RV Matters - 17 March 2019

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After a long gap, I visited the “Stinky Pond”, located between the Carpentry Shed and the RV Dairy (just behind the BBT) some days ago. This used to be, despite the awful smell, one of the most tranquil spots on campus. Surrounded by greenery and being cool and moist all through the year, this spot had been a favorite of mine. The pond had water, surrounded by trees and shrubs and the stink that came not from the pond water (which is mainly water from the laundry) but from the adjacent pipes that carries bathwater from many of the hostels.

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I was not disappointed. As I cautiously approached the pond, one by one, the tortoises that lived disappeared into the water with a loud plonk. Yet, I managed to see one of them – the Peninsular Black turtle for a couple of minutes before it decided to disappear into the waters.

From the dense undergrowth adjacent to the waterbody came the loud raucous calls of the             whitebreasted waterhen. A Pond heron sat meditatively on a low branch, while a pair of white-browed wagtails foraged in the slushy, wet mud at one end of the pond. As I watched, a sudden moment caught my eye and a myna-sized bird, greyish in colour came into view. It was a subspecies of the Indian Blackbird that was not actually black in its plumage! Slowly I moved across to the other side of the pond, hoping to capture an image of this uncommon visitor to our campus, a bird that is seen only in dense wooded, cool parts like the surrounds of the Stinky pond – a micro-habitat that is fast vanishing on our campus. I waited for about five minutes and there it was, posing perfectly for me on a leafless branch. I got a couple of good shots of the bird, a male.

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This area has a rich birdlife and I have seen six or seven species of flycatchers, orange-headed thrushes, Indian pitta, warblers, wagtails, the green sandpiper apart from the resident bulbuls and babblers.

It is a pity that the greenery in this patch has gradually been reduced over the years. In the 1990's, this was a dense impenetrable jungle, but steadily, parts of this patch was cleared for vermicomposting, dumping of unused building materials, wastes like electric tubes, bike parking area, etc. etc. Currently there is just 40-50% of the original area under vegetation. A few years ago, students had, as a part of their club activity, studied this area and suggested the filtering of water released from the laundry and to clean up the water in the pond. The stinking grey water from the bathrooms too need to be diverted to make the place stink-free.

This is perhaps the only permanent waterbody on campus and it is an important micro-habitat to several wildlife species. Relocating the dumpyard and reclaiming the greenery in this patch will serve in supporting many of these species and help maintain the biological diversity of the Bird preserve.

Dr Santharam

RV Matters - 10 March 2019

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The Shaheen Falcon is a resident subspecies of the Peregrine Falcon. Last Sunday (3rd March), we had the opportunity to see a bird flying above us for about 3-4 minutes, hunting for its prey, much to the delight of the young birders. It is occasionally seen in Rishi Valley and I suspect it may be nesting in the rocky ledges in the Horsley Hills.

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The Common Kestrel is another falcon seen around our campus. It is a winter visitor. This year we have had few sightings and so I was delighted to see a male bird hovering in the mid-air in the Biodiversity park last week. This is a bird of the open country and loves to hover, beating its wings steadily, while looking for its prey – small rodents, lizards, insects and occasionally small birds.

Dr Santharam

RV Matters - 3 March 2019

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Last Sunday (24th Feb) we had a great time, observing the Common Grey Hornbills. Fortunately, it was still cool early in the morning and being sunny, the hornbills were sunning themselves and grooming and were least bothered by our presence. One of the birds was an adult bird with a fully developed casque and darker bill and the second bird had a rudimentary casque with paler bill.

A new bird in the campus – the Yellow-footed Pigeon – was seen at Asthachal on 26th February. A colourful bird, this is a fruit-eater, which tracks down fruiting Ficus trees and wanders a great deal. A few months ago, this species had turned up at Diguvapalem and reported (with photos) by Nandhu. I have never seen this in RV before and am glad not just see it but also able to catch it meditating (see the picture) at the Asthachal!

Dr Santharam

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Bird Watching - 03 Mar 2019

TIME: 6.45 to 8.45 AM
ROUTE: Sliding rock area
WEATHER: Sunny.

BIRD LIST (INCLUDING CALLS)

Large-billed Crow
Rufous-tailed Lark
Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark
Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Cinereous Tit (Great Tit)
Red-vented Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
White-browed Bulbul
Greenish Warbler
Booted Warbler
Blyth's Reed Warbler
Common Tailorbird
Jungle Prinia
Ashy Prinia
Tawny-bellied Babbler
Yellow-billed Babbler
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Indian Robin
Oriental Magpie-Robin
Blue Rock-Thrush
Common Myna
Jerdon's Leafbird
Pale-billed Flowerpecker
Purple-rumped Sunbird
Purple Sunbird
Long-billed Sunbird
Indian Silverbill

Grey Francolin
Grey Junglefowl
Spotted Dove
Laughing Dove
Greater Coucal
Asian Koel
Cattle Egret
Black-winged Kite
Tawny Eagle
White-eyed Buzzard
Shikra
Eurasian Hoopoe
White-throated Kingfisher
Green Bee-eater
Coppersmith Barbet
White-cheeked Barbet
Black-rumped Flameback
Peregrine Falcon (Shaheen Falcon)
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Common Woodshrike
Common Iora
Small Minivet
Large Cuckooshrike
Indian Golden Oriole
Black-hooded Oriole
Black Drongo
Ashy Drongo
House Crow

Bird Watching - 24 Feb 2019

TIME: 6.45 to 8.15 AM
ROUTE: Fodder Farm near Dairy
WEATHER: Sunny, cool.

