Friday, 27 September 2019

Birding in Ameenpur lake, Hyderabad, 10 Sep 2019

It has been some time since I have gone birding anywhere. Days to weeks, weeks to months and months to years is how the time passes and so does the changes in our environment around. Life was already tough for the birds but recently the changes have been fast-paced. I have written about this lake earlier also, you can read about it here (Click Me)

I have visited this place, Ameenpur lake in 2015, 2016, skipped 2017, 2018 and now in 2019. The place has changed rapidly with the peripheral areas cut up into the plots, building already rising and cutting the marshes into smaller areas. There are beer bottles left off from nocturnal party animals, aka Homo Sapiens, parked cars blaring loud music and a fish market that has sprung up nearby. This Lake inspite of all human activity attracts a large breeding colony of Grey and Purple Herons, Flamingos and Pelicans in the right season. However, all is not lost, as there is another group that is working overtime to keep this as a pristine lake and a birders paradise. Firstly, inspite of the fact of all the negativity I have written about, a concentrated effort of a few dedicated environmentalists and birders have got it recognised as Biodiversity Heritage Site. Infact it would not be wrong to say that this is the First body of water in India to be recognised as a Biodiversity Heritage Site and also the first Biodiversity Site to be approved in an urban area. Secondly, a lot of roosting platforms for Pelican have been erected and I was thrilled that five of twenty or so were occupied to capacity with three to five birds roosting on them. Lastly, the thing that touched me was four birders, armed with gloves, trash bags were cleaning the lakeshore of plastic and the everyday trash that was there. It is to these unsung heros that I am dedicating this blog article too. It is extremely difficult to name all of them as number of them played a part- big or small - and there were numerous organisations that played the part too. I remember, Ms Tejdeep Kaur Menon IPS, Director General of Police, Telangana Special Protection Force, organising innumerable times, cleaning of the lake, and then was this idea of hers to have it declared the biodiversity site. This is where a great contribution came from Mr Sailu Giani of Telangana State Biodiversity and groups like HBP (Hyderabad Birding Pals), TCPC (Twin Cities Photography Club), Deccan Birders (erstwhile BSAP), FOTO chronicles and FOFF (Friends of Flora and Fauna) pitched in to ensure that the lake remains a Birders Paradise. I am sure that I would have missed out a million others. It would also be in place to mention the names, the unrecognised heroes whom I saw cleaning the lake and threatened them to pose for a photograph. Incidentally, they are all members of Deccan Birders, erstwhile BSAP, a birders club that I too am a proud member of. 

1. Raghusravan Kumar Railla. 2. Deepanwita Purohit. 3. M. S. Ram. 4. Rama Sravani
Coming to birding proper. The visit was divided into four short sectors. A small marsh before the lake itself along the road leading to the main lake itself. These marshes never fail to show some species that live along with the marshy, lotus covered lake. The list of all the birds seen is at the end of the blog.

Ameenpur lake is the large one on the top right half of the screenshot, the lake being discussed is along with the track travelled on the bottom left.
Along the road are the trees with Baya Weavers nests hanging over the water. Sparrows feed on the rice thrown by some good samaritan on the roadside. Bronze-winged Jacanas trot the water lily and lotus leaves. Grey-headed Swamphen along with the chicks was all around. What I missed here this time over were the Pheasant-tailed Jacanas. Bee-eaters, the little green, were also sallying the water top looking for the bees and dragonflies. 
One Green Bee-eater was perhaps not really interested in eating any more - a stomach full of bees perhaps...

Ashy Prinia nearby popped out to check out on us...

A Grey-headed Purple Swamphen with a chick foraged near the road, the area fenced off with a chain-link fence.

A Black-winged Kite sat on wires overhead with a keen interest in a patch where the Prinia was in the bush. It saw our movement and momentarily looked towards us.
Next, we went to the main lake where we stopped for some time over where the bund starts. This always has been a good point for overlooking some interesting waders, Egrets, Painted Storks. 
The second spot was almost a km long bund on the South West of the lake.
This bund is high and a great walk along the lake. On one side are the marshes (sadly being filled and covered up) where you see Grey Herons breeding in hundreds and some rice fields that have proved to be great for Snipes, Rails, Swamphens, Ibis in the past. This time however we saw the Grey Herons, Purple Herons, Black-headed Ibis and Glossy Ibis. If there is enough time then looking out for Watercock would be a great idea here. It has been spotted by many, other than me.
A few River Terns flew along. There were a couple of Whiskered Terns also that I counted in the lake

Okay - here goes a Spot-billed Pelican, one of the 71 I counted. You will find some more pictures - I was fascinated with them like always, the slow, steady and majestic flight of theirs...

