Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Choose perfect Binoculars for Birdwatching

 One of the most important things required for bird watching are a good pair of Binoculars or a camera. The reason is simple - both of these modern devices tend to keep that moment that you see close to your heart - Close to your heart but in a different way altogether. The first one - The Binoculars makes you appreciate the bird like holding one in your hand, the colours, the intricate patterns, the movement - name it and you will enjoy it. The Camera one the other hand goes a step forward and keeps the birds as your memories - the “Modern Day Trophy Hunting.” I will cover camera some other day...

I will try to guide you as to how one can go on to choose the perfect Binocular and some time later perhaps how to choose a camera for Bird watching / photography.

Before I dwell into the details that you should see for the binoculars please know that there are basically two types of Binoculars, Porro prism and the Roof prism. Roof prism is the later technology wise and they are identified with straight cylinders. These are more compact, have less internal parts and more dust and water proof. Roof prism binoculars suffer slightly from aligned prisms so do not compromise on money as only topnotch end of mid range binoculars can compete with Porro Prism binoculars. Promo binoculars on the other hand are identified with eyepiece and objective lens offset from each other. The advantages are they are cheaper, have slightly better stereoscopic lens. The disadvantages are less compact, more moving parts and difficult to make them dust proof etc.

First things first - I will divide the buying of the Binoculars in easy steps so that we can take systematic decisions to buying one. The steps are: -
After Deciding on the price range.
Porro Prism       Vs        Roof Prism
  1. Pick a magnification that you prefer
  2. Test and see models for your self
    1. Check eye relief
    2. Look out for bright and crisp colours
    3. Look out for reviews and warranties.
The Price Range:
For our classification based on price we will try to divide the Binoculars into a lower end upto say ₹ 10,000/- or so. Do not set them off just because they are cheap, you do get good glass in this range also. Next is from 10,000/ upto about ₹ 30,000/-, they are the mid range one. I presently have one in this and they will see you through fairly serious birding too. Next on the higher spectrum they go anywhere upto ₹ 1,50,000/- don’t ask me I have never reached that level of spending money.

Pick up the magnification:
All binoculars have figures written like 8X42 or 10X42 etc. (to seem like a pro when you talk about binoculars you speak like… ‘I have Nikon 8 42 glass’) The first figure is the magnification. So in other words if it is 8 then the image you will see is magnified 8 times, if it 10 then the image you see is magnified 10 times. Second part refers to indicates the diameter objective lens. Okay now how do I use these numbers to choose binoculars. Well firstly the magnification. Specifically for birding the more magnification may not be necessarily better. As the magnification increases the field of view reduces and you will find it difficult to readily point the binoculars to that particular bird and focus. Also higher magnification will require more and more steady hands and in extreme magnifications you will require a tripod etc. Second number - the bigger the better. 42 is good 50 is better. what it means that more light is being passed so the image you will see is brighter and low light capability is better seeing the colours etc in birds is better. Generally I have seen birders preferring binoculars 8X42 or 10X42. Brands, the best are Nikon, Bushnell, Olympus and such. I will leave the preference to you and your research.

Test the Models your self:
Well well well… this is but an ideal way down the line. The best way perhaps in India is - if you have a friend who has that particular model to borrow and see it from him. Otherwise perhaps trust advise of someone you know - the real problem is that you will not have so many Binoculars on display at the same time to choose. In Delhi, Mumbai perhaps - but definitely not in smaller towns for sure. When you do get your hands on a pair that you  decided and shortlisted -
Sight through ideal or correct eye relief
Sight through Less than ideal or low eye relief

1.  Check out the ‘Eye Relief’ : For any binoculars there is an ideal distance that your eye should be from the eyepiece. This distance is called eye relief. If your eye is farther away from the eyepiece than the eye relief distance then the outer part of the image is lost. The farther away your eye is the smaller portion of the picture you see. So you would want a binocular with eye relief long enough to accommodate your eyeglasses. Otherwise you will pay for a box but see the birds through a hole. A binocular with long eye relief is okay even for a person not wearing eye  glasses as the eye cups can be extended to the correct distance by pulling them out or rotating them.

2.  Bright and Crisp Colours: Many a times the quality of glass is not good and colours are distorted due to the prism effect. This will make it difficult to see the exact colours and patterns on the wings. So do be vary of the uncoated lenses.

3.  Next is that you look out for reviews and warranties on the net. The internet has become a Messiah of sorts - thousands of people reviewing products. Do not get overwhelmed by that but do check it out. But as a ball mark - the more you pay you should be able to tick out more of the undermentioned qualities in a Binoculars listed from 1 to 8
    1. Porro Prism
    2. Lens quality
    3. Single piece focus ring
    4. Roof Prism
    5. Coated Lens (Single or Double)
    6. Fog proof (nitrogen filled)
    7. Water resistant
    8. Water proof.