BIRD LIST (INCLUDING CALLS)

Ashy Drongo
Indian Paradise-Flycatcher - Rufous male and white male
House Crow
Large-billed Crow
Red-rumped Swallow
Red-vented Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
White-browed Bulbul
Greenish Warbler
Blyth's Reed Warbler
Common Tailorbird
Ashy Prinia
Tawny-bellied Babbler
Yellow-billed Babbler
Oriental Magpie-Robin
Pied Bushchat
Common Myna
Pale-billed Flowerpecker
Purple-rumped Sunbird
Purple Sunbird
Grey Wagtail

Grey Francolin
Grey Junglefowl
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Spotted Dove
Greater Coucal
Blue-faced Malkoha
Asian Koel
Grey-bellied Cuckoo
Little Swift
Cattle Egret
Indian Pond-Heron
Spotted Owlet
Eurasian Hoopoe
Indian Grey Hornbill
Green Bee-eater
Indian Roller
Coppersmith Barbet
White-cheeked Barbet
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Common Iora
Small Minivet
Large Cuckooshrike
Black-naped Oriole

RV Matters - 24 Feb 2019

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Now it seems to be the turn of the Red Silk Cotton tree to attract the birds to itself. There are not too many flowers unlike in the case of the Flame of the Forest tree (Palash) that I had written about sometime back. The lone tree is close to the “New” Guest House, next to the residence of Mr. Seshadri (our computer specialist). Treepies, black-hooded Oriole, ashy drongos, crows, mynas and a host of other birds have been visiting the tree for its nectar. Do take a look if you have the time. The flowers may be gone by next week.

Dr Santharam

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RV Matters - 17 Feb 2019

The reason why I started writing “RV Matters” on the school noticeboard was to draw the attention of “RVites” to things that happen around us on the campus. It was also a forum, which I hoped, would invite contributions from others – students and teachers - on their observations. Somehow this has not yet happened but I sincerely hope we will get them to write soon.

However I do get feedback from some of the more active students and teachers on their observations – Yash (IX) reported a few days ago of about a chameleon being killed and consumed by a cat. Siddhu (XI) came up with a sighting of the Chestnut-headed bee-eater on the school campus last evening. Many observers have reported their sightings of the goings-on at the flame of the Forest (Palash) tree, still in flower, where congregations of parakeets, crows, sunbirds, Spangled or Hair-crested drongos have been noticed. A pair of Red Spurfowls that were trapped in the backyard of one of the hostels was rescued by the alert inmates. More reports are coming in of the sounder of wild boars behind the Badminton Court and I myself saw 5-6 of them one evening last week.

Now with the Asthachal starting, there have been students who have been noticing birds and other creatures that we have been sharing our campus with. Nirvedh (VIII) came up with a long list of birds he heard or saw during the Asthachal, one evening. Again, Yash has been befriending a Black-naped hare at the Asthachal and it has been sitting in a shrub, mere 1.5 m. from him through the 20 minutes of Asthachal on more than three or four evenings!

Yesteday, a skink joined the VIII students in their folk dance workshop! The Male Paradise flycatcher in the junior school seems to have taken on the role of a class inspector and has been entering the class-rooms and clearing them of spiders and other invertebrates besides listening to the goings-on in the class! Fortunately they now seem to know how to fly out of the rooms. A few years ago we had to remove the roof-tiles to release a bird trapped overnight in the room.

Dr Santharam

Bird Watching - 10 Feb 2019

TIME: 6.45 to 8.45 AM
ROUTE: First bridge, old mango grove and Malli Baavi
OBSERVERS: Nirvedh, Nirad, Yash, Pranav, Arjun, Jyothi and Santharam
WEATHER: Pleasant. Cloudy with hazy sun.

55 species seen today. The weather being pleasant, it was a pleasure being outdoors this morning. An unusual bird spotted this morning was the Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher. A single bird was noticed behind the Alumni Guest House. We have seen it here only once earlier on the campus. It is, however, a fairly common bird in the Horsley Hills.

