Man builds wings to fly like the birds

A 31-year-old Dutch man has flown over a hundred meters using two Nintendo Wii controllers. Strapped to 55-foot wings, and using a GoPro-camera on his helmet to film the flight, Jarno Smeets became the first man to fly like a bird.

Translation: "I was running...and...At one moment you see the ground moving away, and then suddenly you're free, a really intense feeling of freedom. The true feeling of flying. A very magical moment! The best feeling I have felt in my life."

Sources: Wild Birds Unlimited April Fools Day Joke;   

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How does the Cold Weather Effect Hummingbird Migration

Everything in the bird world seemed to be placed hold when the freezing weather hit mid-Michigan. I don't hear the excited singing in the morning, my nest building material hasn't been touched in a few days, and the early migration of the hummingbirds has stopped.

I was shocked last week when the migration maps showed the hummingbirds had arrived five weeks earlier than normal in Michigan. The good weather encouraged some males to race ahead to claim the best breeding territories. Now the cold weather has stopped the birds in their tracks.

However, the early birds should be alright. Healthy Ruby-throated hummingbirds can tolerate nights in the teens easily as long as there are bugs, blooms and feeders available. During the night, hummers will enter into a state of torpor to save energy. Similar to a type of short-term hibernation, torpor reduces their metabolic activity and drops their heart rate from 1,200 beats per minute to 50 beats per minute.

Hummingbirds migrate alone, each to their own internal clock and map. As the weather warms more and more individuals will join the first wave of hummers until the final ones arrive in June.

What can you do to help the early hummers? Don't wait to hang your feeders until after you see hummingbirds. I have had many customers report that the ruby-throats are in the area. The standard 1:4 white sugar and water solution won't start to freeze unless nights drop below about 27 degrees Fahrenheit, and even a slushy feeder is better than none at all.

You can also leave all the spider webs you see outside alone for the hummers to pick clean and encourage fruit flys to your garden by tossing in old banana peels. The banana peels break down rapidly and fertilize the garden with important macro-nutrients plants need and attract small flys for the hummers to eat.

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Wild Turkey grazing under feeders

Good morning! I thought I'd share this photo with you. I live in downtown Lansing, and imagine my surprise when I came back from my weekly Sunday morning coffee run to find a turkey wandering in front of the apartment buildings. By the time I got into my apartment, she was happily grazing at my feeders. It definitely gave me a much-needed morning chuckle. =) Have a great day! - Heather

Love it! More and more turkeys are learning to live near humans as long as there is a small woodlot or grassy field nearby.

It’s a little unusual to see a single female so early in the spring. They tend to stay in their winter flocks until April in our area. Winter flocks are divided into male and female (and her young).

Their breeding season is in March and April normally. Males may be seen courting in groups, gobbling, spreading their tail feathers and strutting. The dominant male will mate with several females in the flock.

Then females leave the group after mating to nest alone. Their nest is just a shallow depression scratched out in the ground covered by vines. A hen will lay a clutch of 10-14 eggs, usually one per day, that hatch after 28 days of incubation by the female alone.

Perhaps next month you will send me a photo of a hen and her poults!?

I was definitely shocked to see her! I'm not sure if she'd be willing to nest around my feeders, though, since there are several stray cats in the neighborhood. However, I will definitely let you know if I see a nest or poults around. I do have a spot nearby that would probably work for a nest if not for the threat of predators.

There was also a turkey that stationed itself outside the Michigan State Police post in Brighton. More on that story at: http://www.annarbor.com/news/fowl-play-state-police-troopers-in-brighton-being-watched-by-turkey/

Enhance your garden with a touch of copper

Wild Birds Unlimited Copper Top Series has just arrived! These unique feeders are only ordered for the spring and fall so come in quick if you don't want to wait to add an elegant yet functional copper topped bird feeder or bird house to your garden.

Made in the USA, these well designed feeders have curved sides to view birds easily, heavy plexi-glass lens to view the seed level, comfortable perching areas to attract a wide variety of birds and a thick roof covered in solid copper to create an attractive appearance that will stand out in any yard.

The copper topped houses are also exceptional and built to last several seasons. Each house is made to specific dimensions, with proper ventilation and drainage and are easy to clean and hang. They add a decorative touch to your garden in addition to attracting many bird families.

Wild Birds Unlimited also offers copper hummingbird, oriole and finch feeders. Any of these unique metal bird feeders and houses will add an elegant and luxurious, upscale quality to your deck or yard space. These American made, reasonable priced feeders and houses also make the perfect gift!

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Why are the red and black beetles called ladybugs?

The warm window at the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store woke up a ladybug. Known to winter in small cracks around windows, these beneficial beetles are waking up all over and may need a little help finding an exit. (Why can they always find a way in but not out!)

Over 300 types of ladybugs live in North America. The reason that entomologists think that ladybugs have such brilliant red coloring and black spots is to warn their predators that they taste really bad and that they are a little bit poisonous, too. 

They were named in Europe, during the Middle Ages by Catholic farmers that prayed to the Virgin Mary for help with the insects that were destroying their crops. The red and black beetles appeared soon after to eat the plant-destroying pests and save the crops. The farmers began calling the beetles "The Beetles of Our Lady", which became lady beetles, lady birds, and ladybugs. The red wings represented the Virgin's cloak and the black spots represented her joys and sorrows. There was no differentiation between males and females.


