Posts tagged with “Monsoon”

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!

Pied Cuckoo, Pied Cuckoo, where are you?

Friday, 23 May, 2014
Pied Cuckoo migration and the monsoon. By Rohan Chakravarty

Pied Cuckoo migration and monsoon winds. Illustration by Rohan Chakravarty

As regular MigrantWatchers know, we run a Pied Cuckoo Campaign every year, from May to August. The idea behind this campaign is to better understand the timing of migration of the species, as it wafts across the Arabian Sea from east Africa to land on our soon-to-be-green land. More specifically, this applies to the population of Pied Cuckoos that migrates to central and northern India; in southern India, the species can be seen year-round (as you can see from these nice eBird maps on the Bird Count India website).

Over the years (the campaign started in 2009), your sightings of Pied Cuckoo have enabled a better understanding of its migration in relation to the onset of the monsoon. You can see some summaries of the information collected on various MigrantWatch blog posts, including an analysis of the very first campaign, a comparison between 2009 and 2010, and animated map of Pied Cuckoo sightings, and a summary of four years of arrivals in relation to the monsoon.

Please do be on the looking for the species, and remember that you can contribute your observations to either MigrantWatch or eBird.


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.

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.

Pied Cuckoo animated map

Saturday, 16 July, 2011

In the Pied Cuckoo campaign, MigrantWatchers have contributed 363 sightings of this wonderful species so far (until 15 July 2011). A summary of these sightings from places to where the Pied Cuckoo migrates shows that it does, by-and-large, arrive in advance of the monsoon, but the exact dates are variable.

Pied Cuckoo animated mapTo illustrate the general pattern of migration of this species, we have put together this animated map, which shows the progression of Pied Cuckoo migration across the country in advance of the monsoon.

This animation has been made by selecting March-to-July sightings from all Pied Cuckoo reports in the MigrantWatch database between 1 July 2007 and 15 July 2011. To compare these sightings with the onset of the monsoon, we have also added in lines depicting the normal onset of the monsoon (digitised from a map available from IMD Pune).

In March and April, almost all sightings are from southern India, where the species is known to be resident year-round. This remains so until the middle of May. In the third week of May, the first migrant sightings appear, in the West and the North-east. As the monsoon hits the Andamans, the first birds in northern India are seen. More and more birds are subsequently seen across the West, North and East. By the time the monsoon reaches Kerala (in the first week of June), Pied Cuckoos are everywhere, except perhaps the extreme West and North-West.

Where are the gaps in information? Do you see patterns that would be interesting to follow up? Do leave a comment below.

Thanks, of course, to all MigrantWatchers who have contributed their Pied Cuckoo sightings!

The Pied Cuckoo in 2010 – Mousumi Dutta

Monday, 25 October, 2010

First arrival of the Pied Cuckoo in 2010 in relation to the onset of the Southwest Monsoon

by Mousumi Dutta

Mousumi Dutta is a frequent contributor to the MigrantWatch database. She is an avid birder, and spends her spare time on bird and wildlife conservation. She works with the Indian Meteorological Department, and so has a particular interest in bird migration. Mousumi’s MigrantWatch sightings page is here.

India’s climate is dominated by monsoons. Most of its annual rainfall (86%) occurs during the Southwest monsoon months. The monsoon is a key influence on agricultural output as well as the overall economic growth of India. From ancient times it has been believed that the onset of the monsoon is associated with the appearance of the Pied Cuckoo Clamator jacobinus.

The Southwest monsoon normally sets in over Southeast Bay of Bengal on 20 May and then over Kerala on 1 June. An analysis of the first sighting dates of the Pied Cuckoo and the onset of the Southwest monsoon for the year 2010 (see figure below) shows a fairly systematic pattern. In general, the first sighting of this species in a State is 20-25 days in advance of the onset of the monsoon in that State. This appears to be earlier, relative to the monsoon, than reported for last year.

These patterns indicate an interesting relation between the onset of the monsoon and the arrival of Pied Cuckoos. Long term studies are needed to clarify the details of the relationship between the monsoon winds and Pied Cuckoo migration.

