Park- Check for Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers and Larks
3) ThippaGondanahalli Lake- Look for Asian Openbills and others
4) Ramanagaram- Look for Long-billed Vultures, and Peregrine Falcons

All the teams met at Bannerghatta Road at around 5:15 in the morning. Since the sun wasn't still up, so we had to drop the plan to bird at Madiwala Lake. We proceeded on to Bannerghatta National Park. We were in the parking area near the pond when we started. Birds were numerous. We saw Pied Bushchat, Red-wattled Lapwing, White-breasted Kingfisher, Red Avadavat, and Rose-ringed Parakeet amongst others. As we proceeded into the scrubland, towards a Flame-of-the-Forest tree, we saw a huge flock of Rosy Starlings and three Eurasian Hoopoes. The Flame-of-the-Forest tree was a 'bird magnet'. We then proceeded  to the main Bannerghatta Zoo area to look for flycatchers. We saw a Black-naped Oriole inside the zoo, and saw a male Asian Paradise Flycatcher flitting from a post to a fence and back over and over again. Then we went to what Deepa Mohan, one of the birders along with us called 'Flycatcher Avenue'. I spotted a well-hidden Verditer Flycatcher and our team saw an Asian Brown Flyatcher and a White-browed Bulbul in the foliage. A single tree provided Tickell's Blue-flycatcher and Black-hooded, Black-naped, and Eurasian Golden Orioles. We then stopped for breakfast at a dosa camp. After that, we drove down to Thippagondanahalli Lake, popularly known as TG Halli Lake, where we observed Little Ringed Plover, a huge colony of Indian Shags and a lot of Asian Openbills. We tried for the difficult Small Pratincole near a few rocks near the lake, but we were unsuccessful. We drove to Ramanagaram and, with great difficulty, we located a juvenile Long-billed Vulture on a small ledge. We saw some people just climbing up the rock face for fun and we tried to stop them, but they did not heed our warning. We hoped nothing would happen to the juvenile vulture, as the Long-billed Vulture is a critically endangered species, and very rare. We had hoped to also see Peregrine Falcons and Indian Eagle-Owls, both resident in the area, but these weren't sighted. I had an exam the next day, so we couldn't make it to the awards ceremony, but my teammates told me that we finished 4th, 5th or 6th, with 112 species. Truly a tiring but rewarding day.
(Bangalore Bird Race on Jan 20, 2013)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Birding in Chennai


   It was my cousin's first birthday, and they lived in Chennai, so, we went there to celebrate his birthday. Over there, we decided to go to the Muttukadu Backwaters, an inlet of water where, when we visited last time, had given us over 20 Caspian Terns, Great Crested Terns, Little, Gull-billed, and a wide variety of other terns. This time, the driver, from Chennai Taxi, took us through a route double the length, where we skipped going past Pallikaranai Wetlands, where we saw plenty of Purple Herons (not to mention a Crab-plover) last time. We stopped a marsh on the way, and that was a good place to stop. We saw around 15 Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, lots of Great and Median Egrets, and to our surprise, Curlew and Terek Sandpipers! It was another 1/2 hour before we reached Muttukadu. Over there, in the boating area, we saw Heuglin's, Pallas's, Yellow-legged, Brown-headed and Black-headed Gulls, Caspian, Little, Gull-billed, Common, Lesser Crested and White-winged Terns, Painted Storks, Great Egrets and Spot-billed Pelicans amongst others. In the fishing area, there were hundreds of waders, which we identified to be a variety of different species; Common Greenshanks, Spotted and Common Redshanks, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit and Dunlins, just to name a few. On the way back, we took the regular path back through Pallikaranai, and saw a large variety of waders there as well. Some of the species we were able to identify were all lifers for me; Broad-billed Sandpiper, Swinhoe's, Common, Jack and Pintail Snipes, and others. We went back after totally seeing 67 different species that day. This is the list:

  1. Pied Kingfisher
  2. Indian Roller
  3. Black Kite
  4. Jungle Crow
  5. House Crow
  6. Rock Pigeon
  7. Common Myna
  8. Common Kingfisher
  9. White-breasted Kingfisher
  10. Asian Palm Swift
  11. Common Coot
  12. Purple Swamphen
  13. Pintail Snipe
  14. Common Snipe
  15. Jack Snipe
  16. Swinhoe's Snipe
  17. Black-tailed Godwit
  18. Whimbrel
  19. Eurasian Curlew
  20. Spotted Redshank
  21. Common Redshank
  22. Common Greenshank
  23. Marsh Sandpiper
  24. Terek Sandpiper
  25. Wood Sandpiper
  26. Green Sandpiper
  27. Common Sandpiper
  28. Little Stint
  29. Temminck's Stint
  30. Dunlin
  31. Curlew Sandpiper
  32. Broad-billed Sandpiper
  33. Ruff
  34. Eurasian Oystercatcher
  35. Black-winged Stilt
  36. Pheasant-tailed Jacana
  37. Pacific Golden Plover
  38. Grey Plover
  39. Common Ringed Plover
  40. Little Ringed Plover
  41. Kentish Plover
  42. Greater Sand-Plover
  43. Lesser Sand-Plover
  44. Red-wattled Lapwing
  45. Yellow-legged Gull
  46. Heuglin's Gull
  47. Pallas's Gull
  48. Black-headed Gull
  49. Brown-headed Gull
  50. Gull-billed Tern
  51. Caspian Tern
  52. Lesser Crested Tern
  53. Greater Crested Tern
  54. Common Tern
  55. Little Tern
  56. White-winged Tern
  57. Little Grebe
  58. Little Cormorant
  59. Indian Cormorant
  60. Great Cormorant
  61. Western Reef-Egret
  62. Great Egret
  63. Grey Heron
  64. Purple Heron
  65. Eurasian Spoonbill
  66. Spot-billed Pelican
  67. Painted Stork
My dad's camera wasn't working, so here are a few pictures of the birds we saw (not our pictures!)

