Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Reconnaissance: Magarpatta City Garden

Magarpatta City hosts a rather impressive garden at its very center. Flanked on all sides by 'Towers', the garden has a somewhat circular shape and is quite vast. There are mostly lawns, flower beds, a few Nilgiri trees, Bamboo bushes, even a pond. After 2 months in Magarpatta City, a 'recon' mission to this garden was due. So off I went.

First up were Yellow Wagtails. Plenty of them. Scurrying over the lawns, and wagging their tails like a manual water-pump, they were rather amusing to watch. Some were looking for worms, others were just squabbling about. A few were making chirping calls. A good start!

Two Black Drongos were sitting calmly on a small tree nearby. There were Red-Vented Bulbuls flitting in and out of small bushes, apparently chased by Common Mynas. An old man in the vicinity was wondering what I was doing....

Moving on, I came to a big tree. A rather harsh sound made me look up. It was a Eurasian Golden Oriole. For such a nice looking bird, its call (which was somewhat like a cat's snarl) was certainly incongruous. It soon disappeared into the foliage.

And after that came a pond. Not surprisingly, a Pond Heron was standing on some Lotus leaves staring intently at the water. Behind them, almost like magic, two Red-Wattled Lapwings materialized into view. They were nearly camouflaged against the background, which was the pond's white border by the way. Puzzles me how these Lapwings manage to blend themselves against even a white background!

A little ahead were some Bamboo bushes, bursting with activity. Green Bee-eaters were busy hunting for insects. An unidentified warbler was hopping about. A White-Throated Fantail Flycatcher sat on a small white fence (like those in the old Cricket stadiums) and swerved rapidly from side to side. Perched beside it, a Magpie Robin occasionally dropped to the ground and pecked at it, apparently feeding on insects. Red-Whiskered Bulbuls were sitting atop some nearby bushes.

Mission accomplished. Back to work!

Monday, October 13, 2008

A bird in the shadows

On Saturday, I decided to pay another visit to the mango trees on which I'd seen the Fantail. Armed with binoculars this time, I could see some of the more common birds. There was a Common Tailorbird, some Red-Whiskered Bulbuls, a Common Iora, etc. There was also another bird, a shy one, that seemed to hover on the lowest branch on one of the smaller mango trees.

I couldn't make out what it was. Indeed, for most of the time it was partially covered by foliage. A tiny bird, smaller than a sparrow, that wasn't exactly too active. It dropped down into the grass a couple of times, only to settle back on its branch. I could barely make out a buffish colour on its back, and after quite a lot of eye-straining could make out that it had dark coloured legs. I still couldn't see its face...it was facing the other way!

Then suddenly it turned towards me. And I could see a beautiful smear of pale orange on its throat. It was as if the bird was blushing! The colour was so appealing, and yet not bright or gaudy. I'd never seen this bird before!

When it hopped or flew to a nearby twig, I could see its small tail that forked out into a kind of inverted heart, i.e. into two lobes, thus showing a black and white composition. It stayed in the area for about 10 minutes, and finally flew away. Quite excited, I returned home and began a search through Grimmett. Initially, I thought it was a Northern Wheatear. But a check of its habitat and range quickly eliminated the possibility. Also, this bird didn't have a white rump like the Wheatear.

Then I saw a picture of a Red-Throated Flycatcher in Grimmett, which looked quite like the bird I'd seen. The habitat and range was a match too! Still a little unsure, I called up Adesh to see what his opinion was. A description of the pale orange throat and its habits was enough to confirm the sighting. It was a Red-Throated Flycather! A lifer!

Some facts about the bird
The bird is a winter migrant found over most of the subcontinent. Being a Flycatcher, it feeds mainly on small insects. It is now considered a seperate species from the Red-Breasted Flycatcher which has a deep orange upper chest in addition to the throat.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fantail Flycatcher: powered by Duracell

Some facts about the bird:
About 18cm long, the bird is a common breeding resident found in the southern half of the sub-continent. It gets its name from the distinctive shape of its tail, which is so often spread out into a fan. It is often confused with another similar looking species known as the White-Browed Fantail Flycatcher, which has a much wider range. Both are extremely active birds.

On my way to work today, I stopped by some mango trees to see if there was any bird activity. Sure enough, there was a White-Throated Fantail Flycatcher bubbling with enthusiasm on one of the smaller trees. It is one of the most active members of the bird family, and today was no exception. It's as though it were powered by Duracell batteries! That's right. It just goes on and on!