4.  I am sure that by end of this reading you would be wiser to buy a good pair of Binoculars for birding. Try SnapDeal, Flipkart and Amazon are the good places to explore. Happy Birdwatching. This is the copy of the Article I wrote for Chandigarh Bird Club

You can also visit a blog by fellow blogger to read more about choosing Binoculars Click Me

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Birding in Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh: Aug - Sep 2015

Let’s kill the details of Jagdalpur first - well its a city in Bastar district of Indian state of Chhattisgarh. Jagdalpur is governed by Jagdalpur Municipal Corporation and is the administrative headquarters of Bastar District and Bastar Division. It was also the capital of the erstwhile princely state of Bastar. It has the fastest growing population of Chhattisgarh and in 2014 had a population of 2,39,525. Being a small town with three lakes and fair amount of open spaces, when I came to know that I have to spend some time there I was excited about the birds that I will get to see there.

The first thing that I did was to log on to my eBird account and try to explore whether any birding hotspot was logged by anyone in past at that location. I was disappointed. It was as if I was the first one to do birding there with no birds logged in Jagdalpur and adjoining areas. All the same I was not deterred and decided that I will make the lists and upload them.

Finally when I started to start birding, I don’t know whether I was happy or disappointed. There were no lifers that added to my list of birds, but then with patience and some luck I was able to spot a fair varieties of birds with the lists spanning half a dozen birding sessions. (The lists as submitted to eBird are at the end of the blog post). The lists are not all of the birding that I have done at this place.

As I reached the city and moved towards my hotel (only one worth calling a hotel, pure veg and liquor free) I noticed that the city was generally dirty (no offense but 'Swach Bharat' called by Mr Modi has a long long way to go) and the house sparrows were really plentiful. Infact the birds that I saw here that day were the House sparrows, Asian Pied Startling and crows. Dirty or no I had to do what I had decided to do - Birding !!.

There are two places that I did birding primarily in Jagdalpur, the airport and the Dalpat Sagar. The entry to Airport is restrictive so I cannot speak for anyone else trying to do birding here. Dalpat Sagar is one of the three lakes in the city. There were more lakes but are now dry. Infact at Dalpat Sagar also show signs of  coming under pressure from two of the four sides by the expanding city.
Google Snapshot of the Jagdalpur town.

One of the most interesting birding spot that I have found anywhere in India so far has been the airports. They are restricted and there are pockets around it that are not touched and are full of bird life - especially the small ones. Unfortunately the larger birds are not tolerated in and around the airports and I will not dwell as to how they are treated, but will restrict to birding. The other great thing about this airfield of Jagdalpur was that there is very little fixed wing traffic, if at all. The rotary wing traffic does not mean requirement to eradicate birds, even though there have been bird hits, but fortunately they have not been serious.

So during the periods of no flying days or less flying times I took the opportunity and carried out birding within the premises. At the entry near the dispersal there is a clump of bottle brush trees and have all sorts of interesting birds coming there. One of the first ones that I saw there were the leaf birds, later identified as Jordan’s leaf bird and small minivets. Ofcourse there are a ton of Red-vented bulbuls, Oriental magpies (Nesting in the bottle brush tree), doves (Laughing dove, Eurasian collared and spotted doves) and Scaly-breasted Munia. Black drongo were also very common.

On around the runway Zitting Cisticola  was common along with Prinias, Asian pied starlings and one siting of three Little Ringed Plovers. That was probably due to the recent rains and water logging at one end of runway. There were also siting of a pair of Indian Nightjar on the western edge of the runway.
Jagdalpur airport
Google Snapshot of the airfield

Other than this Baya weavers were a plenty along with a couple of pairs of Asian Koel and Spotted Owlets. Every evening there used to be Asian Openbills and Night Herons flying overhead going either North or towards South. I really did not understand what could be so important that the same bird (aka Asian Openbill) one used to go one way to roost and the other one go opposite to it. That mystery did not really get solved till end.

