Bird Watching

To birder’s delight, a Dollarbird appears in Anuvijay Township

To birder’s delight, a Dollarbird appears in Anuvijay Township

-J. Devaprakash


On a misty January morning this year, Vishnukiran, a class XI student of Atomic Energy Central School in Anuvijay Township – a  housing colony of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project located in southern Tamilnadu – stumbled upon a strange bird at his backyard. It was a blackbird with red beak. To him, it was not a crow as the bird is comparatively smaller, neither was it a myna. He has given it a whirl to recognize the bird, yet he couldn’t figure it out what it was. But he was sure that the bird was an unusual visitor to the place as he was familiar with almost all other birds that visit his garden regularly. Wisely, he took out his handy camera on the spur of the moment and snapped an image of the bird. And soon after that the bird disappeared, leaving no chance for him to take a few more pictures.

Later that evening, he shared the image with me through a social media messenger application. At the first sight of the image which was a long shot of the bird that perched on a tree branch, I thought it was Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus). But a closer look at the image proved me wrong. It was something else. Especially, the red beak and the stout body aroused my interest. A quick analysis of bird books and field guides revealed that the bird in the photo was actually an Oriental Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis).


A Dollarbird was sighted in Kudankulam region and that too for the first time ever. I was visibly enthralled. It was a record sighting, indeed. Thrilled by this fascinating information, I rushed to the spot where Vishnukiran saw the bird. But the bird was no longer there. Over the next few days I kept an eye on that site, I used to stop by the spot frequently with an expectation to see the Dollarbird, but to my dismay the bird never showed up.


Weeks later, the Pelican Nature Club of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project, a voluntary association founded to help support nature conservation, organized the Kudankulam Bird Count, an annual event to study the bird life in the region. A one day survey of birds was held at various places in the locality including the Anuvijay Township. To my surprise, the Dollarbird was sighted again here. It was one of the 84 species of birds that were spotted during the day in this small settlement. The bird was seen in the same area where Vishnukiran had sighted it earlier, but this time on a different tree. It was on a top branch of a tall Night Jasmine tree, enjoying solitude, and making a hoarse “rak” sound repeatedly. From its perch the bird occasionally went after flies and insects. After feasting, it returned to the same perch every time. It was amazing to see the spectacular aerial acrobatics that the bird exhibited while it was chasing the flies.


A member of roller family, the bird earned its name as “Dollarbird” for its distinctive coin-shaped blue spots on its wings. Dollarbird which measures 25 to 30 cm in length and weighs around 150 grams, is bluish overall. Its crown, nape, face and chin are tinted with brown. Its back and wing coverts sport green sheen. While its breast, belly and undertail coverts are greenish blue, the throat and undertail are bright blue and flight feathers are dark blue. It has a short but wide bill with a hook like tip. The bill is of reddish orange while the tip is of black.


Usually, the bird prefers to dwell in forests and shrublands. But often it is seen in urban areas, too. According to reports, the Dollarbird is commonly found in Northeastern India and Western Ghats. But in Anuvijay Township, which doesn’t fall under its distribution range, its sighting is exceptional. The arrival of this rare bird to the nuclear power plant housing colony not just brought exhilaration among the birders in the region but also creates an opportunity to study more about its biogeographic range expansion.   


J. Devaprakash


The author is Senior Manager in 

Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project where he looks after

public awareness and press relations.

He writes about nature, nuclear and communication.


 


