Category “First sightings”

Celebrating the monsoon

Monday, 30 June, 2014

GreenHumour-monsoon-snippetMaster cartoonist, keen observer of nature, and wry observer of birdwatchers, Rohan Chakravarty has drawn a cartoon-poem on the meaning of the first monsoon rains.

The image here is only a snippet. Follow the link and scroll down to see why we at MigrantWatch particularly love this cartoon.

Thanks, Rohan!

PS. Rohan’s Green Humour blog is full of wonderful cartoons and trenchant observations — do take a look!

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.

Arrival patterns of prominent migrants – II

Friday, 7 June, 2013

In continuation with our presentation of present arrival patterns of our most-reported species, we now feature Black Redstart, Red-throated Flycatcher, Asian Paradise Flycatcher and Common Stonechat.

As in previous summaries each sighting is shown as a vertical black line.

bar code - group 6- flycatchers chat redstart

It is apparent from the above chart that Black Redstart and Common Stonechat arrive in mid-September and generally leave by March-end. Red-throated Flycatchers arrive slightly in late September and return by April-end. The Paradise Flycatcher, which is an intra-subcontinental migrant, has records spread over the entire year. (Please note that this summary has only been possible thanks to your contributions!)

Arrival patterns of prominent migrants

Saturday, 11 May, 2013

Here we present arrival patterns of some of the most-reported species: the Barn Swallow, Brown Shrike, White Wagtail and Western Yellow Wagtail.

Like in previous summaries each sighting is shown as a vertical black line.

bar code - group 1- wagtails swallow shrike

As you can appreciate from the above illustration, Barn Swallows and Brown Shrikes arrive around late July/early August and nearly all of them leave by April. The wagtails normally arrive in early September and usually are gone by April-end. (This summary has only been possible thanks to your contributions!)

Does the Pied Cuckoo herald the monsoon?

Thursday, 4 April, 2013

Pied Cuckoo-4yrs

Does the arrival of the Pied Cuckoo herald the onset of the monsoon? The Pied Cuckoo Campaign was launched in 2009 to collect information to assess this age-old belief.

More than 600 sightings of this wonderful migrant have been contributed by over 200 MigrantWatchers so far; the first sighting dates among these were compared to monsoon arrival, as available with the Indian Meteorological Department (see the graph alongside). Each dot shows the earliest Pied Cuckoo report (after 1 May) for a broad location (an area roughly 200 Km across).

The results are fairly clear: Pied Cuckoos arrive before the monsoon in most parts of central and northern India (they are resident in southern India). You can see this from the pattern that most dots in the picture to the right are below the dotted horizontal line.

But the degree to which the arrival of the Pied Cuckoo precedes the monsoon varies from place to place, as can be seen from the scatter of the dots within each year. And even for the same general location, this varies from year to year (see how the coloured dots are in different places in different years).

What appears to be happening is that, where the monsoon arrives early, Pied Cuckoos arrive a few days before monsoon onset; but where the monsoon arrives late, the cuckoos arrive well in advance of monsoon onset.

So, overall, the old belief is true, and Pied Cuckoos tend to arrive before the monsoon — but to different degrees, depending on when the monsoon begins at each place.

Also see this article on Pied Cuckoo migration.

Arrival pattern for the Rosy Starling

Saturday, 5 January, 2013

In this post we share with you the arrival patterns of Rosy Starling as it moves across the country. As is evident in the illustration below, Rosy Starlings arrive early (around mid to end July) in northwestern India, but then take three to four months to trickle down to the southernmost States!


You can look at all Rosy Starling sightings in the MigrantWatch database here. Many thanks for all who contributed their observations.

Note on how this map was made: you might wonder why, given there are many hundred Rosy Starling records in the database, there are so few points shown here. In each migration season (July to June; five migration seasons in all) we took the earliest sighting for each State; and these State-wise early sightings are depicted here. So, to reiterate, the points shown on the map are the earliest sightings for each State. Multiple  points within a State represent different migration seasons. The labels on the left describe the typical pattern for a given State or region, taking all migration seasons into consideration. You can download the State-wise first sightings in an Excel file here.

Grey Wagtails over 5 years

Friday, 14 December, 2012

As we compile the MigrantWatch 5-year report we are looking at migration timings of various species. Here we present a visual summary for Grey Wagtail over the five years of data collection.

Each sighting is indicated with a vertical black line, just as in this image of sightings of several species.

It is apparent that most Grey Wagtails arrive in September, although their arrival begins in August itself. The earliest record of the season was by Urmila Ganguli on 1st August 2007. Most of them leave by April. Although the chart shows a couple of sightings in June, both these observations are actually from Himalayan areas where the Grey Wagtails likely breed.

To look at all Grey Wagtail sightings in the MigrantWatch database please click here.

Rosy Starlings over 5 years

Friday, 2 November, 2012

In the course of putting the MigrantWatch 5-year report together, we are looking at migration timings of various species. Here are the sightings of one species — Rosy Starling — in the database.

Each sighting is indicated with a vertical black line, just as in this image of sightings of several species.

You can see that Rosy Starlings arrive quite faithfully in mid-to-end July, and leave fairly punctually at the end of April or very early in May. There are a small number of exceptional sightings: as early as 2nd July in 2008-09 (by Arpit Deomurari in Jamnagar); and as late as 10th June in 2011-2012 (by Tushar Takale in Nagpur – this is also supported by a photo).