Next was the birding along and around the Dalpat Sagar Lake. The lake has a periphery of almost 3 km and it had one clump of trees in the middle (as also seen on google snapshot posted below) so we did expect good birding there. We were not disappointed. as we went to the lake park on the eastern edge we sawa a huge colony of Black-crowned Night Herons, Little Egrets and Little Cormorants. The trees were huge and thick and that made the exact count very difficult but could be in a few hundreds. Here at the entrance we also saw a lot of Bronze-winged Jacanas and Common Moorhen.
Dalpat Sagar
Dalpat Sagar with the trees in the center visible

From there we started a walk on the northern side with the bund. There were open fields on the northern side and baring a few vehicles it was fairly peaceful. It is then we heard Baya weavers and every few trees we passed we could see activity males getting nesting material and not stopping for us in any case. Here a bird did a short hop flight and tried to blend in the reeds. Though it was not a Lifer but always a pleasure to see that sulking Yellow Bittern. A few steps forward Black Bittern (reported as rarity) by eBird hopped, flew a few meters and disappeared in reed. I would have loved a snap but it refused to oblige. Also here I chanced to look up and saw a few trees in the middle of the lake with a lots of movement. Peering through the camera made my heart skip a beat, there they were - hundreds of Asian Openbills. This took my score to two great breeding colonies of Asian Openbills. The first one that has been recorded in Danapur (http://cheemablog.blogspot.in/2015/01/birding-in-patna-and-around-jan-15.html) I have blogged earlier about it where almost 10% of the breeding Asian Openbill congregate to breed there. The amount of birds recorded there are almost anywhere from 8000 to 12000. So seeing here does not make it as big but an important breeding ground non-though-less. We spent time there to observe this beautiful sight and then moved on after about an hour or so. Another observation I had there was that the birds were breaking top branches of nearby Eucalyptus. These trees are introduced trees in India but that did not prevent them being used for nesting material by the Openbills. The next birds that I saw and loved them were the Streaked Weavers. I got some good shots of the females waiting nearby to inspect the nests being constructed by the males. It was already two and a half hours that we had been walking and birding so decided to call it a day and headed back. The list of birds are at the end of this blog entry. There are some birds that were observed and not included in the list submitted during these few days. The notable birds are Indian Golden Oriole, Common Kingfisher, three Bitterns namely Black Bittern, Cinnamon Bittern and Yellow Bittern

Well at the end of all this birding I missed seeing Common Hill Myna. Well I guess there will be some other time when I see them.

Jerdon's Leaf bird in the Bottle brush tree at the airport.
Black-crowned Night Heron one one of the tall trees (hence the odd angle of shot) on the Dalpat Lake entrance. Picture is highly cropped.
A Bronze-winged Jacana chick. On my two visits I found that one side of the lake Bronze-winged Jacanas and one side were the Pheasant-tailed Jacanas. Wonder why? Wonder why they were not overlapping territories. All the same the period of observation was too small to take it for truth perhaps.

Ashy Prinia were virtually omnipresent at the lake area and males calling out from the perches here, there and everywhere.

This Brahminy Starling gave us a shot just as it would have perhaps sat and posed in a studio.
One of the trees Asian Openbill breeding colony was found. The other tree is out of the frame and on to the left. Counted 100+ birds.

Baya weavers were busy constructing nests and wooing females to come and inspect them. This male went a step ahead and was ready to make and offering for home coming - oh what a sight it was.

Highly cropped record shot of Ashy Woodswallow.

Set of two shots showing Asian Openbill using Eucalyptus as nesting material.

It was fun watching Openbills coming one at a time and breaking the top twigs of a 100 feet Eucalyptus tree and flying away for nesting.
Streaked Weaver female at the lake. The males once again were busy weaving and females waiting nearby for inspecting the same.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana. On day one we spotted two pairs but the following day we found more than half a dozen pairs.

Grey-headed Swamphen (Earlier known as Purple Swamphen, Change of name in Aug 2015)
Indian Silverbill
Cinnamon Bittern. One of the three Bitterns seen at the lake. Three Cinnamon Bitterns, this picture is courtesy Capt Yella Rao. I was not carrying my camera.
The second Bittern of the three Bitterns spotted at the lake - Yellow Bittern. The third Bittern unfortunately could not be captured on the camera. Too shy, light too low and distance too great for my camera...

I have pasted my eBird list that I have uploaded over time regarding Jagdalpur sitings. There are a few birds missing due to software issue with eBird. I am getting that resolved.