If you were to write an 'algorithm' for the bird's movements, you'd end up with something like this: 'hop-hop-swerve around-spread tail-swerve back-hop-.....'. This would go on forever and that too at a rapid pace!

Ofcourse, the bird can't keep up this energy level without food. Indeed, it feeds quite often on insects in a single day, and that fuels its engines. It's quite a sight to see this bird leave its perch to chase a fly or a moth, somtimes vertically, catch it in mid-air and return to its perch to devour the unfortunate victim.

I watched this bird for about 5 minutes, and in that time it seemed to traverse its own tree's branches and those of the next tree more than twice! It did show a kind of liking to be in an area for some time before moving on to some other tree.

Meanwhile there were some other birds around too. There was a Common Tailorbird, and probably a Common Iora too, whose bright yellow body was noticeable from a distance. I didn't have binocs with me, so I can't be certain about the Iora. But I've seen Common Ioras here twice before.

I had a bus to catch, and turned away. The Fantail was still merrily hopping about.

A Shikra visits Magarpatta City

While on the terrace today after lunch, I spotted a Shikra on one of the buildings in front of mine. It slowly came up from one side and perched on what looked like telecommunication antennae on the building. Its flight was unmistakeable, rapid flaps and then a glide, almost looking like a koel from far away...

After it had perched, some nearby crows were obviously offended, and they tried to drive it away. There were minor tiffs, with one of the crows coming right at the Shikra forcing it to leave its perch and take to the air. Then another joined, and the Shikra simply settled on a nearby lone spike-like antenna at one end of the building.

But the crows wouldn't have any of it. They had another go at it, and by now I guess even the Shikra had had enough. After dodging the pestering crows, its beautiful falcon like body gently swerved towards my building and with minimum flaps of its wings it traversed that great distance in no time and sped away even across my building!

It was the first time I felt that a Shikra was fit to be called a "bird of prey" based on its flight alone, as I have always seen it fly at an easy pace and wondered "how does this bird fly so easily and still catch prey?"....!! I hope to see it again soon!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Oriental White-Eyes seen from my balcony!

See its photo here

Saw this bird today morning on a bush full of big brushy red flowers. The bird was full of energy, constantly jerking its head in all directions, hopping about, occasionally scratching itself! A chubby little bird it is, and the white eye-ring was quite conspicuous. Its bottom too was noticeable as a bright yellow spot. There were two of them. I saw them yesterday too, except that was in the afternoon. Seeing this bird here in the suburbs of Pune was quite a delight! [:)] The last time (and the only time) I'd seen it was on an Industrial Visit organized by our college to some companies around Pune in January 2008. We'd been to a garden named after Indira Gandhi somewhere near Pimpri and I only got a glimpse of these birds, which were in a party of about 7-8 in the scrub-like forest.

This bird has an amazing camouflage! Its lemon green colour nearly blended it into the similar coloured leaves of the bush. Curiously enough, the bird was only tugging at the base of the long red flowers, which had many smaller "sub-flowers" all the way to the tip. Perhaps that's indeed the only way it could feed on the nectar by balancing itself. I recalled David Attenborough's documentary where he mentioned birds being attracted to reddish coloured flowers. I soon realised how much more fun it is to actually see things like these in real life!

There was a squirrel running all over the bush too, and the white-eyes were quite efficient in keeping out of its way. Later, a couple of Purple-Rumped Sunbird females paid a visit, and the bush was busy with activity. But it soon stopped, with the White-Eyes scurrying off to a nearby broad-leaved tree. Grimmet et al. certainly mention its habitat as "Open broad-leaved forest and wooded areas"! The leaves of this tree weren't that broad, but surely about as broad as those of a Cashew-nut tree. Perhaps it is a Cashew-nut tree!! Whatever it is, the bird could now be seen clearly against the dark leaves, albeit only for a few moments. It soon disappeared into the foliage. A perfect start to a Sunday morning!

Facts about the bird compiled from various sources:
Measuring about ~10cm from beak to tail-tip, the bird is a breeding resident found over most of the sub-continent. Its quite a common bird and breeds from February-September. Both sexes look the same, and its usually a gregarious bird. I've yet to find out what this bird feeds on, but I'm sure nectar would be on the menu!