The season’s first bird watching tour at Podugupalem Lake sprung up quite a few surprises.
Birders recorded 54 species of birds during the two-hour-long session, which was held about a month ago. “This lake is popular for raptors like red-necked falcon, marsh harrier and short-toed snake eagle. Last winter, we spotted migratory species like great crested grebe and tufted ducks, which was a welcome sight and indicates that the eco-system is well-suited for migratory species,” says V. Bhagyasree, an avian biologist working with Wildlife Conservation Through Research and Education (WCTRE) on conservation projects.
November to February is the season when the migratory species arrive and birders and birdwatching groups in the city are geared up to document the year’s sightings.
Visakhapatnam and its surrounding regions have quite a few water bodies where migratory bird species are recorded. “Araku and Lambasingi are promising places with more than 100 species,” says Janardhan Uppada from the Vizag Birdwatchers Society. The Tagarapuvalasa Cheruvu now hosts snipes and waders.
The Meghadrigedda reservoir, surrounded by hill ranges of Eastern Ghats on all sides, with steep slopes and deep gullies, is a wintering ground for many migratory birds, especially from the Central Asian Flyway. V Bhagyasree who has co-authored a paper along with Vivek Rathod on the habitat lists the birds that have been recorded in the area: “Ten species from the family of Anatidae (ducks, goose). Followed by other significant families such as Motacillidae (pipits, wagtails) with nine species, Ardeidae (herons, bitterns) with eight species, Charadriidae (plovers) and Accipitridae (harriers and kites) with seven species, Cuculidae (cuckoos and koel) and Scolopacidae (snipes and sandpipers) having six species.”
Out of the 146 species recorded from this hotspot, the Common Pochard is listed as ‘vulnerable’ according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, while blackheaded ibis, oriental darter, painted stork, alexandrine parakeet are ‘near threatened’. “Some of the notable migratory species include great-crested grebe, Eurasian wigeon, red-crested pochard, northern pintail and gadwall,” adds Bhagyasree.
The last birding season yielded some unusual sightings, including two female oriental pied hornbills in the Kailasagiri Hill at the heart of the city. “This was the first such record from this hill and has opened up more opportunities for further explorations for the birders,” says Vikram Penmetsa, a member of Vizag Birdwatchers Society. “The NTPC ash pond is another hub for plovers and shovellers. Interestingly, birders also recorded a flamingo here about two years ago,” he adds.
For the past couple of years, the Vizag Birdwatchers Society has been keeping an eye on the residents and migratory bird species of the region. The society has more than 150 members including 20 active members and has documented many rare and important species. Some significant findings include the greater flamingo, the red-necked falcon, and the peregrine falcon raptor among others. The society has been digitally documenting the bird species on the eBird India platform.
However, habitats like Kondakarla Ava lake, the second biggest freshwater lake in Andhra Pradesh, which once was a popular birding site has shown a drastic fall in winter migrants. “Winter migrants have three main criteria for habitat selection — availability of food, availability of space and protection from predators. If any of this is affected, it leads to a fall in the number of avian visitors,” says Bhagyasree. According to birders, an increase in fishing activity could be one reason behind the drop.
For beginners, places like the Indira Gandhi Zoological Park offer a good way to start on the bird watching journey. “Here, there are good number of resident species. We also spotted the Asian brown flycatcher, a migratory species,” says Bhagyasree. The WCTRE along with Indira Gandhi Zoological Park has been conducting regular bird walks here every weekend. Currently, the team is also in the process of documenting the list of species in the region.
The recent spell of rains, however, has made the birders of the region anxious. “The backwaters get flooded and the waders which used to be along the fringes get displaced. Ducks are settling at the centre of the reservoir due to poaching, which is another major concern here. So sightings become difficult; one needs binoculars,” says Janardhan.
There is also concern about the habitat’s progressive degradation from man-made causes.
“Habitat destruction, industrialisation in nearby lands are all contributing to the decrease in number of birds in the reservoir,” says Bhagyasree, adding, “Effective desilting and declaring it equivalent to a wetland are a few means to protect this habitat for our feathered friends.”