A Birder’s Handbook to Manipal, by Ramit Singal

Monday, January 27, 2014 6:50

While attenRamit-bookcoverding college in Manipal, Ramit Singal spent all his spare time carefully documenting the birds of the area. Ramit has now combined his sightings, photos and audio recordings into a book, with accompanying CD.

You can read more about Ramit and his book A Birder’s Handbook to Manipal in these articles in The Hindu | Times of India | DNA | The Manipal Journal.

Ramit has also written a lovely blog post on MigrantWatch, titled Manipal in the Winter. You can see Ramit’s 600+ MigrantWatch sightings and photos here, and his bird recordings are on xeno-canto.

Many congratulations, Ramit!

MigrantWatch and eBird

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 17:32

Over the past year, we at MigrantWatch have had a series of discussions with the people who run the global bird listing platform eBird. The motivation for these discussions was this question:

How can we make it more enjoyable and easy to share bird sightings, and at the same time make the contributed information as valuable as possible for research and conservation?

MW plus eBirdMigrantWatch has limitations in both of these respects. One of the main aspects of sharing bird sightings is having a user-friendly and feature-rich web platform. We haven’t done all that badly in this regard, and take the opportunity to thank Pavithra Sankaran (web design) and Anush Shetty (web development), and a list of many others, for all the volunteer effort put into making the MigrantWatch website and database. But at the same time, it is a huge task to maintain and further develop the site so that it best suits the needs of all of us birders.

A second limitation is the kind of information that MigrantWatch asks for. We collect “presence-only” information, which means MigrantWatchers upload the date and location of sightings of migrants. This says when a species was seen, but, crucially, doesn’t say when a species was not seen. So, for example, it’s difficult or impossible to tell why there are no reports of Grey Wagtail from Indore in August 2013: is it because no-one was looking for them, or because they truly weren’t there? One solution to this problem is to collect complete birding lists of all species seen on a trip. This says: “X went birding at this location on this date and saw a number of species, but not Grey Wagtail”.

Also, in addition to regular queries about migrants, we get a lot of questions from participants related to non-migratory birds too. Clearly, migrants are not the only birds of interest!

For the above reasons, we are forging a closer relationship with eBird. The main reasons are that (a) eBird is a very easy-to-use and feature-rich site for maintaining your birding records, and (b) it focuses on encouraging birders to upload complete lists of the birds they saw during a particular trip. More details in the following points.

  • It is a mature platform, used by tens of thousands of birders across the world to maintain their birding lists. It currently holds more than 150 million records of birds globally. This means it is a safe and reliable platform for our bird lists.
  • It has many features to make it easier to upload your species lists, including species with uncertain identification. It also has features to explore your own lists, and you can download your lists into an excel file for use offline.
  • Another nice feature of eBird is that your day’s list is available at a unique URL, which means that you can share and email your list with your friends as soon as it is entered into the system. An example of such a list is here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S13041578
  • You can also embed photos, videos or sound files to accompany each sighting: these are particularly useful as supporting information for the identification of difficult or unusual species.
  • There are multiple ways to use eBird: through the website (www.ebird.org; this is the preferred way) or using a smartphone app.
  • All information on eBird is available to explore through maps, charts and tables. The data on eBird is also ported up to the Avian Knowledge Network and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, through which anyone can explore and download all the data.

Do try out eBird is you haven’t already, and let us know what you think.

From now on, we recommend the following:

  • If you have a complete list from a birding trip: upload to eBird only
  • If you have a partial list, with migrants and non-migrants: upload to eBird only
  • If you want to report individual sightings of migrants, first or last of season, or general sightings: upload to MigrantWatch or eBird, not both
  • For any individual sightings of Pied Cuckoo: upload to MigrantWatch or eBird, not both

We will integrate the information coming into both sources (eBird and MigrantWatch) into our monthly email round-up and in future reports. So even if you switch completely over to eBird, you will still be contributing to MigrantWatch!

What will happen to your existing sightings in MigrantWatch?

For the time being, these sightings are safe in the MigrantWatch database, which of course will continue to grow. At some point in the future we may consult you about whether you would like to import your sightings into eBird, which we can help you do. Either way, the main thing is to continue to go birding, note your bird sightings, and share them on a free and open platform!

We look forward to hearing your feedback on these changes.

