Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Great Hornbill... let the real story be told!

It is a beautiful bird. Beautiful, large, elegant and impressive. It is one bird that has one of the most important place in the history of Nagaland. The Great Hornbill is perhaps best known for its beauty, alertness and grandeur. This one is the only bird that has had most profound significance in traditions of indigenous people of Nagaland from days immemorial. As the history goes the Nagas consider it as the king of birds and is revered as a symbol of courage. The feathers of this bird are used to be worn either by the chieftains in the yesteryears or worn by warriors of repute standing. 

That hunt for the feather, the horn and the meat in these times of diluted traditions has pushed the bird rapidly towards extinction. The situation is so bad that in the state of Nagaland the bird was known to be a common site half a century ago, and today there is officially only one surviving bird and that too in captivity in the Zoological park of Dimapur, Nagaland. The name of the bird is 'Julie' and my Blog Header is my tribute to the only living bird in the State. One article in 'eastern-today' describes the situation where this bird has been virtually eaten to extinction. If this is the state of 'icon' of a bird of Nagaland that figures in a million myths, fables, folklore, songs and dances then consider the state of birds that are nothing but a snack.
One of the lucky few birds to live their almost four odd decades of life span in the wild - living free...

Same bird as above...
The range of this magneficient bird...

My own experience in Nagaland has moved me to tears on many a occasions. Every household has guns for hunting. If guns appear common then consider a million air guns and catapults in every one's hand. I have not come across anything larger than a house sparrow in the state. Infact, other than my visit to Khonoma District - the state is devoid of bird songs. I remember a few days back when I heard an airgun being fired as I sipped my drinks at night in the resort where I stay while on the visit to the state. I got up and saw three people busy shooting down sparrows roosting on a tree with a torch and an airgun. I threatened them to stop, they did stop but I am of a firm belief that if the people of the state do not rise up to stop this tradition of hunting then the urge of years of tradition of hunting of an individual is so strong that he cannot help but shoot and 'pickle' every bird that comes this his sight.
Julie - the last living bird of Nagaland...

Coming back to the bird. Last I saw this bird was about decade and a half back in Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary while I was posted in Siliguri. I desired to see this bird again but considering that it is not a common sight where I went birdwatching - I never ever came across this bird for last 15 years. Now I sighted it last month in Assam and took some great pictures of the bird in wild so here I am sitting down and writing this article. 

The bird is about 105 cm and that is a big bird. I remember the sound it makes flying - woosh - woosh with each flap of its wings carrying almost three and a half kg bird elegantly flying from one tree to another or crossing a valley. The distribution covers parts of Indian sub-continent and Burma, down to Thailand and Malaysia and East till Laos, Vietnam. It is non-migratory but require large tracts of evergreen forests upto roughly 2000 m. The status of this bird worldwide is Near Threatened (NT)
Naga Warriors and Hornbill feathers...
(Disclaimer: this picture is downloaded from the internet. If you knows whom I should give credits to please mail me)

Till the time the people of Nagaland realise what Ecological disaster they are creating by their hands, the traditions they so fiercely try and protect - God bless the state...

Friday, 17 February 2017

White-browed Piculet - the woodpecker

Let me start with some fun facts about Piculets. They are one of the smallest woodpeckers. By small I mean about 3-4 inches, well that's about as long as an average persons index finger if you know what I mean. These Piculets are found in South America, Africa and Asia. There are about 30 species of these birds worldwide and Indian Subcontinent hosts two of them - the Speckled Piculet and the White-browed Piculet. The fun facts do not end here - these birds do not have the stiff feathers like the woodpeckers so they often perch upright.

The spread of the White-browed Piculet starts East of where I reside so it is not everyday that we come across these birds, infact let the truth be told that this sighting that I had last (that is yesterday) was the second in my life. The first time over it was in Sikkim with a great gang of birders, Mr Narbir, Mrs Rima and Mrs Alpana that we sighted this little bird - the problem was that it did not give us a fulfilling moment to stare and appreciate the bird. Yesterday turned out to be different, Not that the sighting was too great but in-between its hops from one tree to another it afforded us good looks and inspite of thick undergrowth gave a few shots that I consider good. The shots are shot at very high ISO @3200 and also agressively corpped so do take it with a pinch of salt when I say - good shots. 
Okay -first things first - it has not lost its tail - it is like this only...
Still wondering about it's tail? well those few small black feathers are all it's tail it has...
To find the bird you have to be in some bamboo thickets preferably in vicinity of fairly good (aka dense) broadleaved evergreen and mixed deciduous forest. Bamboo near water is a definate preference. The range of this small bird is surprisingly large with it starting in the Himalays and moving on to the Laos - Veitnam in the east and almost till Thailand in the South. 
The range of the bird...
Bird hunting - the piculet...