The Pelican with the buildings under construction in the backdrop...

Howdy Pelican... for those who get the punch...

Eurasian Coot were omnipresent all over the lake...

On the other side is the vast and commanding expanse of the lake. This made it possible to scan the entire lake with binoculars and fairly accurately count the Pelicans and the flamingos.

South of the lake is another pond/lake that is known as kingfisher lake.
This lake has a path running on the edges of the lake that has reeds that are used by Streaked Weavers, a variety of warblers in good season, Prinia, munia, darter, francolins and many more. In all, we saw 34 species in about an hour we spent here. A short distance away, a track leads to a southern point on the lake that is used by local fishermen to sell their catch. Over the past few years, more and more people go to buy a fresh catch of fish and this time the crowd was bigger. However, we had an unexpected visitor who flew in front of us to steal a titbit of fish - a Black-crowned Night Heron. They roost in the trees nearby - but to see it so active in the morning and to give us some great pictures - it was a treat.
A lone Spot-billed Pelican came and gave me a great sighting in the Kingfisher Lake...

With the foliage thick and green - this Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark sought solace on this rock...

A Purple Heron flew in to land on this stump and then shortly thereafter disappeared in the weeds on the banks...

A Plain Prinia had a nest that was discovered by Mr Shaafat and it was fun watching the male and female cooperating during nest building...

At the Fishmarket point we saw this lone Flamingo fly in for a photoshoot...

Another lone Black-crowned Night Heron flew where the fishermen were cleaning the fish for a morsel...

Ah - it was mid-day and the bird was shy like hell and did not stay for very long.
The last point was where we wanted to reach the Roosting platforms erected for pelicans... the route was searched by Google and there were many hits and misses. The route to the spot gave us some good views of Indian Peafowl, Great Coucal and some other birds.
The final destination was the Northern portion of the lake where the Pelican Roosting platforms have been erected.
The track in blue shows all the effort it took us to reach the Northern spot, there were some wrong turns as the tracks were unpaved at most of the places and construction debris dumped here and there. Finally, on reaching the Northern side, we made an interesting observation, all the platforms that were comfortably out of reach of shore, in water were the only ones that the Pelicans had occupied. Those on the banks or near the banks were all empty. By this time the pelicans that were fishing/swimming were roosting. By the time we left this place after about two hours, the pelicans had started soaring in the sky. We also saw the Red-naped Ibis, thus seeing all the three variants of Ibis found in India at different places on this lake itself. 

Black-headed Ibis with a hidden Purple Heron...

Glossy Ibis were almost missed and disregarded till I caught this one nearby.

Our Pelicans on the Roost...

As we stared at the Pelicans - Red-naped Ibis flew overhead and landed nearby...
A Pat of flamingos was nearby but extremely vary so we stayed at a respectable distance.
A candid shot of our warriors...
And here I close my blog with the list of birds seen during the half day trip...

Ameenpur Lake, Hyderabad
0.64 km
21 Minutes
All birds reported? Yes
Comments: Submitted from eBird for iOS, version 1.9.3 Build 13

3 Spotted Dove
6 Grey-headed Swamphen (Purple Swamphen)
1 Red-wattled Lapwing
6 Bronze-winged Jacana
2 Little Cormorant
2 Great Cormorant
4 Great Egret
11 Cattle Egret
1 Indian Pond-Heron
1 Black-winged Kite (Black-shouldered Kite)
1 Black Kite
3 White-throated Kingfisher
7 Green Bee-eater
2 House Crow
1 Ashy Prinia
2 Asian Pied Starling (Pied Myna)
1 Indian Robin
1 Purple Sunbird
20 Baya Weaver
2 Indian Silverbill (White-throated Munia)
10 House Sparrow
2 White-browed Wagtail (Large Pied Wagtail)

Number of Taxa: 22

Ameenpur Lake, Hyderabad
0.87 km
22 Minutes
All birds reported? Yes
Comments: Submitted from eBird for iOS, version 1.9.3 Build 13

