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Flame-throated Bulbul

Pycnonotus gularis

Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

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The flame-throated bulbul is a member of the bulbul family of passerine birds. It is found only in the forests of the Western Ghats in southern India. Formerly included as a subspecies of Pycnonotus flaviventris it has since been elevated to the status of a full species. They are olive backed with yellow undersides, a triangular orange-red throat and a white iris that stands out against the contrasting black head. They are usually seen foraging in groups in the forest canopy for berries and small insects. They have a call often with two or three tinkling notes that can sound similar to those produced by the red-whiskered bulbul. The species has been referred to by names in the past such as ruby-throated bulbul and black-headed bulbul, but these are ambiguous and could apply to other species such as Pycnonotus flaviventris and P. dispar.

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The species was described by John Gould in December 1835 (but published in 1836) based on a specimen in the Zoological Society of London that had been obtained from Travancore State. Gould noted that it was very similar to Brachypus dispar that had been described by Thomas Horsfield and placed the new species likewise in the genus Brachypus as B. gularis. Viscount Walden suggested that this had already been described by Jerdon as Brachypus rubineus and called as the "ruby-throated bulbul" (although this name was published later). This was later included as a subspecies of a larger number of similar bulbuls in the Asian region under a broadly circumscribed Pycnonotus melanicterus. With the re-resurgence of the phylogenetic species concept, the isolated population in the Western Ghats of India was separated as the flame-throated bulbul. The crested populations in the Eastern Ghats and Himalayas that lack the red throat which were treated as subspecies flaviventris were also elevated into full species as Pycnonotus flaviventris. Pycnonotus melanicterus in the new and narrow circumscription only included the Sri Lankan population referred to as the black-capped bulbul. This treatment was followed by Pamela Rasmussen in Birds of South Asia and the Handbook of the Birds of the World which were both published in 2005 by Lynx Edicions. A 2017 study noted that the Western Ghats P. gularis and Sri Lankan P. melanicterus were closely related within the clade that includes P. montis, P. dispar, and P. flaviventris (the older and broader circumscription of melanicterus).

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The flame-throated bulbul is about 18 cm long with an olive green back and yellow underparts, a squarish black head without a crest, an orange-red throat. The iris is white and contrasts with the dark head. The legs are brown and the gape is yellowish-pink. The bill is dark brown to black. The plumage of young birds has not been described.

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The flame-throated bulbul is found in the Western Ghats from southern Maharashtra and Goa southwards. It is a bird of forest that is only rarely seen at the edges of forests or inside coffee plantations.

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The flame-throated bulbul keeps in small flocks and feeds on berries, including those of Lantana sp. It inhabits evergreen forests often along streams and valleys. The flame-throated bulbul feeds on fruit and insects sometime in mixed species foraging flocks.

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Populations appear to move seasonally within the Western Ghats.

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The breeding season is mostly from February to April. The nest is a small cup, placed in undergrowth from 1 to 3 metres from the ground level and is usually made of yellowing leaves bound with cobwebs and can easily be mistaken for a wind-blown accumulation of dry leaves.

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Flame-throated Bulbul, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai
Flame-throated Bulbul, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai
Flame-throated Bulbul, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai
Flame-throated Bulbul, 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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