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Ashy Prinia

Prinia socialis

Migrant Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The ashy prinia or ashy wren-warbler is a small warbler. This prinia is a resident breeder in the Indian Subcontinent, ranging across most of India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and western Myanmar. It is a common bird in urban gardens and farmland in many parts of India and its small size, distinctive colours and upright tail make it easy to identify. The northern populations have a rufous rump and back and have a distinct breeding and non-breeding plumage while other populations lack such variation.

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These 13–14 cm long warblers have short rounded wings and longish graduated cream tail tipped with black subterminal spots. The tail is usually held upright and the strong legs are used for clambering about and hopping on the ground. They have a short black bill. The crown is grey and the underparts are rufous in most plumages. In breeding plumage, adults of the northern population are ash grey above, with a black crown and cheek with no supercilium and coppery brown wings. In non-breeding season, this population has a short and narrow white supercilium and the tail is longer. They are found singly or in pairs in shrubbery and will often visit the ground.

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In winter, the northern subspecies, P. s. stewartii Blyth, 1847, has warm brown upperparts and a longer tail and has seasonal variation in plumage. The other races retain summer plumage all year round. West Bengal and eastwards has race inglisi Whistler & Kinnear, 1933 which is darker slaty above than the nominate race of the Peninsula and deeper rufous on the flanks with a finer and shorter beak. The distinctive endemic race in Sri Lanka, P. s. brevicauda Legge, 1879, has a shorter tail and has the juveniles with yellowish underparts apart from a distinct call.

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This passerine bird is found in dry open grassland, open woodland, scrub and in home gardens in many cities. The northern limits of the species are along the Himalayan foothills extending into the upper Indus river system. The species is absent from the dry desert zone of the west of India and extends east into Burma. The Sri Lankan population is found mainly in the lowlands but going up into the hills to about 1600 m.

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Like most warblers, the ashy prinia is insectivorous. The song is a repetitive tchup, tchup, tchup or zeet-zeet-zeet. Another call is a nasal tee-tee-tee. It also makes a sound like "electric sparks" during its fluttery flight, which is thought to be produced by the wings. (one author however suggests that it is made by the beak)

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It is most easily distinguished by the loud snapping noise it makes during flight. How this noise is produced we do not know for certain. Reid was of opinion that the bird snapped its long tail. What exactly this means I do not know. Jesse believes that the sound is produced by the bird's mandibles. I have spent much time in watching the bird, and am inclined to think that the noise is caused by the beating of the wings against the tail. This last is constantly being wagged and jerked, and it seems to me that the wings beat against it as the bird flits about. When doves and pigeons fly, their wings frequently meet, causing a flapping sound. I am of opinion that something similar occurs when the ashy wren-warbler takes to its wings.

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The non-migratory Prinia genus shows biannual moult, which is rare among passerines. A moult occurs in spring (April to May) and another moult occurs in autumn (October to November). Biannual moult is theorized to be favoured when ectoparasite loads are very high, however no investigations have been made. Prinia socialis moults some remiges twice a year and is termed to have a partially biannual moult, however some authors describe P. socialis socialis as having two complete moults.

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The song is delivered from the top of a bush and males make fluttery display flights with the tail held up. The ashy prinia builds its nest close to the ground in a shrub or tall grass and lays 3 to 5 eggs. Several types of nests have been described, including a flimsy cup made by sewing several large leaves; an oblong purse like structure with grass stems in the structure; and a flimsy ball of grass. The usual nest is placed low in a bush and consists of leaves stitched together with webs, lined with hair and having an entrance on the side. The eggs are of a somewhat pointed oval form and exceedingly glossy. They vary from brick-red to rich chestnut in colour, some being paler, some darker. The broad end of the egg is generally darker than the remainder of the shell, and exhibits a cap or zone. The eggs measure from 0.6 to 0.68 inches length, and from 0.45 to 0.5 in breadth. The eggs hatch in about 12 days.

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The breeding season varies with locality and has been recorded breeding around the year but mostly after the monsoons. In north India it is mainly June to September and in Sri Lanka mainly December to March or August to October. Breeds during May to June in the Nilgiris. The species is believed to be monogamous and both the male and the female take part in incubation and feeding though to varying extents. Parents may spend more time at the nest during cool days. The eggs hatch in about 12 days. Cuckoos Cacomantis merulinus and Cacomantis passerinus have been known to be brood parasites of this species. When the nest is threatened by predators such as cats, adults have been observed feigning injury.

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Rare cases of birds reusing material from a nest to rebuild a nest at a new location have been noted.

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Ashy Prinia, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Ashy Prinia, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Ashy Prinia, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Ashy Prinia, Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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Wings over Valparai

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The Anamalai Tiger Reserve and Valparai area in Western-Ghats of Tamilnadu are both perfect bird watching destinations. Birders will marvel at the array of colorful birds like Hornbills, Thrush Family, Flycatchers, woodpeckers and of course the sighting of our national bird, The Indian Peafowl.

