June 2016

Get June 2016 eNewsletter from here.

From June 2016 issue:

When and where to list birds in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry?

P. Jeganathan

In recent times birding and eBirding is slowly picking up in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Knowledge about the distribution of birds (both common and rare), their abundance, and seasonality in occurrence are essential to understand their ecology as well as for their conservation and conserving their habitat. Unless we have this kind of baseline information it is not possible to assess their status as well. It is very important to have this kind of baseline data for single location (such as sanctuaries) as well as for the entire district, state or country.

There are 32 districts in Tamil Nadu and if you add Pondicherry and Karikal it makes 34 from this region. We know that the lists are not coming from all these 34 districts regularly. Most of the lists are uploaded from few districts (eg. Coimbatore, Chennai and Kancheepuram) since most of the birdwatchers are from that region. Not only that even there is unevenness in the seasonal coverage for these districts. We can see that by looking at the bar charts in eBird for various districts (counties in eBird) of Tamil Nadu.

Of the 34 districts only 5 districts (Coimbatore, Chennai, The Nilgiris, Kancheepuram, Tiruchirapalli) have data for the entire calendar year. Thanks to the groups like Coimbatore Nature Society (CNS), The Nature Trust from Chennai and several dedicated birdwatchers from these five districts lists are coming through consistently throughout the year.

Rest of the 29 districts (Ariyalur, Cuddalore, Dharmapuri, Dindigul, Erode, Kanniyakumari, Karur, Krishnagiri, Madurai, Nagappattinam, Namakkal, Perambalur, Pudukkottai, Ramanathapuram, Salem, Sivaganga, Thanjavur, Theni, Tirunelveli, Thiruvallur, Thiruvarur, Thoothukkudi, Tiruppur, Tiruvannamalai, Vellore, Viluppuram, Virudunagar, Puducherry, and Karaikal) have various degrees of gaps in seasonal coverage. Some, for instance Karaikal and Perembalur, are very poorly birded districts and need 46 and 41 weeks of to get year around coverage. Please bear in mind that eBird month (in bar charts) is divided into 4 weeks (first week 1-7, second week 8-14, third week 15-21, last and big week 22 to 30/31) and if we go by that we have 48 weeks in a calendar year.

Some districts such as Arialur and Nagappattinam are covered mainly during the winter and poorly covered for the rest of the year. The obvious reasons would be that most birders go there only during the ‘birding season’ for migrants. Let’s take a look at Arialur district’s bar chart for example.

This screenshot was taken during the first week of July 2016. And the data show here include all information uploaded until 2016 (July 1st week). Few things should be kept in mind about this bar chart: 1) most of the information is from 2014, 2) these lists are uploaded by few individuals, 3) these lists are mainly from Karaivetti Bird Sanctuary. We need district wise area coverage too, but let’s talk about that some other time.

In this bar chart we see Lesser Whistling Teal on top. It’s been recorded in Arialur district during the 1st week of January (as indicated by the green bar), but not recorded from the second week, however some birding had happened from that region (hence there is a light blue shading). But if you look at the 4th week of March the bar is dotted. This means that, for that week the data is insufficient, in other words not even a single bird list has been submitted from that district!

Take a look at the slideshow of status of the gaps in all the districts in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Note these screenshots were taken during 1st week of July

eBird is not only to upload our own data and to look at our own lists and rankings. As a responsible birder and ebirder we also need to look at how well we are doing in terms of data coverage from local level. In case if we are lacking in information on any species or seasonal coverage we could be planning our birding activity and strive to fill the blanks. Take a look at the bar charts of your own districts. In case if you do not know how to get the bar charts please follow these steps:

  1. Go to ebird India (http://ebird.org/content/india/)
    2. Click Explore Data
    3. Click Bar Charts
    4. Select Tamil Nadu from “Select a region”
    5. Click on “Counties in Tamil Nadu”
    6. Click Continue and select your District

What can we do to fill these blanks in various districts of Tamil Nadu?

  1. Take a look at the Bar Chart of the district you are living. See if there are any blanks in the season and make a conscious effort and try to fill it.
  2. If you do not have any blanks in your district look at the adjacent districts and if you find any blanks there and if you have any ebirding friend there tell them about it and see if you can visit those districts to fill the blank.
  3. It is not always possible for a group or an individual to go around and do this all the time. If you have any relatives and friends in the poorly covered districts encourage them to do birding there. If it is possible do create awareness about birds, birdwatching for school and college students, and other interested individuals. Later introduce them for ebirding and explain them about listing and its importance.
  4. If you travel a lot within Tamil Nadu do take a look at the bar charts before you start and plan your travel so that you can be there in a particular district in a particular week so that you can fill the blank.
  5. If you have an old list from various districts of Tamil Nadu or if you have a photograph of birds from the poorly birded region and if you know the date, time and location details do upload them on eBird following an appropriate protocol (Historical or Incidental).
  6. There is another crazy idea. If you are an adventurous birder with enough time and resource, either on your own or with like minded (crazy) birders you can take a “Filling the blanks trip”. I made a bar chart that shows when there are gaps in which districts. This chart is based on ebird bar charts and a concise version of all 34 districts of Tamil Nadu. It would be quite exciting to do a weeklong trip to several districts based on this bar chart. Choose your mode of travel by cycle, bike, car, bus, train or by walk whichever suits you. If you choose 2nd week of August you can cover 16 districts! That means in eBird 16 different districts of Tamil Nadu do not have any data during the 2nd week of August. If you cannot afford to spend resource and time it doesn’t matter. Try to go to Thanjavur district during the 3rd week of March next year for birding and upload your list on the eBird. You will be the person to fill the last blank in that district!

Download this excel sheet to see which gives details of how many weeks in a particular districts need to be covered as well as in a particular week how many districts do not have any information in the eBird.

We should plan our birding trips not just for species but also based on location and season. Only with the collective and targeted effort we can build up the bird database of our region, which will be helpful in saving the birds we love in a long run.

Tamil version of this article can be seen here