If you came for the checklist of birds of BR Hills, directly scroll to end of this post.
My journey with the Biligirirangaswamy temple hills (BR Hills) is an old one. It was during my medical school days, nearly 15 years back that I first went to the hills on a then trendy Yamaha RX 100 (2001 monsoon months). At the time, the frequency of buses were few and Veerappan was alive. In spite of his fading influence and the presence of the special task force constituted by the Karnataka government to nab him, he was still quite dreaded. His name only appeared in hushed conversations, with people always looking around. It’s been a while since then. Many things changed; the roads improved, the buses increased, the (then) President came for his birthday, tourism infrastructure came up…..and Veerappan and his influence petered out.
My early trips to the hills was for birdwatching. One of the advantages of studying in Mysore was the possibility of weekend bike trips to some of the best forests in southern Karnataka. Any of the several protected areas of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve were within hours trips from Mysore, ranging from BR Hills and MM Hills to Bandipur, Mudhumalai, Wayanad and Nagarhole. Although meticulous note-taking and record-keeping is the hallmark of anyone with curiosity or training in natural-history, the true value of record-keeping was not realised soon enough. I still wish I had made some notes of my early trips to the hills.
Those were the days of expansion of the cyber cafes. Access to Internet and the several birding related email discussion groups opened out an entire world out there to discuss the various aspects of birds. Bngbirds was of course my first stop, along with Vijay Cavale’s Indian birds. In time, the photography bug bit many and there were many more such sites with spectacular photographs of birds. Among the periodicals for birdwatchers, the Newsletter for birdwatchers (old issues on archive.org) and later, the journal-magazine Indian Birds were avenues to read and share notes on birds. But the most favoured platform for sharing birding related notes for me was email groups and among them, bngbirds. Over time, I had begun to share stray sighting records on these email groups.
Over time, stray sighting reports and checklists of birds seen reported on email groups and anywhere else on the web (including old blogs with checklists of birds seen) become extremely valuable in understanding various local changes. They could even contribute to our understanding of global changes in our climate. The eBird platform, a powerful tool for birdwatchers to aggregate all their sightings information on one hand, becomes an even more powerful scientific tool when many birdwatchers begin to aggregate all their sighting information onto this platform. Over the last several months, I have begun to migrate all my old records onto eBird in hope that this may contribute to “something bigger”. In fact, many older Indian platforms that held birds sighting records such as Birdspot and Migrantwatch have already pushed their data onto eBird. The results can be powerful. Some of the more active birding communities, such as the Mysore Nature Team are already beginning to explore the powerful analytical capabilities of crowdsourcing bird records onto a global platform. The Mysore Bird Atlas is one such experiment. Birdcount India, a consortium of organisattions and groups summarises eBird thus:
For people interested in birds at any level, it’s possible for you to have fun birding while at the same time pooling your efforts with those of thousands of others so that the combined information is available for research and conservation
Anyway, apart from enjoying the stray birding trips (and later near daily birding when I worked in the hills for 3 years), I was able to put together systematically the material in the notes to add to our understanding of the birds of BR Hills, through two articles in the journal, Indian Birds. The first one added a few records of bird species not reported before from the hills, while the second one was an attempt to answer the question about some of the peculiarities of the bird distributions in BR Hills vis-a-vis other areas in the Western Ghats, Eastern Ghats and Central India. These two papers along with a paper reporting the occurrence of the Madras Tree Shrew in the hills represent the papers farthest from my core work in public health.
Birding continued through trips to the hills and a nice Google Alerts system continued to feed me with new birds being reported on Flickr and of course the largest repo of Indian birds photos, India Nature Watch. I have tried to maintain a somewhat annotated checklist of the birds reported from BR Hills based on my own records as well as reports on the various email discussion groups, India Nature Watch, Flickr and elsewhere on the Internet, in addition to the various historical notes on the birds here ranging from early papers by the British planter, Morris, to the Birds of Mysore survey by Salim Ali when he collected birds in the “Biligirirangans” to more recent surveys in the 90s by Merlin Nature Club of Bangalore (Karthikeyan, Prasad and TS Srinivasa, and perhaps not active in this name now) and Aravind N A’s paper on the birds of BR Hills, the first effort at integrating all the previous sightings onto one place.
A recent visit to the Bombay Natural History Society, of which I took up a life-membership, spurred a dormant effort at maintaining an annotated checklist of the birds reported from BR Hills. Further, I was told that the society is undertaking a revision of their earlier book documenting the several Important Bird Areas (IBA) in India, of which BR Hills is also one. The previous edition of the IBA book had some errors about the avifauna of the hills and so, I sat down to improve upon the dormant annotated checklist of the hills that I tried to pull together all the information on the birds that I had come across through email groups, blogs, INW, published articles and my own sightings. The result is a list of 281 birds with some notes on their occurrence and guesstimates of their abundance (see below for download). With more and more birders embracing eBird, the information on BR Hills (a hotspot on eBird) is also improving. See the eBird list for BR Hills lists 177 species from 83 checklists till date.
The list I maintain is below (version 1.3). Please note that it is a work in progress (and possibly will always be!). So, if you have any comments/suggestions/edits, feel free to email me on biligirirangaATgmail. Many thanks to Praveen J for help with the updated taxonomy and for flagging errors in previous version. Thanks also to Shyamal, MB Krishna, S Subramanya, S Karthikeyan, Umesh Srinivasan and several others whose birding experiences enriched my own.