The early 1970s, a dark brown cloud emerges in the eastern horizon and it smoothly flows to the west shortly after the sunset during winter and in the first phase of summer reverberating the roaring sound that preceded a heavy rain..
We promptly come out of our house to the courtyard and used to gaze upwards into the throbbing bluish space brimmed by areca nut palms. The sky starts trembling with a large flock of thousands of Taels whizzed across the sky like a bird cascade that falls from east to west.areca nut Palms stood trembling with fear .The avian troops take a beautiful deviation along Ayilakkunnu and vanish in the western horizon !.
Still, I remember the surrealistic experience that filled my childhood evenings with awe and surprise!!.Ayilakkunnu is the areal limit of our vision. Beyond the Ayilakkunnu lay untrodden tracks where unseen rains fell .As they pass across the sky with a whizzing sound used to shout aloud with excitement as we broke into a cheer!!! for a fleeting moment they touched us with the joy of a hundred home-comings.
‘’Taels have returned from Pattikkayal to Ponnani.Birds were hurrying to their evening roosts’ The moment passed, and once again grandma reminded it was the time of lighting the wick of dusk that suggested ceasing of playing. We felt that they were in the vicinity of regions we had wandered along with elder brothers across the rice fields. Later father cleared that birds regularly settle around Beeyam Backwaters which was once the estuary of Bharathappuzha.
We know that birds of a feather flock together!!!!. But what do we call that flock when the birds of a feather are teals, or sterling, It’s called a murmuration. The bird species that is sociable and looms large groups is known as GREGARIOUS BIRDS. the term gregarious can be applied only to denote large flock of birds. the size of the flock can vary from a few dozens to thousands of birds. It can’t be considered a gregarious bird if the folk constituted a few birds.
I feel sorry that failed to recognise the bird scientifically at that age. I was a tiny toddler on those days. When I grew up the avian groups had stopped their battle movements. The folks used to call them ”Eranda” in Malayalam, I never bothered to think more than that in those days.
Later when I realised that there are different varieties of teals (errands )such as common teal.,Garganey teals, cotton teal lesser whistling ducks, and migratory Northern shoveller, Northern pintail. Local people called them ”Eranda ”in Malayalam. We are not certain which of the species of the teals were included in the murmuration used to go to Pattikkayal for foraging and perhaps for breeding.. it is quite sure that common teal and cotton teal were present.Pattikkayal a vast stretch of wetland with an area 200 of hectares along the coast of Bharathappuzha close to Otalur, Pattithara and Malamakkavu. There were hundreds of birds in the avian army.
Have you ever seen a murmuration? If you have, you would know it. Seeing hundreds — even thousands — of birds usually of the same species flying together in a whirling, ever-changing pattern is really incredible.It s absolutely a phenomenon of nature that amazes and delights those lucky enough to witness it.
As they fly, in a murmuration ,seem to be connected together. They twist and turn and change direction at a moment’s notice as the large congregation of Teals took a delicious deviation at Ayilakkunnu.How do hundreds or even thousands of birds coordinate such complicated movement while in flight?
Do the birds plan out and practice their flying routines in advance? That’s what we humans would have to do if we were to look that graceful. However, Taels have no rehearsals or trial flights.
It was a sunny day. Tiny wind-blown clouds floated by, their shadows moved like cows grazing over the pastures.we two, Anwar and I walked past the Kankath pond and over the ridge; we crossed the Koomanthodu and set off to the fields.
Two Clouds of birds rose from the Puncha fields
as something squealed and ran in the undergrowth. And all the sky was teeming and tearing along, a vast order of flying shapes sing over the field. There were hundreds of Black-headed Munias who perched on the rice plants set in motion. they created a buzzing sound. In slightly slanted afternoon sunshine, their fluttering plumage was represented by brown, black and white.. The isolated coconut tree on the paddy field ridge spread it’s leaflets and got to shiver slightly.
.When birds fly in flocks, they often arrange themselves in specific shapes or formations. The large flock of Black-headed munias moved not in a spiralled way often creating mysterious deviations. They landed on the uncultivated fields where weeds similar to rice grew luxuriously. They are small gregarious birds feeding mainly on seeds, usually in relatively open habitats. They prefer to feed on reeds of grasses. A few minutes later and may Sally forth after sometime.
As the puff of wind was breathed out by Pattikkayal…they changed their motion correspondingly in an exceptionally elegant way. These munia formations take advantage of the changing wind patterns based on the number of birds in the flock and how each bird’s wings create different currents. This allows flying birds to use the surrounding air in the most energy-efficient way.
