Peregrine falcons win the numbers game

Ospreys come a close second. However, the Eurasian hobby steals the show, being the surprise element 

November 05, 2022 10:53 pm | Updated November 07, 2022 08:23 am IST

A peregrine falcon at Sholinganallur

A peregrine falcon at Sholinganallur | Photo Credit: Gnanaskandan Kesavabharathi

When something you had suspected begins to gain strength and stand firm on empirical footings, there is that inevitable headiness, the exhilarating kind.

From the tone that accompanied an observation he made about wintering peregrine falcons in Chennai and its surrounding districts, Gnanaskandan Kesavabharathi seems to be basking in that feeling.

The lead for Madras Naturalists’ Society’s Raptor Watch programme, Gnanaskandan has been maintaining for a long time the peregrine falcon has been extending the wild into Chennai’s balconies, ledges and terraces, his stand supported by recurring “colonisation” of high-rise structures, concrete and metallic.

During the recent synchronised raptor survey undertaken by MNS volunteers, the peregrine falcon turned out to be the most-sighted raptor, seven individuals putting in an appearance in as many raptor hotspots. Without an exception, the seven peregrine falcons were cooling their claws on pylons.

The osprey took the second spot, with five individuals being sighted during the survey.

The most engaging surprise on wings was the Eurasian hobby. Syed Ibrahim and his wife Rabia spotted the raptor, and also managed to capture it in pixels.

An Eurasian hobby near Thiruporur

An Eurasian hobby near Thiruporur | Photo Credit: Syed Ibrahim & Rabia

The two were part of a small team that had clomped to Thiruporur, more precisely a long section on the Thiruporur-Chengalpattu Road.

Syed notes there are patches on the section that combine wood (forests) with water (waterbodies) to provide peregrine falcons wintering niches; and to Amur falcons pit stops where they can refuel and hit the long airy trail to Africa once again.

“There are many pylons on this section,” reveals Syed.

He and the rest of the group were pleasantly surprised to see a “rank stranger” in these parts — the Eurasian hobby.

Gnanaskandan, who is an eBird reviewer, observes records of Eurasian hobby sightings have come from GNP, IIT-Madras, and Vandalur Repeat Road. “There is also an old historical record from Pulicat.”

The list from October 29

Here is the list of raptors, resident and migratory, that were recorded during the synchronised survey carried out by Madras Naturalists Society.

Common Kestrel; Red-necked Falcon; Eurasian Hobby; Peregrine Falcon; Black-winged Kite; Black Kite; Osprey; Oriental Honey Buzzard; Eurasian Marsh Harrier; Montagu’s Harrier; Pallid Harrier; Shikra; White-eyed Buzzard; and Greater Spotted Eagle.

15 hotspots from Pallikaranai to Siruthavur come into focus

As some of the winter migrants have punched the clock, the Raptor Watch team at Madras Naturalists Society carried out a synchronised survey of raptors (migratory and resident) in and around Chennai, on October 29.

Fifteen places that have always received top billing in terms of raptor sightings were again doused in the glare of binoculars-enabled attention. These 15 hotspots are found between Pallikaranai and Siruthavur.

There were over 30 participants, who were divided into small teams, which fanned out to the different hotspots. At the end of the synchronised survey (from 6.30 a.m. to 10.30 a.m.), 14 species, which included eight winter migrants, were recorded. Seven individual peregrine falcons and five ospreys were sighted. The sighting of an Eurasian hobby was the toast of the exercise. This bird is a rare passage migrant in these parts, seen en route to Africa, says Gnanaskandan Kesavabharathi, who spearheads the Raptor Watch programme.

The study covers four districts 

Madras Naturalists Society’s Project Raptor Watch 2 has a massive surface area, one assimilating four districts into a seamless unit. Raptors are wide-ranging creatures, and the study of any species of raptor in a given geography would hardly stay restricted to it. It would require regular traipses into adjacent geographies. MNS’s raptor studies range over Kancheepuram, Thiruvallur, Chennai and Chengalpattu districts, which members have clipped stylishly like the names of Indian films (VTV (Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa), for example) to KTCC.

“Historically, we have 35 species of raptors or thereabouts being recorded in these four districts. The outer limits of this study area are: Pulicat in the north, Sholingur and Kaveripakkam in the west, and Vandavasi in the south,” says Gnanaskandan

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