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Woolly-necked Stork

Ciconia episcopus

Migrant Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The woolly-necked stork or whitenecked stork is a large wading bird in the stork family Ciconiidae. It breeds singly, or in small loose colonies. It is distributed in a wide variety of habitats including marshes in forests, agricultural areas, and freshwater wetlands.

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The woolly-necked stork is a medium-sized stork at 75–92 cm tall. The iris is deep crimson or wine-red. The stork is glistening black overall with a black "skull cap", a downy white neck which gives it its name. The lower belly and under-tail coverts are white, standing out from the rest of the dark coloured plumage. Feathers on the fore-neck are iridescent with a coppery-purple tinge. These feathers are elongated and can be erected during displays. The tail is deeply forked and is white, usually covered by the black long under tail coverts. It has long red legs and a heavy, blackish bill, though some specimens have largely dark-red bills with only the basal one-third being black. Sexes are alike. Juvenile birds are duller versions of the adult with a feathered forehead that is sometimes streaked black-and-white. The African birds are described as having the edges of the black cap diffused or with a jagged border compared to a sharp and clean border in the Asian birds. Sexes are identical, though males are thought to be larger. When the wings are opened either during displays or for flight, a narrow band of very bright unfeathered skin is visible along the underside of the forearm. This band has been variously described as being "neon, orange-red", "like a red-gold jewel", and "almost glowing" when seen at close range.

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Small nestlings are pale grey with buffy down on the neck, and a black crown. At fledging age, the immature bird is identical to the adult except for a feathered forehead, much lesser iridescence on feathers, and much longer and fluffier feathers on the neck.

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English common names for this species include Whitenecked Stork, Whiteheaded Stork, Bishop Stork, and the Parson-bird. More recently, the African and Asian populations are considered to be two different species, the African and the Asian Woolly-neck. This is based purely on geographical isolation, but there is no morphological or phylogenetic evidence yet to support this split.

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It is a widespread tropical species which breeds in Asia, from India to Indonesia, and in tropical Africa. It is a resident breeder in wetlands with trees. They use a variety of freshwater wetlands including seasonal and perennial reservoirs and marshes, crop lands, irrigation canals and rivers. They are attracted to fires in grasslands and crop fields where they capture insects trying to escape the fire. They use ponds and marshes inside forests in both Africa and Asia, especially in south-east Asia where they use grassy and marshy areas in clearings in evergreen rainforests. In India, they are an uncommon species in coastal habitats. They use coastal areas in Africa also, with birds in Sulawasi observed to be eating sea snakes, and birds on the Kenya coast foraging in coral reefs and mudflats. In an agricultural landscape in north India, woolly-necked storks preferred fallow fields during the summer and monsoon seasons, and natural freshwater wetlands during the winter. Here, irrigation canals were preferentially used during winters when water levels were low, and birds avoided crop fields in all seasons. Assisted by construction of new irrigation canals, this species is spreading to arid areas like the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, India.

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Several calls by adult birds have been described including bisyllabic whistles given along with displays at the nest, and a fierce hissing sound when a bird was attacked by a trained falcon. The woolly-necked stork is a broad winged soaring bird, which relies on moving between thermals of hot air for sustained long distance flight. Like all storks, it flies with its neck outstretched. It has also been observed to 'roll, tumble and dive at steep angles' in the air with the wind through its quills making a loud noise. Adult birds have also been observed diving from nests before flying away abruptly in a 'bat-like flight'.

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This species is largely solitary or seen in pairs or small family groups of 4-5, and flocks are rare. In agricultural landscapes, the species occurs mostly as very small flocks (< 5 birds), though flocks of over 10 birds occur commonly. Flocking is affected by different factors in different areas. In more arid areas, most of the flocks occur in the summer when few wetlands are remaining, whereas in areas with more water, flocks occur largely in winter after chicks have fledged from nests. They often associate with wintering stork species including the Black and White Storks.

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The woolly-necked stork walks slowly and steadily on the ground seeking its prey, which like that of most of its relatives, consists of amphibians, reptiles and insects.

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The large stick nest is built on a tree, and two to five eggs form the typical clutch, with five eggs being very rare. Birds commonly use both forest trees and solitary trees in agricultural areas to build nests. In India, nests are sometimes built on cell phone towers. Riverside cliffs are also increasingly being used as nest sites.

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The species was previously placed in a monotypic genus Dissoura because of relatively minor anatomical characteristics, but is now combined with 'typical storks' in the genus Ciconia. The species shows very close behavioural and morphological affinities with the Abdim's Stork and its deeply forked tail is similar to that of the Maguari Stork.

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African birds, C. e. microscelis, have the head mainly black, but the nominate Asian race, C. e. episcopus, has the head mainly white except for a darker area around the eyes. Eastern Indonesian birds belong to a third population, C. e. neglecta.

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The bird derives its scientific species name from the black and white vestments formerly worn by clerics.

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Woolly-necked Stork, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Woolly-necked Stork, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Woolly-necked Stork, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Woolly-necked Stork, 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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