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Indian Scimitar-Babbler

Pomatorhinus horsfieldii

Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The Indian scimitar babbler is an Old World babbler. It is found in peninsular India in a range of forest habitats. They are most often detected by their distinctive call which is an antiphonal duet produced by pairs within small groups. They are often hard to see as they forage through dense vegetation. The long curve yellow, scimitar-shaped bills give them their name. It has been treated in the past as subspecies of the white-browed scimitar babbler which is found along the Himalayas but now separated into two species, the peninsular Indian species and the Sri Lanka scimitar babbler.

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The most distinctive feature of this 22 cm long bird is the long down-curved yellow bill which is blackish at the base of the upper mandible. It has a striking head pattern, with a long white supercilum above a broad black band through the eye. The white throat and breast contrast with the dark greyish brown on the upperside and dark grey to black on most of the underside. The tail is broad, long and graduated. They have short, round wings and being weak fliers are rarely seen flying in the open.

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Indian scimitar-babblers have long down-curved yellow bills, used to work through the leaf litter in search of their food which is mainly insects and berries. They can be difficult to observe in the dense vegetation they prefer, but like many other babblers, these are noisy birds, and the characteristic bubbling calls are often the best indication that these birds are present. The call itself consists of a loud fluty oop-pu-pu-pu followed immediately by a krukru. The second note is produced by the female and the duet is accurately synchronized. Leucistic plumages have been recorded.

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It is the only scimitar babbler in Peninsular India. This species is found south of line between Rajasthan and Orissa.

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The Old World babblers are a large family of passerine birds characterised by soft fluffy plumage. They are birds of tropical areas, with the greatest variety in southeast Asia. This species is very close to the Sri Lanka scimitar babbler which has in the past been treated as a subspecies. In the past, this species has been considered as a subspecies of the white-browed scimitar babbler which is found along the Himalayan foothills. Molecular studies confirm this relatedness.

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There are several races that have been noted, race travancoreensis is found in the Western Ghats south of Goa and is darker. The nominate horsfieldii is found in the plains in the southern part of the peninsula. The race obscurus of the dry zone in the northwest (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat; possibly Orissa) is lighter and greyer. Race maderaspatensis of the Eastern Ghats is intermediate in plumage between the nominate form and obscurus. Race maderaspatensis lacks the black base to the upper mandible and the bill is shorter. It has been recorded from the Palkonda Hills, Nallamalai Hills, Kurumbapatti and Shevaroy Hills.

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The Sri Lankan form that was considered as a subspecies melanurus but has been elevated to a full species by recent works that note the geographic isolation and distinctive calls. The Sri Lankan forms however appears to respond to the call of the Indian form and may need further study.

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The Indian scimitar babbler is a resident breeder (non-migratory) bird. Its habitat is forest and secondary growth mainly in the hilly regions. They feed on insects on the ground or on vegetation. Hopping on the ground, they may turn over leaves or probe in leaf litter for prey. They may sometimes join mixed-species foraging flocks.

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They breed from December to May. The nest is large and loose globular mass of foliage concealed in a bush on the ground or low down. They usually lay three eggs (but varies from two to four) which are pure white in colour.

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Indian Scimitar-Babbler</p></p>, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Indian Scimitar-Babbler</p></p>, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Indian Scimitar-Babbler</p></p>, 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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