Citizen Science

Singing for their supper

Singing for their supper
The superb fairywren is a bird that uses special methods to keep free-loaders out of her nest.
S.Ananthanarayanan
The Old Testament has an account of the device that the army of Gilead, a mountainous area on the Jordan River, used to identify the raiders from the tribe of Ephraim. The raiders were fleeing after a military defeat and were trying to pass off as Gileadites.  The Gileadites asked suspects to say the word, ‘Shibboleth’. The Ephraimite habits of speech made Ephraimites pronounce the word as ‘Sibboleth’, which gave them away.
Diane Colombelli-Négrel, Mark E. Hauber, Jeremy Robertson, Frank J. Sulloway, Herbert Hoi, Matteo Griggio and Sonia Kleindorfer from Flinders University, Adelaide, City University of New York, University of California at Berkley and the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, have written in the journal, Current Biology, of a similar trick that a species of bird employs to identify parasitic, look-alike but alien fledglings that have found their way into the nest.
The superb fairywren is a perching songbird native to Australia and is frequently a victim of parasitic egg-laying in her nest. This is an instance of brood parasitism, where birds, insects and some fish manipulate a host, of the same or another species, to raise the young of the parasite as her own. The parasite usually manages to do this by brood mimicry, or laying eggs that resemble the eggs of the host and can hence pass off as one of the host’s own.
A well known brood parasite is the common cuckoo.  While individual females parasatise specific species, the whole cuckoo species parasatises a variety of hosts. This may be because individual birds learn which species to parasatise according to where they were hatched and hence pass on the trait to their female offspring. The males, however, do not distinguish between females and there is no birth-place-based genetic separation within the species. 
The incentive for brood parasitism is relief from the travails of incubating and rearing fledglings and the freedom to do other things, including having more offspring for other birds to bring up. There is hence evolutionary adaptation to lay eggs that pass off as those of other species.  The host species, however, bears a high cost, in terms of its own survival. The cuckoo fledgling, in fact, is larger than its foster siblings, and pushes them out the nest, to get all the foster parents’ attention. The host species hence adapts away from being parasatised and there is an ‘arms race’. The parasites may even attack and destroy nests if the hosts act to reject the alien eggs. Where hosts could peck and damage alien eggs, the parasites have evolved to have eggs with a tougher shell, so that it is the host’s own eggs that may be damaged. And so the race goes on.
The paper in Current Biology says the superb fairywren has developed a unique defense. Many host species, including the fairywren, cannot identify alien eggs, but can make out the parasitic nestlings. When this happens, they abandon the nest and start afresh. The fairywren is also able identify alien fledglings, but when she does not, the parasite fledgling pushes out the rightful occupants of the nest and develops an imitation of their begging vocalization, to obtain more food from the unwitting foster parents. And hence, the paper says, the arms race in evolution of the host-parasite species becomes an acoustical one, of recognition using sounds.  One species, the Horsfield’s bronze cuckoo is able to imitate the begging calls of its host, but another species, the shining bronze cuckoo is not, and is less frequently a brood parasite of superb fairywrens, the paper says.
The authors of the paper then say the superb Fairywren has developed a complex adaptation to make out alien chicks, a method based on an acoustical identifier learnt by the fledglings even before the eggs have hatched. Her own eggs hatch some 15 days after they are laid.  When the embryos are largely formed, about  5  days before hatching, the mother produces a short, high pitched trill, some 1.8 seconds long, about   every  4 minutes, or  about 16 times every hour.  And the vocalization stopped as soon as the eggs had hatched.
And then, when the eggs had hatched, it was seen that the chicks used a portion of the mother’s call, the ‘signature’ element, as their begging call. This element was different for different mother birds and significantly similar to the calls of the birds’ own chicks. The mother also repeated the call to the male, the father, so that the father could also make out the specific begging calls of the fledglings. Both the parent birds could hence make out the begging calls of their own chicks and hence tell when the chicks were alien.

 

A fair question to raise is why alien fledglings also do not learn the signature trill while they are incubating in the hosts’ nest. The reason is that the parasitic cuckoo eggs that are laid in the host’s nest hatch within about 12 days of being laid.  The cuckoo embryos hence received only3 days of exposure to the mother’s calls, against the 5 days of the wren embryos.  Alien chicks, when they hatch, usually push out the other eggs in the next. This, however, does not take them far, as the alien chicks were have not learnt the begging calls, their ‘Sibboleth’ is made out. And the parent wrens do not feed them.
Control tests, where the eggs laid in one nest were swapped with the eggs of another nest showed that the chicks learnt the begging calls of the foster mother. This shows that the calls were not innate but were learnt. It was also found that playing incorrect begging calls from a loudspeaker stopped the parents from feeding their nestlings.
” There is now no doubt that some seemingly innate traits are the result of experience during the embryonic stages,” the paper says.  The paper notes that our current understanding of how connections between cells in the brain develop and change had its beginning in the bird model. Further work, with rats and monkeys, showed how changes in the brain led to movement of muscles, and then to use thought to work robotic arms. The work reported in this paper, of learning by superb fairywrens before they are born, shows that the bird model could be suitable for more study of prenatal learning and how it is organized in the structure and interconnections of the brain cells.
[the writer can be contacted at response@simplescience.in]