BIRD LIST (INCLUDING CALLS)

House Crow
Large-billed Crow
Red-rumped Swallow
Cinereous Tit (Great Tit)
Red-vented Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
White-browed Bulbul
Greenish Warbler
Blyth's Reed Warbler
Common Tailorbird
Ashy Prinia
Tawny-bellied Babbler
Yellow-billed Babbler
Indian Robin
Oriental Magpie-Robin
Tickell's Blue Flycatcher
Verditer Flycatcher
Pied Bushchat
Common Myna
Jerdon's Leafbird (Jerdon's Chloropsis)
Pale-billed Flowerpecker
Purple-rumped Sunbird
Purple Sunbird
Long-billed Sunbird (Loten's Sunbird)
Tree Pipit
Baya Weaver
Scaly-breasted Munia (Spotted Munia)

Grey Francolin
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Spotted Dove
Greater Coucal
Asian Koel
Little Swift (Indian House Swift)
Cattle Egret
Shikra
Spotted Owlet
Eurasian Hoopoe
Indian Grey Hornbill
White-throated Kingfisher
Green Bee-eater
Coppersmith Barbet
White-cheeked Barbet (Small Green Barbet)
Black-rumped Flameback
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Common Woodshrike
Common Iora
Small Minivet
Large Cuckooshrike
Black-naped Oriole
Black-hooded Oriole
Black Drongo
Ashy Drongo
Hair-crested Drongo (Spangled Drongo)
Indian Paradise-Flycatcher
Rufous Treepie

RV Matters - 7 Feb 2019

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They have been around in the foyer of the Senior School for years now, occupying the beam close to the tiles. They can be quite unobtrusive and with their mottled plumage, it takes a while to locate them on their secret perch, where they seem to be sleeping most of the day. Yes, I am referring to the Indian Scops Owl (Otus bakkamoena) pair. The word “scops” is a Greek word that means small, eared owl.

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Last week, for once, they decided to leave their secret perch and bask in full sunshine. They were seen perched on the leafless branches of the Gliricidia tree in the courtyard. They were quite unmindful of my presence as I clicked these pictures but seemed uncomfortable when some students joined me. It was quite surprising that despite being out in the open, few people noticed them and they seemed to merge with the tree branches.

These birds become active once the sun sets and at dusk, they come down from their perch and stretch their wings. They also perch on the frame of the large hoopoe portrait before flying out to hunt their prey, which is mainly small insects and animals. They have a characteristic call: “WUT?” which they utter at dusk and through the night. They can be noisier during the breeding season which is January-March. I have heard their repeated calls several times during the breeding season. They nest in tree-cavities.

Dr Santharam

Bird Watching - 3 Feb 2019

TIME: 6.45 to 8.45 AM
ROUTE: Biodiversity Park
OBSERVERS: Lalit, Yash, Arjun, Govind and Santharam V
WEATHER: Summy, cool
COMMENTS: 62 species

We had a very focussed session for once since the number of birders were small and were serious this morning. The highlights were the sightings of the Sulphur-bellied warbler, an uncommon migrant, which was seen foraging on a tree-trunk. Also present was a small flock of about 10 Red Avadavats, that included at least a couple of male birds in bright red plumage. The Long-tailed shrikes too very seen today, staking out their territories. A Collared Dove, usually seen only at the Sunrise point and beyond too was seen perched on a tamarind tree-yop, occasionally engaged in display flights.

BIRD LIST (INCLUDING CALLS)

Large-billed Crow
Rufous-tailed Lark
Sulphur-bellied Warbler - Seen actively foraging for insects from a tree-trunk.
Greenish Warbler
Booted Warbler I
Blyth's Reed Warbler
Common Tailorbird
Grey-breasted Prinia
Jungle Prinia
Plain Prinia
Hume's Whitethroat
Yellow-eyed Babbler
Tawny-bellied Babbler
Common Babbler
Large Grey Babbler
Yellow-billed Babbler
Indian Robin
Oriental Magpie-Robin
Verditer Flycatcher
Blue Rock-Thrush
Pied Bushchat
Jerdon's Leafbird (Jerdon's Chloropsis)
Pale-billed Flowerpecker
Purple-rumped Sunbird
Purple Sunbird
Long-billed Sunbird (Loten's Sunbird)
White-browed Wagtail (Large Pied Wagtail)
Red Avadavat
Indian Silverbill (White-throated Munia)
Scaly-breasted Munia (Spotted Munia)

Grey Francolin
Grey Junglefowl
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Spotted Dove
Laughing Dove (Little Brown Dove)
Greater Coucal
Blue-faced Malkoha
Asian Koel
Common Hawk-Cuckoo
Cattle Egret
Shikra
Spotted Owlet
Eurasian Hoopoe
White-throated Kingfisher
Green Bee-eater
Coppersmith Barbet
White-cheeked Barbet (Small Green Barbet)
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Common Woodshrike
Common Iora
Long-tailed Shrike
Black Drongo
Ashy Drongo
Indian Paradise-Flycatcher
Rufous Treepie
House Crow
Indian Bushlark (Red-winged Bushlark)
Red-rumped Swallow
Cinereous Tit (Great Tit)
Red-vented Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
White-browed Bulbul