Archive for the ‘birds’ category

Ten belles to be stranded on a desert island with?

10 January 2011

This post by Aggressive Opinions got me thinking! Its based on Praveen J’s post of 2001! To recall what Praveen posted :

MAROONED IN AN ISLAND

This is a repeat of a feature that appeared in Newsletter for Birdwatchers in the lines of
the erstwhile BBC programme Castaway in a desert. It goes like this. If you are to be marooned
on an island and the captain of the ship promises you to send 10 species of birds of your
choice (so that u can pass time for the rest of your life!!!) how would the selection go?

AO in his post reflected Job Joseph’s view :

1. A Bengal Florican…..boy its gait itself is worth watching.

Bengal Florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) (Image:Richard Lydekker, 1895 - public domain)

2. A Brown headed storkbilled k’fisher. I like its call very much.
3. A swan..for me to feed during the day.
4. A tame cockatoo…to keep me company in my make-shift hut.
5. A hunting falcon….courtesy some rich sheikh.
6. A rooster…to wake me up.
7. A hen….to give the rooster company.(eggs are tasty)
8. An ostrich….bigger eggs are more tasty!
9. Racket-tailed drongo….more for the price of one?( hear animal
sounds)
10. A hummingbird….let it contribute to pollination.

However, it got me thinking, If I were on a desert island, and I had to have ten bird species with me, which would I want?

I disregard AO’s rider that you can’t eat the bird. Survival is brutal. Nothing aesthetic about it. So in order to do a Robinson Crusoe or a Swiss Family Robinson (known to lovers of Classics illustrated comics), what would be the ten best birds to have with me? I’m sure we could do a much better job. Don’t hesitate to comment!

 

Morning Walk

3 January 2011

A poem by Aditi Baindur

One day, I took off to the lake,
to meet a friend for a morning walk,
I spotted lots of coots and ducks,
and a single painted stork.

I hoped to meet my friend out there,
waiting under a tree,
it stood up tall, dry and bare,
my friend I did not see.

The tree trunk stood tall and strong
supporting each green leaf above
I marvelled at the care provided
to each leaf, motherly love.

I spotted a hollow as my eyes did roam –
What lived inside the bole of the tree?
To what little creature was it home?
A squirrel, a myna, a lizard, or a bee?

Just then I saw a little bird,
not far off from that tree,
fallen and hurt, it bled on the dirt,
I ran to its rescue, couldn’t let it be.

The mother came showering down
between me and the chick
I let it shepherd the little one away
while I did the vanishing trick

My friend came up just then
laughing and carefree
I hope you weren’t bored she said
waiting here alone for me

I said how can one get bored
there is so much around to see
nature’s bounty, mankind’s treasures
were all around me plenty!

Quote – Thoreau on “Hunting”

6 April 2010

You seek the bird...

but get only the body!

A gun gives you the body, not the bird.

Henry David Thoreau

"The Hunters at rest" by Vasily Grigorevich Perov (1871)

Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

Comb-ducks at a limpid pool

18 March 2010

There is a quiet spot in the CME wetlands – where people do not go and where the dreaded water weeds have not yet come. Here the Blue Kingfisher flashes chestnut as he shoots across the clearing. Openbill storks roost every night in a tree along with herons and egrets and other storks. Just below the tree are many bushes, one of them Lantana. With the setting of the sun come the Hummingbird Hawk-moths (Macroglossum stellatarum) who sip the nectar from the little pink and yellow Lantana flowers, enjoying the last vestiges of cool weather before they vanish till the next winter.

A yellow sunset over a pond with silhouettes of trees along the horizon.

Below the roost is a pond inhabited by those residents of CME who like the quiet life. Here the Spotbill population finds its headquarters, the Common Moorhen picks its way amongst the reeds and fish plop and create small ripples in the enjoyable silence. A hint of a fragrance from  the pale green flowers of a tree add a master’s touch to this nature’s composition.  At the end of a summer day, the crimson glow through the leaves colours the water rippled by the swimming of ducks.

Abhinav and I were there to pay obeisance to the Spotbill monarch when two white patches shone  in the fading light  on a bank opposite where the legions of Spotbill lay snoozing, bill under wing. At first they were indistinguishable; peering through a binoculars  resolved them to be two large white duck with green-black markings, one of which had a curious growth on its beak, proclaiming to the world that they were Comb Duck or Nakta, a pair (Sarkidiornis melanotos).

