Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Vernal Hanging Parrot

Vernal Hanging Parrot

How many parrots are there in India? Any guess? But, before that, what is the difference between a parrot and a parakeet? Most of us will relate the parakeets with a small bird while the parrot will be bigger. But, the best way to identify a parrot from a parakeet would be its tail. The parrot has got a square tail, while the parakeet will be having a graduated tail. Incidentally, there is only parrot in India – the vernal hanging parrot (Loriculus vernalis).
Vernal Hanging Parrot male
            Almost the size of a house sparrow, these resident birds are strictly arborial. The green colour of this tiny bird makes it pretty difficult to locate. The male bird has a crimson patch on the rump and a bluish patch on the throat. The females haven’t got thse patches. They are very fond of nectar, flowers and small fruits. Some times, they ransack the container placed on top o f the coconut trees for collecting the sweet liquid which becomes the toddy afterwards. After quenching the thirst, it is usual that the culprits fall into the container.  The birds seem to flock on Butea monosperma (plasu or flame of the forest) to drink nectar. Coconut flowers are also their much favoured diet.
Vernal Hanging Parrot female
            They usually make sound likes ‘tiriri tiriri’ while flying. Once they settle on a tree, generally they walk along the stem and search for the food. Its always fun to watch these gymansts of nature in action.

           Small cavities of trees are favoured by the bird to build nests. It is said that they use to tear the leaves and insert them on their wings to carry them towards the nest to decorate.  This stunning beauty has the unique ability to sleep upside down hanging from a favourable branch.

             The best time to watch and photograph these birds should be March to June. On my numerous visits to the Ponmudi hills, I was blessed with some real good opportunities.  Once, they allowed me as near as about a couple of meters. 

Monday, 5 December 2011

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Velvet-fronted nuthatch
            Most people would hold the woodpeckers as the best walkers on trees. Those birds can move along the trunks like lizards with their head always pointing upwards. But, imagine a bird which has far superior gravity defying acts !! - A bird which can move upwards and downwards regardless of the position of its head !! A bird which can move along the barks with unmatched easiness and that too without using its tail for support !!!  Well, you don’t have to go anywhere else to find those. Nuthatches can surprise you with their remarkable ability. In Kerala, you can spot 2 types of nuthatches – velvet-fronted nuthatches (Sitta frontalis) and chestnut-bellied nuthatches. The first one frequents open evergreen forests while the second one prefers dry forests. A bundle of energy, the velvet-fronted nuthatches are extremely vocal and you can readily recognize their ‘sit sit sit’ call if they are around.  They have the size of a small sparrow. However, they are slimmer than the sparrows. Powered by strong claws, they can walk around the trunks and twigs in whatever way they wanted. Its always fun to watch these birds’ actions. They can even make a walk around a branch. Flight is short and bouncy.
Velvet-fronted nuthatch male

Velvet-fronted nuthatch male
            The velvet-fronted nuthatches feed on a variety of insects, spiders and on small seeds (the name, ‘nuthatch’ might have got from their ability to break open the nuts). All their acrobatics are in search of these. These birds prefer to forage along with a hunting party. You won’t notice these little beauties very easily. Most of the time, they will be in shadows and once the sunlight falls on them, the brilliant colours flashes before our eyes. I still remember the first time I saw these birds at Arippa. They were very high upon some tall tree and I was amazed watching those silhouettes. 

Velvet-fronted nuthatch female

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Malabar Parakeet

           The Malabar Parakeet (Psittacula columboides) or the Blue-winged parakeet is a beautiful parakeet endemic to the Western Ghats. Normally, you can see this bird only where there is some green cover. The call is a harsher ‘kreek kreek’ sound than a rose-ringed parakeet. They often come in flocks and their screeches can be heard from some distance. More often, these garrulous birds prefer the canopy. Like other parakeets, these birds also nest in holes of tall trees. Though these birds are protected by law, illegal pet trade is still rampant.
Malabar Parakeet male

          It is quite easy to distinguish between the male and female of this species. The male will be having the crimson red beak, while the female will be having a black one. 
Malabar Parakeet female


    I’ve been to so many jungles and forests in Kerala and I’ve seen this bird almost everywhere. Except a couple of occasions, they kept a distance from the humans. The most awaited moment came for me when I got a chance to visit Pamba, the base camp for the famous pilgrimage centre Sabarimala. It was off-season, and the Vadasserikkara – Pamba stretch devoid of any din and buzzle was a marvel. I was told that the elephants were usual on the road. And so, was driving with eyes wide open. When we reached Pamba, it was raining buckets. Decided to use the comforts offered by Unni sir’s brother, who was the priest there. Even though it was drizzling, I was having my one eye towards the shrubs nearby. Some tailor birds and robins were showing all kinds of gimmicks and it was real fun. And then, I found some parakeets landing over a shrub with their blue patches shining even in that shadows. Only a photographer knows the dilemma at that time. You are witnessing a dream sight and you cannot take your camera out !!! Couldn’t wait long. Took and umbrella, slowly got near them and took some shots. May be because of my proximity, the birds took off and sat on an isolated shrub. It was just about perfect for my camera.