Since their primary food is ants and bark beetles you will most probably hear them before you see them - hear as in pecking wood and bamboo in search of insects or laughing out in a rapid succession like a kid. The audio embedded will give some idea as to what I am trying to say...

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Trip report - birding in Dehradun: 28 Jan 2017

I had planned a trip to Dighal - a place on my birding hit list in Haryana where some beautiful sightings of migratory birds was pouring in every single day. The plan was sealed and in place. The plan was - start very early morning like at 3 in morning or so - reach and bird in Dighal for the day and return back the same day. The plan was great and I was joined by three other bird watchers - a couple plus one. Two days before the day I was given news by my father that there was a likely hood of protest by Jats regarding some stupid issue of reservations. The last time over the Jat agitation had turned very ugly so I was not comfortable with the plan so I rang up called off the visit. As I hung up the phone I sat by my computer and starting searching for a place - within a radius of 3 hours travel that could be the birding destination. Dehradun immediately sprung up - the capital of Uttrakhand is a great place for birding. I sat down on eBird and starting researching the places to visit. Immediately three places sprung up based on the sightings logged by fellow birders - FRI (Forest Research Institute), Wildlife Institute of India and Asan Barrage.
These birds easily qualified themselves as my bird of the day... Blue-bearded Bee-eaters
When I declared the plan to the members - the couple had finalised their own trip and opted out. Mohit decided to remain my partner in crime. As I was researching my visit on various online forum I came across name of one more birder who had birded in Dehradun earlier and he too jumped on board and joined us. 

The drive was around 4 hours one way so we decided to go early and be at the first spot at sunrise. The trip did not really start well. The sunrise was 0715 so we planned leaving Chandigarh at 0400. Under protest of one of the team members the time was postponed to 0430. Dot at 0420 the other two members were at home and ready to go. Well so far so good. As we hit the road - it took us a few seconds to realise that the fog was thick and a potential hazard. The fog took the toll and speed was anywhere between 25 km per hour to 45. Well, we reached the FRI (Forest Research Institute of India) at about 0815, an hour later than the intended time. This is the time when the second problem hit us - FRI gates open at 0900. That was another half an hour plus haggling at the gates. We were allowed inside only for walk and without cameras. So our first checklist of the day started and we took a stroll inside the gate - parking the car at the gates and cameras in the car. The birds were all around us and we were excited and disappointed at the same time - wasting essential birding time. 

Finally, it was nine and we drove to the Botanical Gardens - our first pit stop. We spent almost one and a half hours there. The birding was great - the first sightings were three varieties of Thrushes. So three of us concentrated on one each and all of us missed the other two. Tickell's, a scally thrush (ID yet to be confirmed) and Black-throated Thrush. After this there was not stopping - one after other the birds gave us good sightings. The troubling part was that every tom, dick and harry was asking us if we had permission to carry camera etc and that WAS troubling. Though we managed - it was not a great way to be birding. Every passing minute convinced us that the city chosen for birding was great.

The second spot was the famed Bamboo plantations. Unfortunately, we were told that they were out of bounds and we decided that it might not be worth the trouble to sneak inside from a broken gate we knew existed. 

Next, we decided to check out the last spot the Nature trail. It is located North of the FRI - a track that goes to a village that has got landlocked between the FRI on one side and Tons River on the other side. The place was heaven for birding and I logged my first 'Lifer' of the visit - Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. The walk turned out to be not more than 400 to 500 yards at the most but the birds and bird sounds were heavenly. As we turned back I saw two birds sitting on a branch just ahead and I was jumping up and down with joy - almost 2 years of running after Blue-beared Bee-eaters to get some respectable shots - there they were sitting barely 15 feet away. What a gala time we had observing and clicking pictures of the beautiful and one of the biggest of bee-eaters in the world. We stopped at this spot for almost 20-25 minutes - that would seem an unfair amount of time considering we were here only for a day and had another two places to cover before setting course back. After finishing this we decided to come out of the trail and back to where we had parked our car and have a quick bite as hunger pangs were getting better of us. 

