Category “General migration”

Dewar’s Calendar — April

Tuesday, 2 April, 2013

Douglas Dewar presents a rich account of the bird life in April in his classic A Bird Calendar for Northern India, published in 1916. Here are a few extracts:

In the eastern and southern districts hot-weather conditions are established long before mid-April, while in the sub-Himalayan belt the temperature remains sufficiently low throughout the month to permit human beings to derive some physical enjoyment from existence. In that favoured tract the nights are usually clear and cool, so that it is very pleasant to sleep outside beneath the starry canopy of the heavens. As soon as the Holi festival is over the cultivators issue forth in thousands, armed with sickles, and begin to reap. They are almost as active as the birds, but their activity is forced and not spontaneous…Many trees are in flower. Throughout April the air is heavy with the scent of blossoms.The great avian emigration, which began in March, now reaches its height. During the warm April nights millions of birds leave the plains of India. The few geese remaining at the close of March, depart in the first days of April.The brahminy ducks*, which during the winter months were scattered in twos and threes over the lakes and rivers of Northern India, collect into flocks that migrate, one by one, to cooler climes, so that, by the end of the first week in May, the a-onk of these birds is no longer heard. The mallard, gadwall, widgeon, pintail, the various species of pochard and the common teal are rapidly disappearing. With April duck-shooting ends. Of the migratory species only a few shovellers and garganey teal tarry till May.

The snipe and the quail are likewise flighting towards their breeding grounds. Thus on the 1st of May the avian population of India is less by many millions than it was at the beginning of April. But the birds that remain behind more than compensate us, by their great activity, for the loss of those that have departed. There is more to interest the ornithologist in April than there was in January.

The bird chorus is now at its best.

In the hills the woods resound with the cheerful double note of the European cuckoo# (Cuculus canorus). This bird is occasionally heard in the plains of the Punjab in April, and again from July to September, when it no longer calls in the Himalayas. This fact, coupled with the records of the presence of the European cuckoo in Central India in June and July, lends support to the theory that the birds which enliven the Himalayas in spring go south in July and winter in the Central Provinces.

Ornithologists stationed in Central India will render a service to science if they keep a sharp look-out for European cuckoos and record the results of their observations. In this way alone can the above theory be proved or disproved.

April is a month in which the pulse of bird life beats very vigorously in India.

* Also called: Ruddy Shelduck.

# Also called: Eurasian Cuckoo.

Taken, with grateful thanks, from Project Gutenberg.

Leaf warbler ID made easy! Part III: Tips on identification

Friday, 22 March, 2013

By Mousumi Ghosh (with inputs from Umesh Srinivasan)

Tips for Identification

If you’re keen to start leaf warbler watching, you just need an ear for it! You can start with the commonly encountered leaf warbler species in our backyard like Hume’s Warbler (in North India) and Greenish Warbler (in South India) and fortunately, both are extremely vocal. Anytime I want to hear a Hume’s Warbler in winter here in Dehradun, I just have to strain my ears a bit and sure enough I can hear one (yes, it’s that common during winter in North India). Both are territorial in winter and call incessantly guarding their precious trees from the canopy. So, let’s get acquainted with some of the commoner species which visit us in the plains in winter (Here is an illustration to help you with some of the terms commonly used while describing warblers):

phylloscopus schematic_lite

Humes warbler - Raman DSC05060 cropped 1Hume’s Warbler (Phylloscopus humei):  One of the commonest leaf warblers, it has an overall dull colour with greenish upperparts and off-white underparts. Other features include a long supercilium, weak/absent crown-stripe, prominently pale tertial edges, no white margins to the tail, one prominent pale wing bar (just a faint vestige of the second wing bar may be visible). The darker legs and lower mandibles are diagnostic. Hume’s is among the smaller of leaf warblers; it breeds near the tree-line and is partial to birch forests in the summer. In the winter it is one of the commonest species found all over the plains of North India. It’s solitary in winter and calls incessantly from the crowns of trees. Call: A repeated, disyllabic ringing tiss-yip, buzzy wheezing tzzzeeeeeu, often given interspersed with calls.

Greenish_Warbler_I_IMG_0570_JM Garg cropped 1Greenish Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides): A common winter migrant in peninsular India, it is one of the larger leaf warblers. It has greyish-green upper parts and off-white underparts. Absence of coronal stripe, yellowish-white supercilium and a single wing bar are other features which help distinguish this species.

During the breeding season, Greenish Warbler occurs close to the tree-line in mixed-conifer forests and rhododendrons. In winter, it is territorial and partial to the canopy, from the top of which it calls incessantly to defend its precious territory. Call:  a disyllabic tisswit or chiswee.