A white Nakta female and two grazing Spotbill duck against the pond shore in the evening light.

Female Nakta

They had decided to grace this small hidden spot which fitted their requirements. Attempts to photograph them were not successful as we did not have a suitable lens. A record shot is all that we could manage.

One of the strange misshapen looking ducks, the Nakta is found in Amazonia, equatorial Africa and Madagascar as well as South and Southeast Asia.  Though having a wide range and hence not considered threatened, Comb Duck numbers are declining all over the world. They frequent well-wooded wetlands and usually nest in tree-holes, a habitat becoming rarer by the day. Shy of humans, they are easily disturbed.

A pair of Nakta on a United Nations postage stampThis gave me great happiness for two reasons. The trivial one was that our bird count went up by one more. The more important reason – it showed us that the CME wetland is vibrant and healthy – a rare thing in India today.

I pray to mother nature and all our Gods and Goddesses that this couple find this spot suitable and they be permitted to raise their family for many years to come undisturbed.

Image credits.

  • Nakta stamp – Kjell Scherling (www.birdtheme.org) : Reproduced under fair use.
  • Sunset & female Nakta – Abhinav Chawla (license Creative Commons Sharealike-attribute 3.0 unported).

The forcibly adopted child!

21 October 2009

I have a great respect for the God of Lesser Things! The actual God, not the book, I mean. He is kind, he is just and he is fair. Since he rewards us in suitable measure, we should indeed proclaim him as the deity of all amateur naturalists.

To the compulsive lister of species, he sends hordes of small warblers, difficult and challenging to identify and extremely satisfying to record. To the casual bird watcher, who wants to enjoy nature without too many hassles,  he will direct a mother Spotbill with ducklings swimming across his binocular’s view. A beginner will be blessed with a Paradise Flycatcher which will surely make him gaga about the rare wonderful bird that he saw! But this God is especially kind to that least and most obscure community of birdwatchers –  the kitchen window birdwatchers.

To be a member of this club you have to be a hard-working housewife and the glances through the kitchen-window or from the balcony or terrace are the only ornithological indulgences that are allowed  in between the drudgery of chores. I really respect these kitchen-window bird watchers. My mother, my aunt, my wife, my cousin sister – they are all members of this venerable clan.

The gracious God sends them ‘Tit-bits’ (pun intended) to lighten their long labour. My mother was rewarded with the sight of a Jungle Crow with overlong curved upper beak which she attempted to feed to the great happiness of the squirrels. My aunt enjoyed the sight of sunbirds nesting year after year in the bush outside her kitchen window. My sister saw a Spotted Owlet in Pune city in the tree opposite her verandah which wasn’t – it was a Scops Owl which all will agree is a rare and delicious find!

Just a few days ago, my wife, who has a keen eye for sound, heard a harsh call amidst the noisy cackle of the babblers.

The babblers are a familiar feature of Maharashtra’s landscape.  They are earthy-brown, generally unkempt and noisy birds which are always seen in a flock, hence their colloquial name of “Saat bhai” or “Saat behen” (‘seven brothers’ or ‘seven sisters’ in Hindi).

Large Grey Babbler (Turdoides malcolmi)

Large Grey Babbler (Turdoides malcolmi)

The babblers in our garden are the Large Grey Babblers (Turdoides malcolmi). They squabble around our courtyard and never seem to leave our garden. Who can blame them? Here they find – a neatly tended lawn, profusely bloomed flower beds with interesting flowers (both coloured and fragrant), din -k- raja, raat -ki-rani, plumeria, papaya, a small pond deliberately run wild with bulrushes all around it, a variety of trees all around the fence both inside and outside, an interesting garbage heap, a neglected garden patch, a servant’s quarter with its associated fireplace and litter, and long weedy verges aside the driveway. Though they  deign to favour our neighbours from time to time,  its ””’our””’ garden they occupy and I proudly call this flock ”mine”.

Since they are such a constant part of the background, I tend to take them for granted. “Ghar ki murgi dal barabar” so goeth the old adage ( a rough translation of this Hindi proverb is – the delicious chicken dish if cooked at home is considered equal only to the lowly lentil! ).

After all, they are only ”babblers”; virtually the first bird a new birdwatcher learns about and soon tires of. They aren’t as gaudy as the Golden Oriole which flies across our clearing. Or as distinct as the Bharadwaj  (Coucal) that struts across the fence-lawn-pond-papayas route four times a day in his tireless, rapacious search for food! Or as spectacular as the Grey Hornbills which play catch-me-if-you-can amongst the ”Gliricidia” trees. They are plain ashy-coloured biscuit brown birds who cackle and perform but soon tire you of their antics.

