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Dusky Crag-Martin

Ptyonoprogne concolor

Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The dusky crag martin is a small passerine bird in the swallow family. It is about 13 cm long with a broad body and wings, and a short square tail that has small white patches near the tips of most of its feathers. This martin has sooty-brown upperparts and slightly paler underparts. The two subspecies are resident breeding birds in South Asia from the Indian subcontinent to southwestern China and the northern parts of Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.

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This martin nests under a cliff overhang or on a man-made structure, building a neat half-cup mud nest with a soft lining. Both adults incubate the two to four eggs and feed the chicks. This species does not form large breeding colonies, but it is more gregarious outside the breeding season. It feeds a wide variety of insects that are caught as the martin flies near to cliff faces. It may be hunted by large bats as well as birds of prey, but its extensive and expanding range and large population mean that there are no significant conservation concerns.

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The dusky crag martin was formally described by in 1832 as Hirundo concolor by British soldier and ornithologist William Henry Sykes. It was moved to the new genus Ptyonoprogne by German ornithologist Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach in 1850. Its nearest relatives are the three other members of the genus, the rock martin P. fuligula, the pale crag martin, P. obsoleta, and the Eurasian crag martin P. rupestris. The genus name is derived from the Greek ptuon, "a fan", referring to the shape of the opened tail, and Procne, a mythological girl who was turned into a swallow. The specific concolor is from Latin, con "together", and color "colour" and refers to the bird's uniform colouration.

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The four Ptyonoprogne species are members of the swallow family of birds, and are classed as members of the Hirundininae subfamily which comprises all swallows and martins except the very distinctive river martins. DNA studies suggest that there are three major groupings within the Hirundininae, broadly correlating with the type of nest built. The groups are the "core martins" including burrowing species like the sand martin, the "nest-adopters", which are birds like the tree swallow that utilise natural cavities, and the "mud nest builders". The Ptyonoprogne species construct an open mud nest and therefore belong to the latter group; Hirundo species also build open nests, Delichon house martins have a closed nest, and the Cecropis and Petrochelidon swallows have retort-like closed nests with an entrance tunnel.

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The genus Ptyonoprogne is closely related to the larger swallow genus Hirundo into which it is often subsumed, but a DNA analysis showed that an enlarged Hirundo genus should contain all the mud-builder genera, including the Delichon house martins, a practice which few authorities follow. Although the nests of the Ptyonoprogne crag martins resembles those of typical Hirundo species like the barn swallow, the research showed that if Delichon, Cecropis and Petrochelidon are split from Hirundo, Ptyonoprogne should be also considered as a separate genus.

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In Pakistan, the breeding range of the dusky crag martin overlaps that of the subspecies P. f. peloplasta of pale crag martin, but that species breeds much higher in the mountains. This altitudinal separation means that it is not known whether the two closely related martins could hybridise, which would cast doubts as to whether they were distinct species. Dusky crag martins from Burma and Thailand have been described as a separate darker subspecies, P. c. sintaungensis (originally Krimnochelidon concolor sintaungensis, Baker, 1832), but it is not clear that the difference is greater than that between individual martins of the nominate subspecies.

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The dusky crag martin is 13 cm long with a broad body, wings and tail. It has sooty-brown upperparts and slightly paler underparts, with a streaked pale dull rufous chin, throat and foreneck. The tail is short and square, with small white patches near the tips of all but the central and outermost pairs of feathers. The underwing coverts are dark brown, the eyes are brown, the small bill is mainly black, and the legs are brownish-pink. The sexes are alike, but juveniles have rufous grey tips to the plumage of the upperparts and wings. This species can be distinguished from the Eurasian crag martin and rock martin by its darker underparts, and its white tail spots are significantly smaller than those of the Eurasian crag martin. The under-tail coverts are of the same shade as the underside of the abdomen but these are darker in the Eurasian crag martin.

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This small martin's flight is typically slow and leisurely, but it is capable of considerable speed when required. The calls are similar to those of the Eurasian crag martin and include a soft chi, chi contact call and a twittering song.

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The nominate subspecies of the dusky crag martin breeds in much of the Indian subcontinent from the base of the Himalayas south to the Nilgiri mountains and east to West Bengal, and P. c. sintaungensis is found in southwestern China, and the northern parts of Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. The dusky crag martin is largely resident apart from local movements after breeding, but it has bred in Malaysia at least once, and occurred as a vagrant to Sri Lanka and probably Borneo.

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The natural breeding habitat is hilly or mountainous country with cliffs, gorges and caves, with nesting typically up to an altitude of about 1,800 m, although up to 2,000 m in Thailand. This martin also breeds in lowland areas utilising man-made structures as a substitute for natural precipices. Stone buildings such as old forts are particularly favoured, and the dusky crag martin can be found in urban areas including Mumbai. Nests on buildings can be 30 m from the ground, and include unusual sites such as light fittings.

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Dusky crag martin pairs typically nest alone, although in suitable locations several pairs may be quite close to each other. The natural nesting habitat is under ledges on cliff faces or river banks, but man-made structures are readily used. Stone buildings such as old hill forts, mosques and tombs are preferred, and other artificial sites include bridges, archways and culverts. Breeding has been reported in every month, but mainly in February and March, and again after the rains start in July and August; usually two broods are raised. The nest, built by both adults, is an open half-cup made of mud and lined with soft material such as feathers or dry grass. It is constructed under an overhang or in a crevice on a cliff or man-made structure, and is re-used for the second brood and in subsequent years. The clutch is two to four eggs, white with reddish brown blotches particularly at the wide end, and averaging 17.7 mm × 13.0 mm with a weight of 1.57 g. Both adults incubate the eggs and feed the chicks. Incubation and nestling periods are unknown but assumed to be similar to those of the Eurasian crag martin (13–17 days to hatching, and 24–27 days to fledge).

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The dusky crag martin feeds mainly on insects caught in flight. When nesting, birds often fly back and forth near to a rock face or building hunting for their prey. This martin is more gregarious outside the breeding season, and may form small flocks where food is abundant. Vertical surfaces are preferred for hunting, and a study of the Eurasian crag martin, which has a similar foraging technique, showed that cliff faces generate standing waves in the airflow which concentrate insects near vertical areas. The martin exploits the area close to the cliff when it hunts, relying on its high manoeuvrability and ability to perform tight turns. When feeding young, foraging is concentrated on the profitable patches in the immediate vicinity of the nest, since there is a negative correlation between foraging distance and feeding rate.

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Dusky Crag-Martin, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Dusky Crag-Martin, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Dusky Crag-Martin, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Dusky Crag-Martin, 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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