First sighting dates (after January 2010) for Pied Cuckoos for each State were taken from the MigrantWatch database. (Maharashtra and the four southern States were excluded.) Dates of the onset of the monsoon for each State are taken from the Indian Meteorological Department’s monsoon pages (click on “Northern Limits of Monsoon”). The data used to generate the figure are given below. The links under “Reported by” point to the sighting page on MigrantWatch.

State First Sighting Onset of Monsoon Reported by
Orissa 16 May 13 June Aditya Panda
West Bengal 17 May 14 June Supriyo Ghatak
Gujarat 30 May 16 June Nandita Amin
Madhya Pradesh 10 June 4 July Anand Kumar Bhatt
Uttarakhand 27 May 5 July Sharad Khanna
Chandigarh 6 June 5 July Vikram Jit Singh
Delhi, including NOIDA 31 May 5 July KB Singh, email to MigrantWatch
Haryana 22 June 5 July Vikram Jit Singh
Himachal Pradesh 29 June 5 July Devinder Singh Dhadwal
Rajasthan 24 May 6 July Saandip Nandagudi


If you would like to make your own visualisation and analysis of Pied Cuckoo sightings, you can download all 300+ records here. Please share your findings with everyone at MigrantWatch – send us ( a small blog post and we will put it up.

The rainbird and the 2009 monsoon

Tuesday, 6 October, 2009

In several cultures and folklores across India, the Pied Cuckoo is believed to herald the onset of the southwest monsoon. In May 2009, MigrantWatch started a Pied Cuckoo Campaign, in which birders from all over India were asked to report first sightings of this species. Does the Pied Cuckoo arrive before the monsoon sets in in different parts of the country? Does the monsoon arrive at a consistent interval after the first Pied Cuckoo is seen? These are some of the questions the campaign set out to address.

The campaign was taken up enthusiastically by MigrantWatch participants, with over 100 Pied Cuckoo entries to the database for 2009, and additional records from previous years. (All data collected during this campaign can be accessed on the MigrantWatch website after you login to your account.)


So did the Pied Cuckoo announce the arrival of the monsoon in different parts of India in 2009? Here are two visual depictions of the arrival of the cuckoo and the monsoon.

The 2009 monsoon
The monsoon set in nine days early on the Kerala coast (on 23 May instead of the normal 1 June) and made a good start. A cyclone in the Bay of Bengal disturbed the normal pattern just after it set in. By 25 May the southwest monsoon had moved over entire Kerala and Tamil Nadu, parts of coastal Karnataka, northeastern states, and most parts of West Bengal. Despite an early beginning, the monsoon progressed slowly after the beginning of June.

About the map and graph
The map shows ‘isolines’ (connecting locations with similar monsoon arrival dates) that depict the approximate advance of the 2009 monsoon (redrawn from this map from IMD, Pune) and the first arrival dates of the Pied Cuckoo as reported by MigrantWatch participants from locations across India.

pc-monsoon2009-scatter-300x254-corrThe graph shows a scatterplot of monsoon arrival dates on the X-axis (horizontal) and first sightings of the pied cuckoo on the Y-axis (vertical). Each point corresponds to a location for which a Pied Cuckoo sighting was reported. The solid black line shows where one would expect the points to fall if each first sighting of was on exactly the day that the monsoon arrived at that location. The dashed black line indicates first sightings preceding the monsoon by five days, and the dotted black line 30 days.

Monsoon arrival dates were extracted from the isolines shown on the IMD Pune map.

For both the map and the scatter plot:

  • Only sightings before 15 July 2009 have been used.
  • Only the earliest sighting was used for locations with multiple sightings.
  • Because there is a resident population of Pied Cuckoos in southern India, we excluded all sightings south of 15°N latitude; but we made an exception for Rishi Valley, Andhra Pradesh (13.6°N), where the species is known to not be resident.<1>

What can we infer about Pied Cuckoo migration? Might the unusual monsoon this year have altered the typical pattern? Please do write down your interpretations as comments to this Blog. If you would like to look at all sightings of Pied Cuckoo in the 2009 season, you can download them here in excel, open document format, or as a comma-delimited text file. Please also read the notes accompanying these sightings.