But all of a sudden that day, they pulled a rabbit out of a hat. In this case, it was an adopted child! And it was my beloved kitchen window-birdwatcher (my better 99% – for those joining in now) who spotted it!

A forlorn squawk drew her attention to the branches above where the flock foraged on the ground. Above, on the branch of the tree in our backyard, was perched a grey bird heavily striated on its chest. It was a juvenile “Brainfever bird“!

My wife caught her breath, because just then a babbler flew up and deposited a meal in the gaping maw of the young ‘un. The babblers were feeding the bird.

The 'adoped child' and his mom (?).

The 'adoped child' and his mom (?).

There is a simple explanation for this! The “Brainfever bird” is a cuckoo. Most of us will know it as the “papeeha” while birdwatchers call it the Common Hawk-cuckoo (Heirococcyx varius) because it resembles very closely our resident Indian sparrow-hawk – the Shikra.

The Brainfever Bird adult.

The Brainfever Bird adult.

The Shikra (Accipiter badius) which the hawk-cuckoo resembles.

The Shikra (Accipiter badius) which the hawk-cuckoo resembles.

The papeeha is a brood parasite of the Turdoides babblers. When the female babblers are not looking, the female Hawk-cuckoo will deposit its egg in their nest.

Cuckoos are known to roll off some or all of the genuine eggs to make place for their egg. Usually a cuckoo’s egg resembles the host species’ egg very closely in colour and pattern though it may be larger in size. Sometimes birds recognise the eggs as ‘strange’ and eject them but in the majority of the cases they do not.

Looking away - the adopted child's orange bill and indistinct eye-ring are visible.

Looking away - the adopted child's orange bill and indistinct eye-ring are visible.

In some species, the cuckoo’s egg hatches earlier and the young cuckoo fledgeling kicks off the eggs or nestlings of the host species and makes itself the lord of the nest.

The cuckoo sibling is ravenous. Its gaping maw resembles that of the babbler’s nestlings and the plaintive cries trigger the feeding instinct in the babblers. Though it grows larger and looks different from the babblers, the hosts are trapped in their instinctive response which the cuckoo has evolved to take advantage of.

This phenomenon is called “brood parasitism” and is considered a form of “kleptoparasitism” where birds steal resources from others to gain an advantage in  propagating their kind.

A very poor photo with cuckoo and babbler in the same frame.

A very poor photo with cuckoo and babbler in the same frame.

Our brain-fever bird is quite large now. It is larger than its adopted parents but yet it follows the pack around positioning itself at a vantage point above where the babblers forage. Soon it will be able to fend for itself and the babblers will be free from feeding such a hungry brute. Lets hope the next time they are able to raise their own kind.

Fortunately Large Grey Babblers are irregular in habit in breeding while cuckoos breed as per season so they have a far chance of raising their kind. The breeding season of the Common Hawk Cuckoo varies from place to place and is very dependent not only on its hosts but its very competitive cousin, the Pied Crested Cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus) who also parasitises the same hosts – the babblers.

Brainfever birds are relatively benign parasites. On many occasions the host is able to raise its own chicks as well as that of the cuckoos. The babblers are known to collectively rear the young. Parent babblers often rejoin the flock after the fledgelings have flown. However, the adopted child of the Brainfever bird is dependent for much longer and hence our observations in CME. As per T.C. Jerdon, Brainfever birds often do not eject the eggs or young and permit the host to breed its children alongwith them.

This is not so in the case of its relative, the Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) of Europe. The female of this species exhibits an extreme form of aggressive brood-parasitism, referred to as the “Mafia hypothesis“. She revisits the nests of the host birds where she has laid an egg. If that egg has been ejected, she lets loose her anger and destroys the nest. This is a very good move on her part – if a nest is destroyed early in a season,  the nesting pair of the host species may rebuild the nest and lay another clutch. This will give her a chance to breed once again. She will again visit the new nest repeatedly to ensure her egg is safe and repeat her destruction if the egg is mising.

This is however an extreme case of animal behaviour and shared by one another species only – the Brown-headed Cowbird of subtropical North America.

Great Spotted Cuckoo, a.k.a. the Mafia cuckoo

Great Spotted Cuckoo, (clamator glandarius) a.k.a. the Mafia cuckoo

Before you get all furious over our cuckoos, remember enough of their hosts breed so as to maintain a large enough population to bring up the next generation of cuckoos. Too high a success rate in nest-parasitism is its own death knell.