Lemon-rumped Warbler (Phylloscopus chloronotus): This tiny little leaf warbler gets its name from its pale yellowish rump which is frequently exposed as it hovers at the edge of leaves to pick arthropod prey. It’s a rather active bird with olive lemon-rumped warbler_P1120734_Mohan Joshigreen upperparts, whitish underparts, dark bill and pale legs. The head is rather distinctive with a prominent pale yellow crown stripe, a broad yellowish supercilium and a very dark eye-stripe which broadens behind the eye and hooks under the ear coverts. Typically two yellowish wing bars are visible, the lower one being larger and more prominent. This species is an altitudinal migrant, spending the summer in the mixed coniferous, oak and rhododendron forests and retreating to the foothills in winter where it joins mixed-species flocks to forage mostly in the mid-canopy and undergrowth. More than two may be part of the same flock, daintily hovering around the vegetation and is an absolute treat to watch! Call: A high-pitched tsip or uist.

Apart from the above there are a number of other species of Phylloscopus warbler that can be observed in the Indian subcontinent. Most of these species migrate over long distances to winter in the Indian plains and peninsular India, some show an altitudinal migration, and a couple of them are resident throughout the year. Here is a very handy key for their visual identification compiled by Umesh Srinivasan.

Phylloscopus key 1

This concludes our three-part series on Phylloscopus warblers. We hope that these articles helped you in identifying the main species in this difficult group and also provided interesting information about the ecology of leaf warblers. We’d like to know if you liked this series and if you’d like us to run more such articles in the future on the MigrantWatch blog. Please do send in your comments and feedback at 

You can read Part I and Part II in this series of articles on leaf warblers.

MigrantWatch: A five-year journey

Tuesday, 12 March, 2013

Since 2007 MigrantWatch has brought together hundreds of birders across India to pool their observations of migratory birds. Over the years, our enthusiastic participants have collectively contributed more than 20,000 records of nearly 250 bird species. The idea of collecting all this information in one place is to document patterns of bird migration in the Indian subcontinent.

To mark the completion of 5 years of MigrantWatch, we have put together a brief summary of the migration patterns that are emerging. We hope you will enjoy it, and will tell your other birding friends about it too.

You can download a soft copy of the summary here [PDF, 2.9 MB; right-click to save it]. We have also printed a set of copies, and if you would like a hardcopy of the summary, just mail your postal address to us at, and we will be happy to send you a copy.

A big ‘Thank You!’ to all participants and contributors, and we look forward to working with you for the next five years!

MigrantWatch 5-years summary report 2013-03-cover

Dewar’s Calendar — March

Friday, 8 March, 2013

Here we present the next extract from Douglas Dewar’s A Bird Calendar for Northern India, published in 1916, where the author gives a wonderful account for the month of March, with particular reference to bird migration.

In March the climate of the plains…varies from place to place. In the western sub-Himalayan tracts, as in the Punjab, the weather still leaves little to be desired. The sun indeed is powerful…but the nights and early mornings are delightfully cool.The garden, the jungle and the forest are beautified by the gorgeous reds of the flowers of the silk-cotton tree, the Indian coral tree and the flame-of-the-forest.March is a month of great activity for the birds…The great exodus of the winter visitors from the plains of India begins…

This exodus is usually preceded by the gathering into flocks of the rose-coloured starlings*… Large noisy congregations of these birds are a striking feature of February in Bombay, of March in the United Provinces, and of April in the Punjab.

Rose-coloured starlings spend most of their lives in the plains of India, going to Asia Minor for a few months each summer for nesting purposes. In the autumn they spread themselves over the greater part of Hindustan, most abundantly in the Deccan.

In the third or fourth week of February the rosy starlings of Bombay begin to form flocks. These make merry among the flowers of the coral tree, which appear first in South India, and last in the Punjab. The noisy flocks journey northwards in a leisurely manner, timing their arrival at each place simultaneously with the flowering of the coral trees. They feed on the nectar provided by these flowers and those of the silk-cotton tree. Thus the rosy starlings reach Allahabad about the second week in March, and Lahore some fifteen days later.

Among the earliest of the birds to forsake the plains of Hindustan are the grey-lag goose and the pintail duck… The destination of the majority of these migrants is Tibet or Siberia, but a few are satisfied with the cool slopes of the Himalayas as a summer resort in which to busy themselves with the sweet cares of nesting… Examples of these more local migrants are the grey-headed and the verditer flycatchers, the Indian bush-chat and, to some extent, the paradise flycatcher and the Indian oriole.

The Indian oriole is not the only species which finds the climate of the United Provinces too severe for it in winter; the koel and the paradise flycatcher likewise desert us in the coldest months…The return of these and the other migrant species to the Punjab in March is as marked a phenomenon as is the arrival of the swallow and the cuckoo in England in spring.

* Current name: Rosy Starling.

Taken, with grateful thanks, from Project Gutenberg.

Barn Swallow over 5 years

Thursday, 7 March, 2013

Continuing our presentation of year-wise arrival patterns, here we show the results for Barn Swallow.

Please note that each sighting is shown as a vertical black line.

Barn Swallow by year

From the above illustration it is evident that Barn Swallows usually arrive around late July/early August and nearly all of them leave by April.