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Debrigarh Wildlife Sanctuary Revisited : Ch 1

Indian Gaur , the flagship animal of Debrigarh

Elated by taking a fair enough picture of Indian Nightjar and first recording of a Stone Curlew, we were driving back to Eco Tourism complex at Barkhandia in the evening. Sun had just set in and more Nightjars were getting active in front of the beaming lights of the Jeep. Cool breeze flowing from the Backwaters of the Hirakud Dam was having a soothing effect and was bringing much needed respite from the rocky hills of Barapahada which had stood baked for the whole day in Summer heat. Imagination of warm fish curry being served at the Guest House on my plate during dinner and aroma of mustard, fresh coriander leaves, ginger & garlic coming from the fiery red curry is what was keeping my mind busy. A sudden turn on the ghat road and the vehicle ceased to halt. And there they were. Right in the middle of the road taken aback by our presence, a momma sloth Bear with two cubs. Sitting in front of the vehicle I didn’t even bother to switch on the camera as I wanted to soak myself in the beauty and its two little ones. Couple of seconds is what the mother and kids gave us to admire them before running into the bushes. Euphoric over the sighting of the Sloth Bears, we were in a high and were just impatient to report back the sighting to others at Barkhandia. Another 10 minutes of drive, I see an off white to yellowish coloured, four legged creature with a long tail crossing the road at a distance of 100 meters from us. Oh Boy. Did I realize that it was the elusive Leopard that had crossed us just now? Extremely excited I asked the Driver to drive fast in the direction of the animal. We slowed down at the spot and forester Sanjib switched on the torch to focus on the nearby bushes. Indeed it was the Leopard who for some reason was kind enough to move parallel to the road behind the bushes. We reversed back the road along with it for some time just admiring its beauty before it vanished behind the trees. The aura, the presence was just unbelievable. Had I gambled that evening, I would have wiped off everyone from the table. Two times lucky, that evening belonged to us; First the Sloth Bear and then the feline beauty. For Sanjib also, this was first sighting of the Leopard in the current year.


“From day to day I marched westwards along a narrow belt of flat ground intervening between the foot of the Barapahar hills, which are formed of these rocks, and the southern bank of the Mahanadi. Near the village of Kurumkel I shot two specimens of a very rare bird, the spotted creeper [Salporntspilonota,Frankl.), which I had only once obtained in Chuta Nagpur. Ten years ago there were only two or three specimens of this bird in collections : of late years it has been found in several different parts of India ;but it is still a treasure for the ornithologist.” (Pg 516; Jungle Life in India; V Ball; 1880)


Vast tracts of forests which was home to wide variety of birds and wild animals like Gaurs, Neel Gais, Wild Buffaloes, Leopards and Tigers, was the area of Chota Nagpur, Dandakarnya forests (East & South East Chattisgarh ) and Garjat hill tracts in 18th Century. It continued to remain a wildlife heaven till the initial part of 19th century. Slowly roads, bridges and dams of Independent India started taking shape. The wilderness cover started receding day by day. Animals started confining themselves to smaller, ever shrinking pockets of green foliages. Debrigarh is one such of these left over pockets spread over an area of 347 sq kms and is one of the best managed parks in Odisha. With Hirakud Reservoir on one side and the famous Barapahada hills on one side, Debrigarh Sanctuary serves as a one of the safest places for wild animals to roam about in their natural surroundings in Odisha. It’s not that all these have happened naturally by declaration of sanctuary status to the forests of Debrigarh. A lot of hard work and toiling efforts of the present forest officials and their predecessors have gone into making what Debrigarh today is. This will be discussed in later parts of this essay.

We were there in Debrigarh this year as summer was setting in. With complete 3 days in hand, I was pretty excited about my trip to Debrigarh. And my excitement reached the next level when I heard that present DFO of Division is Mr Manoj Nair who is one of the few officers present in the state with a deep understanding of the Wildlife, acclaimed with many findings and detailed research on wildlife of Odisha.
Perhaps in some other essay (Though I could not avoid many instances revolving around Mr Nair being mentioned in the current essay) I would love to write in detail about this goliath figured Malayali IFS officer, a tough task master when it comes to wildlife conservation but more importantly one of the few humble and grounded forest officers that I have come across till date.

We checked in to a comfortable room in the Eco Tourism Complex at Barakhandia. This has been one of the major changes since my last visit to the Sanctuary in 2007. More Tourists have started coming to Debrigarh which was one of lesser known sanctuaries couple of years back. Eco Tourism has grown manifolds in the region which has generated employment for local youths, brought in more revenue and at least has reached to a level where in the DFO had to contemplate on putting a maximum cap of 18 vehicles per day for entry into the park to reduce pressure of Tourism on the “civilized” animals of Debrigarh. Question that would naturally arise in is that why animals in Debrigarh for me are “civilized”? On a lighter note, the answers are the somber, calm, sober Gaurs of Debrigarh. I have seen these supersized, heavy and powerful flagship animals of Debrigarh standing undisturbed by our presence. On
one instance, a Bull busy in the day’s meal was so near our vehicle that it was very difficult to focus with our telephoto lens. A good heap of fodder was on top priority for the old bull and our close proximity to him made a no difference to his love for food. He stood there masticating, sometimes giving a confused look to the intruders. I was getting that urge sitting in the jeep that I should get down and cuddle the bull, with an over confident feeling that Gaurs of Debrigarh are lethargic, overweight gentle breed who would do no harm to others because it would involve some energy spending. Thank God that these urge was curtailed at right time or else we all know what Gaurs are capable of doing, sometimes even heard of ripping apart the belly of a big tiger with a highly potent kick.

