Category “Douglas Dewar’s bird calendar”

Dewar’s Calendar — October

Friday, 11 October, 2013

October is a season when autumnal migrants flood the Indian subcontinent. Douglas Dewar beautifully summarises this month in his A Bird Calendar for Northern India, published in 1916.

October in India differs from the English month in almost every respect…In England autumn is the season for the departure of the migratory birds; in India it is the time of their arrival…In many ways the autumn season in Northern India resembles the English spring. The Indian October may be likened to April in England. Both are months of hope, heralds of the most pleasant period of the year. In both the countryside is fresh and green. In both millions of avian visitors arrive.

It is good to ride forth on an October morn with the object of renewing acquaintance with nimble wagtails, sprightly redstarts, stately demoiselle cranes and other newly-returned migrants.

Migration and moulting are the chief events in the feathered world at the present season. The flood of autumn immigration, which arose as a tiny stream in August, and increased in volume nightly throughout September, becomes, in October, a mighty river on the bosom of which millions of birds are borne.

Day by day the avian population of the jhils increases. At the beginning of the month the garganey teal are almost the only migratory ducks to be seen on them. By the first of November brahminy duck, gadwall, common teal, widgeon, shovellers and the various species of pochard abound. With the duck come demoiselle cranes, curlews, storks, and sandpipers of various species. The geese and the pintail ducks, however, do not return to India until November. These are the last of the regular winter visitors to come and the first to go.

The various kinds of birds of prey which began to appear in September continue to arrive throughout the present month.

Grey-headed and red-breasted flycatchers, minivets, bush-chats, rose-finches and swallows pour into the plains from the Himalayas, while from beyond those mountains come redstarts, wagtails, starlings, buntings, blue-throats, quail and snipe. Along with the other migrants come numbers of rooks and jackdaws. These do not venture far into India; they confine themselves to the North-West Frontier Province and the Punjab, where they remain during the greater part of the winter. The exodus, from the above-mentioned Provinces, of the bee-eaters, sunbirds, yellow-throated sparrows, orioles, red turtle-doves and paradise flycatchers is complete by the end of October. The above are by no means the only birds that undergo local migration. The great majority of species probably move about in a methodical manner in the course of the year; a great deal of local migration is overlooked, because the birds that move away from a locality are replaced by others of their kind that come from other places.

Taken, with grateful thanks, from Project Gutenberg.

Dewar’s Calendar — September

Wednesday, 28 August, 2013

September is considered a very important month in the migration calendar, and is so wonderfully described by Douglas Dewar in his A Bird Calendar for Northern India, published in 1916.

Great changes in the avifauna take place in September…the great autumnal immigration takes place throughout the month. Before September is half over the migratory wagtails begin to appear… They arrive in silence, but on the morning of their coming the observer cannot fail to notice their cheerful little notes, which, like the hanging of the village smoke, are to be numbered among the signs of the approach of winter. The three species that visit India in the largest numbers are the white (Motacilla alba), the masked (M. personata)* and the grey wagtail. In Bengal the first two are largely replaced by the white-faced wagtail (M. leucopsis)*… The three species arrive almost simultaneously, but the experience of the writer is that the grey bird usually comes a day or two before his cousins.On one of the last ten days of September the first batch of Indian redstarts # (Ruticilla frontalis) reaches India. Within twenty days of the coming of these welcome little birds it is possible to dispense with punkas.

Like the redstarts the rose-finches and minivets begin to pour into India towards the end of September. The snipe arrive daily throughout the month.

With the first full moon of September come the grey quail ## (Coturnix communis). When the stream of immigrating quail has ceased to flow, these birds spread themselves over the well-cropped country.

Thousands of blue-winged teal @ invade India in September, but most of the other species of non-resident duck do not arrive until October or even November.

Not the least important of the September arrivals are the migratory birds of prey… The necessity of following their favourite quarry may account for the migratory habits of some birds of prey, but it does not apply to all. Thus, the osprey, which feeds almost exclusively on fish, is merely a winter visitor to India. Again, there is the kestrel. This preys on non-migratory rats and mice, nevertheless it leaves the plains in the hot weather and goes to the Himalayas to breed. All the species of birds of prey cited above as migratory begin to arrive in the plains of India in September. The merlins come only into the Punjab, but most of the other raptores spread over the whole of India.

The various species of harrier make their appearance in September. These are birds that cannot fail to attract attention. They usually fly slowly a few feet above the surface of the earth so that they can drop suddenly on their quarry. They squat on the ground when resting, but their wings are long and their bodies light, so that they do not need much rest. Those who shoot duck have occasion often to say hard things of the marsh-harrier and the peregrine falcon, because these birds are apt to come as unbidden guests to the shoot and carry off wounded duck and teal before the shikari has time to retrieve them.

Of the migratory birds of prey the kestrel is perhaps the first to arrive; the osprey and the peregrine falcon are among the last.

Very few observations of the comings and the goings of the various raptorial birds have been recorded; in the present state of our knowledge it is not possible to compile an accurate table showing the usual order in which the various species appear. This is a subject to which those persons who dwell permanently in one place might with advantage direct their attention.