Row #,Species,Count,Location,S/P,Date,LocID,SubID
1,Lesser Whistling-Duck,2,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
2,Cotton Pygmy-Goose (Cotton Teal),,None,IN-CT,08 May 2015,L3623243,S23312832
3,Asian Openbill,,None,IN-CT,08 May 2015,L3623243,S23312832
4,Little Cormorant,,None,IN-CT,08 May 2015,L3623243,S23312832
5,Yellow Bittern,1,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
6,Black Bittern,1,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
7,Purple Heron,1,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
8,Little Egret,2,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
9,Eastern/Western Cattle Egret,3,Jagdalpur,IN-CT,17 Mar 2015,L3498004,S23642819
10,Indian Pond-Heron,1,Jagdalpur,IN-CT,17 Mar 2015,L3498004,S23642819
11,Black-crowned Night-Heron,3,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
12,Black-shouldered Kite (Black-winged Kite),,None,IN-CT,08 May 2015,L3623243,S23312832
13,Black Kite,,None,IN-CT,08 May 2015,L3623243,S23312832
14,Grey-headed Swamphen (Purple Swamphen),1,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
15,Eurasian Moorhen,3,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
16,Red-wattled Lapwing,,None,IN-CT,08 May 2015,L3623243,S23312832
17,Pheasant-tailed Jacana,1,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
18,Bronze-winged Jacana,,None,IN-CT,08 May 2015,L3623243,S23312832
19,Rock Pigeon (Blue Rock Pigeon),1,Jagdalpur,IN-CT,17 Mar 2015,L3498004,S23642819
20,Eurasian Collared-Dove,,None,IN-CT,08 May 2015,L3623243,S23312832
21,Spotted Dove,,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0777x82.0436,IN-CT,28 Aug 2015,L3873255,S24784191
22,Laughing Dove (Little Brown Dove),,None,IN-CT,31 Mar 2015,L3529196,S22797382
23,Asian Koel,,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0777x82.0436,IN-CT,28 Aug 2015,L3873255,S24784191
24,Greater Coucal,,None,IN-CT,31 Mar 2015,L3529196,S22797382
25,Indian Nightjar,1,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
26,Common Kingfisher (Small Blue Kingfisher),1,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
27,White-throated Kingfisher,1,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
28,Green Bee-eater,1,Jagdalpur,IN-CT,17 Mar 2015,L3498004,S23642819
29,Indian Roller,,None,IN-CT,08 May 2015,L3623243,S23312832
30,Coppersmith Barbet,1,Jagdalpur,IN-CT,17 Mar 2015,L3498004,S23642819
31,Ashy Woodswallow,6,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
32,Common Iora,2,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
33,Long-tailed Shrike,1,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
34,Black Drongo,6,Jagdalpur,IN-CT,17 Mar 2015,L3498004,S23642819
35,House Crow,,None,IN-CT,08 May 2015,L3623243,S23312832
36,Red-vented Bulbul,,None,IN-CT,31 Mar 2015,L3529196,S22797382
37,Zitting Cisticola,,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0777x82.0436,IN-CT,28 Aug 2015,L3873255,S24784191
38,Common Tailorbird,,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0777x82.0436,IN-CT,28 Aug 2015,L3873255,S24784191
39,Ashy Prinia,1,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
40,Plain Prinia,,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0777x82.0436,IN-CT,28 Aug 2015,L3873255,S24784191
41,Yellow-eyed Babbler,1,Jagdalpur,IN-CT,17 Mar 2015,L3498004,S23642819
42,Jungle Babbler,,None,IN-CT,08 May 2015,L3623243,S23312832
43,Oriental Magpie-Robin,,None,IN-CT,31 Mar 2015,L3529196,S22797382
44,Rosy Starling,3,Jagdalpur,IN-CT,18 Mar 2015,L3498004,S22797405
45,Asian Pied Starling (Pied Myna),1,Jagdalpur,IN-CT,17 Mar 2015,L3498004,S23642819
46,Brahminy Starling,1,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
47,Common Myna,,None,IN-CT,08 May 2015,L3623243,S23312832
48,Purple Sunbird,,None,IN-CT,31 Mar 2015,L3529196,S22797382
49,White-browed Wagtail (Large Pied Wagtail),1,None,IN-CT,08 May 2015,L3623243,S23312832
50,Paddyfield Pipit,,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0777x82.0436,IN-CT,28 Aug 2015,L3873255,S24784191
51,House Sparrow,1,Jagdalpur,IN-CT,17 Mar 2015,L3498004,S23642819
52,Streaked Weaver,10,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
53,Baya Weaver,,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0777x82.0436,IN-CT,28 Aug 2015,L3873255,S24784191
54,Indian Silverbill (White-throated Munia),2,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0929x82.0201,IN-CT,05 Sep 2015,L3887130,S24892768
55,Scaly-breasted Munia (Spotted Munia),,IN-Chhattisgarh-Jagdalpur-494001 - 19.0777x82.0436,IN-CT,28 Aug 2015,L3873255,S24784191

Clamorous Reed Warbler. Another last moment addition as the bird was not identified till after I had posted the blog. Photo Courtesy Capt Yella Rao