As we prepared to leave for Parboti Tang (P Tang) beat on day one, Sanjib( striking resemblance to cricketer, Azharuddin. So we lovingly nicknamed him Azzu bhai) the ever smiling Forester in charge of the Tourist Complex gave us a word of caution on the presence of a herd of elephants in the area. This was a surprise to me as earlier Debrigarh never had residential Elephants inside the sanctuary. Since last
couple of years, this group of Elephants who had migrated from Hemagiri area of Sundergarh have made Debrigarh their new home. Since past few days, they were behaving rogue and have crashed down the mileposts and sign boards near Parboti Tang diversion along the road to Chourasimal about 20 odd kms from the main entry gate at Dhodrukusum. Along the road, just about 100 meters from the Tourist Complex we came across a big sized male wild boar hiding behind a bush. In next 2 hours we came across 3 sightings of Gaurs (a lone juvenile, a group of 4 and a group of 3) , a lone Indian Jackal who posed us for some time behind a tree, numerous Langur groups and couple of Sambars. From wildlife sighting point of view it was a more than a satisfying morning as you cannot expect more sightings in any other forest in Odisha in such a shorter span of time. There is a reason behind such high
frequent sighting of animals in Debrigarh. The forest road runs alongside Hirakud Dam’s reservoir for quite some distance. Normally the animals come down from the forests along Barapahada Hills to the reservoir during summers to quench their thirst and as you drive down the road sightings happen. One of the best practices of forestry management that have been recently initiated to avoid animals crossing the road in search of water and getting disturbed by passing vehicles is construction of bigger waterholes and ponds on a particular side of the road that avoids animals crossing it. This is a good initiative that can be copied in other parks of the country which has similar kind of geographical setup.


Habitat Management: Construction of Waterholes at appropriate places


The lone Jackal after a filling lunch


Alexandrine Parakeet busy with the mid day meal

Meanwhile we were also recording the bird life present in the sanctuary. One observation that we made was the abundant presence of Common Wood Shrikes and Yellow Throated Sparrows (Petronias) in the Sanctuary. The reservoir also attracts a good number of migratory Waterfowls and recent census conducted in the winters revealed a whopping number of Sixty Thousand birds. Some of the winter visitors who were still present in the reservoir when we visited Debrigarh were Northern Pintails, Great Crested Grebes and Spot Billed Ducks. Coming back to the waterfowl census, it was heartening to see that most of the staff that we interacted regarding the birds of the reservoir were aware about the common names and were pretty excited to share their experience of their participation in the census that was led by DFO. They talked excitedly regarding the nesting patterns of Oriental Pratincole in the region. That is the effect that one sees in the frontline staff when you have an expert and passionate wildlifer posted in the topmost job of managing a sanctuary. The foresters of Debrigarh are quite aware about the Birds and Butterflies of the Sanctuary and are being groomed in that direction. A small library being maintained at the Eco Tourism Complex is also helping the young foresters like Sanjib learn the tricks of the game. By afternoon we were back at Barakhandia for lunch. The dining space along with the rooms are built in such a way that it gives a superb view of the back waters of Hirakud Reservoir and constant breeze blowing keeps the rooms cool . Rooms are quite comfortable, spacious and airy with furniture made out of bamboo. After a quick well deserved shower, we gathered at common dining area for the lunch which comprised of fresh catch from the reservoir. It was so well made that the thoughts related to Wildlife seemed less important subject in mind compared to that of the food.


A Black Naped Oriole


Indian Peafowl in search of mate


Brilliant colours of a Black Naped Monarch Flycatcher


Near the backwaters of Hirakud

In the afternoon, we went in for a stroll in the forest road and came across a Black Naped Monarch Flycatcher fluttering from one branch to other. We had been told earlier by Sanjib that every year in monsoons, nesting of Black Naped Monarch Flycatcher, Black Naped Oriole, Indian Robin, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Red Vented Bulbul and Indian Magpie Robin happens in and around the Eco Tourism complex. Coming back in monsoons will give us an opportunity to see the nesting and eggs. Paradise Flycatchers come in flocks to the area to give birth to their next generations. There are some mysteries in wildlife for which no one has any answer. One such mystery of Debrigarh is absence of Red Jungle Fowl in its forests. Even Mr Nair does not have any clue regarding the absence of Jungle Fowl in the region. Other absenteeism cases include Malabar Giant Squirrel and Barking Deers. His justification for former’s non presence was perhaps because of absence of tall forest canopies and enough fruit bearing trees in Debrigarh. Barking Deers might have been wiped off in earlier days because of hunting and poaching. Pre 2002-03, the area was a heaven for poachers from around the region to come down and carry out killings of all variety of animals. Timber mafias were having merry time and sometimes boats were also used to ferry back logs of wood as far as Belpahar on the Northern banks of the reservoir. There was no specific setup of sanctuary in place and existence was only for name sake. Things started taking shape in right direction for the place in and around 2004. Some of the officers who came during that period in did put in toiling effort day in night to turn around things. I have met Dilip Dash, the Range officer in 2007 and believe me he is one of the few daring wildlifers that I have met who can give a chase to group of timber cutters all alone. Many times, in the middle of night, Dilip babu would set out alone in his bike inside the sanctuary. He would do this to have a vigil look by himself and to create a fear amongst the woodcutters and poachers. It took some time but slowly and steadily, the animals started trusting the area and Gaurs, Sambars, Chousinghas again made Debrigarh their secured home. Numbers started multiplying. Reports of frequent Leopard sightings started coming in. Debrigarh has been fortunate enough to get officers like Dilip Dash and now with people like Mr Nair at the helm of the job, I think the sanctuary is in safe hands.