Great Backyard Bird Count 2014

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 6:41

GBBCblogbutton_En_7_2014.gifMany MigrantWatchers participated in the first global Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) in Feb 2013. People across India watched birds for 15 min or more, wherever they were, and uploaded the lists to the eBird listing platform. The results (pdf) were very impressive! It’s very easy to take part in this year’s GBBC, and if enough birders in India take part, it may be possible to track the changing fortunes of Indian birds through this activity, just as others do for the US and the UK through similar events. So please do join in, with your friends and family! The GBBC2014 announcement is pasted below.


The Great Backyard Bird Count–India is back! The dates are 14-17 February 2014. Join in this global birding event.

GBBC is a worldwide event. Last year birders from 111 countries took part, counting around 35 million individual birds of 4,000 species. Indian birders submitted 400+ lists of 500+ species. You can see a summary of the global results here and the India results here.

Most importantly, it’s fun! More seriously, these annual snapshots of bird populations help to answer a variety of important questions, including how birds are affected by habitat changes and weather, and whether populations and distributions are changing. More details are here: www.birdsource.org/gbbc/whycount.html

Any or all days between 14 and 17 February 2014

Go birding for at least 15 min, listing all the species you see, with rough count of each. It doesn’t matter if you can’t identify every single species — what you can identify is good enough! Login to www.ebird.org and submit your species list.

More details at http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/howto.html

In brief:
1. Go to www.ebird.org and create an account (Do familiarise yourself).
2. Select your location on a map.
3. Choose kind of count you have made (e.g. travelling or stationary).
4. Give start time and duration.
5. Enter your list.
6. Share your list with others via email, Facebook or Twitter. Some examples of lists from 2013 are here:

As in 2013, this year again people all over India are participating. Some are also organizing small events at local parks or lakes for the public, including children, to take part in the count and learn more about birds.

If you are feeling ambitious, your local birder/naturalist group could use GBBC to carry out a more formal project. For example, you could ask “what is the importance of green/open spaces for urban birds?” To answer this, one could organise groups to go out and generate one set of lists from open/green spaces (eg, wetlands, parks); and another set of lists from from other kinds of city habitats: commercial areas, residential areas — basically, highly built-up areas. Then one could ask how many and which species are restricted to open/green spaces, and how many appear to be adaptable and occur also in other city habitats. A possible conclusion could be “Green spaces are essential for the survival of 60% of [your city’s] birds”. With some planning and enough birders, such a project would be possible to do in the four days of the GBBC.

Regardless of what you plan, do consider joining this Google group:
which exists so that we can keep each other informed of our plans, as well share what we see with fellow birders during the days of the Count.

You can also join us for updates on Facebook:

Looking forward to seeing you at GBBC-2014!

Regional bird listing and monitoring, Jan/Feb 2014

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 6:29

Apart from the national-level (and some global-scale!) bird listing and monitoring events planned for Jan/Feb 2014, some groups are planning State-level events too. Here is a listing of what we are aware of. Please do let us know in the comments if there are other events we are missing!

  • Kerala: Common Bird Monitoring state-wide on 14-17 Feb, as part of the Green Partner’s Initiative. More details here and here.
  • West Bengal: Bengal Bird Day on 19 Jan, where teams will watch and list birds from any location in the State. More information available from the bengalbird e-group.

Big Bird Day 2014

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 6:11

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.

Asian Waterbird Count, Jan 2014

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 6:03

The Asian Waterbird Count started in 1987, and many birders (of a particular generation!) were initiated into bird counting and monitoring through this project. In the early years, the AWC was very popular in India, but it then went through a bit of a slump. In the past year or two, however, it is gaining momentum again, and we encourage you to take part.

Here is more background information about the AWC. To take part you simply visit a wetland and count the birds you see there. So that there is some consistency in dates, the AWC recommends that you carry out your counts between Saturday 11 Jan, and Sunday 26 Jan 2014, although counts from any date in January are welcome.

Before you plan your counts, please contact the AWC Coordinator for your state, who will be able to provide more guidance. You can take a look at the AWC India Data Entry Form as well: scroll down the page to find the link to the excel file.

The main webpage of the AWC is here, and linked here is the text of a message sent by AWC coordinator Taej Mundkur.

If you do take part in the AWC this year (which we strongly recommend!), do drop us an email or leave a comment below.

Monthly round-up: November 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013 5:31

The latest news at MigrantWatch has been emailed to all participants via the November 2013 issue of the monthly round-up. You can see an archive of these monthly messages here.

If you are registered with us, but haven’t received this email, please check your spam folder; and add mw@migrantwatch.in to your address book. Please send us a message if you have any questions.

Tagged Bar-headed Goose sighted again!

