The Occurrence of the Yellow Throated Bulbul (Pycnonotus xantholaemus)

Occasional Bird Notes

Kumkumangita varnaya

Kunthenthu dhavalaya ca

Vishnuvahana namastubhyam

Pakshirajaayate namah


Bird watching in a forest is always quite difficult, especially in deep evergreen and moist deciduous jungles of the Western Ghats[1], where the trees grow to enormous height and the undergrowth also is dense. Due to the availability of large moving space the birds needn’t necessarily stick to any specific place, or frequent an area. And yet feeding parties comprising different species usually follow a regular route in their movements and could be found to stick to their schedule quite often.  If the bird watcher happens to fall in tune with such uniform moves of theirs he can consider himself lucky.  Hence it might be a futile exercise to roam the jungles in search of birds.

When Professor Neelakantan, my teacher and renowned Ornithologist, advised me with regard to this I was not too much pleased with the whole idea of letting the birds find me, rather than go around in search of them.  However, later, after many an unhappy and reward-less trekking in the jungles, I have come to the conclusion that this was strangely enough, true.

At a place called Changili—named thus because of an old iron bridge the British had built across a deep gorge—about 15-20kms away from Ponmudi, where I happened to camp along with a few of my friends (who were least interested in bird watching or for that matter in any aspect of natural history), I could come across a whole host of bird life since I decided to stay put in a specific place and not thrash about. I have recorded an entire crop:

Early in the dawn I walked down towards the stream across which the Changili bridge hung, I came across a large flock of Grackle or Hill Mynas getting ready to greet the day.  The water-bubbling call of the Racket tailed Drongo greeted me at the stream. I waited near the clear water for dawn to break.  It was still dark. Somewhere far away a Jungle Cock challenged the day.  In these parts the the Grey Junglefowl (Gallus sonneratii) was fairly common.  When at last the sun broke in through the thick foliage edgeways, I sat down on an exposed root of a large fig tree to try my luck.

The first birds to arrive were a party of Grey fronted Green Pigeons along with a pair of most vociferous Crimson Barbets.  The Pigeons settled down on the top most branches of the tree without making any attempt to feed, facing their backs to the sun.   The Barbets were very much active tonk-tonking loudly.  Having had their fill, they flew away accompanied by a Racket tailed Drongo.

A little while later, I heard an unfamiliar call and then suddenly a big clumsy bird alighted nearly scaring away the sunning pigeons.  Feeding off the fruits, it descended slowly to the lower branches.  It was a Malabar Grey Hornbill (Tockus griseus). I could make out its features clearly. It resembles the one fairly common in the rest of south India except that it lacked the protruding casque above its bill. It kept on chattering and conversing in its own language. While I was thus absorbed in the Hornbill a pair of Crimson throated Barbets (Megalaima rubricapilla) arrived.  Their habits were more or less the same as of the Coppersmith’s (Megalaima haemacephala) only that their calls were more resounding.

It was then that I became conscious of a slight rustling towards my left where the undergrowth was thick again. Getting worried that it might be a snake, I cautiously turned my head. At first sight I almost felt sure that the glossy and dumpy silent bird was the Indian Pitta (Pitta brachyura).  It was so quietly feeding off the fruits dislodged off the high boughs by the other birds, creeping about the thick foliage. Then I noticed the curious patterns on the face and became confident that I was watching none other than the White-throated Ground Thrush (Zoothera citrina) I was thrilled. It was such a handsome bird moving silently among the bushes.

Then arrived the Fairy Blue Birds (Irena puella), flitting from branch to branch, whistling and then taking off into the distant trees as one.  Following the birds with my eyes, I saw silhouetted against the brightening sky, another bird—a dumpy active, black and white bird—At first glance itself it was evident to me that it was a Woodpecker. Its black crests and the row of white spots on its back confirmed it as the Malabar Heart Spotted Woodpecker (Hemicircus canente) Small though it was, the plump bird kept drumming on the branch loudly.

Then came the Bulbuls—flocks of Red Vented, Yellow Browed and Ruby-Throated (Pycnonotus melanicterus). Noisily uttering a wide variety of soft musical notes the new comers began feeding. A small Bulbul very much like the yellow browed descended to an overhanging branch a fifteen feet from where I was crouched. Guee…guee…guee… went its song. It was mostly olive green above and a beautiful yellow below, and yet it was somehow different from the Yellow Browed.  I did not know then that this was the seldom seen Yellow Throated Bulbul (Pycnonotus xantholaemus)– a much rarer bird of the mountains.  Only on my return, after making suitable references did I quite understand the significance of my discovery. Watching those beautiful birds in action, listening to their broken bits of songs, and catching occasional sights of the White Throated Ground Thrush, I could have sat there for hours on end, and I did.

By then the Hornbill arrived again.  This time he descended to the very lowest branches quite close to me. He was very silent.  The next to come down were the pair of Nilgiri Piculets (Picumnus innominatus innominatus)  These little plump birds with their very short soft tail feathers are really very smaller than Bulbuls.  As soon as they arrived they started their drumming. Quite soon they were off.  Some of the other birds I had listed then were:

Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)

Malabar Golden Backed Three Toed Woodpecker (Dinopicus javanensis rubropygialis)

Blossom Headed Parakeet (Psittacula roseata)


During the most interesting hours I sat quietly I could add more than ten new birds to my check-list.  Considering the many, many weary hours of trekking I had gone through running after forest birds these quiet hours under the trees were more profitable indeed!

[1] The Western Ghats–which may not be true mountains according to geologists— range from the Satpura in Central India, to the tip of the peninsula (approximately 1,600 km in length covering an area of about 1,59,000 sq. kms), extending through Maharashtra, Karnataka, into Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

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