Because we have simply put all sightings together, the first and last sightings of the season really only reflect what is happening in northwest India. As the number of sightings increase, regional arrival and departure dates will be interesting to look at.

You can see all Rosy Starling sightings in the database here.

Summarising MigrantWatch data 2007-2011

Thursday, 13 October, 2011

By Suhel Quader

Up to 11 Oct 2011, 9900 sightings had been reported to the MigrantWatch database. This information is meant to be used, so at MigrantWatch we are gathering our thoughts to put together a comprehensive summary of the data that the project has gathered since it started in July 2007. When it is ready, we’ll send the report to all MigrantWatch participants, with grateful thanks.

In preparing the report, we have been thinking about how best to show a picture of arrival dates of different species (for example, see a crude attempt here). In this post, I’d like to show you some first attempts, and ask for your feedback on improvements and additions.

The picture below shows sighting information from all years of the project (until 11 October 2011) and across all India, for the 23 winter migrants for which there are at least 100 records in the database. Each short vertical line depicts a sighting. The dates are arranged from July to July, corresponding with a typical migration season (rather than a calendar year). To help see the patterns of first sightings, it’s better not to focus on the very earliest sighting dates and instead look at when the main concentration of first sightings is. The yellow boxes in the picture depict when the earliest 1% to 5% of sightings happened. (This is just like the percentile rankings that students get on some exams.) The width of the yellow boxes indicates how spread out the arrival is for each species: wide boxes mean that the earliest sightings are spread out considerably in time. In the picture below, species are arranged in order of the earliest 1% of arrivals (ie, the left edge of the yellow boxes).

What does this summary tell us? We see that shorebirds form a large proportion of early arriving species, which confirms what I’m sure many of us have casually noticed. Ducks tend to turn up a bit later, as also wagtails and warblers. Although only a few MigrantWatch participants keep an eye out for departing migrants (and so information from the end of the season is thin), it seems as though most migrants have left the country by the beginning of May. The departure appears particularly abrupt for species like Rosy Starling, Common Sandpiper, Greenish Warbler and Blyth’s Reed-warbler. Individuals of other species hang on for a while, and several shorebirds have been seen well into June, possibly birds who have decided to skip their return flight altogether and instead over-summer in India.

Of course, this all-India picture obscures variation in migration dates in different parts of the country: migrants don’t suddenly appear everywhere at the same time! To try to look for geographical differences, we have grouped sightings into five regions (excluding the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Lakshadweep): North-East, North-West, North, Central, and South. Region-wise sightings for two migrants are illustrated below.

Rosy Starlings first appear in the North-West, as might be expected from their breeding grounds (Eastern Europe to Kazakhstan). Their early initial arrival, in beginning July, is followed by a gradual and unhurried trickle-down to other parts of the country (except to the North-East, where the species does not occur). It takes nearly two months for these birds to reach the South. In contrast, departure dates are more uniform, all around end-April, presumably as the birds hurry back en-masse to their breeding grounds.

In contrast, White Wagtails put in a much later first appearance, starting in the North-East and North (apart from a couple of oddly early sightings in the South). They then appear relatively rapidly in North-West, Central and South — in roughly the opposite East-West sequence as Rosy Starlings. Departure of White Wagtails is less clear, because of the low number of observations.

Do these visual depictions of MigrantWatch information make sense? Are they useful? How can we improve them? Are they too simple? Too complicated? Please do let us know in the comments below; we would like to summarise the data in a manner that is of most use and interest to you! (Of course, as always, you can play around with the data yourself — just login and click on view data/maps to download the entire database.)

And please don’t forget to report your migrant sightings. MigrantWatch is no more and no less than the sum of contributions of all participants; to paint a clear picture of bird migration, the more reports (of first, and last, and general sightings) the better!

The start of the 2011 migration season

Monday, 22 August, 2011

Migrant reports have slowly been coming in for the beginning of the 2011 migration season. The picture below shows which species we expect to arrive in July and August separately (based on MigrantWatch data from 2007-2010); and which species have been reported from this year (up to 22 August).

You can see that about half the species that normally arrive in July were again seen first in July this year. A few others (like the magnificent Black-tailed Godwit) were seen a bit later than usual (in August this year); and Ruff and Gull-billed Tern, although normally reported in July, have not been reported yet this year (as on 22 August).

Of species that are normally first seen in August, only a few have been reported this year. Most August migrants have not yet been reported. Whimbrel was reported twice from Kerala in July, both times by Jayan Thomas — this is the earliest report of the species in the MigrantWatch database. The last sighting of Whimbrel from the previous season was on 11 June 2011 in Gujarat, reported by Maulik Varu. (This is quite late; most last sightings are in May.)

The picture above is not definitive by any means — there must be lots of MigrantWatchers who haven’t yet uploaded their sightings for July and August 2011. Please do remember to upload your sightings to the database!

(Thank you to those who have contributed sightings in July and August 2011: A Ajit, Abhimanyu Lele, Ainsley Priestman, Avishkar Munje, Bidyut Bikash Barman, Dr. Jayan Thomas, Dr. Maulik Varu, Dr. S. Prasanth, Fionna Prins, James Williams, Mohanraj K., Nandita Amin, Prashanth, Prashanth Mugali, Rohit Charpe, Sachin Shurpali, Shantilal Varu, Subhadeep Ghosh, Sumesh PT, Tilak Chandra Sarmah, Udiyaman Shukla, Wg Cdr Y Prakash Rao (retd).)