Monday, December 9, 2013 5:39

Bar-headed goose - Prabhat Bhatti - croppedResighting of previously-tagged birds always generates a lot of excitement as it provides crucial information about migration patterns. The odds of sighting a tagged bird again are very low. So, it was a indeed a stroke of good luck when a tagged Bar-Headed Goose (bearing the tag ‘H55’) was seen and photographed by Parbhat Bhatti in Rupnagar in Punjab.

Read more about this interesting sighting in this news article by Vikram Jit Singh in The Hindustan Times. [Photo courtesy Parbhat Bhatti]


Participant Profile: Mohan Chandra Joshi

Thursday, December 5, 2013 7:59

mohan joshi croppedWhere do you live?
I live in Ramnagar near Corbett National Park. At present I am based at Rajaji National Park.

When did you start watching birds?
I used to watch birds since in my childhood along with a group of nature-lover kids. But, I actively started birding in 2007 when I joined as a field assistant in a bird research project.

Who would you consider your birding mentor?
I consider Dr Raman Kumar as my mentor. He helped me when I had difficulties in identifying birds.

Please describe a memorable birding experience.
I have several memorable birding experiences from Ramnagar. I am a founder member of Youth for a Living Planet, a group of students in and around Ramnagar, which conduct awareness and wildlife conservation programmes. Every year we take children out for birdwatching on 12th November (Birdwatching Day), which is always a unique and memorable experience.

What are your favourite migrants?
My favourite migrant is the Pied Cuckoo.

What is your favourite place to watch migrants?
My favourite place to watch migratory birds are the Kosi River and the Haripura Wetland, near Ramnagar (Uttarakhand).

Do you have any advice for beginning birdwatchers and naturalists?
My message to beginners is to try to spent as much time as possible with the field guide and binoculars, write down observations regularly, and interact with other birder and experts.

Why do you think people should care about birds and nature?
Birds are very important to us. They indirectly help us in many ways. For example, as seed dispersers they help to regenerate our forests. They also help keep insects under control.

Any other information that you’d like to share with MigrantWatchers?
All MigrantWatchers have basic idea about how to identify birds, and their role and importance in nature. So it becomes our responsibility to spread awareness about birds among children and local communities.

You can see Mohan Joshi’s MigrantWatch contributions here.

Participant Profile: P. Jeganathan

Friday, November 15, 2013 13:07

Jeganathan P cropped

Where do you live?
I stay in Valparai, Southern Western Ghats, and also Kadapa, Eastern Ghats.

When did you start watching birds?
It was sometime in 1995. I was completely into it when I was doing my masters dissertation fieldwork in Hogganakal Range. I loved watching birds along the riverine forests of river Cauvery.

Who would you consider your birding mentor?
The Book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali. I haven’t travelled much during my studies. So, in the beginning I mostly watched birds in the books. Later when I saw those birds in field it was so thrilling and exciting.

Please describe a memorable birding experience.
There are quite a few. My first sighting of Great Hornbill (in flight) in Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, and watching the Jerdon’s Courser while it was calling. But these are during my fieldwork. Recently I had been to north-east just for birding/wildlife watching and it was awesome.

What are your favourite migrants?
Grey Wagtails. They are lovely birds, aren’t they?

What is your favourite place to watch migrants?
My favourite birding spots are Valparai (Tamil Nadu) and Badvel Big Tank, Kadapa (Andhra Pradesh).

Do you have any advice for beginning birdwatchers and naturalists?
Instead of taking photos and sending it others or uploading it for identification GET A BIRD BOOK and a field notebook! Be a responsible birder, photographer and naturalist.

Why do you think people should care about birds and nature?
Why should we care about birds? To know the one of the many reasons why we should, please read Are Warblers less important than Tigers? by Madhusudan Katti. Why should we care about nature? Well, we don’t simply say ‘nature’, we say ‘Mother Nature’. Shouldn’t we care about our mother?

Any other information that you’d like to share with MigrantWatchers?
I am interested in documenting the vernacular names of birds and other wildlife. People in different parts of the same state have different names for the same species. Names differ in different cultures and tribes as well. And the meaning of a certain species is quite fascinating. For instance, here in the Anamalais local Kadar worship the Malabar Whistling-thrush and they consider these birds as their ancestors. They call this bird either as poola or muthiyar. But, Muthuva tribes call these birds soolai. So, as a birder, it is our responsibility not just to watch birds but also to interact with the locals and document these things and publicize them.

You can see P. Jeganathan’s MigrantWatch observations here and his photographs here.