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There are more than 350 species of birds found in Anamalais. The list includes resident birds, winter visitors and endemic birds of Anamalais. Nearly 5 % of birds found in Anamalai Tiger Reserve are endemic to Western Ghats

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What is birdwatching?

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Birdwatching or birding is the observation and study of birds with the naked eye or through a visual enhancement device like binoculars. Birding often involves a significant auditory component, as many bird species are more readily detected and identified by ear than by eye. Most birdwatchers pursue this activity mainly for recreational or social reasons, unlike ornithologists, who engage in the study of birds using more formal scientific methods.

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What do you need for birdwatching?

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• The most basic equipment required for bird watching is your eyes. That´s true but you will soon need to have more items with you if you intend to make this a pastime or serious hobby. How far you go is a matter of taste and budget.

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• The most useful thing that you can carry is a notepad and pencil. Use this to make a note of location, time, date, weather and habitat. Do a list of the birds that you see and know. Do a drawing or write down a description of those that you don’t. You can look them up later in you field guide. Your notebook should become a diary of where you have been and what you have seen. It will become a useful record as time passes.

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• A Field guide is a book, normally illustrated with drawings or photographs, which provides descriptions of birds that assists you in their identification. The descriptions use several factors to help you determine the exact bird that you are looking at. As soon as you see a bird that you do not recognize you will need to have access a good field guide. There are many to choose from. They come in various shapes, sizes, weight and cost.

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• Sites guides. These give locations where you can watch birds, the species you are likely to see and the best time to watch.

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• Binoculars. These are pretty essential and buy the best that you can afford. A good pair well looked after will last you a lifetime. Take time to choose ones that suit you.

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• Clothing. Bird watching being primarily an outdoor pursuit, it is sensible to have lightweight but warm and waterproof clothing. You will be more comfortable if you wear the right type of clothing for the conditions you are in.

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• Telescope. If you want to get a really close look at birds then you will need to get a bird watching scope and tripod. These are more expensive than binoculars but if you get to be serious about bird watching you will soon want to have them.

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• Camera. A simple point and shoot digital camera is good if you are close to birds, especially if you have a zoom lens. If not close enough to shoot birds it is still good to take general views or mementos of your day out. More expensive cameras, with telephoto lenses, can bring you close in to the birds.

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• Digiscoping. You can take pictures via your Scope–using it as a telephoto lens. You will need attachments for your scope.

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Code of birding ethics

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1. Promote the welfare of birds and their environment.
1. (a) Support the protection of important bird habitat.
1. (b) To avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording, or filming.
   Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is Threatened, Endangered, or of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area;
   Keep well back from nests and nesting colonies, roosts, display areas, and important feeding sites. In such sensitive areas, if there is a need for extended observation, photography, filming, or recording, try to use a blind or hide, and take advantage of natural cover.
   Use artificial light sparingly for filming or photography, especially for close-ups.
1. (c) Before advertising the presence of a rare bird, evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, its surroundings, and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance minimized, and permission has been obtained from private land-owners. The sites of rare nesting birds should be divulged only to the proper conservation authorities.
1. (d) Stay on roads, trails, and paths where they exist; otherwise keep habitat disturbance to a minimum.

2. Respect the law, and the rights of others.
2. (a) Do not enter private property without the owner’s explicit permission.
2. (b) Follow all laws, rules, and regulations governing use of roads and public areas, both at home and abroad.
2. (c) Practice common courtesy in contacts with other people. Your exemplary behavior will generate goodwill with birders and non-birders alike.

3. Ensure that feeders, nest structures, and other artificial bird environments are safe.
3. (a) Keep dispensers, water, and food clean, and free of decay or disease. It is important to feed birds continually during harsh weather.
3. (b) Maintain and clean nest structures regularly.
3. (c) If you are attracting birds to an area, ensure the birds are not exposed to predation from cats and other domestic animals, or dangers posed by artificial hazards.

4. Group birding, whether organized or impromptu, requires special care.
  Each individual in the group, in addition to the obligations spelled out in Items #1 and #2, has responsibilities as a Group Member.
4. (a) Respect the interests, rights, and skills of fellow birders, as well as people participating in other legitimate outdoor activities. Freely share your knowledge and experience, except where code 1(c) applies. Be especially helpful to beginning birders.
4. (b) If you witness unethical birding behavior, assess the situation, and intervene if you think it prudent. When interceding, inform the person(s) of the inappropriate action, and attempt, within reason, to have it stopped. If the behavior continues, document it, and notify appropriate individuals or organizations.

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Other highlights for the avid birder will be the sighting of The Great HornBill or Thrush. Learn more about the endamic, migrants and other birds in and around valparai by checking out the list

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The below list is created in the guidance of Mr. K Selva Ganesh, Cinchona Government High School, Valparai who teaches English. Along with his students, won ebird’s Great Backyard Bird Count challenge, 2017. They contributed 360 checklists of birds, the highest number in the bird count challenge, and recorded 111 species.

Images and Data courtesy Mr. K Selva Ganesh, Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia and ebird.org

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List of Endamic Birds of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

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List of Migrant Birds that can be seen in Valparai

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List of Other Birds you can see in Valparai

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