* Now considered as a subspecies of White Wagtail

# Current name: Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis

## Current name: Common Quail Coturnix coturnix

@ Current name: Common Teal Anas crecca

Taken, with grateful thanks, from Project Gutenberg.

Dewar’s Calendar — August

Tuesday, 6 August, 2013

Here is how Douglas Dewar describes the month of August in his A Bird Calendar for Northern India, published in 1916.

The transformation scene described in July continues throughout August. Torrential rain alternates with fierce sunshine. The earth is verdant with all shades of green. Most conspicuous of these are the yellowish verdure of the newly-transplanted rice, the vivid emerald of the young plants that have taken root, the deeper hue of the growing sugar-cane, and the dark green of the mango topes.

At night-time many of the trees are illumined by hundreds of fireflies.

…in August the voices of the birds are rarely heard after dark…but the pied crested-cuckoo continues to call lustily…

Numbers of rosy starlings are returning from Asia Minor, where they have reared up their broods. The inrush of these birds begins in July and continues till October. They are the forerunners of the autumn immigrants. Towards the end of the month the garganey or blue-winged teal (Querquedula circia), which are the earliest of the migratory ducks to visit India, appear on the tanks. Along with them comes the advance-guard of the snipe. The pintail snipe (Gallinago stenura) are invariably the first to appear, but they visit only the eastern parts of Northern India. Large numbers of them sojourn in Bengal and Assam. Stragglers appear in the eastern portion of the United Provinces; in the western districts and in the Punjab this snipe is a rara avis. By the third week in August good bags of pintail snipe are sometimes obtained in Bengal. The fantail or full-snipe* (G. coelestis) is at least one week later in arriving…The jack-snipe (G. gallinula) seems never to appear before September.

The…pied crested-cuckoos…are likely to have eggs or young. The resident ducks are all busy with their nests. The majority of them lay their eggs in July, so that in August they are occupied with their young.

* Current name Common Snipe

Taken, with grateful thanks, from Project Gutenberg.

Dewar’s Calendar — July

Monday, 8 July, 2013

Douglas Dewar again enthralls us with a vivid description of July in his A Bird Calendar for Northern India, published in 1916.

In July India becomes a theatre in which Nature stages a mighty transformation scene. The prospect changes with kaleidoscopic rapidity. The green water-logged earth is for a time overhung by dull leaden clouds…the rain pours down in torrents, enveloping everything in mist and moisture. Suddenly the sun blazes forth with indescribable brilliance and shines through an atmosphere, clear as crystal, from which every particle of dust has been washed away.

…the winged termites appear after the first fall of the monsoon rain. These succulent creatures provide a feast for the birds  The ever-vigilant crows are of course the first to notice a swarm of termites… The kites are not far behind them. These great birds sail on the outskirts of the flight, seizing individuals with their claws and transferring them to the beak while on the wing. A few king-crows* and bee-eaters join them. On the ground below magpie-robins, babblers…and other terrestrial creatures make merry. If the swarm comes out at dusk…bats and spotted owlets join those of the gourmands that are feasting while on the wing.

The earth is now green and sweet…the pied crested cuckoo uplifts his voice at short intervals.

In July the black-breasted or rain-quail (Coturnix coromandelica) is plentiful in India. Much remains to be discovered regarding the movements of this species. It appears to migrate to Bengal, the United Provinces, the Punjab and Sind shortly before the monsoon bursts, but it is said to arrive in Nepal as early as April. It would seem to winter in South India. It is a smaller bird than the ordinary grey quail and has no pale cross-bars on the primary wing feathers.

July marks the end of one breeding season and the beginning of another…In the present month the last of the summer nesting birds close operations for the year, and the monsoon birds begin to lay their eggs. July is therefore a favourable month for bird-nesting. The paradise flycatchers leave Northern India and migrate southwards a few weeks after the young birds have left the nest.

The nesting season is now at its height for…the various babblers and their deceivers—the brain-fever birds and the pied crested cuckoos. In order to satisfy it the unfortunate foster-parents have to work like slaves, and often must they wonder why nature has given them so voracious a child. When it sees a babbler approaching with food, the cuckoo cries out and flaps its wings vigorously. Sometimes these completely envelop the parent bird while it is thrusting food into the yellow mouth of the cuckoo.

Numbers of young bee-eaters are to be seen hawking at insects; they are distinguishable from adults by the dullness of the plumage and the fact that the median tail feathers are not prolonged as bristles.

Of the scenes characteristic of the rains in India none is more pleasing than that presented by a colony of nest-building bayas or weaver-birds… Every bird-lover should make a point of watching a company of weaver-birds while these are constructing their nests.

* Current name Black Drongo

Taken, with grateful thanks, from Project Gutenberg.

Dewar’s Calendar — June

Friday, 7 June, 2013

Here we have a poetic description of June — the break of monsoon, and the arrival of the Pied Cuckoo from  Douglas Dewar’s A Bird Calendar for Northern India, published in 1916, here is his lyrical description for February.

