Saturday, July 9, 2016

Trailing the Quails of Ranthambhore!

Our Jogi was sitting at a tea stall talking to the experienced experts of the park and one of them was ‘Cat-eye Billu’ the driver who was serving the park in the 70’s and was assigned the task of taking Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur royal family for a royal safari in Ranthambhore! Billu narrated his experience, saying that the queen said to him that she had seen enough tigers and was not interested in them, instead she had a rather peculiar proposition – to see quails in the wild! Now our cat-eyed Billu was good in sighting tigers but he would fail in sighting a quail! Now having an elephantine task of exploring the quails in the vast landscape, Billu feverishly looked around. But it was Mh. Gayatri Devi who took him around a dense bush and as she beat the bush a flock of quails came frolicking around, she was excited to see the tiny birds doing their acrobatics and Billu was relieved that the day was saved! Jogi got curious and went to speak to Divya who is a bird enthusiast. Divya said, ‘most people who know quails are either avid bird watchers or fond of eating them! The others like our aunties and kaki’s know them as teetar – bater pair, because they mostly have known them to be eaten as food.
However, watching quails is a very interesting birding experience. I have seen few here in Ranthambhore. When we talk about the quails in India there are 12 species reported out of these Seven are seen in Ranthambhore. Birdwatchers would start to like them only in later stages of bird watching as they are similar looking birds and its difficult to identify them. However, in the wild these are some of the most interesting bird species to watch. It’s a good idea to hear their calls to identify them sometimes.
Divya went on to share bit of information about individual species so as to help young birders spot them on their next trip to Ranthambhore!
Quails found here belong to old world and new world, meaning - The New World quails or Odontophoridae are small birds only distantly related to the Old World quail, but named for their similar appearance and habits, and are placed in the bustard family – the Yellow legged Quail, Barred Buttonquail and the Small Buttonquail belong to this family. While the Old World quail are from the pheasant family Phasianidae, the Jungle Bush Quail, Rock Bush Quail, Common Quail and the Rain quail belong to this family.

 1.   Jungle Bush quail (Perdicula asiatica) – these are rich chestnut colored small birds which are 15-20 cm lengthwise and weighing 50-80 grams. The males have rufous –orange throat, white mustache and are heavily barred with black and white underparts and dappled wings while the females has vinaceous-buff* underparts and head similar to the male.
They make harsh grating chee – chee – chuck – chee – chee – chuck
Like most quails, Jungle bush quail survives on a diet comprising of a variety of grass and weed seeds, like pannicum, millet, maw and lentils. They also eat maggots and small insect larvae.
In Ranthambhore this is one of the commonest quail species encountered can be seen in grassland and scrublands, can be seen all over in the park.
Jungle Bush Quail 
2.   Rock Bush Quail (Perdicula argoondah) – the male is similar to the Jungle Bush Quail can be easily confused but has much heavily barred underparts, a rufous stripe above the pale eyebrows but it lacks the moustachial stripe of the Jungle Bush quail. The female has a plain rufous face, whitish chin and pale supercilium. Length is usually 17- 19 cm & weighs 60-90 grams. Their habitat is similar to Jungle Bush quail. Good areas to see this bird is near Surval, Chanakyadeh and the hills of Balas.

Rock Bush Quail
3.   Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix) – It is interesting that this is the only quail which is a winter migrant. It is the most secretive of all game birds and is rarely seen even by avid birders, as most of the time it is hidden in dense vegetation therefore good places to see it are grasslands like Indiala, Balas table top. It travels through Europe, Asia, Africa & Madagascar. Because it has to fly relatively far it has long, pointed wings to support flight as compared to the shorter, rounded wings of other gamebirds. The male has black anchor mark on the throat missing in females and the female has a plainer pattern on her head than does the male, with duller markings and no neck or throat bands. Its call is interesting ‘wet my lips’ sound and this can help you look for it in the wild. Its length may go up to 20 cm while the weight can be 90-130 grams.
Common Quail
Common Quail - Male
Common Quail Female
Common Quail Female
4.   Rain quail (Coturnix coromandelica) - its appearance is very similar to the Common quail. The male has similar appearance to common quail but more strongly marked head pattern, and cinnamon sides to 433wthe neck and breast. Female is smaller as compared to the common quail and spots on the breast are delicate. However the calls are distinctly different from common quail - metallic chrink-chrink, constantly repeated mornings and evenings, and in the breeding season also during the night. Good areas to spot this very animated bird are the farmlands around Ranthambhore mostly in the monsoon.

Rain Quail
5.   Barred Buttonquail (Turnix suscitator) – it is grey billed & grey legged with bold barring on sides of neck, breast & wing coverts. It is rufous-brown above, rusty and buff below. Chin, throat and breast closely barred in black. Female larger and more richly coloured, with throat and middle of breast black. The blue-grey bill and legs, and yellowish white eyes are diagnostic, as are the pale buff shoulder patches on the wings when the bird is in flight. Absence of hind toe distinguishes Bustard and Button quails from true quails. Its usually seen in pairs, in scrub and grassland. Good places to see are outside the park like patch around nahargarh hotel.

Barred Buttonquail - female
Barred Buttonquail
Barred Buttonquails - male fighting

Barred Buttonquail female

6.   Yellow legged quail (Turnix tanki) – it also belongs to family of birds which resemble but are not true quails. This family is odd in this the female is large, colorful & polyandrous. Females offer food to the males during mating and once they lay the egg the male takes care of the eggs. They are tiny birds weighing 35-70 gm and are 15-18 cm long. The adult male has a black crown with a buff margin, and sometimes a buff central streak, and the female is richer colour and in having a broad, reddish-brown collar round the back of the neck. The spots and vermiculations on the back and tail are not so dark, the beak and legs are brighter yellow.

Yellow Legged Quail - Male and female (in grasses)
Yellow Legged Quail female

7.   Small Buttonquail (Turnix sylvaticus) – they are the smallest of the quail family found in India, 13 -14 cm length and weigh 35-80 grams,  the king quail standing a close second at 14 cm. They have very small, pointed tail. Grey bill and pinkish to greyish legs. It has sand brown upperparts and buff under parts with black flank markings. It resembles the common quail although it is not related to the true quails.
It is sighted in Ranthambhore mainly in the monsoon months as the remaining time it spends either in central India, good places to spot this very notoriously difficult bird are open grassland areas such as Kundal. Look for the calls, the female call are deep hoom –hoom –hoom and males replies are kek-kek-kek

Jogi started to say bye and walk off, ‘going to look for the quails, its monsoon time cant miss the opportunity, hope you too are out with your binoculars?!’

* Some terms simplified - 
Buff - Pale Yellow Brown color
Coverts - small feathers covering the bases of the longer feathers of a bird's wings or tail.
Vermiculation - like little worm, because the shapes resemble worms providing camouflage/ decoration.