The Advisory Boar

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <>

More Richard's Pipits

Last christmas, I saw a number of Richard's Pipits at Dadri. Yesterday, on a trip with Ramit and Ammu, I was pleased to make their acquaintance again. We had multiple good views of at least one bird out in the open, and saw and heard a few others in flight.

I noticed this time that, at a distance, the streaking on the back can be more obvious when the bird is running with its head down and body held parallel to the ground than when it stands upright, something that can be seen briefly in this video:

Perhaps when the bird is in its characteristic upright posture, the back feathers are pushed together, and the streaks are shifted out of alignment?

Apart from the pipits, the highlight of the morning was watching three young Peregrine Falcons hunting waders and waterfowl over the lake.

(Meanwhile, a number of Blyth's Pipits have been seen in Karnataka this year. I wonder if there are any at Sultanpur yet?)

Yellow-vented Warbler at CKBS, Kolkata

Near the end of a hectic (but productive) work trip to Kolkata, Soma Jha was kind enough to take me to the Chintamani Kar Bird Sanctuary for a few hours. I spent most of the trip in a daze, but we found an interesting Phylloscopus warbler just as we were leaving.

It was a robust-looking bird with a long, slightly bulbous beak (i.e. not straight and sharp) with a bright orange lower mandible. It had a very noticeable yellow vent and undertail coverts, contrasting with its white belly. Its throat and upper breast were the same yellow. It had a long, pale supercilium and two distinct wing bars (the median bar being thinner than the other). It had a pale crown stripe with distinct dark stripes bordering it and extending all the way to the nape. These were visible from behind the bird when its head was up. It was overhead and the sun was against me, so I did not get a good look at the upperparts. My impression was that the face was a bit dull, and that it was a dull green above, with no contrast in the secondaries or tertials. I think it had pale legs, but I wouldn't swear to it.

My first impression was of a Large-billed Leaf Warbler, but the yellow vent and crown stripe eliminated that species. It moved around lightly in the tree, and seemed quite short-tailed. It was silent during the few minutes that we were able to observe it. Eastern Crowned Warbler fits based on structure, but has only a vaguely yellow vent and white throat (and a single wing bar).

Unfortunately, Soma was able to get only one unclear photograph, but it shows the yellow vent and throat clearly, and the consensus is that this can only be a Yellow-vented Warbler Phylloscopus cantator. I was a little doubtful because it is described as a small bird (and looks like it in the photographs on OBI), but perhaps its size is somewhere in-between delicate warblers like Lemon-Rumped and larger ones like Large-billed.

Update (2011-01-24): Amitava Sengupta got a good photograph of a Yellow-vented Warbler at CKBS. His photo (posted here with permission) confirms my impression that it was not a delicately-built bird.

Yellow-vented Warbler photograph

The Yellow-vented Warbler is known to occur in the North-east and in southern Sikkim, and has been seen in the forests near Dhaka, so it's no stretch to imagine it visiting Kolkata. But I do not know of any earlier records from the area.

Pipits for the new year

Krys Kazmierczak and I saw a couple of large, heavily-streaked Pipits in the grassland behind Sultanpur on the 2nd of January. We weren't able to get good scope views, but we saw (and heard) enough to be sure they were not Paddyfield Pipits; given the Richard's Pipit sightings only a week before, we concluded that these must be the same species.

I still had some doubts, however, because the birds didn't look as large in flight or on the ground, and the fine dark streaks on the breast were more well-defined (besides the habitat being so different). Since I had not managed a good look at them, I returned to Sultanpur with my friend Ram (on his first birding trip around Delhi) and Sharad Sridhar.

Indeed, the birds at Sultanpur turned out to be Blyth's Pipits Anthus godlewskii, another species of which there are few reliable records from North India. Sharad was able to get some excellent photographs with his new camera.

