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Grey-headed Bulbul

Pycnonotus priocephalus

Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

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The grey-headed bulbul is a member of the bulbul family, Pycnonotidae. It is endemic to the Western Ghats in south-western India, and found from Goa south to Tamil Nadu at altitudes up to 1200m. It is found in dense reeds or thickets mainly near rivers and swampy areas inside forests. They have a distinctive call that reveals their presence inside dense vegetation where they are hard to spot. Their taxonomic position within the bulbuls is not clear.

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The grey-headed bulbul was originally described by Thomas Jerdon under the name of Brachypus priocephalus but was then "emended" in error by Edward Blyth to Brachypodius poiocephalus and the confusion carried forward in literature. Formerly, some authorities placed this species within the genus Ixos.

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The genus Pycnonotus as currently defined has been identified as polyphyletic and the genus placement for this species may change in the future. This species has not been used in recent molecular phylogeny studies of the group.

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The common name 'grey-headed bulbul' is also used as an alternate name for the yellow-bellied bulbul.

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This bulbul is resident in moist broad-leaved evergreen forest with bamboo and dense undergrowth. Its plumage is olive-green, with a medium-grey on the crown head, nape and throat. The forehead is yellow-green. The back, wings are olive green becoming lighter towards the vent. The rump has yellowing green feathers edged in black giving a barred appearance. The flanks are dark and grey edged. The undertail coverts are gray. The beak is greenish and grey while the legs are pinkish yellow. The iris is distinctly bluish white. The tail is grey on the central feathers (the shaft being black), the outer ones are black and are broadly tipped with grey. Both sexes are similar but juveniles have the head dark olive with the yellow on the forehead duller. (Length 143-152mm; head 33-35mm; tail 74-77mm) The call is a sharp chraink. The call is distinct in having a single syllable unlike those of the core Pycnonotus genus members.

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Grey-headed bulbuls breed from January to June with a peak in April. The nest is a typical platform placed inside a low bush. They build their nest over a period of a week using vines, grasses or leaves. Many nests in a study in the Silent Valley National park were found to be made on saplings of Syzygium species or in reeds of Ochlandra travancorica. The typical clutch is one egg or sometimes two eggs that are incubated for 12 to 14 days. Eggs are sometimes destroyed and eaten by palm squirrels. The eggs are pale pink to lavender and flecked in red, more densely on the broad end. Both parents take part in incubation and feeding. The nestlings leave the nest after 11 to 13 days.The diet consists mainly of fruits (>65%) and invertebrates (>30%). Fruits include those of Symplocos cochinchinensis, Antidesma menasu, Clerodendrum viscosum, Syzygium cumini, Litsea floribunda, Maesa indica, Callicarpa tomentosa, Leea indica and Lantana camara.

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Grey-headed Bulbul, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai
Grey-headed Bulbul, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai
Grey-headed Bulbul, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai
Grey-headed 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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