Sharing some lighter moments:Sanjib, Author and Tiku (R to L)
Go to Chapter 2

Debrigarh Wildlife Sanctuary revisited:Ch 2


Go to Chapter 1




Last Days of Spring in Debrigarh

RBTs have vanished from the forests of Debrigarh. Since last one decade there has not been any sighting of the big cat and I have also not come across any concrete evidence (any write up) of their presence in the region before that. Whatever information I could collect was by talking with some temporary staffs of the department who also happen to be from the neighboring villages. One of them was Tiku who is part of Parboti Tang beat. He had two incidences to tell us regarding the RBTs. One was his own sighting of the animal in and around 2002 when he was cycling down from Dhodrukusum to Chourasimal. A big RBT crossed the road about 15 meters from Tiku. Stunned by the event, Tiku took some time to regain his senses. At least he was strong enough to cycle down; most of the others would have fainted by the sight of a full grown Tiger in such closeness. Second one was pertaining to an incident which involved a group of labourers employed by OFDC in cutting of trees. This happened some 10-12 years ago which he could not exactly recollect. They were taking bath in the reservoir at Dhodrukusum, when a deer started running out of the bushes. Next scene, a Tiger chases down the deer about 50 meters from where the labourers were taking bath. Deer ran in one direction, Tiger disturbed by the presence of the human beings in other and the screaming group in another ,gasping for breath and half naked. Tiku with lot of conviction says that there are definitely one or two Tigers inside Debrigarh today also but I assume it’s more of an emotion and feeling rather than a fact. But God willing, one day I will love to be proved wrong.

One of the recent additions to the faunal variety in the sanctuary has been that of the Rusty Spotted Cat. Mr Nair had sighted it inside the park but the elusive cat could not be photographed at that point. Camera traps that has been put in some of the strategic location has not been able to produce any photograph of the elusive cat yet but scat samples and the pugmark has confirmed that the sighting was that of the Rusty Spotted Cat. Same way, shall we come across a Tiger one day? There is a feeble optimism now that like other animals, Tigers will also make a comeback to Debrigarh one day. Few days back, DFO while driving inside the sanctuary had heard of a sound, very similar to the growling of a Tiger. He doubts that it might be of a RBT, but other evidences like Pugmarks are yet to come by. If that happens then it will be a day of pride for Debrigarh.
After having little bit rest after the stroll near the guest house, in the evening we decided to have a trip to Chourasimal. Sanjib accompanied us and he is one of those positive sounding brads who would fill in optimism in the air just by his words. We drove in for almost 10 kms before a foul smell forced us to stop on the road. We did spend around 15 minutes in the area searching for any signs of animal kill but could not trace any. A big wild boar staring us at a distance made our assumption even much more stronger as they also act like scavengers and surely there was some dead animal nearby. Driving along the forest road we made some more recording of the birds of Debrigarh including a sole Indian Grey Hornbill, a Black naped oriole and a gang of some Jerdon’s Chlropsis. Sanjib sitting in the front seat with his Digital camera switched on was making me proud. A forester being so passionate on learning more about wildlife in his initial days of career is what I had observed in some of the sanctuaries outside Odisha, but rarely in Odisha. Sanjib a Pharma student, never had thought in wildest of his dreams that one day he would land up in a forest and get involved in protection of animals and forests. In the initial days, spending time in forests all alone in some remote beat house was quite boring for him. On some days he would walk down all alone along the forest roads to the nearest post to have a chat or two with other forest staff, despite having the fear of having confrontation with a Sloth Bear. No cell phone signal at the post added to the dark evenings because of limited or no power supply would make him mad. After all he was not used to all this loneliness. He had dreamt of spending a comfortable life in the city like other aspiring young people do. But he was destined to work in the forests. Slowly the interest in nature and forests developed and Sanjib started liking what he was doing and accepted his fate happily. This is not only Sanjib’s story but the story of most of the Forest staff of sanctuaries across India. Living in tough conditions away from their families, away from civilized world in the middle of a forest throughout the year, they have the loneliness to accompany and nobody else.

I remember ,while talking to an IFS officer during one of the trips, the officer sounded quite agitated and agonized by the fact that the foot soldiers of Indian Forests who play the most important role in protecting the forests and its wildlife and face all the difficulties are not properly taken care off. I could infer that there is no shortage of funds , at least in majority of sanctuaries. But sad part is that there is no policy in place which ensures a paltry amount to the lower rung forest staff in form of either food allowance , neither there is any provision of providing free food to them. For most part of the year, the forest staff stay away far off from their families and if a minuscule amount in favour of educational allowance can be given to their kids, then it could go a long way in motivating them. There is so much money spent in useless projects inside the forests like making check dams, siliviculture etc but there is no honest intention to pay our foot soldiers good enough salary. For years, some staff members stay on contractual roles with a hope of seeing their names on the permanent muster list, but they never get to see that. Some of the daily wage earners who are employed for day to day labour work like clearing and repairing of forest roads, bush cutting, putting off forest fires are paid at minimum wages which is just hand to mouth stuff. The Forest officer during the conversation also showed his dislike for some of the Wildlife Scientists who don’t have any real intention of saving India’s forests but are big mouthed and often come up with enough unrealistic advices and criticism of the forest department officials . His words were powerful and intentions were honest. His frustration was wretched clearly on his face and views quite true about a system where there is very less accountability, enough criticism to be heard than credits being given on doing good work, more official files to be signed than signing off research papers and more time demanded in looking after visiting VIPs & some Politicians rather than spending time amidst forests.