This can increase the distance birds can fly without rest, which is particularly crucial during migration. but munias are domestic birds. Many birds species are gregarious and form flocks for different reasons. Flocks may be different sizes, occur in different seasons, and may even be composed of different species that can work well together in a group. It always has both benefits and problems for the birds that make it up. As usual, some Baya sparrows might have joined the flock”.
A deep, harsh note boomed under the palm fronds, spread through the intricacies of the series of patched scrub bushes. We felt like a bird from a primordial nest of sticks was the silence shattered and echoes set ringing by a harsh cry that seemed to come out of the abyss of ages. The munias started to whistle and call softly. The birds set off and in another direction twisting elegantly, spinning mysteriously a whole new whirl as choreographers do. They never felt to tread a straight line path ..different species of birds joined in the organic alarm exchanging process as children do in the relay programme of a sports event.The chain of net work was naturally created instantly
linking Red wattled lapwings, Small bee-eaters, babblers white-breasted water hens, and Baya sparrows.The sound of alarm echoed across the Puncha rice fields..
We believe the flying patterns of murmurations are similar to other systems, such as crystals forming, avalanches, metals becoming magnetized and liquids turning to gases. These systems are “on the edge,” which means they’re ready to be completely transformed in an instant.when a murmuration turns in unison, it’s like a phase transition.
Like the elements of these other systems, each munia in a flock is connected to every other Munia. What we still don’t understand, though, is how hundreds of Munias seem to know when to turn simultaneously? the birds at opposite ends of the flock are separated by space and hundreds of other birds.
It had become a habit with me to go out for a walk every day just before sunset. For some obscure reason ,I wanted desperately to find the little stream. I had become addicted to these walks in the same way as I had become addicted to sipping frothy tea. Later on after six months I got to see something that reminded me the gregarious birds while roaming at Kadammakkudy along with Jayesh.
we were balacing ourself along the thin lined liver coloured mud paths through extensive wet lands past the huge columns of organic fish farms. A congregation of hundreds of lesser plovers descended on the ridge or heap of ridged sand marooned by brackish water of the coal wetlands .
The congregation of lesser lovers sweeps ,whirls and then lands again after a few minutes. They may take off again and settle on another ridge . Some members hesitated to go along forms another congregation.They gathered to form they have switched on to wheeling and sweeping in unison. we felt we were under theavian canopy.The air space around the birds grow they swelled as mirages and later turned into amorphous state and dissolved in the infinite blue…while took snaps the congregation appeared as elliptical in shape. as crystals of potassium permanganate strewn on light blue paper.
Why do birds of a feather flock together? Understanding why birds flock can help birders better understand bird behavior and how a flock of birds can win the fight for survival that all birds face.
Are lesser plovers intelligent? Individual lesser plovers are not. However, their swarms are swift, focused, responsive to stimulus and dangerously effective in their operations. Biologists call this phenomenon ‘swarm intelligence’, where the individuals that make up a colony of living creatures are singularly unintelligent and are driven by programmed instinct, but their collective actions make their entire colony intelligent as an entity by itself.
Swarm intelligence is common amongst insects; bees, ants and locusts demonstrate it amply. Yet, it is not unknown amongst higher animals as well. Migrating birds and shoals of fish display high degrees of swarm intelligence too.
How does swarm intelligence work among lesser plovers? An important point to note is that they are leaderless. It is fascinating to see how a large congregation of lesser plovers, without a ‘king or queen bird, when attacked at one end of the congregation by a predator, almost instantly displays an avoidance reaction. How did the bird furthest away from the attacked predator, maybe a large gull, know that the congregation was in danger in less than a microsecond and veer away from the large gull?
Jayesh, the techie answered we come to the fact that within a swarm, individuals are constantly communicating with each other through actions, signals or otherwise, in a binary manner. Through binary communication, we mean that” the bird is in danger ”or the ”bird is out of danger thereby, the instant response. Millions and billions of binary communications add up to a sum larger than the whole.
. This phenomenon is no biological curiosity. It is the very essence of the logic behind understanding brain function, as also the design of artificial intelligence. We know that human brain cells or neurons are weaved together to have a concerted effect. If the human brain was considered a colony of independently alive neuron cells, then it can be imagined as a master human brain cordinating all the binary messages from each bird.
We gazed intently at the dense blue of the horizon as if a little silhouette might appear there at any moment.
The sun in the west was a drop of burning gold that slid nearer and nearer the sill of the world. All at once, we were aware of the evening as the end of light and warmth as we walked along the canal ridge. The evening was advancing towards the island; the sounds of the milk-white egrets, the ringing sound of kingfishers, the bee-sounds, even the crying of the gulls that were returning to their roosts across the wetlands, grew fainter.
courtsey JAYESH , ANWAR’who accompanied me in the jaunts.