Blyth's Pipit photograph

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Richard's Pipits for christmas

Dr. Singal, Ramit, and I reached Akbarpur beel (pond) in Dadri early on a foggy christmas morning, and walked around the shallow wetlands amidst an expanse of agricultural fields, large portions of which have now been purchased for the construction of some residential highrise.

At about 0745, I saw a large pipit flying past. The distant view I had after it landed surprised me, because the bird stood out next to a big tussock of grass. Another bird flew past to join the first one soon afterwards, and its loud flight call drew our attention immediately.

We followed and flushed three birds from the grassy margin of a big open field near the water, with soft wet mud and ankle-high grasses and other vegetation. They flew into the field, where we were able to observe them closely for several minutes as they moved around. They maintained their distance, but were quite cooperative. (Later in the day, we flushed two more birds on the other side of the lake, but didn't get a close look.)

The poor light and high grass didn't help, but Dr. Singal managed to get a few photographs that were just about sufficient to confirm that these were Richard's Pipits Anthus richardi.

Richard's Pipit photograph

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Red-throated Pipit at Basai

On a late morning visit to Basai yesterday with Hassath, Pooja, and Ramit, we saw a small pipit in the hyacinth just off the road, perhaps 6–8m away from us in excellent light. It was clear even at first glance that the bird wasn't quite right for Rosy Pipit (which I have seen often in winter and on their breeding grounds). We watched the bird for about a minute as it fed near a Citrine Wagtail.

The most striking difference was its plain face with pale lores, no dark eyeline, and hardly any supercilium. The beak was short and conical, and the lower mandible (at least) was pale. It was heavily streaked, but looked cleaner and brighter than Rosy. The streaks along the flank were thick and dark throughout their length. The colour of the upperparts was brownish, not the waxy greyish or olive typically shown by Rosy, and the rest was whitish with no yellow tinge, including the margins of the median coverts and the tertial edges. The legs were pale pink. I tried to see the hindclaw and rump on general principles, but didn't get a good look at either. The call was a striking tsweeep, which reminded me of a Tree Pipit, with none of the raspiness of Rosy's call.

Ramit was only able to get one poor photograph, but it's good enough to differentiate from Rosy and Tree Pipits, and confirm our eventual identification as Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus (a possibility which struck me only about an hour after we saw the bird, at which point we realised that the descriptions and illustration in the field guide matched our recollections and Ramit's photograph).

Red-throated Pipit photograph

There are no recent records of Red-throated Pipit in the Delhi area, but it is more likely overlooked than absent. I would be grateful for any information about other records in North India.

Other sightings included Eurasian Hobby and Red-necked Falcon, hundreds of Bar-headed Geese, many Common Snipes, flocks of several hundred Barn Swallows, and a few House Sparrows of the migratory parkini race, the males with a yellow beak, small black bib, and fine dark streaks on the breast.

Birding in Karnataka, 1–22 October 2010

I'm back after three weeks spent in Karnataka, a state in which my bird-watching experience has been woefully limited until now. With my family, I spent a few days in Bangalore en route to and from Madikeri in Coorg. I also did a hectic two-day birding trip to Manipal and Karkala, but spent most of my time sipping a fine blend of robusta and arabica coffee in a chair on my hosts' front verandah in Madikeri, watching the birds who visited the garden.

The bird of the trip was undoubtedly the Greenish Warbler. These birds are usually seen only in passage through Delhi, so I relished the chance to observe them at length. I heard many of these birds singing—probably individuals who had arrived in the area recently. (Siberian Chiffchaffs and Hume's Warblers—both rare in the south—also sing for a while after they arrive in Delhi. Like them, I'm told Greenish Warblers also start singing again just before the spring migration.)

Although I did so little "serious" birding, I ended up with a total of a hundred and sixty species, of which nearly fifty were new to me. Despite (or perhaps because of) the length of this trip, this report is just a brief summary of the birds I saw.

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Trip report: Basai, 2010-08-01

At the end of a hectic and stressful week, Hassath and I spent a pleasant morning at Basai.