We all drove to Choursimal crossing a small ghat. The ghat area is more frequented by Sambar deers as they are more used to undulated topography rather than plateaus and plains. The area near Chourasimal is quite plain and there is a meadow near it which was adorned by ochre grass with golden sunrays of setting sun filtering through it . This area is much more suitable for Spotted Deers and we came across a group which was going to the nearby reservoir for a round of drink before sunset. At Chourasimal, there is beat house and some forest staff stay there. The backwaters of Hirakud sprawls behind the Rest House and gives an amazing view. Climbing up to the top of the Rest House we all waited for the sun set and try our luck of spotting some deers. Sanjib told us about an incident that happened on a New Year eve. Some of the staff were busy preparing dinner around midnight and others were busy engraving a Welcome Note for the new year on the ground with coloured powders. A typical cattish Leopard growl from the nearby bushes was heard by one of the staff member. He doubted that it was surely that of a Leopard which was being frequently being sighted in the area. After hugging each other and wishing each other for a happy new year ahead, all of them went in for sleep. Next morning, Leopard scratch marks and pugmarks were found on the ground. Notable marking was on the “Happy New Year” engraving itself. Jokingly all of them said that they should have invited their spotted friend to the New Year party. The leopard perhaps enjoyed the smell of food and bantering of forest guards in the evening and wanted to join them.



Spot me if you can...


Indian Hare crossing the road


The day starts for Indian Nightjar


A Bison group on the grasslands near Mahanadi reservoir



We had a round of tea with staff over there and had a wonderful discussion amidst setting sun. Moonlight had overpowered that of Sun and stars had started dotting the horizon. We decide to return to the Ecotourism Complex. On the way back, I wanted to take some pics of the Indian Nightjar which were flying ahead of the moving vehicle. After getting a good pic of the Nightjar, next it was the turn of Stone Curlew. What happened next was just one of the most memorable evenings of mine spent in a jungle of Odisha and has been described in the beginning of the essay.

In the evening we met Nair Sir who was kind enough to have come down to meet us in the sanctuary. Had a wonderful discussion on varied subjects related to Wildlife, birds of Odisha, Similipal (he was deputy field director of Similipal couple of years back) and its Tigers, M Krishnan and Mahesh Rangarajan. “Did you hear this distinctive tik tik tik treeeek calling coming from the bushes? It’s the Indian Nightjar. Its call is distinctive from that of Savannah Nightjar whose call is more like a screech.”, exclaimed Mr. Nair as we were having dinner . He said he would accompany us next day morning for the birding round. We were happy hearing this as this gave us an opportunity of learning one or two tricks of the game from guru himself. Before signing off for the day, he showed us the photograph of Malabar Trogon (Harpactes fasciatus) that he had clicked in the forests of Barbara in Khurda/Nayagarh district. I could not just stop admiring the beauty. This was the first evidence that I had seen of the Bird in Eastern Ghats where it is a scarce endemic breeding resident.

On day two, in the wee hours we left for P Tang. The forests of Debrigarh being dry deciduous type had already started shedding leaves and greenish covered had started changing to yellow and brownish. Our first major recording of the day was a group of Gaurs comprising around 25 numbers of the big hoofed animal. Seeing us, the group barring one big bull made a slow stroll towards a safer patch of bushes. The Bull was unable to see us as we had hid behind some shrubs. We admired the big bull for quite some time before he realized our eavesdropping presence. Bisons were proving as the flagship animal for Debrigarh. We moved ahead.

Debrigarh also boasts a good figure of around 30 odd Dholes divided into two packs. As per Nair Sir, breeding female leader of one of the packs has given birth to a litter of 10 pups some months back. One of the peculiar characteristic of Dhole packs is that as soon as the pups grow up and survive to become juveniles, some of the older members of the group separate out to form a new pack (A J T Johnsingh; Sanctuary Asia 1984). Dholes being closely knit social animals prey down a single animal and then share amongst themselves. Separating out of one set of animals from the group when a so called threshold limit is reached ensures that there is enough food for the pack. With 10 pups in the present pack we can hope for another pack if the logic mentioned holds true but animals in the wild have always thrown surprises and logics and justifications as we know are limited by our ever so limited knowledge.

There are some temporary fisherman huts along the reservoir inside the sanctuary premises. Earlier individual bikes and sometimes four wheelers used to come for collection of the daily catch. This used to create unnecessary disturbance in the sanctuary. But now park administration has streamlined the process. Everyday only one three wheeler is allowed to come inside the sanctuary which collects the catch from all the fisherman folk and then leaves the sanctuary.

The time spent in the morning along with Manoj Sir was an enriching experience and I took back some of the basic but important learning’s from him that any amateur naturalist trying to know more about the forests should keep a note of. From birding point of view it is not only important to identify the bird from its visual presence but also to identify them from their calls. As this point was being discussed, sir uttered “there is an Oriental Turtle Dove perched nearby… did you hear that?”. Amidst discussion of birds we came across a scat sample on the road. It was of a small carnivore, probably a jungle cat and had some scaly substance in it. To probe more I lifted it in hand. Loud came the heavy voice of Mr. Nair, “Not to be picked up in hand. They may be having deadly parasitic organisms in it”. Next advice was on taking the pics of scat sample. Every time we click a pic of scat sample, a coin or some small object has to be placed beside it so that we can have a rough idea of the size of the sample by seeing the pic later on. This lesson learnt came very handy when I clicked a mysterious pugmark in Lakhari Valley Sanctuary in a subsequent trip and had to send it to experts for sample confirmation.