Besides, the host birds develop behavioural patterns to reduce the effectiveness of the brood-parasites – an evolutionary battle constantly rages between the hosts and the brood parasites.

Most of all we should not denigrate these birds because it is they who provide the beautiful bird calls which warn of the onset of India’s summer, monsoon or spring.

The koel’s crescendo and the “brain-fever brain-fever” call of the papeeha are known to all.

My favourite memory of cuckoo-calls is that of   the liquid four notes of the Indian Cuckoo in the Himalayan spring which remind me of the first four notes of the popular Ventures tune “Popcorns’ which once accompanied Sports Roundup in the good old days of black and white TV! Many’s the time I returned tired from a run at the Indian Military Academy when the Indian Cuckoo luled me to sleep.

Listen to it here!

Besides this, we have the Plaintive Cuckoo, the Drongo-Cuckoo and so many, many more.

They too are the gems of Indian biodiversity.

Some references.

1.    Gaston, AJ & Zacharias VJ. (2000). “Hosts of the Common Hawk Cuckoo”. Forktail Vol 16, pg 182. Pulication of the Oriental Bird Club.[url=http://www.orientalbirdclub.org/publications/forktail/16pdfs/Gaston-Cuckoo.pdf].

2.    Jerdon, T.C. (1862). “The birds of India”. Volume 1 (pg 330). Pub – Military Orphan Press. Calcutta.[http://www.archive.org/stream/birdsofindiabein01jerd#page/330/mode/1up].

3.  Payne, R.B. (2005). “The Cuckoos”. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198502133.

Credits

* All pix of “forcibly adopted child” and that of the Large Grey Babbler mine. See my license publicly declared on the blog.

* Brainfever Bird adult – nidhingpoothully Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0 . On Wikimedia Commons here.

* Shikra – J.M. Garg. Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license On Wikimedia Commons here.

* Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandularius). 1905 Naumann encyclopaedia. Public domain. Wikimedia Commons link.


Nightingales

28 September 2009

Nachtegaal

Beautiful must be the mountains whence ye come,
And bright in the fruitful valleys the streams wherefrom
Ye learn your song:
Where are those starry woods? O might I wander there,
Among the flowers, which in that heavenly air
Bloom the year long!.

Nay, barren are those mountains and spent the streams:
Our song is the voice of desire, that haunts our dreams,
A throe of the heart,
Whose pining visions dim, forbidden hopes profound,
No dying cadence, nor long sigh can sound,
For all our art.

Alone, aloud in the raptured ear of men
We pour our dark nocturnal secret; and then,
As night is withdrawn
From these sweet-springing meads and bursting boughs of May,
Dream, while the innumerable choir of day
Welcome the dawn.

Robert_BridgesRobert Bridges

Bridges (1844-1930) was a doctor and also Poet-Laureate of England from 1913-1930.

This poem refutes the traditional premise that a work of art is created by being inspired by beauty. It tells of the power of unsatisfied desire to move the nightingales to matchless song – a more telling commentary on the human condition than most nature poems.

Nightingale-stampThe real bird itself is the Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) a song-bird and flycatcher found in Europe and South-West Asia and migrating in the winter to Africa.

The bird’s name means “night-songtress” but it is the male that sings to attract a mate and defend its territory.

Nightingales have often appeared in traditional lore and the arts—again, usually because of their song.

The poet John Keats thought of the bird as a carefree spirit, free to sing in “full-throated ease.”

In “Ode to a Nightingale,” one of the finest poems ever written, he wrote that he longed to:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget….

The flowergirl and her birds

18 September 2009

FlowergirlIn the South Indian city of Madras
lives a sweet little nature-loving lass,
who rambled on about that city fair
And wrote about living things worthy of care.

One day, she got a bonnet in her bee;
She had just discovered the IATB,
where you find nice things that people had written
about our avian wonders; every reader was smitten.

iandthebirdlogoolive

Then she laboriously listed them in her post
of Madras Ramblings. What a sweet host!
For everyone to admire and to see.
All the publicity! That too for free!

What’s more it was all set to rhyme,

Hurry up there, we have no time!

Spinytailed Lizard - Clement FrancisJust to cut a short story long,
You’ll find there one of my song –
Of Spiny-tailed lizards and more than one raptor.

Never mind me, read her post!  Feel the rapture!