The Greater White-fronted Goose that has never come down south makes its appearance in Koothankulam

It was amazing, recalls birder Mansur Ahamed. He was at Koothankulam Bird Sanctuary, often referred to as birder’s paradise, and he spotted thousands of bar-headed goose, the highest flying migratory bird. “We have seen them in 50s or 100s in Tirupur. Seeing them in such huge flocks was a sight in itself,” he says.

As he furiously clicked photographs, he noticed one bird that looked like the odd one out. It was slightly bigger in size than the rest of the birds. “We initially mistook it to be Greylag Goose,” he says.

But Mansur was in for a surprise when he got home and took a closer look at the photograph. The bird had long bright orange legs, a brownish-grey body, a belly with large black splotches, and a black tail with a white band at the tip.

The identification matched with the Greater White-fronted Goose or a hybrid of it.

“The name is derived from the white facial feathers around the base of the pinkish-yellow bill. The juvenile looks similar but lacks the white facial feathering and black markings on the belly,” he says. The last recorded sighting in South India was way back in 1995, somewhere in Andhra!

“Birder Gnanakannan Keshav Bharathi in Chennai identified the bird,” Mansur says. To confirm the record and get the right feedback, he also posted the photograph on a number of forums such as Indian Birds (that has over 10,000 plus birders), Birds of India, and also on Coimbatore Birding Club that has over 3,000 members.

“After seeing the post on the bird, Robert Grubh from Nagercoil, who works with Bombay Natural History Society, called me to confirm the details. He is also the author of a book on the wetland birds of Tamil Nadu. According to him, the distribution of birds goes haywire because of global warming. The bird did not have a distribution pattern in Tamil Nadu till now.”

After comments from birding forums and birders, it was confirmed that the bird was indeed the Greater White-fronted Goose, and available records reveal that this is the first ever record of the bird in Tamil Nadu.

You can try your luck for a sighting at the Koothankulam Bird Sanctuary as they may be around till March. While there, keep your eyes open for the Montagu’s harrier, Eurasian thick knee, Knob-billed duck, Rock-edge owl and the Northern pintail. In case you spot any unusual birds post the information on groups/ coimbatorebirdingclub/

The Greater white-fronted Goose has one of the largest ranges of any species of goose in the world

Breeding is across the tundra from Nunavut to Siberia, across Russia, and in Greenland.

In North America, larger flocks are found near the wetlands and croplands