Recording of Blue Throated Flycatcher


A Greenish Leaf Warbler

On our final day of the trip, we stopped by a nullah near Chourasimal. The place was a theatre of bird activity with a White Bellied Drongo perched on a bare branch, a Painted Spurfowl coursing away seeing us approach the place, lone Common Kingfisher fluttering past rapidly above the greenish pool of water and some thrushes busy picking the wet damp semi rotten leaves fallen from the surrounding trees for making the nests. A bluish bird with Orange under parts sitting on one of the branches as a silent spectator would come down and pluck some flying insects before sitting back again on the branch. I didn’t give much attention to the bird as I thought it was a Tickell’s Flycatcher but later on I realized that it was the Blue Throated Flycatcher (Cyornis rubeculoides) which is a winter visitor to the Eastern Ghats and breeds in Himalayas during the summers.

On one of the evenings, we did spend the time on the watch tower at Barkhandia. It was not a complete moonlit night but was enough to see the hills of Barapahada towards the west standing like a wall against the star lit sky. On the east was the mammoth Hirakud Reservoir looking like a pond of molten silver with impression of the moon flickering on the slowly moving water of great Mahanadi. These magnificent forests of Debrigarh are house to so many animals, birds and insects and form an important eco-system and it is right there in our backyard in Odisha. I wish more parents from Bhubaneswar, Sambalpur, Rourkela and other places of the state can bring in their kids to Debrigarh and interest in wildlife amongst kids and school children is aroused. After all these are the kids who are going to grow up in future as wildlifers and not only voice the need for wildlife protection for Odisha but work on ground. We don’t need to travel long distance and have a costly trip to some of the coveted wildlife sanctuaries of India. It’s right there near us in form of Debrigarh and gives us an immense opportunity being close to Mother Nature. I would feel elated if more naturalists, more writers, more wildlife photographers and more IFS officers can be churned out from the state.

This trip of mine had been an enriching one in all aspects and is one of the few sanctuaries in Odisha from which I am going back with no qualms. Things are looking good today and hopefully it is even better in future. I fell in love with wildlife 5 years back and Debrigarh is responsible for that. Given a chance I would love to keep coming back to these forests again and again. May be in my next trip the Dholes would have formed some more packs, the mystery about the Tiger would have got solved and the elusive Rusty Spotted Cat would have been Camera trapped.....Amen.


Our best friend bidding us bye

___________________________________________________________________________________

The Author would like to express his gratitude to Tiku (Forest Staff, P Tang Beat), Forest Staff of Chourasimal,Mr Sanjib Panda (Forester at Debrigarh) and Mr Saroj Kumar Panda (Range Officer).

A special word of admiration and appreciation for Mr Manoj V Nair (DFO, Hirakud Wildlife Division) for investing time on amateur naturalists like us and for all the encouragements that will always keep on propelling me.

To end with, this writeup including many other essays that are published on my site is a result of multiple reviews by my dear friend and biggest critique Prabal Mallick.

What is a brood patch on a bird?

A puff of  air on the belly of a Barn Swallow
reveals an incubation patch.
As the days lengthen, one physical change birds of nearly all species go through is the loss of feathers on their belly early in the breeding season. Nesting birds develop bare patches called incubation or brood patches just before the first egg is laid. When the feathers are fluffed, you won’t notice a change on healthy birds.

Development of these brood patches is prompted by rising levels of hormones. They form in whichever sex cares for the eggs and young, usually females but often males as well. The skin swells and the blood vessels feeding the skin expand.

The bare patch is revealed when a bird settles in to the nest, spreads apart their contour feathers that remain over the patch, so that bare skin rests directly on the eggs. This contact transfers body heat to incubate the eggs and chicks.

Later the lost feathers are replaced in the complete molt following the breeding season. 

Source and photo credit to: Avian Reproduction: Clutch Size, Incubation, & Hatching - http://people.eku.edu/ritchisong/avianreproduction2.html

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Examining The Hummingbird Tongue

Hummingbirds are very small birds with a high metabolism. A great deal of energy is expended when flying, so they must feed almost constantly. Hummingbirds can consume up to twice their body weight in nectar every day. They usually feed on nectar and insects.

Hummingbirds actually have a long flexible tongue that is good for reaching into long flowers for food. To bring nectar up to their mouth, hummingbirds' tongues acts like a fluid trap, rather than a straw.

Recent research shows that the tongue tip is a liquid-trapping device that changes configuration and shape dramatically as it moves in and out of fluids. Hummingbird tongues are forked at the tip and covered with feathery structures called lamellae that help to form grooves on either side of the tongue.

The video shows that, upon entering nectar, the tongue tips spread apart and the lamellae, unfurl to collect nectar. When pulled out of the liquid, the split tongue tips zip back up and the lamellae roll inward, to trap nectar inside.
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Source: The hummingbird tongue is a fluid trap, not a capillary tube - http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/04/27/1016944108.abstract

Do I leave dummy nests alone?

I have two bluebird boxes on my property. There have been lots of bluebirds around checking out both houses. It appears that they (or some bird) has built a dummy nest in one of the boxes. And some have been checking out the other box every day but have not started a nest it. Chickadees are now also checking out the one house. Why haven't the bluebirds claimed the empty box?

Eastern Bluebird
Also, should I remove the dummy nest from the second box to allow another pair to possibly nest? Or should I leave it to Mother Nature?
 
I’m not sure where you live but in Michigan it's a little early for bluebird nesting. The box with a nest was probably claimed by an experienced, older pair that knows the area well and knows where all the food sources are located. But they also know that it is too early to start incubating eggs.

If eggs hatch before your area can supply enough food, the babies might starve. I would leave all the bird nests alone.
Black-capped Chickadee

Once the conditions are right and the best house is chosen, songbirds like bluebirds will finish building their nest and begin egg laying. They don't start sitting on the nest immediately. The bird will begin to incubate the eggs after her clutch is complete. That way the babies are born on the same day and there isn’t competition between older and younger siblings.

