Once again to Valley school today, for the (n+1)th time, with n tending to infinity. OK, not infinity, but exactly 15 times in 2008 and 4 visits so far in 2009. But who’s counting! And before you ask, no I don’t get bored of seeing the same birds again and again! In fact it is reassuring to go there and know that as soon as I arrive I will hear the ‘tonk tonk’ of the coppersmith barbets, and find them congregated around the ficus trees feasting on the berries, perfectly camouflaged inspite of their rather striking plumage. The walk along the boundary of the campus is like a viewing gallery for the common birds – bulbuls, sunbirds, prinias, barbets – with a special treat sometimes of a blue faced malkoha, an oriental honey buzzard or a pair of Indian grey hornbills.
In addition to the usual suspects, Valley school holds plenty of surprises too! Past the gate leading to the KFI center, we approach a magnificent banyan tree, and beyond it, an area of scrub on the right where we saw an Indian pitta in late January. A tree right next to the scrub is usually buzzing with activity – I have often seen black-headed cuckooshrikes, golden orioles and grey-bellied cuckoo there. Last week we were surprised by a flock of birds which got flushed out from the undergrowth past the scrub, and were probably chestnut bellied sandgrouse.
House swifts nest in the corners of the abandoned house which stands at the end of the boundary walk. The area around the house is rich in birdlife. The eucalyptus forest on one side is where the oriental honey buzzard can often be seen. The grassy area nearby yields larks (in winter), red wattled lapwings and shrikes. Grey hornbills are often found in the trees behind the house. Today we got a superb view of a black-rumped flameback there! Approaching the wire-fenced gate, one can be sure to encounter tree pipits in winter, which probably nest in that area. Through the gate and inside the campus, we turn left and head towards the road approaching the study center. Oriental magpie robins call from the left and back-headed cuckoo shrikes from the right. The path leading to the bridge is superbly productive as well. In the summer, common ioras, scaly breasted munias and oriental white-eyes can be found there, while last winter, we would regularly spot a verditer flycatcher in that area. A rare sighting last year was of the rufous woodpecker.
Near the small pond, the white-throated fantail and the Tickell’s blue have their favoured spots. The grove near the erstwhile arts village used to be the paradise flycatcher’s haunt, at least until the forest dept took over. (The forest department seems to be undertaking various ill-advised activities inside the campus on the land which Valley school authorities had encroached upon. The rubble from the buildings still lies around neglected but they have been clearing the undergrowth, cutting trees, digging trenches to demarcate the forest land, and most recently have constructed an atrocious watch-tower like structure near the Tickell’s blue flycatcher’s home.)
The bamboo grove near the pond has its regular residents – the puff throated babblers, white-throated fantails, small minivets, and in winter the Blyth’s reed and Tickell’s leaf warblers – but there is often a surprise in store. One of my most memorable birding moments was in this area last year when an unfamiliar and melodious call prompted me to try an imitation of it to try and trace the source. What followed was a long series of back-and-forth conversations which went on for 45 minutes, with the bird ultimately revealing itself to be a white-rumped shama! This was my first sighting of it, and what a way to sight this lovely songster!
I have been maintaining a checklist of species that I’ve seen at Valley school and it exceeds 90 species. Am hoping to hit a century by the end of 2009. Wish me luck!
Other pics at Valley school: