Rare sighting of Amur Falcon sets birdwatchers’ hearts aflutter

The falcon breeds in south-eastern Siberia and North-eastern China where the Amur River divides the Russian Far East and China.

May 04, 2016 06:35 pm | Updated 06:55 pm IST - Pune

A rare and colourful sighting has enraptured birdwatchers across Maharashtra with the unexpected visitor, in the form of an elusive Amur Falcon, being spotted last week at the Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary near the Pench Tiger Reserve, 60 km from Nagpur.

In India, this winged raptor (bird of prey) — the size of a pigeon — makes its home in the North-eastern State of Nagaland, before traversing a staggering 22,000 km from there to South Africa then onto Mongolia and back to Nagaland. The bird has one of the longest and most fascinating migratory paths in the avian kingdom.

The falcon breeds in south-eastern Siberia and North-eastern China where the Amur River divides the Russian Far East and China.

“It is an extremely unexpected sighting, and a mystifying one too. Most certainly the birds were on their way back to Mongolia,” said Srinivas Reddy, field director and Chief Conservator of Forests at the Pench reserve.

The fortuitous sighting was recorded early in the morning of 28 April by Prafulla Sawarkar, a researcher of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

“I fortunately caught the bird perched on a tree when I noticed it. I took its picture and then it flew away, not to be seen again. This particular bird was probably a vagrant, stopping at Umred Karhandla for a rest after their spectacular, non-stop, three-and-a-half-day flight over the Arabian Sea,” Mr. Sawarkar said, informing that there had been another sighting of the Amur Falcon at the Pench Tiger Reserve a couple of years ago.

Amur Falcons typically begin their annual journey from North- Eastern Siberia and Northern China, heading to North-East India and roosting in Nagaland, before leaving for Africa, where they spend their winters.

The birds’ roosting in Nagaland made them particularly vulnerable to hunters who mass-slaughtered them for their tender meat. It was reported that in 2013, nearly 1, 20, 000 of these falcons were trapped and killed at just one location in Nagaland each year.

Appalled at this savagery, several green groups, along with concerned locals and the Church, joined hands and launched a conservation and patrolling programme called ‘Friends of the Amur Falcon’ to end the killings.

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