Painted Stork

Curlew Sandpiper

Common Redshank

(Trip on 26th Jan 2013)

Sholas And Shortwings; A Birding Trip Report by Krishna Girish


 It seemed weird the day when my sister came up to my mom and started complaining that she had never seen a zebra, lion, tiger, or giraffe in her life. This was out of the blue; we had just gone to Mysore Zoo a few years ago, and I remember her enthrallment when she saw the giraffes there. Since Bannerghatta, Bangalore's local zoo, didn't have giraffes, we decided to go to Mysore Zoo. Anyway, it was the Dasara vacations, and there was a solid week left. I gave a suggestion that we go to Wayanad in Kerala from Mysore, driving all the way!

The entire family agreed, and so, the itinerary was made. We were to start driving at 9:00 AM and go to Mysore, then go through Bandipur forests into Kerala, to a town called Thalapuzha, and then to a resort called 'FringeFord'. And so, we began, taking stops to stretch at various places. Our hotel in Mysore, 'Ginger', was reached and we stayed there. A tiring day was spent at the zoo, which had various crowd-pullers like giraffes, lions, tigers, and yes, you guessed it, zebras, much to the delight of Medha. We went to sleep in 'Ginger' and then woke up the next morning. We picked up our stuff, packed them in the car, and bid adieu to our room at Ginger. My dad had maps printed, and following that, we were on our way. Bandipur was the biggest excitement at the beginning of the trip but turned out to be the biggest disappointment. We reached there at the peak of the afternoon and so, all the birds had gone into hiding. We drove through. Kerala was at its usual; tall coconut trees and houses with earthen tiles. I observed the names of each town we passed through, and I found some weird names (these are translated from Malayalam);

Kooduthummal:Too much sneezing
Pannamaram: (actually Panamaram) Bad Tree
Talapoya: If your head goes
Meenangadi: Fish Market

In addition to these, we also saw a bus called Daliya, which was a dish my mother makes!
Thalapuzha was a small town; we went to a Bharat Petroleum Bunk on its outskirts and were soon met by Shabbir, the owner of FringeFord, who led us to his house and told us that we couldn't take our car there; we had to leave our car in his house and we would go 10 more kilometres to FringeFord. We readily agreed; little did we know what was in store for us. Shabbir's car was a big one; it accommodated all our luggage and most importantly, us. The seemingly little 10 kilometre road to FringeFord was, undoubtedly, the worst I've ever had in my life. The road was INCREDIBLY BUMPY; and we were tossed about like crazy. The scenery was the only actual compensation for the 'road that never should be traveled'. We caught our first sights of FringeFord only when we had around a kilometre-and-a-half left to go; tiled roofs; and a dense cover of trees covering the mountains around it like a carpet of green, with an occasional flash of red leaves coming into view. FringeFord didn't have much; two rooms for visitors, a kitchen, an open dining hall, an office, a hammock, and a house for the guide to sleep. Even more surprisingly, only four people organized the entire place; a cook, Muthuswamy, who had worked for 45 years as one, Shabbir, the owner, Shaji, the experienced guide, and a helper who put the food on the table and called us to eat. It was relaxing for my sister, who spent most of her time there in the hammock. It was me who encountered the first danger of the few days we were spending there. I was lying barefoot in the hammock when I looked down at my shoe and saw a tiny wriggling thing. "Look!" I called, "There's a worm in my shoe!" The guide, Shaji came and told me that was no worm but a leech!!! He took a salt stick and knocked off the leech to the ground, killing it. The evening was productive and we went birding for the first time. The route we came seemed much better on foot than by car. The birding was good, and we saw species like the elusive Emerald Dove, Vernal Hanging-parrots, Malabar (blue-winged) Parakeets (endemic), Malabar Grey Hornbill, the incredibly hard-to-find Indian Pitta which appeared only for a second, and the noisy Black Bulbul, amongst others. Without going out of Fringeford, evening birding was superb, Shaji and me seeing species like the Large and Malabar (black-headed) Cuckooshrike, Greenish Warbler, Forest, Yellow, Grey and White-browed Wagtails, Yellow-throated Bulbuls, and Jerdon's and Gold-fronted Leafbirds. Brown Shrikes were fairly common. My dad birded with Shaji and me, having no work to attend to as there was no mobile coverage. We noticed a small bluish bird with a rufous belly hopping around in cardamom plants, its call nothing like Shaji had heard in a long time. When we returned to FringeFord, we consulted the all-knowing 'Book of Birds of South India', me having left my Birds of Indian Subcontinent Field Guide back at home, and as Shaji flipped through the pages, he mimicked the call he had heard, just to be sure. Then, he finally opened a page and said, "It's this one." I gasped. A Nilgiri Blue Robin!

