Category “General sightings”

Big Bird Day 2014

Wednesday, 8 January, 2014

Continuing with bird listing and monitoring events for Jan/Feb 2014, the countrywide Big Bird Day will be held on Sunday 16 Feb 2014. The idea here is for individuals or teams to conduct a dawn-to-dusk search for birds at any location(s) of their choosing.

Last year, a large number of teams from across India took part. More details about BBD 2014 are at this link.

Arrival patterns of prominent migrants – III

Monday, 8 July, 2013

Our series on summaries of arrival patterns of our most-reported species continues here with results for Western Marsh Harrier, Ashy Drongo, Common Kestrel and Eurasian Golden Oriole. (Each sighting is shown as a vertical black line.)

bar code - group 3- raptors drongo oriole

As evident above, the Marsh Harrier arrives by September and is usually gone by April. Common Kestrel and Ashy Drongo come later in October and stay on till April. The Golden Oriole – an intra-subcontinental migrant – has observations spread over nearly the entire year. These summaries have been made possible because of your contributions!

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!)

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.

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

Events: Great Backyard Bird Count and Big Bird Day

Thursday, 7 March, 2013

More than 200 birders from all across India participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count held between 15th and 18th February. This year’s event (which until last year had been largely a North American affair) was conducted globally for the first time. Indian birdwatchers put up a wonderful show. A summary of the first Indian edition of the Great Backyard Bird Count can be viewed here.

Another event – the Big Bird Day – was celebrated on 24th February. Coordinated by Delhibird, more than 300 individuals and teams birded at various locations across India and recorded all birds they could see on that Sunday. More details are available 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.

Dewar’s bird calendar – November

Tuesday, 6 November, 2012

Some extracts from Douglas Dewar’s A Bird Calendar for Northern India, published in 1916. Have you heard the a-onk of a Brahminy Duck (Ruddy Shelduck), or a Coppersmith say wow, or the honking of geese overhead in the night?

From the crowded jhil emanate the sweet twittering of the wagtails, the clanging call of the geese, the sibilant note of the whistling teal, the curious a-onk of the brahminy ducks, the mewing of the jacanas and the quacking of many kinds of ducks. … The green barbets also call spasmodically throughout the month, chiefly in the early morning and the late afternoon, but the only note uttered by the coppersmith is a soft wow. The hoopoe emits occasionally a spasmodic uk-uk-uk.

The migrating birds continue to pour into India during the earlier part of November. The geese are the last to arrive, they begin to come before the close of October, and, from the second week of November onwards, V-shaped flocks of these fine birds may be seen or heard overhead at any hour of the day or night.

The nesting activities of the fowls of the air are at their lowest ebb in November. Some thirty species are known to rear up young in the present month as opposed to five hundred in May. In the United Provinces the only nest which the ornithologist can be sure of finding is that of the white-backed vulture.

The nesting season of the tawny eagle or wokab (Aquila vindhiana) begins in November. … The man who attempts to take the eggs or young of this eagle must be prepared to ward off the attack of the female, who, as is usual among birds of prey, is larger, bolder and more powerful than the male. At Lahore the writer saw a tawny eagle stoop at a man who had climbed a tree and secured the eagle’s eggs. She seized his turban and flew off with it, having inflicted a scratch on his head. For the recovery of his turban the egg-lifter had to thank a pair of kites that attacked the eagle and caused her to drop that article while defending herself from their onslaught.

Taken, with grateful thanks, from Project Gutenberg.

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.

North American sandpiper in Kerala

Saturday, 26 November, 2011

By Dr Jayan Thomas

Dr Jayan Thomas is an ophthalmologist by profession; but early in the morning and on Sundays, he is an inquisitive birdwatcher and photographer. Watching a Blue-tailed Bee-eater catch its prey and smash it against a wire before swallowing the bee sparked his curiosity about birds and their behaviour. He lives in Cannanore, Kerala, near the ocean and is President of the Cannanore Ophthalmological Society.

