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.