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Forest Wagtail

Falco tinnunculus

Migrant Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The forest wagtail is a medium-sized passerine bird in the wagtail family Motacillidae. It has a distinctive plumage that sets it apart from other wagtails and has the habit of wagging its tail sideways unlike the usual up and down movements of the other wagtail species. It is the only wagtail species that nests in trees. They are found mainly in forested habitats, breeding in the temperate parts of east Asia and wintering across tropical Asia from India to Indonesia.

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This is a distinctive wagtail, the only one placed in the genus Dendronanthus (all other wagtails are placed in Motacilla). The forest wagtail is 18 cm in length, a slender bird with a long tail. The back and crown are olive brown, and the wings are black with two yellow wing bars and white tertial edges. There is a white supercilium, above a dark stripe through the eye. The underparts are white, apart from a black double breast band. The upper breast band is bib-like while the lower band is often broken. Sexes are similar. Young birds are more yellowish on the underside.

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As its English and scientific names imply, this is a forest species, a distinction from all other wagtails. It is usually found in open areas of the woodland such as clearings. In winter it is found mainly in well-shaded forest habitats or along paths in coffee plantations and clearings in forests.

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The breeding areas are in eastern Asia, parts of Korea, parts of China (Kansu, Anhwei, Hunan) and parts of Siberia. Southern records of breeding from Assam have been questioned. It migrates to the warmer parts of Asia in winter and it has been suggested that they reach southern India and Sri Lanka via the Andaman Islands. It has been recorded as a vagrant in the Maldives.

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These wagtails are found singly or in small groups. They often forage in the trees and capture insects along the branches of trees. They may also forage on the ground like a pipit and when disturbed, it flies up into the trees with a sharp pink note. They roost in the company of other wagtails among reeds. The song includes disyllabic tsi-fee notes repeated several times. They can climb steep branches and will run rapidly along horizontal branches.

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The breeding season is May in northeastern India and June in the Amur region. The forest wagtail leaves the winter quarters towards the end of March from Sri Lanka and mid March from the Malay Peninsula, the last birds leaving around May. During particularly cold springs, the arrival in the summer breeding grounds near the Kedrovaya River (Ussuri Land) can be as late as the end of May. Males sing from May to July, and when calling the bird sways at each syllable. It is the only wagtail that builds nests on trees, often favouring oaks. It builds its cup-shaped nest made up of fine grass and rootlets matted with moss and cobwebs. The nest is built by the female alone and the male stands guard nearby. The usual clutch is five eggs, incubated by the female alone for about 13 to 15 days. Incubation begins before the full clutch is laid and the eggs hatch at intervals. The young fledge and leave the nest after about 10 to 12 days. Both the males and females take part in feeding the young. Like other wagtails, this species is insectivorous.

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Apart from its unusual plumage pattern and habitat, the forest wagtail differs from its Motacilla relatives in its strange habit of swaying its tail from side to side, not wagging it up and down like other wagtails. The Japanese name Jokofury-sekirei (=sideways-swinging wagtail) ) is based on this habit. In Sri Lanka, they often search for maggots in cattle dung and for this reason are known as gomarita (=dung-spreader).

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The brown shrike sometimes imitates the calls of the forest wagtail.

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Forest Wagtail, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Forest Wagtail, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Forest Wagtail, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Forest Wagtail, 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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