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Gray-breasted Prinia

Prinia hodgsonii

Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The grey-breasted prinia or Franklin's prinia is a wren-warbler belonging to the family of small passerine birds found mainly in warmer southern regions of the Old World. This prinia is a resident breeder in the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka and southeast Asia. Like other prinias, it often holds the tail upright but it is easily told by a smoky grey band across the breast which contrasts with a white throat. The beak is all black while the legs are pink. The tail is graduated as in other prinias and the grey feathers are tipped in white. In the breeding plumage the upperparts are grey while non-breeding birds are pale above with rufous wings and a weak supercilium. It is found in scrub, forest clearings and other open but well vegetated habitats. It can be confused with the rufescent prinia.

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This species was named by James Franklin as Prinia gracilis in 1831 based on a specimen that he obtained on the Ganges between Calcutta and Benares. It was renamed as Prinia hodgsonii by Edward Blyth in 1844 since the name Sylvia gracilis had been in use for the graceful prinia (described earlier in 1823 by Martin Lichtenstein) clashed when treated in the same genus Prinia. It was also described as Prinia adamsi by Jerdon and as Prinia humilis by Hume. This was placed in a separate genus Franklinia by Blyth and this treatment was followed by Jerdon and by others including Hugh Whistler who separated this species from the genus Prinia and placed it in the genus Franklinia which he considered distinct on the basis of having twelve tail feathers rather than ten and in having distinct breeding and non-breeding plumages. The merging of Prinia and Franklinia was supported by H. G. Deignan.

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These 11-to-13-centimetre long warblers have a longish grey tail with graduated feathers that are tipped in white, they have strong pinkish legs and a short black bill. The eye ring is orange. The sexes look alike in most populations except in P .h. pectoralis of Sri Lanka where the female can be told apart by the incomplete breast band. The underparts are buff white and the grey breast band contrasts with the white throat in the breeding season. They have a rufous wing panel and the upperparts are smoky grey during the breeding season and olive brown in the non-breeding period. Non-breeding birds have a short indistinct white supercilium and often lack the breast band. Young birds are like non-breeding adults but more rufous above. The distinctive greyer endemic race in Sri Lanka, P. h. pectoralis, retains the summer-type plumage all year round. Young birds have a pale lower mandible. The tail feathers are shorter in summer than in the non-breeding winter plumage.

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This skulking passerine bird is typically found in open woodland, scrub jungle, bushes and hedgerows amidst cultivation. Also found in bamboo jungle, mangrove swamps and reeds. P. h. rufula has been observed in patches of sugarcane near Kathmandu valley.

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It is a common resident of the Indian peninsula. It migrates slightly south during winter. The distribution extends from Himalayan foothills to Southern India and to eastern Indian states Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Assam. The species distribution extends to Pakistan, Burma, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Yunnan province in southern China. Its altitude ranges from plains and goes up to 1000 m P. h. hodgsonii and up to 1800 m P. h. rufula in Meghalaya.

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Like most warblers, grey-breasted prinias are insectivorous. They feeds mainly on insects like ants, small beetles, caterpillars which are found among twigs and foliage of small trees. They also feeds on nectar from blossoms of trees like Erythrina and Bombax and during summer their forehead is sometimes sprinkled with pollen giving them an orange or yellowish head that can lead to mistaken identification.

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Usually found in pairs or small groups, they sometimes forms parties of five or more (up to twenty) individuals. It jerks its tail as it flits between branches.

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The breeding season begins with the rains. The male sings from a high perch and also performs aerobatic manoeuvers with rising and falling before diving with song notes. The song is a squeaky series of calls: chiwee-chiwee-chiwi-chip-chip-chip (or yousee-yousee-yousee-which-which-which-which). The nest is a cup of grass placed between leaves that are sewn together with cobwebs and resembles the nest of a common tailorbird but tends to be placed closer to the ground. The typical clutch consists of three or four eggs. The eggs vary in colour and they include glossy blue, pinkish white, greenish-blue or even pure white. They usually have reddish brown speckles at the broad end. Both parents incubate the eggs which hatch after about ten to eleven days. More than one brood may be raised in a season.

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Gray-breasted Prinia, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Gray-breasted Prinia, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Gray-breasted Prinia, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Gray-breasted Prinia, 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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