The Nilgiri Blue Robin, Myiomela major, initially, along with the White-bellied Blue Robin, was called the White-bellied Shortwing. Both the Blue Robins are endemic to the Shola forests of the Western Ghats and are, according to the IUCN Red Lists, are classified under ENDANGERED.
Quoting Wikipedia,
The Nilgiri Blue Robin (Myiomela major) refers to a kind of bird endemic to the Shola forests of the higher hills of southern India, mainly north of the Palghat Gap. Both the White-bellied Blue Robin and this species were once treated as sub-species of a single species (Brachypteryx major) and in 2005 were elevated again to full species by Pamela C. Rasmussen, a treatment that is followed by a few lists. The genus placement remains uncertain. This small bird is found on the forest floor and undergrowth of dense forest patches sheltered in the valleys of montane grassland, a restricted and threatened habitat. It requires an altitude of above 1200m.

Dark-fronted Babblers were numerous. As I went to sleep at 8:00 PM in pitch darkness, I thought about how many birds I'd have to update to my life list. It would definitely be more than ten, enough to see 200 in India alone. My eyelids dropped, and I was awake at 6:00 AM the next morning. FringeFord had come alive with raucous calls of Black Drongo, Black Bulbuls and White-cheeked Barbets. Paddyfield Warblers chirped in the branches of the lone mango tree in Fringeford.

Shaji told us that we were to go on an 8-km jungle trek to a waterfall. Shaji had showed me the last night pictures of his previous treks to the waterfall. He had seen Blue-capped Rock-thrushes, Mountain Imperial-Pigeons, and many others. I wanted to see all those, and so, agreed to come. My sister also came with my mom and dad. Hill Mynas were seen at the beginning of the trip. As we progressed, the air became slightly thinner but the vegetation did the opposite. Brown Shrikes, Little Spiderhunters, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Asian Brown and the uncommon Rusty-tailed and Brown-breated Flycatchers were just some of the birds seen. A large wild Gaur was also seen for a brief second. Upon nearing the waterfall, a tall tree gave us a huge surprise, a Malabar Trogon sat on a branch, showing us its red stomach. Nilgiri Flycatchers were found in large numbers along with a few Verditer Flycatchers as we got near the waterfall. The waterfall was big, very big. Medha found a black and yellow frog on a rock as we neared the waterfall, and Shaji, holding it in his hand, observed it carefully and finally declared that this was a new species, not known to science. He took plenty of pictures, then let it free near the waterfall. As we proceeded on the journey back, two Black-and-Orange Flycatchers, a Black-throated Munia, and an Eurasian Golden Oriole were part of the crowd of birds seen. The Mountain Imperial-Pigeon decided to stay hidden and one of the birds I wanted to see was not seen on the waterfall trek. As we reached back, a Crested Goshawk patrolled the skies. That evening, when I was lying tired in the hammock, a Mountain Imperial-Pigeon flew across the skies far. I was thrilled, but the evening had one last surprise to come. An investigation of a chirping noise from a bush resulted in the sighting of another endemic of the region; a Broad-tailed Grassbird! Junglefowls called to send the sun down, and I thought I was done; the next morning was the morning of our departure.

A lie in the easy chair the next morning resulted in the close-up of a Malabar Parakeet and another endemic; the Malabar Barbet! A Common Flameback pair also sat on another tree.
The time to go made us all sad. For me, it meant no more endemic birds; for my father, it meant back to building a house; for my mother, it meant no more relaxing, and for my sister who had the gift of prophecy, it was another bumpy ride! Medha was right; the road was as bad as it was three days ago. We went back to Shabbir's house and went into our car. While coming back, we went through Nagarhole, the other route back to Bangalore. Nagarhole was a super place; we saw plenty of Chital deer and three elephants, all wild. There were two female elephants and one male 'tusker'. A Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and a Black-rumped Flameback were seen in unison in this forest. Large Grey Babblers and Jungle Prinias were also seen. We had a VERY late lunch; at 3:00 PM at Kamat Lokruchi in Ramnagaram. We touched down in Bangalore, tired but happy, and went back home, reminiscing about the few incredible days that had just passed.

(We went to Wayanad on 29 and 30 September 2012)