As we opened up the snacks and tea and coffee flasks - there were another half a dozen birds that caught our attention and we ended up drinking tea and coffee like cold water and were chasing birds yet again. All in all we were there for three and half an hour roughly and logged 42 species (excluding one yet to be identified flycatcher and a thrush)

Next spot was Wildlife Institute of India Campus. Rajive Das made a call and quick enquiry as to how we could enter the place. Luckily one of his contacts tied up our entering the premises. All this happened as we drove to the campus - about 45 min drive from FRI. There is a small Nature Trail there around a lake and we took that trail. The place was another birding paradise and in just about an hour and 15 min we logged 26 species of birds with great sightings of Velvet-fronted Nuthatch yet again, Whistlers Warbler and Mallards. 

The time was clicking and we decided to quickly head towards Asan Barrage near Ponta Sahib. As we reached Asan Barrage - Rajive was telling us that one Palla's Fish Eagle has been spotted and wished that we get a sighting. The wish was granted as one of the first sightings we got as we reached the spot was the Fish Eagle flying overhead. There was no stopping now - We were desperately trying to identify the waterfowl and do a count to log them. Some groups were just too far away to count or identify but we did the best we could. From there we went inside the small nature track and after paying up the tickets and driving just a hundred yards we decided that it was not worth the effort - turned back to a new spot back to the banks of the Barrage to see waterfowls.

We parked the car at a spot we thought was the best and walked along the barrage. The sightings were great and in about one and half an hour there we logged 39 species. All the maps etc are duly annotated and attached later.

Like always the lists are at the end of the write-up.
Route passes through the Assan Barrage - however, it was visited later on the way back

Map of FRI and places visited/planned
Wildlife Institute of India, the trail for birding as marked
Asan Barrage and birding there...
Long-tailed Minivet (male) (Pericrocotus ethologus)

One of the three Thrush seen at Botanical Garden - Black-throated Thrush (Turdus atrogularis)

Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher (Culicicapa ceylonensis)

Lifer - Velvet-fronted Nuthatch (Sitta frontalis)

A lifer deserves more coverage - no?

This bird ofcourse will get more realestate in the blog for the fact that I declared it the bird of the day...

Okay - another picture of Blue-bearded Bee-eater

Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch (Sitta cinnamoventris)

Lesser Yellownape (Picus chlorolophus) subspecies chlorolophus the Hilamalyan Yellownape

White-throated Fantail (Rhipidura albicollis)

Mallard at Wildlife Institute of India (Anas platyrhynchos)

Black-winged Stilt in flight (Himantopus himantopus)

Grey Treepie (Dendrocitta formosae)

Mallard in flight

Emerald Dove (also Grey-capped Emerald Dove) (Chalcophaps indica)

Whistler's Warbler (Seicercus whisleri)

Yet to be ID. If you can - please do leave a comment

Likely Himalayan Buzzard (Buteo refectus)
Pallas's Fish-eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus)

Lifer no 2: Pallas's Fish-eagle
Greylag Goose (Anser anser)
Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina)

the gathering though seems good - but I have seen better fowl counts years back

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus)

Northern Shoveller (Anas clypeata)

Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)

Plum-headed Parakeet (Psittaculla cyanocephala)

Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca)

Great Crested Grebe the bird on the left (Podicepus cristatus)
For planning a trip please do keep in mind that the FRI opens for visitors at 0900 hours and you have to have permission to carry cameras - cater for it a day before of go in time to get the permissions. There is also tickets for entry and some nominal charges for carrying camera inside FRI. We had a person who guided us to get inside the Wildlife Institute of India - it may not be as simple as we got is so please go to the website and contact someone before heading there.

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Could not help but post this gif to show the state of our birder gang on way to Dehradun

Forest Research Institute (FRI), New Forest Campus, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, IN
Jan 28, 2017 8:29 AM - 12:04 PM
Protocol: Stationary
42 species

