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Ashy Woodswallow

Artamus fuscus

Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The ashy woodswallow sometimes also called the ashy swallow-shrike is a woodswallow which is found in south Asia. Like other woodswallows, it has a short curve bill and a short square tail and long wings. It is usually seen perched in groups, high on powerlines, tall bare trees and most often in areas with a predominance of tall palm trees.

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This stocky woodswallow has an ashy grey upperparts with a darker head and a narrow pale band on the rump. The underside is pinkish grey and the short slaty black tail is tipped in white. The finch-like bill is silvery. In flight the long wing looks very broad at the base giving it a very triangular outline. The first primary is very short. The legs are short and the birds usually perch on high vantage points from which they make aerial sallies. There are no geographic variations in plumage and no subspecies have been designated.

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Males and females are indistinguishable in the field, however an old report suggests that the sexes differ in the colour of the inside of the mouth. Young birds appear barred on the underside.

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Woodswallows are found in a range of habitats from the plains to about 2000 m, over cultivated areas, in forest clearings and often in areas with tall palm trees. The species is widely distributed across Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia and China. They are absent in the very arid regions of western India. They have been recorded on the island of Maldives.

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Ashy woodswallows are usually seen in small groups. Several birds may sit huddled side-by-side on the bare branches of a tall tree, sometimes preening each other. They also perch on high vantage points such as powerlines and pylons. From their perches, they make aerial sallies, flapping and gliding to capture insects in the air. Insects may be caught in the beak, transferred and held in their feet, torn up with their bill and swallowed without returning to the perch. They may also return to the perch with prey to feed and will sometimes sit on the ground and have been known to visit bird baths. Although mainly feeding on insects, they may take nectar from flowers of trees such as Erythrina. They have been recorded feeding on toxic butterflies of the family Danaiidae such as Euploea core which are avoided by other birds.

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The breeding season in India is March to June, the nest is a shallow cup placed at some height such as at the base of the frond of a tall palm or a hollow atop a street lighting post. The usual clutch consists of 2–3 greenish white eggs with brown spots. Both parents take part in nest building, incubation and feeding the young. They will mob larger birds such as crows and birds of prey that approach too close to the nesting birds. The song consists of a varied combination of wheezy notes that may include imitations of the calls of other birds. The usual call is shrill nasal chewk.

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The woodswallows, Artamidae, are among the few perching birds that have special feathers called powder down that break up into fine dust that is spread by the birds onto their body when preening. Powder down is also found in the egrets. Members of the family have a brush-tipped tongue. They also have some of the thoracic vertebrae fused into a structure called the notarium.

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A species of ectoparasitic birdlouse, Menacanthus elbeli, and a mite that lives inside the feather quill have been described from hosts of this species. Other organisms associated with the species include endoparasitic trematodes Plagiorchis dactylopharynx, Papillatrema echinata and Stomylotrema travassosi.

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In 2011, Felix Liechti and his colleagues at the Swiss Ornithological Institute attached electronic tags that log movement to six alpine swifts and it was discovered that the birds could stay aloft in the air for more than 200 days straight.

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