A view from ‘Rapylon’: This migratory season, watch raptors stick to their perches

Ceasar the common kestrel from the Siruthavur lake. Photo: Gnanaskandan Keshavabharathi

Ceasar the common kestrel from the Siruthavur lake. Photo: Gnanaskandan Keshavabharathi

The lone male common kestrel would be pugnacious in the defence of its territory, at the Siruthavur lake, intrepidly flinging itself into the arena, even taking on raptors many times its size.

“We have seen the common kestrel mobbing the resident red-necked falcon and the short-toed snake eagle, which is five to six times bigger,” recalls eBird reviewer Gnanaskandan Keshavabharathi.

Known in local birding circles for his keen eye for raptors, Gnanaskandan has a reliable theory explaining the dynamics of how the underdog triumphs in this unequal match-up. “Due to their agility, all these smaller raptors have an upper hand over the large raptors, which cannot manoeuvre so quickly in the air,” notes Gnanaskandan.

However, despite the explanation, he cannot help chuckle at the memory of the kestrel launching into a short-toed snake eagle.

A peregrine falcon on a pyon at the Perumbakkam Wetland. Photo: Gnanaskandan Keshavabharathi

A peregrine falcon on a pyon at the Perumbakkam Wetland. Photo: Gnanaskandan Keshavabharathi

From 2009 to 2014, the male common kestrel would be in attendance during the winter, sticking to the same perches, hardly budging an inch from any of them.

“It would come by the end of October or early November and be around until March. Based on the perches it would take, I could tell from a distance it is that bird. Similarly, its hunting territory was restricted; it would not allow itself to go beyond a certain place. If I had to show a common kestrel to someone who had never seen one before, I could safely take them to the spot, trusting the bird to be in the same spot — and it would not disappoint me,” he remarks. “As a result of this consistency, around 50 per cent of the Madras Naturalists’ Society crowd knew the bird in person, and were even on first-name terms with it.”

With so much familiarity between raptor and birder, it would have been a shame not to give it a name. MNS members christened it Ceaser.

“When anyone mentioned Ceaser the common kestrel, the others would know that it is the common kestrel from Siruthavur.”

Gnanaskandan and his birder-friends used to be on the trail of a pair of wintering peregrine falcons. It was a trail that was predictable: the peregrines showed their claws, and did nothing to put their admirers off the scent.

“This pair of peregrine falcons would winter at Perumbakkam wetland — and we have been seeing them for quite a few years. They would be drawn to a particular pylon, one found close to the road.”

Gnanaskandan notes that the spot on the pylon where each of the peregrines would roost can be pinpointed with an accurancy down to the decimal point. “When active and hunting — the peregrines chose a bigger pylon in the middle of the marsh, where an osprey also used to roost. The Osprey would be at the base; and the peregrines, sitting above on a triangle. They would not choose the apex, but the triangle right below it. For two years, we saw the pair. For three years, I am seeing only one bird — the male — probably the other bird is roosting a little further away. For the last three years — due to unpredictable rain patterns, even the male is not staying back. Usually, the bird would be around from November to March, and during the weeks when it rains, it would temporarily retreat from the scene and promptly come back when the weather returns to normality. However, in 2019, 2020 and now in 2021, due to the unpredictable weather patterns, I notice that the bird is not staying back as long as it used to.”

The Shaheen falcon — the resident Indian cousin of the peregrine falcon — would begin its sojourn at the Perumbakkam wetland in May or June.

“The Shaheen falcon would come by May or June during the south-west monsoon. They are probably coming down because they want to skip the monsoon on the western side. Where they come from is an unanswered question, but whenever they arrive, it is usually May or June; and when they leave, October. here was one season when we saw the Shaheen roosting at a particular spot on a pylon — and the same year, in November and December, we noticed a peregrine flacon roosting at the same spot. Probably from that spot, they are getting a better view of the lake — or it could be some other favourable factor. “

Preference for a particular pylon at the Perumbakkam wetland gave it a character and a name.

“There is one specific pylon that would be occupied by every other raptor that we have seen in the vicinity— so much so that we named it Rapylon (raptor pylon). That was the closest pylon which was near the water and where the dry lake bed starts.” All the raptors were on the same page that it was a pylon with a view.

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Printable version | May 20, 2022 2:10:06 am | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/a-view-from-rapylon-this-migratory-season-watch-raptors-stick-to-their-perches/article37989756.ece