1. It is still not clear where exactly in southern India this species is resident and where migrant. The various handbooks and field guides on Indian birds differ on this. You can help to resolve this issue by entering General Sightings of Pied Cuckoo from any time of the year into the MigrantWatch database.

This post was edited on 20 October 2009 to remove an erroneous May record of a Pied Cuckoo from Rajasthan. This record has been removed from the figures as well as the accompanying data files.

Riding the wind between continents: the epic migration of dragonflies

Monday, 17 August, 2009

by R. Nandini and Sanjay Sane

In popular folklore the appearance of certain birds is considered to herald the approaching rains. But there are other, less conspicuous, organisms whose arrival often goes unnoticed. Migratory insects of several species arrive in the thousands, either alone or in swarms, staggered across the days preceding the arrival of the rains.

pantala_flavescens_006_std_small1In a recent paper that generated headlines worldwide, Globe Skimmer dragonflies Pantala flavescens (also called Wandering Gliders) were discovered to have the longest insect migration route recorded so far – a roundtrip flight between India and Africa with stopovers in the Maldives and the Seychelle islands.

Charles Anderson, reporting his findings in the Journal of Tropical Ecology <1>, recorded the arrival and departure of dragonflies in southern India, Maldives and West Africa over a period of fourteen years, with Malé, Maldives being the focal site. Dragonfly occurrence (particularly P. flavescens) in Malé began in October, peaking between November and December, coinciding with the east-bound high-altitude winds (~ 1000 m asl) of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ <2>).

pantalaflavescenstalakaveri-small3Putting together dates of arrival across the study sites as well as the duration of residency of dragonflies at Malé, he reconstructs a steady north-south movement of dragonflies from southern India through the Maldives across 500-1000 km. A second wave of dragonflies was recorded in Malé between April and June, coinciding with occurrence of the Somali Jet, a band of fast low-lying southwesterly winds over the Arabian Sea blowing from Africa to India.

While this study was focused on dragonflies, Anderson also reports some information on birds, and found that the pattern of bird arrival in the Maldives mirrored that of the dragonflies, peaking between November and December. Among the bird species he reports as crossing the Western Indian Ocean are the Pied Cuckoo, Lesser Cuckoo, Eurasian Cuckoo and the Amur Falcon.

Collating available information on the migration of birds like the Amur Falcon, wind patterns like the ITCZ and Somali Jet, and records of occurrence of certain species of dragonflies at specific times of the year in the Maldives and India, Anderson hypothesizes that dragonflies, like some species of birds, possibly migrate in a loop from India over the Maldives and Seychelles to east Africa (Tanzania or Kenya) and then back again to India. The ITCZ is known to travel across the African continent, bringing rains to different parts of Africa over the year <3>, and insect, including dragonflies, are reported to migrate with these winds. Anderson suggests that, once in Africa, Globe Skimmers probably move southwards and then loop back north to equatorial east Africa before leaving the continent on the return migration to India.

In all, this incredible circuit would cover a total distance of 14,000-18,000 km, with 3,500 km over the open ocean, and would span possibly four generations of dragonflies.


How could insects only a few inches long undertake journeys that span their own body lengths several million times over? On the face of it, this implies deterministic and purposeful flying, as well as knowledge of which winds to harness to get to a destination. Anderson proposes instead that dragonflies need only rise upwards, encounter a passing wind and then largely soar or glide along this wind till they reach land. If this simple explanation is indeed the way in which dragonflies cover these enormous distances, how will such behaviour be affected by phenomena like global warming, which is known to alter the intensity and speeds of winds like the Somali Jet <4> and the ITCZ?