It was Sunday the 30th of October 2011, and myself and Mr. PC Rajeevan had decided to go to a place called Ezhome about 23 Km from Cannanore (Kannur), on the coast of northern Kerala. I woke up at 5 AM and started my journey to Ezhome by 5.30 AM. Rajeevan was at Ezhome waiting for me and after a cup of hot roadside café tea we were on to a slow birding walk, with binos, camera and an umbrella, as it was drizzling. The first bird to be seen was a Purple Heron, then a Blue-tailed Bee-eater and so on. After 2 hours of birding we counted about 40 species and were about to call it a day, when we decided instead to first go to Madaipara, since it is close to Ezhome. We reached Madaipara just before noon, and so bird activity was very low. Suddenly Mr. Rajeevan spotted a group of birds across the road and we went to check them out. There were about 200 Lesser Sand Plovers feeding on a burned patch of grass, and some bathing in rock pools. Among these Lesser Sand Plovers was a smaller and slimmer bird with yellow legs and pearly edged wings. What could this be? We were intrigued.

With caution we approached the bird and found to our surprise that it was quite unusual. Since the bird was feeding and walking around we had ample time to take some decent photos. During flight the upper parts appeared uniform, with no prominent wing pattern. Driving back home we discussed the possibilities of a new species being sighted in Kerala.

We whittled down our “differential diagnosis” of the bird to three species:
1. Buff-breasted Sandpiper.
2. Long-toed Stint
3. Reeve (Female Ruff)

Long-toed Stint is almost similar to this new bird, but the stint has prominent facial markings. Reeve was a possibility, but this new bird did not have a post-ocular stripe. A post-ocular stripe is essential for the bird to have been a Reeve. Moreover this bird was substantially smaller in size than a Reeve. (For a visual estimate of size see the photos below, which have this bird together with Lesser Sand Plovers.)

Now the only other possibility was the Buff-breasted Sandpiper, a New World bird. Yes, this bird looked like the Buff-breasted Sandpiper in size and all other features. This bird was about 19 cm with a plain face, an eye-ring , streaked crown and yellow legs. The picture of the bird was sent all around the world by MigrantWatch and others. We are thankful to Praveen J., Sashikumar, Aasheesh Pittie, Bill Harvey, Rex De-Silva and Krys Kazmierczak for having identified the bird as the Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis) breeds in the Arctic tundra of North America and is a long distance migrant to South America, mainly Argentina. The Canadian wildlife service estimates that there are only about 15,000 birds in the world and hence it is classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List. This bird which came to Madaipara could have been lost: instead of going to Argentina, this bird might have been wind-blown from the Great Plains Flyway of North America and landed up in India. Our sighting appears to be only the third of this species from South Asia.

Madaipara is a laterite flat hillock near the Ezhimala Naval Academy. On one side of Madaipara is the Arabian sea and the other side a mountain range of seven small hills (Ezhimala in Malayalam means seven hills). Sandwiched between the sea and the seven hills is a long meandering river. Madaipara is basically a flat land with few trees and shrubs and a lot of weeds. The vegetation is sometimes set on fire, and these spots are ideal for birds which come in search of insects. There are occasional rock puddles too on the hillock up to Spring. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper was seen here for 4 days. Of these, I sighted it on two different days and my birding pal Rajeevan sighted it on all 4 days.

Finding a rare bird like this is one of the dreams of the serious birder. Locating and identifying a species that is least expected is a great challenge and great thrill. You have to be ruthlessly honest with yourself for this. Reporting a rare bird carries a lot of responsibility. It becomes part of science. If you believe that you have seen a rare bird, study it carefully, take photos, video if possible and note the circumstances of the sighting. Then as soon as possible alert other birders.

You can see Dr Jayan Thomas’s MigrantWatch sightings and photos here.

More about the Buff-breasted Sandpiper from Wikipedia and from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.