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Oriental Magpie-Robin

Copsychus saularis

Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The oriental magpie-robin is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family Turdidae, but now considered an Old World flycatcher. They are distinctive black and white birds with a long tail that is held upright as they forage on the ground or perch conspicuously. Occurring across most of the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia, they are common birds in urban gardens as well as forests. They are particularly well known for their songs and were once popular as cagebirds. The oriental magpie-robin is the national bird of Bangladesh.

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This species is 19 centimetres long, including the long tail, which is usually held cocked upright. It is similar in shape to the smaller European robin, but is longer-tailed. The male has black upperparts, head and throat apart from a white shoulder patch. The underparts and the sides of the long tail are white. Females are greyish black above and greyish white. Young birds have scaly brown upperparts and head. It is the national bird of Bangladesh.

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The nominate race is found on the Indian subcontinent and the females of this race are the palest. The females of the Andamans race andamanensis are darker, heavier-billed and shorter-tailed. The Sri Lankan race ceylonensis (formerly included the Peninsular Indian populations south of the Kaveri River) and southern nominate individuals have the females nearly identical to the males in shade. The eastern populations (Bhutan and Bangladesh) have more black on the tail and were formerly named erimelas. The populations in Burma and further south are named as race musicus. A number of other races have been named across the range including prosthopellus (Hong Kong), nesiotes, zacnecus, nesiarchus, masculus, pagiensis, javensis, problematicus, amoenus, adamsi, pluto, deuteronymus and mindanensis. However many of these are not well marked and the status of some are disputed. Some like mindanensis have been now been recognized usually as full species (Philippine magpie-robin). There is more geographic variation in the plumage of females than in that of the males.

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It is mostly seen close to the ground, hopping along branches or foraging in leaf-litter on the ground with a cocked tail. Males sing loudly from the top of trees or other high perches during the breeding season.

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The Indian name of dhyal or dhayal has led to many confusions. It was first used by Eleazar Albin in 1737 and Levaillant thought it referred to a sun dial and he called it Cadran. Thomas C. Jerdon wrote that Linnaeus, thinking it had some connection with a sun-dial, called it solaris, by lapsus pennae, saularis. This was however identified by Edward Blyth as an incorrect interpretation and that it was a Latinization of the Hindi word saulary which means a "hundred songs". A male bird was sent with this Hindi name from Madras by surgeon Edward Buckley to James Petiver, who first described the species.

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This magpie-robin is a resident breeder in tropical southern Asia from Bangladesh, interior India, Sri Lanka and eastern Pakistan east to Indonesia, Thailand, south China, Malaysia, and Singapore. They have been introduced to Australia.

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The oriental magpie-robin is found in open woodland and cultivated areas often close to human habitations.

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Magpie robins breed mainly from March to July in India and January to June in south-east Asia. Males sing from high perches during courtship. The display of the male involves puffing up the feathers, raising the bill, fanning the tail and strutting. They nest in tree hollows or niches in walls or building, often adopting nest boxes. They line the cavity with grass. The female is involved in most of the nest building, which happens about a week before the eggs are laid. Four or five eggs are laid at intervals of 24 hours and these are oval and usually pale blue green with brownish speckles that match the color of hay. The eggs are incubated by the female alone for 8 to 14 days. The nests are said to have a characteristic odour.

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Females spend more effort on feeding the young than males. Males are quite aggressive in the breeding season and will defend their territory. and respond to the singing of intruders and even their reflections. Males spend more time on nest defense. Studies of the bird song show dialects with neighbours varying in their songs. The calls of many other species may be imitated as part of their song. This may indicate that birds disperse and are not philopatric. Females may sing briefly in the presence of a male. Apart from their song, they use a range of calls including territorial calls, emergence and roosting calls, threat calls, submissive calls, begging calls and distress calls. The typical mobbing calls is a harsh hissing krshhh.

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The diet of magpie robins includes mainly insects and other invertebrates. Although mainly insectivorous, they are known to occasionally take flower nectar, geckos, leeches, centipedes and even fish.

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They are often active late at dusk. They sometimes bathe in rainwater collected on the leaves of a tree.

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Oriental Magpie-Robin<, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Oriental Magpie-Robin<, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Oriental Magpie-Robin<, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Oriental Magpie-Robin<, 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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