You can explore the Barn Swallow sightings on MigrantWatch here.

20,000th record on MigrantWatch!

Wednesday, 6 March, 2013

We reached another milestone on MigrantWatch with Dr. Jayant Wadatkar’s sighting of Garganey at Wadali Tank, near Amravati, Maharashtra, on 10 February, 2013. Dr. Wadatkar sighted eight migrants (including Garganey) during this visit. This was the 20,000th record to be uploaded on MigrantWatch. By strange coincidence the 10,000th, 15,000th and 20,000th sightings have all come from Amravati, Maharashtra, while 15,000th and 20,000th sightings have been reported by the same person – Dr. Jayant Wadatkar!

Congratulations to all MigrantWatchers who helped in reaching this landmark!

Dewar’s Calendar – February

Wednesday, 30 January, 2013

Continuing with the series of extracts from Douglas Dewar’s A Bird Calendar for Northern India, published in 1916, here is his lyrical description for February.

February is the most pleasant month of the whole year… The climate is perfect. The nights and early mornings are cool and invigorating; the remainder of each day is pleasantly warm… The Indian countryside is now good to look upon; it possesses all the beauties of the landscape of July; save the sunsets.

Towards the end of the month the silk-cotton trees begin to put forth their great red flowers…

The fowls of the air are more vivacious than they were in January… The coppersmiths…begin to hammer on their anvils. As in January so in February the joyous “Think of me … Never to be” of the grey-headed flycatcher* (Culicicapa ceylonensis) emanates from every tope…The large grey shrikes add the clamour of their courtship to the avian chorus.

Courtship is the order of the day…

…the white-browed fantail flycatchers begin to nest. The loud and cheerful song of this little feathered exquisite is…one of the most familiar of the sounds that gladden the Indian countryside.

* Current name: Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher.

Taken, with grateful thanks, from Project Gutenberg.

Below is a photo of a Grey-Headed Canary Flycatcher taken by MigrantWatcher Jatin Shrivastava near Jalgaon, Maharashtra.

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.

Dewar’s Calendar – January

Saturday, 5 January, 2013

Continuing with the series of extracts from Douglas Dewar’s A Bird Calendar for Northern India, published in 1916, here is his lyrical description for January.

Take nine-and-twenty sunny, bracing English May days, steal from March as many still, starry nights, to these add two rainy mornings and evenings, and the product will resemble a typical Indian January. This is the coolest month in the year, a month when the climate is invigorating and the sunshine temperate…

January is the month in which the avian population attains its maximum. Geese, ducks, teal, pelicans, cormorants, snake-birds and ospreys abound in the rivers and jhils; the marshes and swamps are the resort of millions of snipe and other waders; the fields and groves swarm with flycatchers, chats, starlings, warblers, finches, birds of prey and the other migrants which in winter visit the plains from the Himalayas and the country beyond…

From every mango tope emanates a loud “Think of me … Never to be.” This is the call of the grey-headed flycatcher* (Culicicapa ceylonensis), a bird that visits the plains of northern India every winter. In summer it retires to the Himalayas for nesting purposes…

The nuthatches begin to tune up in January. They sing with more cheer than harmony, their love-song being a sharp penetrating tee-tee-tee-tee-tee.

* Current name: Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher.

Taken, with grateful thanks, from Project Gutenberg.

Dewar’s Calendar – December

Friday, 14 December, 2012

We bring to you the second in the series of extracts from Douglas Dewar’s A Bird Calendar for Northern India, published in 1916. This is what Dewar writes for December.

December, like November, although climatically very pleasant, is a month in which the activities of the feathered folk are at a comparatively low ebb. The cold, however, sends to India thousands of immigrants. Most of these spend the whole winter in the plains of India. Of such are the redstart, the grey-headed flycatcher, the snipe and the majority of the game birds. Besides these regular migrants there are many species which spend a few days or weeks in the plains, leaving the Himalayas when the weather there becomes very inclement. Thus the ornithologist in the plains of Northern India lives in a state of expectancy from November to January. Every time he walks in the fields he hopes to see some uncommon winter visitor. It may be a small-billed mountain thrush [1], a blue rock-thrush, a wall-creeper, a black bulbul, a flycatcher-warbler [2], a green-backed tit, a verditer flycatcher, a black-throated [3] or a grey-winged ouzel [4], a dark-grey bush-chat [5], a pine-bunting, a Himalayan whistling thrush [6], or even a white-capped redstart. Indeed, there is scarcely a species which inhabits the lower ranges of the Himalayas that may not be driven to the plains by a heavy fall of snow on the mountains. Naturally it is in the districts nearest the hills that most of these rare birds are seen—but there is no part of Northern India in which they may not occur.

Current names: [1] Scaly Thrush; [2] Grey-hooded Warbler; [3] Dark-throated Thrush; [4] Grey-winged Blackbird; [5] Grey Bushchat; [6] Blue Whistling Thrush.

Taken, with grateful thanks, from Project Gutenberg.