While driving to Basai, we saw a fat White-throated Kingfisher trying to kill a very large (and very resilient) insect. It grabbed the bug from a puddle in the road in front of us and smashed it repeatedly on the road; but the unwilling victim kept trying to crawl away, only to be grabbed and subjected to the same harsh treatment again.

A little further on, I almost overlooked my first pair of Greater Painted-snipe in a shallow pond by the road. I've been hearing reports of this species for years, but never had any luck looking for them, so it was a pleasant surprise to get such a nice view.

Other highlights included a lone Whiskered Tern in flight over Basai, an adult and a juvenile Oriental Pratincole, Pheasant-tailed Jaçanas everywhere, some very dark Ruffs, and dozens of Little Egrets—some still with plumes and a patch of purple skin in front of the eye—fighting each other in a flooded paddy field.

Apart from the Ruffs, there were a number of other waders, including Wood, Green, and Marsh Sandpipers, Little Stints, and Redshanks. There was also an unusually large number of Cormorants at Basai—I guess these are the birds that usually feed at Sultanpur, but have been forced away because the lake was drained.

Speaking of which, Sultanpur is still closed.

Trip report: Okhla Bird Sanctuary, 2010-06-20

To round out an unusually active midsummer of birding, I went to Okhla this morning (with Ramit and Dr. Singal). Once again, it was very hot and humid even early in the morning, and we spent only a short while there. Despite having the beginnings of a flu, I had a pleasant visit.

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Trip report: Sultanpur National Park, 2010-06-12

This is a brief report of a visit to Sultanpur and Basai this morning. We (Ramit, Ammu, and I) did not spend much time there, because it became very hot by 0830.


Highlights included a dozen or so Whiskered Terns assuming breeding plumage, seen hawking over the water and perched on wires overhead, next to many Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. A solitary Temminck's Stint was feeding with a loose flock of Black-winged Stilts; and we saw a few Green Sandpipers in flight later. We also saw several Pheasant-tailed Jacanas and a single Shaheen Falcon.

Other notable sightings included huge flocks of Glossy Ibis, a few Black-headed Ibis, and one Black Ibis. There were several Cattle Egrets, and Pond Herons in breeding plumage, and a few larger Egrets in the distance. Oriental Skylarks were, as usual, seen everywhere in the fields, and Grey and Black Francolins were heard calling incessantly. Many Pied Starlings were seen collecting nesting material.

I also saw my first Small Pratincole here.


Unfortunately, the lake in Sultanpur is completely dry. Park officials claim (contradicting each other) that this is either due to a shortage of canal water to flood the (once seasonal, now artificial) wetland, or an intentional measure to "control" the large, predatory fish that were eating all the smaller fish and had become too big for the birds to eat. Whatever the reason, there are hardly any birds there at the moment. We saw a pair of Golden Orioles near the entrance.

The flats behind the park had several Red-wattled Lapwings with chicks in various stages of development, and a few Yellow-wattled Lapwings. We did not see any Coursers today. There were the usual few Crested Larks and Paddyfield Pipits near the puddles in the grass, and Ashy-crowned Sparrow Larks in the dry fields.

As we drove up to the flats, I started to tell a story about how, on a trip to Sultanpur last winter, I told a friend that I had once seen a solitary Red-collared Dove in a huge flock of Collared Doves on the flats; and when my friend looked out of the window, he saw exactly the same thing. While I was telling this story, Ramit glanced out of the window… and what should he see but a flock of Collared Doves with a single Red-collared Dove in their midst.

Trip report: Asola Wildlife Sanctuary, 2010-06-02

On a surprisingly mellow June morning, Hassath and I took Soma, a friend visiting from Calcutta, to the Asola wildlife sanctuary near Tughlaqabad in Delhi. Despite a late start due to car trouble, we arrived before the sun was up, and spent a little more than an hour in the scrub forest. This is a brief report.

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