Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chestnut-capped Babbler

This is one of my favourite birds. It is an inhabitant of grasslands near water bodies. It is an absolute skulker and one has to be very lucky to get even the briefest glimpse of this bird.

The first indication that the bird is in the vicinity is its call. Then you see the grass stalks shiver unnaturally due to the bird moving around at its base. That's when the shiver of anticipation runs through you and the camera/binocular is ready to spring into action.

On your lucky day you will be witness to an unmatched dance over the grass stalks and on most days all you see are multiple ripples in the grass as the flock moves away from you.

I must have spent days stalking this bird in the last year or so but have been lucky to clearly just see it 3-4 times. What a show it was. All those lost hours are made in seconds and that is why this remains one of my favourite birds.

Please click on the photos for larger versions

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Adjutants

If there was one group of birds that stand out in my memory and signify the essence of Assam it would have to be the Adjutant Storks commonly called Bortokola in Assamese. There are two similar looking species the Greater Adjutant Sork (GAS) (Leptoptilos dubius) and the Lesser Adjutant Stork (LAS) (Leptoptilos javanicus). The Greater Adjutant Stork is bigger than the Lesser Adjutant Stork.

Both birds are basically waders and are found in wetland areas. In the summer they are often seen roaming around in the paddy fields just before they are tilled. The GAS is distinguished from the LAS by the existence of a neck pouch which may hidden in some cases. The GAS is a scavenger but also preys on frogs etc. The LAS is primarily a hunter but may also scavenge.

These birds were very common during my childhood but have sadly declined significantly in recent years. Habitat loss, hunting and better sanitation have been suggested for their decline.

These birds have been called ugly but to me they are symbols of this state of Assam and their decline and reduction to scavenging in garbage dumps is a sad reflection of the state of our environment.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Birding in the Monsoon: White-breasted Waterhen

The word 'monsoon' traditionally refers to the season of rain brought in from the Bay of Bengal and heralds in the period of plenty for all. This is also a relief to us humans as it brings down the scalding temperatures that precede the monsoon. However, this year in Assam, we have had rains since March and areas have reported rains 400-500% more than last year. Therefore the word 'monsoon' has lost it significance to us this year. In fact we are battling with slush, mud, floods, dampness, smelly clothes and all the other not so pleasant things that the monsoon brings.

The monsoon is also the time of the most common yet shy bird of these parts, the White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus). It's loud mating calls can be heard with the coming of the pre-monsoon showers. Although shy by nature this bird is comfortable with human presence and can be seen even in urban areas near dense undergrowth and water.

In my neighbourhood it makes its home in tea garden drains and under bamboo hedges which form the boundary of my bungalow. They can often be seen pecking at the leftover grains washed down the drain after the utensils have been washed. When approached these birds tend to walk away or even run. Flight is used as the last resort.

They give birth to 6-7 chicks which are black feathered. In fact, today, I saw a mother proudly leading her brood for their first foray.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Regime Change

There has been a regime change in our Garden. One of the trees in our garden has several holes at different heights which are home to 2-3 species of birds at various times of the year. We call it 'The Apartment'. 
Last year, at this time, one of the holes was occupied by a pair of Spotted Owlets. One of the pair kept vigil from a nearby tree while the other occupied the nest. I think there were three chicks although I can't be sure. These Owlets were the top dogs of the Garden. Our dog also loved to pick up the remains of their nightly snacks that fell at the base of the tree.
This year the hole has been taken over by a pair of Indian Rollers amidst loud shrieks and screeches by both the occupiers and the displaced. The Rose-ringed Parakeets, who occupy the hole above them, also join in the general cacophony. I think they prefer the Owlets or maybe they are just status quoists. The owlets meanwhile sulk in our porch and are possibly awaiting for an opportunity to re-occupy the hole.

Friday, January 15, 2010

74 Not Out!

Just about a year ago, sometime in February 2009, I bought a Sony H50 which is a digital camera with a 15x zoom. While pottering around my garden with it I saw some some parrots (Rose-ringed Parakeet as I came to know later) busy going to and fro from a hollow in a tree in the garden. I began photographing these birds and when I got tired of them I started looking around for some other species; which is when I got the idea of
photographically recording the birds around my bungalow.

I live in Bokel Tea Estate and my bungalow is uniquely placed in many respects.

It is in the middle of a tea garden with its tea bushes and numerous shade trees. For those not familiar with tea estates, tea bushes come up to about the midriff of a man of average height. The bushes are dotted with what are called shade trees as too much direct sunlight is not good for leaf productivity. These bushes and trees provide excellent cover for numerous mammals such as leopards or panthers who use the drainage system for hiding their cubs and to generally move around unnoticed. I have also seen wildcats, mongoose, hares, flying squirrels, monkeys and not to mention snakes. Needless to say it also provides excellent cover for numerous birds.

At the edge of the Estate are paddy fields and villages. These provide a slightly different environment with a lot of small and medium ponds which host some water birds. During the monsoons the water covered paddy fields also play host to a number of these birds. The houses in the villages have their own fruit bearing trees and bamboo thickets which also provide cover and food to a large number of birds. Added to the above is the fact that the bungalow is quite close to Dibrugarh town and hence we also have birds which are found in an urban setting.

I have, so far, recorded 74 species and they are listed below. All of these have been recorded within a radius of 2 km from my bungalow and most of them happen to be chance encounters during my morning walks.

Needless to say there are several other species that I have not yet seen or even if seen have not recognised. Hence the search goes on and I hope to score a century soon!!

1. Ashy Drongo
2. Asian Barred Owlet
3. Asian Koel
4. Asian Openbill
5. Asian Pied Starling
6. Besra
7. Black Drongo
8. Black Kite
9. Black-hooded Oriole
10. Blue-throated Barbet
11. Bronze Winged Jacana
12. Brown Shrike
13. Cattle Egret
14. Chestnut-tailed Starling
15. Cinnamon Bittern
16. Common Cuckoo
17. Common Kingfisher
18. Common Myna
19. Common Tailorbird
20. Coppersmith Barbet
21. Cotton Pygmy-Goose
22. Daurian Redstart
23. Eurasian Hoopoe
24. Forest Wagtail
25. Great Egret
26. Greater Flameback
27. Grey-backed Shrike
28. Grey-breasted Prinia
29. Hair-crested Drongo
30. Hill Myna
31. House Crow
32. House Sparrow
33. Indian Cuckoo
34. Indian Pond-Heron
35. Indian Roller
36. Intermediate Egret
37. Jerdon's Baza
38. Jungle Crow
39. Jungle Myna
40. Large Cuckoo-shrike
41. Lesser Adjutant
42. Little Egret
43. Long-tailed Shrike
44. Oriental Honey-Buzzard
45. Oriental Magpie-Robin
46. Oriental White-eye
47. Paddyfield Pipit
48. Pheasant Tailed Jacana
49. Plaintive Cuckoo
50. Purple Swamphen
51. Red-breasted Flycatcher
52. Red-vented Bulbul
53. Red-wattled Lapwing
54. Red-whiskered Bulbul
55. Rose-ringed Parakeet
56. Rufous Treepie
57. Rufous-tailed Shrike
58. Scaly-breasted Munia
59. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
60. Siberian Stonechat
61. Spotted Dove
62. Spotted Owlet
63. Tickell's Leaf-Warbler
64. Watercock
65. White Wagtail
66. White-breasted Waterhen
67. White-rumped Munia
68. White-throated Kingfisher
69. White-vented Myna
70. Yellow Bittern
71. Yellow Wagtail
72. Yellow-footed Green-Pigeon
73. Lesser Whistling-Duck
74. Jungle Owlet