Your bluebirds are probably taking advantage of their last moments of freedom before confinement to the nest and are just waiting for the right conditions before they begin nesting.

Eastern Bluebirds build a neat, woven cup-shaped nest made mainly from fine grass or pine needles inside old woodpecker nests or bird houses.

Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadees build nests in bird houses with a moss base, topped with animal fur or cottony plant fibers.

Tree Swallows build cup-shaped nests of grass or pine needles, usually lined with lots of fluffy feathers to cover the eggs inside bird houses.

House Wrens are famous for building dummy nests to keep other males away. They also build several starter stick constructions to present to females. The female then chooses which nest is best and takes over building the nest with cottony spider cocoons, fine fibers and downy feathers.
House Wren

The other birds checking out the boxes are probably newly mated and trying out different nesting sites. They flit about from sight to sight in the early spring looking for the best nest.

I’m glad you are having such success. Just be a little patient and let nature take its course.

Thanks for your advice. Your nudge to be patient was very useful (working on that in many areas of my life :)) The bluebirds are completing their nest……they were just taking their time with it.

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Can birds become dependent on bird feeders?

Spring and Summertime is a great time to feed birds. You may see different birds at your feeders during summer than you do during winter. And many, such as finches and warblers, may sport their vibrant spring and summer plumage spreading color throughout your yard.

For much of North America summertime is a great time to see hummingbirds and other nectar-eating birds. Hummingbirds are frequent feeder visitors because they eat nearly half their weight in nectar every day!

You'll also be in for a treat when woodpeckers, bluebirds, and other nesting birds bring their babies to your feeders to teach them how to eat at the feeder. The young fledglings put on such a show!

Birds only supplement their diet up to 10 to 20 percent at feeders. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office of Bird Management states: "If you enjoy feeding the birds, there is no reason to stop feeding the birds in the summer. You can do it year round. Feeding the birds in the summer will not make them lazy or too dependent."

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology scientists state; " Keep the restaurant open year round and offer a variety of seeds and suet."

Talk with our Certified Bird Feeding Specialists at Wild Birds Unlimited about the many ways you can enjoy feeding the birds in summer and all year long. 

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Dark-eyed Junco migration

The Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis is a medium-sized sparrow with dark gray plumage on its head, breast and upper parts which contrast with the white, outer tail and white belly. The female and immature juncos are less slate colored and tend to be browner than the adult male.

In mid-Michigan, it's almost time to say good bye to the juncos. These small birds prefer cold climates to nest, so they retreat north as spring arrives.

The juncos we see all winter in the Lansing area are typically males. Studies show winter junco flocks are 80 percent male in Michigan and 72 percent female in Alabama. Males risk harsh winters in the northern states in order to be the first ones back to their upper Michigan and Canadian breeding grounds to stake out a territory in the spring. As the days get longer and warmer, the boys migrate north.

So now in early spring, the jucos we see are mostly female. Once they fuel up they may linger a few days or continue north if the weather cooperates. You won't know until the next morning who you'll host for breakfast.

Juncos migrate at night at very low altitudes in flocks up to 100 individuals. Other birds like fox and tree sparrows may accompany the juncos. Flock composition can change from day to day during migration. Juncos prefer to forage and roost in groups during the day and may depart en masse at night but do not stay together during flight.

Juncos, like many other members of the sparrow family, eat a variety of insects and seeds mainly on the ground. What seeds they prefer can differ across the country.

Black oil sunflower seeds, millet, safflower, peanuts and peanut butter suet are some of the most popular foods that attract juncos to tray or ground bird feeders.
You’ll also see the juncos scratching for grass seeds or insects in leaf litter and pine needles.

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Does the warm weather mean early migration?

Birds that winter in the south don’t exactly know that we are having an early spring. They generally leave the same time each year based on internal circadian rhythms and subtle changes in the sunlight. However once they begin their journey, the weather in the United States can play a big role in how quick they reach their nesting grounds.

When we have unexpected cold fronts in the spring, birds can stop temporarily or even reverse direction to wait for better traveling conditions. And with this yummy spring weather we’re experiencing, the birds may speed up their migration spending less time at their normal pit stops to reach their destination.

Lately there has been a lot of excitement in the air with this crazy weather. I have seen waves of Dark-eyed Juncos stopping briefly at my feeders only to leave the next day on their way further north to their nesting grounds. The chickadees have been conducting battles for territory through song and checking out nesting sites. Bluebirds and other birds have started to carry off mouthful of nesting materials. While robins and cardinals, up before the sun, sing lovely ballads for their mates.

Things seem to be moving much faster than normal and people are curious if the migrating orioles and hummingbirds will show up earlier this year. I usually put my nectar feeders up April 15th and expect to see regular birds visiting by May. But I just checked the migration maps, YIKES!!, they've been sighted in Michigan!

It's still early but I think I'm going to wash up my nectar feeders and put them up today. If you want to check the maps or report the sighting of a bird go to www.hummingbirds.net to check the status of hummingbirds and http://www.learner.org/jnorth/maps/Maps.html for a lot of other spring sightings.

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Red-tailed Hawk Nest

In the images above, the hawk with the band on the right leg is the female. The male has a band on his left leg. See live stream

Cornell Lab eNews Flash
LIVE: Red-tailed Hawk Nest


A new nest camera high above a Cornell University athletic field is streaming crystal-clear views of a Red-tailed Hawk nest via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds website. The new camera stream puts viewers 80 feet off the ground and right beside the nest, where they can watch the hawks arrive, see them taking turns incubating the eggs, and compare notes on the two birds—the male has a more golden-tawny face and is slightly smaller than the female, who has been nicknamed "Big Red" for her alma mater.

