Racket-tailed drongo to Marshall’s Iora, birdwatchers document new species in TN

The Forest Way, a charitable trust in Tiruvannamalai, has identified and documented several new species in the region in a book titled The Birds of Tiruvannamalai.
Racket-tailed drongo to Marshall’s Iora, birdwatchers document new species in TN
Racket-tailed drongo to Marshall’s Iora, birdwatchers document new species in TN
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There is something magical about a lush landscape that is blessed with clean waterbodies, animals grazing along unfettered and birds chirping back home.  

But at Tiruvannamalai, there's more to this than meets the eye. The brown and barren scape of Arunachala hills in Tiruvannamalai has undergone a sea of change in the last 30 years thanks to the early efforts of the Annamalai Reforestation Society, founded by Apeetha Arunagiri in 1988, and followed by the Forest Way, a charitable trust based in Thiruvannamalai, founded by V Arun, Akila Balu and Govinda Bowley in early 2000s.

And this is what the Forest Way chronicles in their recent-launched book, Birds of Tiruvannamalai.

This interesting collection of 204 bird species, most of which are new to the locality, is quite incidental, says Arun. “We have been recording birds informally for quite some time now, but efforts to make it into a book only began a couple of years ago,” he adds.

Arun recalls that when they started the project, Tiruvannamalai had around 50 different bird species.

“Tiruvannamalai had a range of birds, but not on the hills. The forest species and water birds near the hill today are completely new,” points out Arun.

In fact, the numbers seem to be on the rise. “Between the period of proofreading and printing the book, we documented six species. After printing, we identified two more species - the Northern Goshawk and the Marshall’s Iora. In fact, the Marshall’s Iora is rarely found in the country and is quite uncommon to spot it,” explains Arun.

This group of amateur ornithologists, armed with only a basic camera, lens and binoculars, referred to a plethora of books and took assistance from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which is heading an eBird project, to identify these birds.

“Much of the efforts for this book has been put in by Kumar, who has illustrated all the birds and heads our bird watching trips. He has also painted all the species on slabs at Arunagiri children’s park, for the children,” says Arun.

Every bird has a story

While it has been a gratifying experience for many, Arun says that there’s a story behind every bird species they have spotted.

“I’ve seen the racket-tailed drongo in many places before; in fact, I almost missed spotting it here. It was only after returning home that I recalled seeing it. The drongos such as the spangled drongo, white bellied drongo and racket-tailed drongo are new to the region,” he elucidates.

Another interesting observation he shares is having spotted seagulls around the mountains in eri's like Keezhnathur and Samudram. “Though only for a brief period, I was surprised to find sea and shorebirds here.”

In January 2016, the group was in for a treat. “A couple of hundred Rosy starlings had migrated here from Europe and we were able to witness their murmuration. It was a terrific sight,” says Arun, adding that the team also spotted a strange visitor - a chestnut headed starling.

According to Arun, if one has enough patience that birdwatching demands, he/she might actually find that these birds have quite extraordinary characteristics and are distinct from each other. “The Clamorous Reed Warbler has a fascinating story. These birds are silent in this region but mimic the sounds they picked up here, once they fly back home,” he smiles.

The book is priced at Rs 250 and is currently available at reStore and OFM stores in Chennai.

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