Migrant Watch Society

Amur Falcon: Chennai gets off the mark

A male and a female Amur Falcon at Vijayanarayanam in Tamil Nadu, in December 2016. Photo: Gnanaskandan Kesavabharathi  

Achieving three-digit speeds, Nivar led pelagic birds inland. However, in Chennai, the toast of post-Nivar birding was not any pelagic bird, but the Amur Falcon.

Between November 26 and 27, three sightings of the Amur Falcon were recorded in Chennai. With that, the metro is off the mark, in terms of documented Amur Falcon sightings.

On November 26, 2020, Rama Neelamegam saw an adult female Amur Falcon from her home on De Silva Road in Mylapore. On November 27, Sundaravel Palanivelu also saw an adult female Amur Falcon from his gated community on Third Main Road in Kamakotti Nagar, Pallikaranai. Both managed to photograph the bird they saw. Besides, on November 27, Srinivas Daripineni sighted a juvenile Amur Falcon at the Adyar Estuary.

An Amur Falcon photographed by Rama Neelamegam from her house on De Silva Road in Mylapore on November 26

An Amur Falcon photographed by Rama Neelamegam from her house on De Silva Road in Mylapore on November 26   | Photo Credit: Rama Neelamegam

There is a reason to believe that Nivar nudged the Amur Falcon gently towards Chennai.

Previous documented sightings closest to the metro actually are from areas well beyond it.

“A few of my friends have seen the bird in Pulicat and near Sriperumbudur, but I have not seen it in and around Chennai,” says birder Gnanaskandan Kesavabharathi, who spearheaded an exercise by the Madras Naturalists Society in 2015-16 to create a raptor map for Chennai and surrounding areas.

With satellite tagging, Amur Falcon is “on a leash”, its movements tracked, as the bird migrates in thousands from its breeding grounds in south-eastern Siberia and northern China to South Africa, with an extended pit stop in the North-East, particularly Nagaland. And of course, with the same technology the bird’s reverse migration back to the Siberian-Chinese Far East had been studied equally well.

Both ways, the bird is believed to hitch its wagon to monsoonal tailwinds.

An Amur Falcon photographed by Sundaravel Palanivelu from Third Main Road in Kamakotti Nagar on November 27

An Amur Falcon photographed by Sundaravel Palanivelu from Third Main Road in Kamakotti Nagar on November 27  

Satellite tagging creates a picture of not only their usual migratory pathways, but also the slight deviations from them, usually caused by weather systems. Sometimes, the birds just stay off the beaten track, for reasons that cannot be nailed easily. In both cases, these elegant birds of prey may find themselves unlikely pit-stops.

Besides technology, citizen birders map the Amur Falcon’s most-favoured stopovers on its migration route, as well as its adventitious detours.

Gnanaskandan points out that when these birds end their sojourn in Nagaland — which he calls the “hop-on point” on their migration route — “most of them catch the north-east wind current”.

When the journey has taken them to the west coast, they find many halting points.

“West coast is where they stop noticeably — they would be sighted in areas along the Maharashtra Coast. In North Karnataka, they can be spotted in places like Hubli. Only very few come down south,” says Gnanaskandan, adding with some of the birds being satellite-tagged, there is reason to believe that these birds “cut across Hyderabad.”

Gnanaskandan believes that with Nivar, some birds got forced out of their usual course, and hence the Chennai sightings.

However, that is not to say that these birds always require an adventitious event to elbow them off-course.

“Some Amur Falcons go all the way to Andamans from the North-East — they would be very few in number though. From Andamans, they would head to their destination in South Africa. There are a few records of Amur Falcons being sighted in the Andamans.

There are records of Amur Falcon sightings on ships too,” elaborates Gnanaskandan.

When they come in small numbers — twos and threes — they may be inclined to stay on at a place for a few days, says Ganaskandan, drawing attention to how a female Amur Falcon, four years ago, pitched tent in Pulicat for “three to four days”. There is photographic documentation of this sighting in eBird — one record is the entry dated November 6, 2016 of a female Amur Falcon being seen at Pulicat by birder Aravind Amirthraj.

Worn to a frazzle due to a cyclone, Amur Falcons can have an extended stopover, refuel, regain their energy and resume their journey.

Gnanaskandan points out that in December 2016, huge flocks of Amur Falcons were found in south Tamil Nadu — at Vijayanarayanam tank, close to Tirunelveli.

“My eBird listing shows close to 80 Amur Falcons on December 20, 2016. Around the same time, good sightings of the Amur Falcon were happening around Malampuzha dam in Kerala as well,” he says.

During that season, Amur Falcons were having an extended sojourn at Vijayanarayanam tank.

Says Gnanaskandan, “Till mid-January, 2017 the sightings were happening. To my knowledge, that is the biggest flock of Amur Falcons sighted in Tamil Nadu. It gave an opportunity for people in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka to see this beautiful bird of prey.”

(‘Migrant Watch’ is a column about birds that visit Chennai during winter)

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 12:48:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/amur-falcon-chennai-gets-off-the-mark/article33256175.ece

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