The nest should be active for at least the next two months, and we hope you'll join us as we watch the young birds hatch and grow. The parents have raised young here for at least the last four years. As signs of spring began to show, the pair began adding sticks and green pine boughs to the nest, and the male started bringing prey, such as squirrels and pigeons, to offer the female. The pair now has two eggs, laid last Friday and on Monday, and we're waiting to see if they lay a third. The birds will incubate for 28-35 days from the date the first egg is laid.

To make sure no one misses out on the early stages of this Red-tailed Hawk story, we've put together a temporary page on our All About Birds website where we invite you to watch these magnificent birds. The site will be live 24 hours a day and the video can be streamed in HD. You can also watch on mobile devices such as smartphones and iPads. A full-featured BirdCams site will launch in late April with many more species, including  Osprey, Black Vulture, and Great Horned Owl.

Enjoy the view!

www.allaboutbirds.org/cornellhawks

How long does a house fly live?‎

I saw a house fly today. When the weather warms, flies come out of diapause, a process similar to hibernation. This process, which comes on gradually, can last for months, and take place at any point in a housefly's life cycle.

The house fly (Musca domestica), is the most common of all domestic flies, accounting for about 91% of all flies in human habitations, and is one of the most widely distributed insects, found all over the world.

Each female fly lays about 5 batches of 100 eggs that hatch into larvae (maggots) within a day. They live and feed on dead and decaying organic material for about a week. After they’ve grown and shed their skin 3 times they find a cool dry place to transform into pupae. The adult flies then emerge from the pupae after 4 to 6 days and soon begin to look for mates. Adults live from 2 to 4 weeks. About twelve generations develop each summer.

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Where are the orioles?

I live near Millersburg, Mi. which is 32 miles east of Indian River. The last two years we have had Orioles feed at our jelly feeder and nest in the area.  Both years in July, the young was feeding themselves when we had an electrical storm with high winds and the Orioles disappeared. Is this normal?

I always say orioles are the last to arrive in the spring and first to leave in the summer. They usually hit my mid-Michigan feeder at the beginning of May with a big song and dance. I have my feeder on the window at the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store and he'll sing right to the customers when he's happy and give me the look if I haven't had a chance to fill his jelly wells.

Then in June his visits are less frequent as he's busy incubating eggs and then sourcing out bugs for his babies and only stops by occasionally for a quick bite.

In July he becomes more secretive. As Baltimore Oriole babies become independent, parents begin their fall molt and are more susceptible to predators as they grow a new set of feathers. Peak migration is August and September but some begin as early as July if they are done nesting.

Besides molting, birds also have to fatten up before they leave and wait for just the right weather conditions. Birds have internal barometers and can actually feel changes in air pressure in their inner ear. When a storm approaches, the air pressure goes down and the birds eat a lot more in anticipating of bad weather. Then these smart birds will take advantage of the strong tailwinds for the long journey south.

October through February most orioles hang out in the tropics. March and April some orioles begin moving north. On average, they probably travel about 150 miles each night in flocks, flying at about 20 miles per hour. If the weather is favorable, it will take an oriole about 2-3 weeks to complete his migration north to reach my window again by May.

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When do the hummingbirds return?

The most frequently asked question in the spring is when to put out the hummingbird feeders?

In mid-Michigan you have to pay your taxes and put out your hummingbird feeders by April 15th. You can track the migration of the Ruby throated hummingbird on www.hummingbirds.net.

The hummingbirds we see in April probably won’t stick around but continue on to nest in the Upper Peninsula or Canada. The hummingbirds that choose to nest in our area (the regulars) usually arrive by Mothers Day, the second Sunday in May.


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Bluebirds: Carrier of the Sky

Mountain Bluebird
Though their name is a bit misleading, bluebirds have fascinated birders for years. Just look at the many ways bluebirds distinguish themselves from other birds.

• There are three species of bluebirds found in North America, including Eastern, Western and Mountain Bluebirds.
• All bluebirds are cavity nesters and will use an artificial nest box. Habitat and nest cavities had been disappearing for many years, but bluebird populations have steadily increased for the past few decades due to thousands of bluebird nest boxes being installed across the country.
Western Bluebird
• Bluebirds may raise two and sometimes three broods per season. Pairs may build their second nests on top of the first nest or they may nest in an entirely new site. The male continues to take care of the recently fledged young while the female begins to re-nest. Young from the first brood will occasionally help raise their siblings in the second brood.
• Males may carry nest material to the nest, but they do not participate in the actual building. They spend much of that time guarding their mates to prevent them from mating with other males.
• Adult bluebirds tend to return to the same breeding territory year after year, but only a small percentage (3-5%) of young birds return to where they hatched.
• A bluebird can spot caterpillars and insects in tall grass at the remarkable distance of over 50 yards.
• Bluebirds have no blue pigments in their feathers. Instead, each feather barb has a thin layer of cells that absorb all wavelengths of color except blue. Only the blue wavelength is reflected and scattered, resulting in their blue appearance to our eyes.
Eastern Bluebird
• Unlike other bluebirds, Mountain bluebirds are able to hover above the ground while searching for insects. This enables them to live in areas with few trees or shrubs.
• Eastern Bluebirds will occasionally breed with Mountain Bluebirds and successfully raise young.
• Bluebirds can fly at speeds up to 45 miles per hour if necessary.
• When choosing natural nesting cavities, studies have shown that Eastern Bluebirds select abandoned woodpecker nests at least 75% of the time.
• The first Bluebird Nesting Box Trail was established in Adams County, Illinois in 1934, by T.E. Musselman.

Source: WBU BOTM 

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