Environment

Chennai resident’s audio recording of curlew sandpiper’s call is the first for the species to come up on eBird from India

A curlew sandpiper at the Muttukadu estuary. Photo: Sundaravel Palanivelu   

Subramanian Sankar who sees himself as a lifelong student of bird calls, recently resolved what has been a head-scratcher of a question for chirrup-loving citizen birders in India. It is about having the curlew sandpiper “authentically” on record.

Recording a curlew sandpiper’s call that is entirely a curlew sandpiper’s has been a challenge, one acknowledged by Salim Ali. Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan (Vol. II) by Salim Ali and Sidney Dillon Ripley carries a telling remark: “Not authentically recorded in India, the fact of its keeping in mixed flocks making it difficult to isolate the calls of the various species.”

Recently, the eBird platform got off the mark in terms of having a validated curlew sandpiper call recording from India.

“There must be other recordings of the curlew sandpiper from its wintering grounds in India, but this is the first recording of the species’ call on eBird from India,” observes Subramanian (‘Subbu’ in citizen-science birding circles).

A Nanganallur resident, Subbu had joined two others on a birding expedition to the coastal sections of Nagapattinam.

Almost always hearing a bird before sighting it, he was naturally expected to return from the exercise with a rich harvest of bird calls. A clearly recorded vocalisation of a curlew sandpiper was however among the least expected, if not unexpected.

He has uploaded four recordings, two outstripping the one-minute mark, and the other two staying under 20 seconds. He remarks that the shortest of the sound capsules — one lasting just five seconds — has the call of a flustered curlew sandpiper taking to wing.

“There were around 40 curlew sandpipers. There was a good number of little stints as well. Dispersed, the curlew sandpipers were feeding actively with little stints and lesser sand plovers. At a distance, there was also a flock of phalaropes,” he describes the scene from the salt pans where the sighting happened.

“It is extremely hard to record calls of birds that are in their wintering grounds. They are usually silent and call rarely, and when they do, the call would mostly be a chirp, and they may all sound similar. You have to look at the spectogram to see how different they are.”

On how vocalisations can get mixed up, he observes that “once in one ‘call’, I found twelve species. They had all been vocalising together.”

Near threatened

The curlew sandpiper is a bird in peril, its numbers causing brows to wrinkle with befuddlement and concern. Ornithologist V Santharam remarks that to get to the bottom of their reduced presence, wide-ranging factors might have to be studied.

From the experience of watching and studying the bird at Adyar Estuary, Pulicat and Point Calimere, among other coastal sections, Santharam observes:

“I remember it as a fairly common bird — it used to be seen at the Adyar estuary, which is where I first saw it. It used to be found in most of the coastal waterbodies. There were some years when the birds used to be common; and some other years when their numbers would be low. There would be fluctations that would have had something to do with their breeding grounds or passage, because they travel a long distance.

There could have been triggers at crucial stopover wetlands. At stopover wetlands, they would refuel and continue their onward migratory journey. When such wetlands are lost, their numbers may be low when they reach their wintering grounds.”


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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 12:39:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/chennai-residents-audio-recording-of-curlew-sandpipers-call-is-the-first-for-the-species-to-come-up-on-ebird-from-india/article36795823.ece

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