Black Kite (Black) (Milvus migrans [migrans Group])  2
Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)  2
Greater Coucal (Greater) (Centropus sinensis [sinensis Group])  1
Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)  1
Blue-bearded Bee-eater (Nyctyornis athertoni)  2
Grey-capped Woodpecker (Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker) (Dendrocopos canicapillus)  1
Lesser Yellownape (Picus chlorolophus)  1
Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus)  1
Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)  4
Slaty-headed Parakeet (Psittacula himalayana)  2
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike (Hemipus picatus)  6
Long-tailed Minivet (Pericrocotus ethologus)  5
Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)  2
Hair-crested Drongo (Spangled Drongo) (Dicrurus hottentottus)  5
White-throated Fantail (Rhipidura albicollis)  1
Red-billed Blue-Magpie (Urocissa erythroryncha)  2
Rufous Treepie (Dendrocitta vagabunda)  1
Large-billed Crow (Indian Jungle) (Corvus macrorhynchos culminatus)  2
Yellow-bellied Fantail (Chelidorhynx hypoxantha)  1
Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher (Culicicapa ceylonensis)  1
Cinereous Tit (Great Tit) (Parus cinereus)  2
Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch (Sitta cinnamoventris)  2
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch (Sitta frontalis)  2
Bar-tailed Treecreeper (Certhia himalayana)  1
Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer)  1
Himalayan Bulbul (White-cheeked Bulbul) (Pycnonotus leucogenys)  10
Himalayan Black Bulbul (Hypsipetes leucocephalus)  21
Grey-hooded Warbler (Phylloscopus xanthoschistos)  3
Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius)  2
Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus)  4
Black-chinned Babbler (Cyanoderma pyrrhops)  10
Jungle Babbler (Turdoides striata)  6
Rufous Sibia (Heterophasia capistrata)  1
Verditer Flycatcher (Eumyias thalassinus)  1
Blue Whistling-Thrush (Myophonus caeruleus)  2
White-capped Redstart (Phoenicurus leucocephalus)  1
Grey Bushchat (Saxicola ferreus)  2
Black-throated Thrush (Turdus atrogularis)  2
Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)  2
Jungle Myna (Acridotheres fuscus)  11
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker (Dicaeum ignipectus)  1
Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja)  2

Wildlife Institute of India Campus--Nature Trail, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, IN
Jan 28, 2017 12:51 PM - 2:03 PM
Protocol: Traveling
2.0 kilometer(s)
26 species

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  34
Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus)  1
Little Cormorant (Microcarbo niger)  1
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)  2
Black Kite (Black) (Milvus migrans [migrans Group])  1
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)  1
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)  28
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)  4
Indian Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris)  1
Common Kingfisher (Small Blue Kingfisher) (Alcedo atthis)  1
Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos macei)  2
Ashy Drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus)  1
Grey Treepie (Dendrocitta formosae)  1
Large-billed Crow (Indian Jungle) (Corvus macrorhynchos culminatus)  2
Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher (Culicicapa ceylonensis)  3
Cinereous Tit (Great Tit) (Parus cinereus)  5
Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch (Sitta cinnamoventris)  1
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch (Sitta frontalis)  2
Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus)  2
Himalayan Bulbul (White-cheeked Bulbul) (Pycnonotus leucogenys)  3
Pale-rumped Warbler (Lemon-rumped Warbler) (Phylloscopus chloronotus)  3
Hume's Warbler (Phylloscopus humei)  1
Grey-hooded Warbler (Phylloscopus xanthoschistos)  6
Whistler's Warbler (Seicercus whistleri)  2
Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus)  10
Black-chinned Babbler (Cyanoderma pyrrhops)  4

Asan Conservation Reserve, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, IN
Jan 28, 2017 3:21 PM - 4:40 PM
Protocol: Stationary
39 species (+1 other taxa)

Greylag Goose (Anser anser)  17
Ruddy Shelduck (Brahminy Duck) (Tadorna ferruginea)  6
Gadwall (Anas strepera)  3
Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)  20
Indian Spot-billed Duck (Anas poecilorhyncha)  50
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)  100
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)  25
Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina)  10
Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)  2
Ferruginous Duck (Ferruginous Pochard) (Aythya nyroca)  2
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)  10
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)  3
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)  1
Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala)  13
Little Cormorant (Microcarbo niger)  12
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)  10
Indian Cormorant (Indian Shag) (Phalacrocorax fuscicollis)  9
Little/Indian Cormorant (Microcarbo niger/Phalacrocorax fuscicollis)  3
Great Egret (Ardea alba)  4
Red-naped Ibis (Indian Black Ibis) (Pseudibis papillosa)  5
Eurasian Marsh-Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)  1
Pallas's Fish-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus)  1
Grey-headed Swamphen (Purple Swamphen) (Porphyrio poliocephalus)  1
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)  50
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)  10
River Lapwing (Vanellus duvaucelii)  16
Pallas's Gull (Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus)  1
Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)  5
Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)  1
Plum-headed Parakeet (Psittacula cyanocephala)  6
Hair-crested Drongo (Spangled Drongo) (Dicrurus hottentottus)  3
House Crow (Corvus splendens)  3
Large-billed Crow (Large-billed) (Corvus macrorhynchos [macrorhynchos Group])  4
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)  10
Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer)  15
Grey-hooded Warbler (Phylloscopus xanthoschistos)  1
Grey-breasted Prinia (Prinia hodgsonii)  10
Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca)  1
Grey Bushchat (Saxicola ferreus)  1
Asian Pied Starling (Pied Myna) (Gracupica contra)  2