News and Views

News and Views

News and Views

News 
Shahanur Naturalists program

Three batches of naturalists were trained at  Melghat Tiger Reserve during April and May, 2019.
Here is the feed back from some of the participants 

"The program was very well structured and all stay and transfer arrangements were very good. The behavior, attitude and humbleness of the forest staff along with various NGO staff was the best part of the Program.They were all very helpful and went out of their way.
All in all amazing program. The first of a kind attended by me.
Having attended this I would like to suggest that forest department should organize more such programs at a higher level. Field patrolling with forest guard could also be a part of the program. Many thanks Indian wildlife club through which I came to know about the program."

Manish Singh
+91-9470525042

"Thanx a lot for giving us such a great information of the superb n unique naturalist program by MTR. lifetime achievement this is in which few r 
1. Meet with president awardee Mr. Vishal Bansod.
2. Drone operation n control
3. Night stay in Machan
4. Camera trapping training
5. Trekking in core area of a tiger reserve
6. Night Safari
7. Adventure sport
n many more.......thnx thnx a lot.
Requesting u to please let us inform on regular basis of such type of unique n special programs n also d next level (higher level) program of attended event..."

SOME NATH ROY <somenath.somu@gmail.com>

Currently we are promoting a Naturalist Program in Satpura Tiger Reserve.  Here is the link to apply



The Butterfly Pond in Gurgaon

As many of you are aware,  IndianWildlifeClub is crowdfunding to create a water lily pond in the Thousand Shades Butterfly Park in Gurgaon(Gurugram).  we have committed to raise Rs 2 lacs for the project whose  details are given HERE.


The work on the pond has already started and we are aiming to complete the pond work before end of June, 2019. Th NCR region expects monsoon rains by end of June.  Efforts are on to complete the pond digging, lining with geotextile and pond liner to be completed before the rains start. 

Architect Bharati Date and Landscape architect Kavita Ahuja visited the site along with Manish K.  They gave valuable opinions on making the pond long lasting and self sustaining (as far as water availability is concerned).  Estimates of work involved were also shared with us.  As the land belongs to the Forest Department, the officers from the Forest Department have also visited the pond site and given their inputs regarding depth of pond, issues regarding topography of the area etc.

Now that the field inspections and consultations are over, we are hoping to get the pond ready before the monsoons begin.

Funds raised so far by Indianwildlifeclub is Rs 32,300/-
The water plant group led by Manish has pitched in for the pond fund by selling water plants.  See a humorous video on their effort.


As word about the Pond is spreading more support is coming in.  We publish the list of supporters monthly in our forum under the category"butterfly pond".

If you wish to add your contributions, here is the support link


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IndianWildlifeClub You Tube channel has grown to have 1232 subscribers with 203 videos uploaded.  In case you have missed some of our latest uploads, here are the links.
  
New videos 

Happy Mothers Day!!......Er... Parents Day!!-Indian White Eye (Zosterops palpebrosus)

Talk by Dr.Seema Sud on Haldi (Turmeric)

Kedarnath Mountains in the Himalayas-where the River Mandakini originates

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Our Technologist features in Times Of India

Alok Kaushik, the technical brain behind IndianwildlifeClub.com, and associated with us for the last 20 years, is on the front page of today's Times Of India. (TOI dated 12th May 2019, Delhi edition) Read the full report titled "The C++ men:  They can't see, but can code as fast as those with sight"

 Here is a quote

"It’s interesting to observe Alok Kaushik at work. You can see him typing on a keyboard but there’s no screen. There’s no mouse either. Kaushik, a senior application developer with an e-commerce platform in the UK who works with complex software, is blind. So he has no use for a screen or a mouse.


And he can code just as fast — and well — as the next guy who can see. Coming to his aid is assistive software called “screen reader” that converts written text into speech. That, essentially, has


changed his world."

 

https://www.pressreader.com/india/the-times-of-india-new-delhi-edition/textview


Alok is currently employed in London.  He advises us on critical technical issues.

Alok, we at IndianwildlifeClub.com , are proud of what you have achieved at Indianwildlifeclub.com

Here is a photograph of Alok Kaushik and Dr.Susan Sharma receiving the Innovation Award from IIT, Delhi




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