7 Greater Flamingo
3 Spotted Dove
5 Eurasian Coot
2 Black-winged Stilt
1 Little Ringed Plover
1 Collared/Oriental Pratincole
12 River Tern
7 Painted Stork
71 Spot-billed Pelican -- All were well spaced out in the lake. Counted in progressive line. Count fairly accurate as no birds flying
30 Grey Heron
2 Purple Heron
1 Little Egret
1 Common Kingfisher (Small Blue Kingfisher)
1 Pied Kingfisher
1 Common Tailorbird
2 Asian Pied Starling (Pied Myna)
1 Pied Bushchat

Number of Taxa: 17

Near Kingfisher Pond
1.38 km
71 Minutes
All birds reported? Yes
Comments: Submitted from eBird for iOS, version 1.9.3 Build 13

2 Lesser Whistling-Duck
4 Indian Spot-billed Duck
4 Indian Peafowl
3 Grey Francolin
2 Little Grebe
2 Laughing Dove (Little Brown Dove)
3 Asian Koel
2 Eurasian Moorhen
3 Eurasian Coot
5 Red-wattled Lapwing
1 Painted Stork
1 Oriental Darter
7 Little Cormorant
3 Great Cormorant
1 Purple Heron
2 Indian Pond-Heron
1 Black-crowned Night-Heron
1 Black-winged Kite (Black-shouldered Kite)
1 White-throated Kingfisher
1 Pied Kingfisher
7 Green Bee-eater
13 House Crow
2 Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark (Ashy-crowned Finch-Lark)
3 Ashy Prinia
2 Plain Prinia
2 Red-vented Bulbul
7 Common Myna
2 Indian Robin
2 Purple-rumped Sunbird
3 Streaked Weaver
6 Indian Silverbill (White-throated Munia)
2 Scaly-breasted Munia (Spotted Munia)
1 Tricolored Munia (Black-headed Munia)
2 White-browed Wagtail (Large Pied Wagtail)

Number of Taxa: 34

Ameenpur Lake, Hyderabad
9.32 km
101 Minutes
All birds reported? Yes
Comments: Submitted from eBird for iOS, version 1.9.3 Build 13

2 Indian Spot-billed Duck
13 Greater Flamingo
8 Spotted Dove
5 Laughing Dove (Little Brown Dove)
1 Greater Coucal
X Little Swift (Indian House Swift) -- Numerous
29 Eurasian Coot
11 Grey-headed Swamphen (Purple Swamphen)
24 Black-winged Stilt
32 Red-wattled Lapwing
2 Common Sandpiper
1 Whiskered Tern
3 River Tern
10 Painted Stork
1 Oriental Darter
6 Great Cormorant
5 Indian Cormorant (Indian Shag)
41 Spot-billed Pelican
8 Little Egret
10 Cattle Egret
2 Glossy Ibis
3 Black-headed Ibis
7 Red-naped Ibis (Indian Black Ibis)
1 White-throated Kingfisher
3 Blue-tailed Bee-eater
7 Black Drongo
1 Common Tailorbird
8 Barn Swallow
23 Asian Pied Starling (Pied Myna)
1 Pied Bushchat
3 Scaly-breasted Munia (Spotted Munia)

Number of Taxa: 31

Sunday, 4 August 2019

What's in a bird name? - the dummies guide to scientific names of birds

It has been a long time that I have posted to my blog in the recent past. The reason has been due to a double whammy, the great Indian Circus, elections was on - and the entire nation was out on the streets for three full months trying to pick up - who will rule the nation for the next five years, second was that in between this schedule I had tied up a trip to Borneo for birdwatching with some members of Chandigarh Bird club. The preparation, trip and the aftermath has been very tiring. Though I had intended to pen down the experience of the visit too, seeing my routine and engagements I relegated it to some time in the near future.

I have no formal training in any ornithological studies but I was always intrigued by the scientific names of the birds I used to come across during birdwatching. So I have been on to this task of learning more about how the birds are named and what is the logic behind the naming them. I am sharing the studies that I have done for past almost six months and tried to lay them down for everyone to understand in as easy a language and explanation as possible.

