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Broad-tailed Grassbird

Schoenicola platyurus

Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

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The broad-tailed grassbird is a species of Old World warbler in the Locustellidae family. It is endemic to the Western Ghats of India with a possibility of occurrence in Sri Lanka. A small, mostly brown bird, it has a broad rounded and graduated tail. It is found only on the higher altitude grassy hills where it usually skulks, except during the breeding season when males fly up into the air to sing in their display. The species is believed to be a resident although it is possible that they make local movements.

The uniform brown upperparts, broad, round-tipped and long graduated tail of the bird is distinctive. The species has a buff supercilium and the brown tail has thin dark bars. The underside of the tail is very dark and the feathers are tipped with white. Males and females are indistinguishable in plumage. The call of the male during breeding is a lark-like and repeated trill that is accompanied by fanned tail and a fluttering flight. Other calls include a chack and a zink note. The gape colour is black and visible in singing males but is brown in females. In the non-breeding season, it is a skulker moving rapidly between grass and reeds but sometimes perches in the open.

The species has in former times included the African Schoenicola brevirostris which was originally called Catriscus apicalis and later as Schoenicola platyura brevirostris. The Indian species was first described by Jerdon who found the bird at the base of the Gudalur ghat at the foothills of the Nilgiris. The bill is short strong and culmen is slightly curved in the genus and there are two rictal bristles. The tarsus is somewhat long for the proportions. The populations north and south of the Palghat gap are said to differ in plumage shade, the northern form being larger and paler and greyer above with the flanks sandy-brown. The southern form is dark rufous brown above and more whitish below with bright buff on the breast and flanks. This plumage variation was earlier believed to be seasonal. Molecular phylogeny studies place the genus in the warbler subfamily Megalurinae (along with Megalurus, Chaetornis and Graminicola).

The species is restricted to grassy moist highlands, principally in the Western Ghats of southern India mainly south of Karnataka but with some records from Lonavla and Nasik. A specimen was collected by S. A. Hussain at Point Calimere that suggests that the bird may be involved in local movements or migrations possibly into Sri Lanka. Suggestions that it may occur in Sri Lanka are as yet not well supported, there is an old specimen (collected by H. Cumming who has been considered unreliable and doubtfully identified by Colonel Legge) and two unconfirmed sight records from Gammaduwa, Matale Hills and Waitalawa, Rangala Hills. The species has not been reported from the Biligirirangan Hills.

The breeding season appears to be March to May but nests have been seen in July and September and the bird is suspected to raise two broods. The nest is a ball of coarse grass blades with an entrance on the side and placed low in a tussock of long grass. The eggs are white with spot and blotches of brownish red. The usual clutch is about 2 or 3 eggs. It feeds on insects.

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Broad-tailed Grassbird, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai
Broad-tailed Grassbird, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai
Broad-tailed Grassbird, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai
Broad-tailed Grassbird, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see 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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