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For joy of birdwatching

A white-bellied sea eagle with a catch from the Bay of Bengal in Visakhapatnam

A white-bellied sea eagle with a catch from the Bay of Bengal in Visakhapatnam   | Photo Credit: K_R_DEEPAK

A team of birders, documenting the bird species in the region, stumble upon some interesting finds

There is one thing that every ardent birder will tell you with great conviction - anything can turn up anywhere, at any time. So when on a crisp Sunday morning, a team of birders armed with binoculars and DSLRs descended at Thotlakonda, one of the popular Buddhist sites and green expanses in the city suburbs, they had little inkling that they would be stumbling upon a rare find.

Amidst the chirp of the common birds, this time the alert eyes of the birders spotted a thick-billed green pigeon perched up in one of the trees. Commonly spotted in the Eastern Himalayas and the northeast regions, this was the first time the species was recorded in Central and South India.

“It was a rare occurrence which took us all my surprise,” says birder Vikram Penmetsa, who is a chartered accountant by profession. Anyone training their binoculars on the region’s snags, rocks and beaches may find themselves rubbing shoulders with this team of birders who often set off on their early morning field trips to document bird species in and around Visakhapatnam.

The group has 20 active members who formed the ‘Vizag Birdwatchers Society’ five months ago. Since then, they have been going on field trips every month to a new place to record the resident and migrant avian species.

Rich in biodiversity, the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh support a good forest cover. However, the last detailed documented work on bird species of this region was done by the bird man of India, Dr. Salim Ali.

A lot changed over the years but the Eastern Ghats has remained neglected by birders as compared to the Western Ghats. Vikram, who is also a member of the Birdwatchers Society of Andhra Pradesh, says that the region in and around Visakhapatnam is rich with many bird species, but there has been no comprehensive list of birds prepared so far.

“We want to address this issue and over a period of time, we plan to come up with a checklist of birds spotted in this region,” says the birdwatcher, who has been into birding since 2000. His passion to see the unusual bird life of the country took him to Andamans, Dehradun, Gujarat and Assam and his next trip will be with a bird-watching group to waterfalls in Tirupati.

According to a study conducted by Aparna Surampudi, a member of Vizag Birdwatching Society and a research scholar in environmental sciences in Andhra University, 56 bird species in salt marshes and swamps in Visakhapatnam coastline and 72 associated birds in terrestrial belts have been recorded in the Visakhapatnam region. Recently, the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) conducted an intensive bird survey of the northern Eastern Ghats hill region and identified more than 205 species of birds including the relatively rarer ones like Brook’s Flycatcher and Jerdon’s Baza. Threatened bird species like the Malabar Pied Hornbills was also spotted in a couple of habitats in packed flocks.

“One of the most important resident bird species of the coastal belt is the white bellied sea eagle. The Vizag coast is one of the major habitat zones of these magnificent raptors. Earlier these used to nest atop tall trees in many areas like AU, Thotlakonda and Kalinga belt. But after cyclone Hudhud brought down the tall trees, the eagles are seen nesting atop cell towers at the ITSEZ area,” says Aparna. Interestingly, post cyclone Hudhud, the birders in the city were surprised to see thousands of sea gulls flocking across the Thotlakonda beach.

A big advantage to birding in the city is that you can often get a lot closer to certain species, because they are habituated to human presence. If you know what to look for, you’ll spot fascinating species right at your backyard.

Among other birds spotted in the region are whimbrel, long-tailed shrike, ashy crowned sparrow lark, drongo cuckoo, pied crested cuckoo. Whether you are a casual backyard bird watcher or you pursue the elusive rarities, there are many areas in region that will keep you busy behind those binoculars. Some of the places frequented by birders are Kondakarlava, Thotlakonda, backwaters near airport, sand dunes opposite Rama Naidu Studio, Kambalakonda Eco Tourism Park, Tatipudi, Meghadrigedda and Mudasarlova reservoirs.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 2:13:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/for-joy-of-birdwatching/article7433993.ece

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