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Puff-throated Babbler

Pellorneum ruficeps

Migrant Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The puff-throated babbler or spotted babbler is a species of passerine bird found in Asia. They are found in scrub and moist forest mainly in hilly regions. They forage in small groups on the forest floor, turning around leaf litter to find their prey and usually staying low in the undergrowth where they can be hard to spot. They however have loud and distinct calls, including a morning song, contact and alarm calls. It is the type species of the genus Pellorneum which may however currently include multiple lineages.

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Puff-throated babblers are brown above, and white below with heavily brown streaks towards the breast and belly. They have a chestnut crown, long buff supercilium and dusky cheeks. The throat is white, and is sometimes puffed out giving it the English name. Puff-throated babblers have strong legs, and spend a lot of time on the forest floor. They can often be seen creeping through undergrowth in search of their insect food, looking at first glance like a song thrush. Some subspecies have streaks on the mantle while others, especially in Peninsular India, are unstreaked.

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The widespread distribution with population variations has led to nearly thirty subspecies being described. The nominate population is found in peninsular India (excluding the Western Ghats). The population in the northern Eastern Ghats is paler and has been called as pallidum while a well marked dark form occurs in the southern Western Ghats which has been named granti (includes olivaceum). The western Himalayas population is punctatum (includes jonesi) and in the east is mandellii which has streaking on the back and nape apart from having call differences. In the east of India, south of the Brahmaputra River occurs chamelum while ripley is found in a small region in eastern Assam (Margherita). Further east in Manipur is vocale and pectorale in Arunachal Pradesh and northern Burma with stageri further south, followed by hilarum, victoriae and minus. Further east are found shanense, subochraceum, insularum, indistinctum, chtonium, elbeli, acrum, oreum, dusiti, vividum, ubonense, euroum, deignani, dilloni and smithi. Several others have been described and many populations are difficult to assign to subspecies. This is the type species for the genus Pellorneum and its generic placement is assured although other species currently included in the genus may be reassigned.

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This bird is a common resident breeder in the Himalayas and the forests of Asia. Like most babblers, it is not migratory, and has short rounded wings and a weak flight. Its habitat is scrub and bamboo thickets and forages by turning over leaves to find insects.

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Puff-throated babblers vocalize often. Their calls are a series of whistling notes ascending in scale. Some calls have been transcribed as he'll beat you, pret-ty-sweet. The calling can be persistent. The breeding season is mainly during the rainy season. They build a nest on the ground at the base of bush and is a dome of leaves and twigs with an entrance on the side. The opening usually points downhill when the nest is on sloping ground. The clutch varies from 2 to 5 eggs, with northern populations tending towards larger clutches. Parent birds run rodent-like in the undergrowth as they move in and out of the nest. Young birds fledge and leave the nest about 12 to 13 days after hatching.

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Puff-throated Babbler, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Puff-throated Babbler, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Puff-throated Babbler, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Puff-throated Babbler, 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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