Firstly, the moot question - do we address these names as scientific? or Latin names? Calling them the Latin names is how we address them fairly commonly, though that may not be any longer true. Many languages have contributed to names of the birds, Latin is/was very common, but many names of birds are now Greek, from Old English, Russian, Malay, South American native languages etc. That being said, regardless of the origin, generic names are required to have a form of a Latin noun, with defined gender and specific names are required to decline according to rules of Latin adjectives. This is a fact as the system was at that time when Latin was the language of International Communication. However, in today's sense calling them as Scientific Names may be correct as some names are not Latin at all.

There are in all four parts of the full scientific name. The first part of the name describes the genus that distinguishes a group of isolated, distinctive species. This must be a form of a noun or a substantivised adjective treated as a noun. This has to begin with an Upper-case letter. The second part of the name begins with a lower-case letter and describes the species within the genus and may take many forms though it is commonly an adjective or a noun in the genitive case. The third and the fourth part reveal the name and the year in which that name was first validly published as a Binomen.

Now that we know that the scientific names are to be addressed as 'Scientific Names', the names were and are coined using different criteria. These categories/criteria are as given below: -

1. Morphonym(Gr. morphē form: onuma name) Based on plumage, colours and physical characteristics of the birds and is the largest category accounting for over half of all specific names and nearly half of all generic names.

White-bellied Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis pallidipes)
As an example, this endemic bird of India, the White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, whose scientific name is Cyornis pallidipes. Here Cyornis is derived from the Greek kuanos meaning Dark Blue and ornis for bird. pallidipes  in Latin stands for pale and pes for the foot. So the name describes the plumage and physical characteristics as a Dark blue bird with the pale foot.

2. Eponym(Gr. epōnumos named after) eponym commemorates a person real, mythical or fictional. These mostly honour the name of the collector or the discoverer of species, but at other times just to honour to a person.

Grey-breasted Prinia (Prinia hodgsonii)
The example of this bird is Grey-breasted Prinia, whose scientific name is Prinia hodgsonii,  Here Prinia is a Javanese name Prinya and hodgsonii is name given in honour of Brian Houghton Hodgson (1800-1894), and English diplomat, resident of Nepal from 1833 to 1844 who was an ethnologist and a collector. His name figures in a number of species scientific name as hodgsoni / hodgsoniae / hodgsonii / Hodgsonius etc.

3.  Autochthonym(Gr. autokhthōn indigenous, native; onuma name) Based on indigenous or the native name. They are used generically than specifically mostly.

Chukar partridge (Alectoris chukar)
An example of this bird is the beautiful Chukar Partridge whose scientific name is Alectoris chukar, with Alectoris is a derivation of Greek word alektoris meaning farmyard fowl/chicken and chukar a derivative of Hindi name Chukor.

4.  Toponym(Gr. topos place; onuma name) These have been proved more popular as specific names than generic names. There are over 1,100 specific toponyms or geographical epithets.

Black-rumped Flameback (Dinopium benghalense)
As an example of this category I have picked out Black-rumped Flameback (Dinopium benghalense) where Dinopium is derivative of Greek deinos meaning might, ōpos is appearance. The Toponym part is benghalense depicts Bengal - historically large part of India and Bangladesh.

5.  Taxonym(Gr. taxis arrangement; onuma name) This is based upon suggestive relationship or resemblance.
Golden Babbler (Stachyridopsis chrysaea)
Here the Stachyridopsis is derivative from genus Stachyris that roughly translates stakhus as ear of wheat and rhis refers to nostrils; reference to the shape of opercula or scales almost closing the nostrils.  opsis  means appearance. chrysaea meaning Golden.

6.  Bionym(Gr. bios life; onuma name) The popularity of habitat names reflects this diversity.

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)

The birds are very mobile and occur in a large variety of habitat. As an example of this category, I have picked out this bird, Black-tailed Godwit, the scientific name of which is Limosa limosa,  limosa is Latin derivative of limosus that means muddy. This bird, true to its name is found on the muddy ocean or lake shores.

7. Ergonym(Gr. ergon work, occupation; onuma name) This category refers to display, typical habits, temperament, mode of flight, parasitism or breeding behaviour.

