Three new species recorded from Visakhapatnam at the recently-concluded Asian Waterbird Census

Birdwatchers record over 130 species of winter migratory birds from Visakhapatnam

Published - March 05, 2022 04:53 pm IST

Great knot in flight with lesser sand plovers at Bhimli beach near Visakhapatnam.

Great knot in flight with lesser sand plovers at Bhimli beach near Visakhapatnam. | Photo Credit: Prem Swaroop Kolluru

The winter sun rays gently lifted the morning haze; basking in its warmth were the winged winter visitors at the undisturbed stretch of the Bheemli beach. At a corner, Janardhan Uppada and Prem Swaroop Kolluru waited patiently as they zoomed their lenses on the birds, waiting for the "perfect" shot. The winter mornings kept the members of the Vizag Birdwatchers' Society (VBS) on their toes, as they visited the wetlands and water bodies in and around Visakhapatnam. The Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) was almost getting over and they had collected some encouraging data this year. After nearly an hour of waiting, Janardhan and Prem chanced upon the season's new records — Great Knot and Sanderling. These two bird species were recorded for the first time from Visakhapatnam during the recently concluded AWC. "We spotted two great knots and six sanderlings while exploring the area," says Janardhan.

Great knot seen at Bhimli beach near Visakhapatnam.

Great knot seen at Bhimli beach near Visakhapatnam. | Photo Credit: Prem Swaroop Kolluru

Great knot is listed as an 'endangered' species by the IUCN and is a small wader. It is the largest of the calidrid species and has its breeding habitat in Tundra in northeast Siberia. They are mainly migratory birds visiting the coasts in southern Asia. "Earlier they were recorded in Kakinada in good numbers but never in this part of Andhra Pradesh," says Prem. Sanderling, a small wading bird, is a circumpolar Arctic breeder. It is a long-distance migrant, migrating in winter to South America, South Europe, Africa, and Australia. Sanderling was earlier recorded in a few numbers from Kakinada and Srikakulam.

A few days after the first two record sightings of the season, Janardhan stumbled upon the third new record of this year's AWC. While crossing the backwaters of a channel near the NTPC ash pond, Janardhan spotted two broad billed sandpipers in the waters.

Rare finds

The three new records from Visakhapatnam have delighted birdwatchers. This year, a total of seven sites were covered in Visakhapatnam for the Asian Waterbird Census and a total of 136 species and about 4,730 birds were counted. From Srikakulam five major sites were covered with a total of 104 species and 4,525 bird counts. Among these, there were some rare finds. "The Asian emerald dove, which is a usual habitant of hilly forested regions, was spotted amidst the Vizag port area. This was a rare sighting during this AWC. There are previous records of this species from Maredumalli and Paderu in Visakhapatnam," says Vikram Penmetsa of Vizag Birdwatchers' Society.

 Black-winged stilts in flight at a pond near Thagarapuvallasa in Visakhapatnam .

Black-winged stilts in flight at a pond near Thagarapuvallasa in Visakhapatnam . | Photo Credit: KR Deepak

The birders of the society identified major water bodies keeping in mind the historical data of migratory visitors over the years. The census was conducted in a few well known birding spots like Telineelapuram in Srikakulam district and the surrounding ponds, the Naupada swamps a few kilometres away from Telineelapuram, Kondakarla Ava in Visakhapatnam which is one of the largest freshwater lakes in AP, and Thatipudi reservoir in Vizianagaram district. The period of survey was from the last week of December till the last week of January as this is the peak season for migration.

During earlier years, all the data was compiled State-wise and India data was consolidated by BNHS which in turn is consolidated internationally. Now, the online portal eBird has brought birders of the world on to a common platform to consolidate the data collected at one place.

Asian Waterbird Census
During the beginning of every year, thousands of volunteers across Asia visit wetlands in their country to count waterbirds. This is a citizen science programme called the Asian Waterbird Census (AWC). The AWC is an integral part of the global waterbird monitoring programme, the International Waterbird Census (IWC), coordinated by Wetlands International South Asia and Bombay Natural History Society in India.

"Over the years we have identified some wetlands where the migratory birds frequent and started doing the Asian Waterbird Census for the past six years at these designated wetlands. In the initial years a team of birders from Deccan Birders (erstwhile Birdwatchers' Society of Andhra Pradesh) used to join us in conducting the AWC. During the census, we identified around 15 wetlands spread over Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts. Our members are constantly exploring new areas to add them to our database for the next AWC," says Vikram.

Long coastline

Owing to the long coastline, Andhra Pradesh sees a good number of migratory shorebirds, usually called as waders, that arrive here every winter.

The three districts of north coastal AP — Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam — play a distinctive role in harboring thousands of waders every year. Some important migratory waders that were observed in this stretch of coast and inland water bodies include black-tailed godwit, wood sandpiper, marsh sandpiper, common sandpiper, green sandpiper, curlew sandpiper, common and spotted redshank, Pacific golden plover, common greenshank, ruff, little ringed plover, kentish plover, little stint and Temminck’s stint. The birders also found migratory ducks such as cotton pygmy goose, common pochard, red-crested pochard, ruddy shelduck, green winged teal, gadwall, northern pintail, northern shoveler, Eurasian wigeon and tufted duck.

The team
The main contributors to AWC from the Vizag Birdwatchers’ Society are Vikram Penmetsa, an avid birdwatcher; Janardhan Uppada who is into birding from last seven years; Prem Swaroop Kolluru, a passionate birder who along with his brother has spotted many rare species; Vivek Rathod, a passionate birder, who had made significant contributions by identifying new species as well as new places in the North Coastal Andhra Pradesh; Bhagyasree Venugopal, an avian researcher and birder, who has covered many places all over Southern States.

"The more vulnerable birds of prey need a special mention since their presence indicates the overall health of these ecosystems. The eastern marsh harrier, short-toed snake eagle, osprey, white-bellied sea eagle, oriental honey buzzard are important raptors that are spotted here," explains Vikram.

The AWC recorded many species that are recognised as 'near threatened' by the IUCN Red list. These are the black- headed iIbis, oriental darter, alexandrine parakeet, painted stork and curlew sandpiper. The common pochard and river tern are 'vulnerable' species.

The past few AWCs have revealed a major decline in the population count of migratory waterbirds arriving to the northern coastal AP. "This is due to the destruction of habitats in the form of encroachments for development. For instance, Kondakarla Ava has seen a steep decline in numbers when compared to six years ago. A possible reason could be fishing activity in the lake and hunting of birds," says Vikram.

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