Dragonflies are reputed to be powerful fliers, and several species migrate long distances <5>. The Globe Skimmer is considered to be the most widespread dragonfly, occurring between the 40th parallels of latitude worldwide, and it is common across India <6>. Several populations of this species are known to migrate, and there are recorded migrations of Globe Skimmers from South America to Easter Island (possibly 3,600 km or more), to New Zealand (2,000 km), across the Chinese Bohai sea (nocturnal migrations) and over the Hindu Kush mountains (at altitudes of 6,500m asl). Within the Indian subcontinent, the Globe Skimmer arrives in Tamil Nadu after the North-East Monsoon, while in the western regions it arrives with the South-West monsoon, implying that there might be more than one migratory circuit even within this region.

While dragonflies and insects remain challenging to track over long distances, a number of studies have used arrival date information, mark-recapture techniques, and even radio-telemetry <7> to determine their migratory patterns. But, given the epic scale of the migration uncovered by Anderson, perhaps it would make sense to simultaneously examine both more visible taxa like birds and more populous taxa like insects. Doing so might provide a more comprehensive account of migratory patterns, mechanisms, and the evolutionary reasons for these spectacular journeys.


1. Anderson, R.C. 2009. Do dragonflies migrate across the western Indian Ocean? Journal of Tropical Ecology 25(4): 347-348. Download pdf.

2. The ITCZ is a weather system around the equator where the North-East and South-West trade winds converge. More information.

3. The ITZC in Africa.

4. Meijing, L., Ke, F. and Huijun, W. 2008. Somali Jet Changes under the Global Warming. Acta Meterologica Sinica. 22 (4): 502-510. Download pdf.

5. Corbet, P. S. 1999. Dragonflies: Behavior and Ecology of Odonata. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.

6. Subramanian, K.A. 2005. Dragonflies and damselflies of peninsular India. A field guide. Edition 1.0. E-book of Project Lifescape, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science and Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, India. 118 pages. Copyright K.A.Subramanian, 2005. Download pdf.

7. Wikelski, M., Moskowitz, D., Adelman, J.A., Cochran, J., Wilcove, D.S. and May. M.L. 2006. Simple rules guide dragonfly migration. Biology Letters, 2: 325-329. (Wikelski and colleagues radio-tagged 14 dragonflies in North America and followed them for 12 days with Cessna planes and ground teams.) Download pdf.

Pied Cuckoo in the news (and recent sightings)

Sunday, 7 June, 2009

The early arrival of the monsoon and a possible link with Pied Cuckoo arrivals is the subject of a short article by Max Martinmailtoday_screenshot_small1 writing in the Mail Today on Saturday, 6 June. (Please note that the photo was taken by Clement Francis.) A shortened version also appeared in The Hindu News Update Service on the same day.

We’d like to clarify that the earliest first sighting date for migrant Pied Cuckoos this year was not from the Biligiriranga Hills in Karnataka (which is what the article says), but rather from Kolkata on 17th May by Kshounish Sankar Ray.

Other recent sightings have included:
Chandigarh, 23 May (Vikram Jit Singh); Bangalore, 24 May (Suma Rao); 26 May, Bhubaneswar (Aditya C Panda); 26 May, Dehra Dun (Suniti Bhushan Datta); 28 May, Nagpur (Soham Mehta); 29 May, Jalpaiguri (Mousumi Dutta); 2 June, Pune (Anirudh Chaoji); 7 June, Goa (Fionna Prins). All these sightings were reported to MigrantWatch and can be seen on the Pied Cuckoo Campaign page after you log in. (you can also see records from previous years, all the way back to 1910).

In addition to these sightings,  Sunjoy Monga saw a Pied Cuckoo at Mumbai on 1 June, Mumbai (sent to birdsof bombay); Arunachalam Kumar reported seeing a Pied Cuckoo on 10 May in Mangalore (sent to bngbirds), but it isn’t clear whether the species is migrant or resident in this area.

For those of you who are tracking the progress of the monsoon rains, the Indian Meteorological Department, Mumbai has a very useful map indicating the dates of normal onset of the monsoon (there is also a more detailed map on wikipedia). The map for this year’s onset of the monsoon (from IMD, Pune) shows how much earlier the rains have arrived in 2009.