Streaked Weaver (Ploceus manyar)
Like explained above the name is a derivation of the work or accupation. As an example here, Streaked Weaver's Scientific name is Ploceus manyar, with ploceus being a Greek derivative of a word plokeus that means weaver, braider or a plaiter (plekō being to plait, or to entwine). manyar, on the other hand, is the Tamil name Manja for various weavers (Ploceus)

8.  Phagonym: (Gr. phagein to eat: onuma name) The names in this category reveal the variety of food items or prey of birds, including spiders, bananas, carrion, crabs, lizards etc.

Little Spiderhunter (Arachnothera longirostra)
The scientific name of Little Spiderhunter is Arachnothera that literal translation of Greek word, arakhnēs meaning spider and -thēras meaning hunter. longirostra is a derivation of Latin longus long; -rostris means billed. So all in all - the scientific name means - spiderhunter that has a long bill.

9.  Phononym: (Gr. phōnē voice, sound: onuma name) This category uses the names based upon the sounds/songs of the birds. Surprisingly, this category has yielded relatively few names inspite of the fact that the birds are so many a times associated with the songs, calls and has been admired throughout the ages.

Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
Like described above, inspite of the birds being so closely related to their songs - it is not common to come across bird's scientific name based on this aspect. As an example here is Common Chiffchaff whose scientific name is Phylloscopus collybita. The first part pholloscopus is derived from two Greek words, phullon meaning leaf; skopos meaning seeker. It is the second word, collybita that is based on Latin name collybista money-changer. In Normandy, Common Chiffchaff is called 'Compteur d'argent' from its song that resembles the clinking of coins.

This article just about scratches the convention of Scientific naming of birds and one the places where I have found my solace is after I purchased a book to learn about birds and bird names. The link to the book is given next (Click Here)

Saturday, 9 February 2019

What's in a name?

I have wondered so many times - the only names of the birds that are understood the world over are the Latin names - or referred to as the scientific names of the birds. The only hurdle was that the meanings of the names were difficult to understand. I had to search the net often to get the meanings and of course, that was time-consuming.

My desire to understand the meanings took me to search and search until I finally hit a gold mine - a publication by Helm - 'Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names by James A. Jobling. Finding the gold mine did not mean that I jumped at it and got gold - the price of the book was prohibitively high and it took me another few months of thinking if I really want it. At more than Rs 5,500/- it was enough to make me stop and think...

Fortunately - this period of hard thinking did not last long - and on one of those gloomy, depressing days - when I had not birded for a month - I feigned depression to myself and bought it. It was basically - that impulsive buying where you numb your inner voice to stop listening to the noise. The noise of sanity if I may say. The book took its time to land on the Indian shores and then on to my waiting lap. Today - a week down the lane I am absolutely loving it and it is important enough for me to keep it at my bedside.

One of the few bird names I have looked up and now writing in this blog are the birds that I saw in last few days and will include these meanings of bird names in all my blogs in times to come. Enjoy the first two woodpeckers...

Lesser Yellownape (Picus chlorolophus)
An extremely beautiful woodpecker, Picus chlorolophus. Picus is a woodpecker, also described as a climbing oriole. and the word chlorolophus comes from a combination of khlõros = yellow and lophos = crest. Now this bird being called as a woodpecker with a yellow crest, made me wonder what they would call a Greater Yellownape - another woodpecker found in this area. Greater Yellownape is called Picus flavinucha, Picus again is a woodpecker and flavinucha is combination of flavus = yellow and nuchus = nape. 

Okay, so on the whole, the above names made sense somewhat - so it is time to move on to the second woodpecker that I saw a few days back.

Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos macei)
This bird does not have Picus in its name and made me wonder - Oh hell - what now? well Dendrocopos breaks down into dendron = tree and kopos = striking (derived from koptõ = to strike). macei on the other hand is  on name of Marc Joseph Macé (1724-1772) a french explorer in the Indian and Pasific oceans. Interestingly he was a Chevalier, a knight, who was killed by Maoris in a feast because he had cut a taboo tree. Maoris is plural of a member of aboriginal people of New Zealand.

Now that my initial inquisitiveness has been awakened, and the fact that I have invested in this book - we will see more and more birds with latin names described in times to come. Infact - I will try to dig up more photographs of the woodpeckers I have seen around my area - keep building this article to cover some more woodpeckers of my area.

Google Plus is shutting down and I do now know how I will now share the blog and my writings - if you have a suggestion - do pen down.