Siberian migrant birds have only sporadically visited India; last sighting in city was during 1950-60

Naturalists and bird watchers celebrated this Pongal with more than usual joy, thanks to the sighting of Great Knots, Little Terns and a solitary Lesser Crested Tern at the Pallikaranai marshland.

R.J. Ranjit Daniels of Care Earth Trust, a Chennai-based biodiversity research organisation, who recorded the presence of these rare birds, said the Great Knot is a migrant bird that breeds in north-eastern Siberia.

It migrates eastwards in winter through southeast Asia, before finally getting to Australia, he said,

There are sporadic records of the species being spotted in India, while for Chennai, there is an old record in Salim Ali’s Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan, which was probably made between 1950 and 1960, judging by the date of its publication, Dr. Daniels said.

Ruff resemblance

The bird resembles a common winter migrant, the Ruff that visits Pallikarnai in large numbers. The two species are of comparable size and plumage colour. The only difference is the colour of their legs — while the Ruff’s are yellow-red, the Great Knot has black legs, he said.

In order to confirm the bird he sighted was a Knot, Dr. Daniels called S. Balachandran, deputy director, Bombay Natural History Society, who had recently photographed birds at Pallikarnai. He had captured this species among other waders on his camera, Dr. Daniels said.

During Dr. Daniels’ successive visits to the marsh, he also sighted a flock of Little Terns for the first time and a Lesser Crested Tern.

In 2002, when Care Earth conducted a bird survey at the marsh, the team recorded 110 species of birds, and this month, the number has touched 132, he added.

Waders in thousands

K. Gnanaskandan of the Madras Naturalists’ Society said that after hearing about the sighting of a Great Knot in Pallikaranai, a five-member team from the society visited the marsh on Tuesday. Thousands of waders were seen resting at the southern end of the marsh.

“We ended our day with no sighting of the Knots, but we did think they could be among the flocks we sighted,” he saw.

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