Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hill Birds of Odisha

When it comes to Avifauna diversity of Odisha, we either talk of migratory birds of Chilika or don’t go beyond Bhitarkanika. But very few around the world are aware that this is also the state that is home to the some of the rarest of forest bird speciesfound in Indian peninsular.From forest diversity point of view, Odisha is mainly enriched with Deciduous variety where Sal and Sal associated species thrive. Some of the important Birding Areas which house forest birds of state include the Similipal Biosphere Reserve in the North, the western patch comprising the Debrigarh-Sunabeda Tiger Sanctuary area, the Central region which covers Mahanadi Wildlife Division and the forests of in the Southern half of the state which roughly engulfs the Karlapat, Kotagarh, Ghumsar, Lakhari forests and the vast plateaus of undivided Koraput. 
Let us talk of some of the birds which are locally abundant in the state but not so common elsewhere in the country barring some forests. Most parts of Similipal hills especially the eastern half houses a good population of Blue bearded Bee eaters (Nyctyornis athertoni). Alongside the forest roads that have steep cuttings, one would come across these birds, often a couple of them. Very sensitive to human presence, they would immediately flush away into the nearby tress on close approach. Another variety that thrives locally in the hills of Similipal is the Malabar Trogon (Harpactes fasciatus). For me they are the most attractive and colourful variety that I have come across in the state. The male would often perch on the bare branches with back facing the onlookers. Hence one needs to have little bit of luck in getting a full view of its characteristic pinkish red underparts that dazzle like a shade of blood on the bare brown branches. Continuing with our journey in Similipal, one should not forget the Thick billed Green Pigeons (Treron curvirostra). This specie is endemic to the hills of North-East India &forests of Odisha (found in Satakosia and Similipal) and is one of the most attractive of Pigeon varieties. Recent records of their nesting in the hills are a good indicator of ever increasing bird variety of state. On a particularoccasion, I counted as many as 37 individuals on a Jadi (Ficus amplissima) Tree in the Barhakamuda range of Similipal and it was a sight that would be a birders delight on any given day.
                              A Male Malabar Trogon

                                Thick billed Green Pigeon(Male)

Some of the best songsters of our Hills are the White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus) and the Orange-headed Thrush (Zootheracitrina). Both of them are early risers and leave no stones unturned in entertaining the bird watchers. With a variety of melodious tunes, the Shama would sing out perched in between the shrubs and thickets. They are common in almost all the forest patches of Odisha and can be easily located because of the characteristic quality that we talked of. On the other hand the Thrush is often seen hopping on the damp forest roads, searching for the insects. It displays its singing quality often in the afternoons with a mix of whistles and soothing notes. Like Shamas, they are also quite common in almost all the forest patches of the region.Here deliberately, I have not mentioned the famed Hill Mynas (Gracula relegiosa)which were once very abundant right throughout the jungles of Odisha. Their population has reduced rapidly and are a rarity in few of the forests. Some of the places where I have observed them recently are in the hills of Similipal especially at Chahala and Sarua in Jenabil and the forests of Tarsingi in Ghumsar Wildlife Division.
The Rockstar White rumped Shama
 Orange headed Thrush

One of the most Commonest of raptors of the state forests and perhaps the torch bearer are the Crested Serpent Eagles (Spilornis cheela) locally known as baza in Odia. They derive their name from their liking for Snakes as one of the preys. As sun would heat up the forests, one would hear the loud piercing kee-kee-keecall of this large raptor that would be perched on of the tall trees in look for its favourite prey.Our jungles especially those in Kotagarh, Karlapat and Ghumsar also boast a good number of Changeable Hawk Eagles (Spizaetus cirrhatus). 

Crested Serpent Eagle
As we come to resident Flycatchers which are the most colourful, the diversity includes the Black-naped Monarch Flycatchers (Hypthoymis azurea), Asian Paradise Flycatchers (Terpsiphone paradise) and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis tickelliae) . This is apart from the numerous other varieties of Winter Visitors to our forests. Debrigarh Wildlife sanctuary in western Odisha is one of the best places in the state to see the nesting of these birds. One of the other varieties Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher (Culicicapa ceylonensis)that was earlier a winter visitor from the Western Ghats and lower Himalayas has now prolonged its stay till late summers in the Eastern Ghats section of Odisha and stray records of nesting has also been reported. 
One of the less talked bird species that has made some of our forests its permanent home is the Forest Wagtail(Dendronanthus indicus). None of the books (I may be wrong if I have missed out on one) on Sub Continent Birds mention Odisha as its permanent home barring sporadic sighting records. These days, this Wagtail specie is virtually seen in most of the forest roads wagging its tail in characteristic horizontal tail movement as compared to vertical wagging of tail by other Wagtails.
Another bird that is endemic to Eastern Ghats is the Crested Bulbul (Pycnonotus flaviventris). Its cousin (Pycnonotus melanicterus) is present in the Western Ghats which has a distinctive crimson throat and lacks the Crest. Seen across all the forest patches in the state, Crested Bulbul is all attractive with lemon yellow body and a beautiful black crest. It isoften seen with the Mixed hunting parties near the damp and shady forest patches. One of the other varieties of Bulbul, White browed Bulbul(Pycnonotus luteolus) has range in almost half of the peninsular India. But I have not seen such a large population of this bird elsewhere as I have seen in the lantana scrublands of Eastern Ghat section of Odisha.
According to me we are one of the most fortunate regions in India to have the most varied mix of Woodpeckers that are either of Himalayan or of Peninsular India type. Take the case of White Bellied Woodpecker (Drycophus javensis) which is mostly seen in the forests of Western Odisha, though sightings have decreased these days as they are very sensitive to human presence. Sometimes, seen in a flock of as many eight to ten birds, these Woodpeckers are the second largest in terms of size found in India after the Great Slaty Woodpecker (Mulleripicus pulverulentus) of North East. If size is being talked, we are also fortunate to have the smallest Woodpecker variety found in India which is the Speckled Piculet(Picumnus innominatus). The Piculets are quite commonly seen foraging for insects along with other varieties. Some more Himalayan varieties that are only found in Odisha in Pensinsular India are the Fulvous breasted Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos macei), Grey headed Woodpeckers (Picus canus) and Greater Yellownape ( Picus flavinucha). There are still another ten varieties of resident Woodpeckers that we can write off.

The rich wilderness diversity of the state especially the Avifauna richness is best described in the book “ Jungle Life in India or the Journeys & Journals of an Indian Geologist” by Valentine Ball published in 1880 where in he writes of Trogons, the Creepers and the various other birds that he came across in the forests of Western Odisha. Infact he collected a specimen of the Forest Owlet ( Athene blewitti) from the forests of Khariar. The same bird thought to be extinct over the next century was reported recently from the forests of Melghat in Maharashtra.  This particular specie which is precious today may be still present in the forests of Western Odisha and bird enthusiasts need to explore them thoroughly. If it is reported someday in future then it would be great news for the Wilderness of Odisha.
One of the things that we can conclude of here is that Odisha is an important region from Hill Bird’s point of view in India. Some of the endemic species of the state are either found in North East India or in Western Ghats. Roughly we can say that these forests act as a connector in terms of Avifauna diversity between the above mentioned extreme regions of India.  No doubt that forests of Odisha were one of the five places in India that was selected by Dr. Salim Ali and S D Ripley for recording the bird species while preparing the Magnum opus, Ten Volume “Handbook of Birds of India and Pakistan” which is the basis of all bird studies going in India today.