2020: Yes, this happened Life & Style

Rare birds and animals spotted in 2020

Egrets and gulls at Chilika Lake in Orissa   | Photo Credit: Samrat Gowda


Four majestic whooper swans were spotted in Kashmir recently for the first time after 50 years. They are not the only birds who made headlines in 2020. The desert finch, usually found in Pakistan and Afghanistan, made its stopover at Gurgaon in Delhi, making it to the first photographic record in India. Greater white-fronted geese were photographed at Wadhwana lake in Vadodara for the first time.

Paradise flycatcher

Paradise flycatcher   | Photo Credit: Aditya “Dicky” Singh


‘Rarely spotted’ and ‘first-time record’ seem to be the buzzwords of 2020 among the Indian birding community as the year marked the arrival of extraordinary visitors.

Greater White-fronted Goose

Greater White-fronted Goose   | Photo Credit: Col Pankaj Sharma ( retired)


It was a year when bird calls filled the air says Col Pankaj Sharma (retired), founder of Indian Birds on Facebook, the largest online community on birds of the Indian subcontinent. “A drastic drop in noise pollution and less human intervention has done a lot of good to wildlife, environment, especially the birds. Migratory birds have been flocking in thousands to wetlands in and around Delhi NCR.”

He adds that not all these birds are first-time visitors to Delhi. “People are more observant now, which is a good thing,” he says, explaining the rise in sightings and dramatic bird photographs on social media.

Pankaj says the migratory season opened with the arrival of rare species like the white-capped penduline-tit, red-breasted merganser, and Himalayan bluetail, adding, “The Demoiselle crane, believed to be a passage migrant, stayed back here.”

White-crowned Penduline Tit

White-crowned Penduline Tit   | Photo Credit: Col Pankaj Sharma ( Retired)


  • A tigress and her two cubs lazing around on the main road greeted tourists at Ranthambore Tiger Reserve when the reserve reopened a few months after the lockdown “They use these roads to cross to the other side. I have never seen them resting or sleeping here,” says Aditya Singh, a wildlife photographer who lives on the periphery of the reserve. “May be with less traffic, and human interventions, they’ve had a chance to roam freely.”
  • Recently, a big crowd gathered when an eight-year-old Indian Gaur was sighted in Pune leading to chaos. The incident was a reminder to pay attention to managing wildlife in human-dominated areas, says wildlife photographer Siddhartha S based out of Pune. “ The rare sightings, be it a civet cat or nilgais, is a reminder to teach lessons in Nature to children. When a sambar deer was spotted in Haridwar, they thought it was a reindeer! Children should learn and be aware of our species diversity.”

It has been a year of more awareness, says Aseem Kumar Kothiala, Mumbai-based wildlife conservationist and photographer. “There have been a few sightings of birds in unusual locations, more due to change in climatic conditions, like the wood warbler in Bengal, willow warbler in Kerala and desert finch in Haryana.”

Agrees Dr Samrat Gowda, an Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer who was posted at Chilika lake during the lockdown. He says Chilika, the second largest wetland in the world, witnessed the highest congregations of wintering birds. “Some rare birds like falcated teal, Eurasian hobby, mallard duck, ferruginous pochard and great-crested grebe showed up after a gap at Mangalajodi areas of Chilika.”

The year packed in many surprise visitors. Last week, the red knot, flying all the way from Japan and North Korea marked its presence at Rann of Kutch, says Dhananjay Joshi, a wildlife photographer based in Gujarat. “It is critically endangered. A few years ago, it was spotted at Pulicat Lake in Chennai. The peregrine falcon also cheered up birders in Ahmedabad. The falcon is the fastest flier from Russia,” he says.

Tigers at Ranthambore Tiger Reserve post lockdown

Tigers at Ranthambore Tiger Reserve post lockdown   | Photo Credit: Aditya “Dicky” Singh


A rare bird visiting a particular geography that it does not normally frequent, might be also due to climate change, says Ramakrishnan Aiyaswamy, a wildlife photographer based out of Bengaluru. For example, amur falcons that travel the longest migratory route of 22,000 kilometres a year, were recently spotted at Lonavala lake, an indication of the healthy environment in the region. “The red-necked falcons flying from Scandinavian countries have shifted their wintering base from Bengaluru to Chennai, largely because of habitat destruction of wetlands.”

Birder K Selvaganesh from Valparai says more sightings are reported because more birders are out on the field now. He documented the dark-sided flycatcher in Ramnad district of Tamil Nadu, and says, “This is only the fourth record of the migratory bird spotted here. It comes from the northern hemisphere to spend the winters here.”

Not just feathered friends

Arti Gupta, who heads World Wildlife Fund in Himachal Pradesh says the first photographic record of Himalayan serow, a medium-sized goat, in the cold deserts of Spiti Valley is significant as a ‘once a lifetime appearance’.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon   | Photo Credit: Sejal Daniel


“It probably crossed over from the Rupi-Bhaba Wildlife Sanctuary to Hurling village. The records of Himalayan serow are more from PoK rather than Himachal or Jammu & Kashmir. To have a proper sighting of it, you need to go up to the Army base areas in India around PoK, and spend several days in wilderness,” she states.

Himalayan Serow

Himalayan Serow   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


Though documenting tools like cellphone cameras, increased awareness on species diversity and online birding forums made a difference to birding this year, naturalists add this surge of interest should be extended to address issues like poaching and hunting. “It is no longer confined to birders, wildlife enthusiasts or forest officials — the entire community is involved now,” says Arti, adding “It gives a big push to conservation.”

Recently, an Indian fox paid a visit on the highway in Gujarat during broad daylight, seven kilometres kms away from the airport. “Foxes live underground in burrows and never venture out because of traffic. As the roads were empty, and no threat from vehicles or people movement, may be they came out,” says Dhananjay.

Indian Palm Civet

Indian Palm Civet   | Photo Credit: Siddhartha S


One has to look at long term impacts and solutions, says Vivek Menon, Founder & CEO, Wildlife Trust of India. “A few months of lockdown are in no way going to affect populations. Nilgais have been in Delhi from my childhood. So have elephants in Haridwar which is bang on an elephant corridor. It has taken several generations of misuse of habitat and utilisation of wildlife to make them reach these levels. But the biggest lesson is if human impact is lessened some revival is feasible, for some species.”

The lockdown made us appreciate the wealth of bio-diversity around us, says an IFS officer. He adds,“There is so much life around us. That is the learning.”

In this series, we look back at the various challenges and victories of life in 2020.

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 6:46:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/rare-birds-and-animals-spotted-in-2020/article33462567.ece

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