In…June…practically the whole month is composed of hot, dry, dusty, oppressive days; for the monsoon rarely reaches Northern India before the last week of the month.

The first rain causes the temperature to fall immediately. It is no uncommon thing for the mercury in the thermometer to sink 20 degrees [Farenheit] in a few minutes.

No sound is more pleasing to the human ear than the drumming of the first monsoon rain. During the monsoon the silence of the night is broken only by the sound of falling raindrops, or the croaking of the frogs, the stridulation of crickets innumerable, and the owlet’s feeble call. Before the coming of the monsoon the diurnal chorus of the day birds begins to flag because the nesting season for many species is drawing to a close.

With the first fall of rain the tunes of the paradise flycatchers and the king-crows# change. The former now cry “Witty-ready wit,” softly and gently, while the calls of the latter suddenly become sweet and mellow.

The monsoon transfigures the earth. The brown, dry, hard countryside, with its dust-covered trees, becomes for the time being a shallow lake in which are studded emerald islets innumerable. Stimulated by the rain many trees put forth fresh crops of leaves.

There is much to interest the ornithologist in June.

In June a very striking bird makes its appearance in Northern India. This is the pied crested cuckoo (Coccystes jacobinus)*. Its under parts are white, as is a bar in the wing. The remainder of the plumage is glossy black. The head is adorned by an elegant crest. The pied cuckoo has a peculiar metallic call, which is as easy to recognise as it is difficult to describe. The bird victimises, not crows, but babblers; nevertheless the corvi seem to dislike it as intensely as they dislike koels.

# Current name: Black Drongo
* Current name: Pied Cuckoo or Jacobin Cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus)

Taken, with grateful thanks, from Project Gutenberg.

Dewar’s Calendar — May

Thursday, 9 May, 2013

Another extract from Douglas Dewar’s A Bird Calendar for Northern India, published in 1916 in which he describes the month of May:

May in the plains of India!…It is in this month of May that the European condemned to existence in the plains echoes the cry of the psalmist: “Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest”—in the Himalayas. There would I lie beneath the deodars and, soothed by the rustle of their wind-caressed branches, drink in the pure cool air and listen to the cheerful double note of the cuckoo.

It is true that the gold-mohur trees and the Indian laburnums are in full flower and the air is heavily laden with the strong scent of the nim blossoms. The pipal trees…now offer to the birds a feast in the form of numbers of figs… This generous offer is greedily accepted by green pigeons, mynas and many other birds which partake with right goodwill and make much noise between the courses.

The birds do not object to the heat. They revel in it…The breeding season is now at its height… the man who remains in one station, if he choose to put forth a little energy and defy the sun, may reasonably expect to find the nests of more than fifty kinds of birds.

The most notable performers are the cuckoos. These birds are fully as nocturnal as the owls. The brain-fever bird* (Hierococcyx varius) is now in full voice,the eternal “brain-fever, brain-fever, BRAIN-FEVER,” each “brain-fever” being louder and pitched in a higher key than the previous one, until the bird reaches its top note…  the Indian cuckoo (Cuculus micropterus)…dwells chiefly in the Himalayas, but late in April or early in May certain individuals seek the hot plains and remain there for some months. The call of this cuckoo is melodious and easily recognised. Indians represent it as Bouto-taku…To the writer’s mind the cry is best represented by the words wherefore, wherefore, repeated with musical cadence.

In the case of the blue-tailed bee-eaters the nesting season is now at its height… The Indian oriole# (Oriolus kundoo) lays from two to four white eggs… Both sexes take part in nest construction, but the hen alone appears to incubate.

May and June are the months in which to look for the nests of that superb bird—the paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi). This is known as the rocket-bird or ribbon-bird because of the two long fluttering tail feathers possessed by the cock. The hen has the appearance of a kind of bulbul, being chestnut-hued with a white breast and a metallic blue-black crest. For the first year of their existence the young cocks resemble the hens in appearance. Then the long tail feathers appear. In his third year the cock turns white save for the black-crested head. This species spends the winter in South India. In April it migrates northwards to summer in the shady parts of the plains of Bengal, the United Provinces and the Punjab, and on the lower slopes of the Himalayas. The nest is a deep, untidy-looking cup, having the shape of an inverted cone. It is always completely covered with cocoons and cobweb. It is usually attached to one or more of the lower branches of a tree. Both sexes work at the nest and take part in incubation. The long tail feathers of the sitting cock hang down from the nest like red or white satin streamers according to the phase of his plumage. In the breeding season the cock sings a sweet little lay—an abridged version of that of the fantail flycatcher. When alarmed both the cock and the hen utter a sharp tschit.

Even as April showers in England bring forth May flowers, so does the April sunshine in India draw forth the marriage adornments of the birds that breed in the rains.

* Also called: Common Hawk-cuckoo.

# Also called: Eurasian Golden Oriole.

Taken, with grateful thanks, from Project Gutenberg.