A tree that hosted most birds - Acrocarpus fraxinifolius

Post date: Dec 20, 2013 3:40:48 AM

Recently, during the first week of November, we visited southern part of Kodagu (Coorg) district and spent about three days in a comparatively secluded coffee plantation wherein a different kind of homestay is located. The place is spectacular with a chain of verdant rolling hills. It is also very close to Thadiyandamol, said to be highest peak (1750m, asl) of the district. This area being part of Middle Western ghats and having a heavy annual rainfall is rich in montane evergreen forest having an interesting diversity of plants ranging from mosses, ferns, flowering shrubs to tall trees bedecked with orchids. Naturally the bird life and butterflies is abundant.

The South-western monsoon had just ended and the forest was lush green, with many forest streams gurgling down the slopes making the whole place spectacular ad refreshing. Of course the morning was cool with thick mist blanketing the vegetation. This heralded the arrival of winter, quite soon. The fog would lift slowly at about 9.30 am and sun would appear. And yet, even as early as 6.30 or 7 am, the stillness of the forest sky still dark and chilly, would be pierced with shrill resonating shrieks of bird calls. These birds would wake up early and dart from their roosts in search of food. r bringing the welcome warmth and cheer to birdlife and butterflies.

Fig: Malabar Parakeet

Fig: Acrocarpus fraxinifolius

Fig: Acrocarpus fraxinifolius bark

Of all the trees, that thickly covered the hills, one tree drew our attention most by its majesty. It was Acrocarpus fraxinifolius, as species belonging to Caesalpiniaceae. This tree commonly known as Pink Cedar or Shingle tree, and Huntige or Houlige in Kannada and Balanja in Kodava language, is a tall one known to be a native of S. E. Asia, having distribution in India, Myanmar and Java. It is seen in Dakshina Kannada and Kodagu districts in Karnataka. It is a tall tree growing to a height of about 30 -60 m and having a clean bole of nearly 10 m and buttressed base. It stands apart from other trees by its tallness. In India and Africa the tree is planted to provide shade in Coffee plantation. It is not much seen in wild state as it is heavily exploited for its good-quality timber. However in plantations it is often seen in plenty.

Fig: Verditer Flycatcher

Fig: Vernal hanging Parakeet

Fig: Ashy Drongo

Fig: Hill Myna

There were quite a few of them in the area. All of them had shed their leaves and the bare branches had just started bearing dull red flowers in long racemes’, which were barely visible from a distance. However, the birds of different kinds sensing the appearance of flowers saw a bountiful supply of food in the form of nectar, pollen, luscious soft parts etc. They would arrive in groups or individually and attach eagerly. One group of birds would chase the others aggressively and compete for food, with loud shrieks and calls as if they would call their kin or were they thanking the tree for the feast? Thus, the whole tree top was festooned with garland of diverse of calls. The species of birds included- Bulbuls(Red-whiskered Pycnonotus jocosus & Black Hypsipetes nicobariensis), Gold-fronted Chlosopsis Chloropsis aurifrons, Mynas & Starlings (Southern Hill Gracula indica, Chestnut-tailed Sturnus malabaricus, Blyths’ Sturnus blythii), Venal-hanging Parrot Loriculus vernalis, Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis, Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus, Barbet (Malabar Megalaima rubricapilla & White-cheeked M. viridis), Common Woodpecker Dinopium javanense, Leaf-warbler(Bright Phylloscopus nitidus & Dull Green P. trochiloides), Veridter Flycatcher Eumyias thalassina, Drongo(Ashy Dicrurus leucophaeus, Bronze D. aeneus & Racket-tailed D. paradiseus), Sunbird(Loten’s & Small), Velvet-fronted Nuthach Sitta frontalis, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti, Parakeet(Plum-headed Psittacula cyanocephala & Malabar P. columboides), Orioles (Golden Oriolus oriolus & Black-naped O. chinensis) , Black-lored Tit Parus xanthogenys, and Jungle Crow Corvus macrorhynchos -each having a gala fest.

Optimal utilization of Acrocarpus fraxinifolius, a component among the moist deciduous habitat by generalist (a individual able to use all habitats equally well) and specialist bird species (more skillful at using some compartment) was observed and documented.

Author: Sadananda K B

Photos: Vijayalaxmi Rao, Sheshagiri BR, Sahana M