Migrant Watch Society

Dive in with the Pochards

A male Common Pochard. Photo: Rama Neelamegam    | Photo Credit: Rama Neelamegam

To the neighbour, a celebrity is just a presence across the fence — unless the latter has a fortification around them.

The Common Pochard (Aythya ferina), classified ‘vulnerable’ on IUCN, may come across as a hugely uncommon migrant in South India, and may even be called rarer than hen’s teeth around Chennai.

The simile’s validity depends on the location, the filter has been set to. In a few areas, the picture improves, sometimes to the point that the species is just a “presence across the bund” in any of the freshwater and brackish water lakes in South Chennai

On the outskirts of South Chennai, which includes OMR-ECR and Tambaram regions, access to lakes, estuarine systems and backwaters raises hopes of Common Pochard sightings. It also includes lakes between Chennai and Chengalpet, as well as those in the Kacheepuram region.

eBird reviewer Vikas Madhav Nagarajan points out that in the Cheyyur region on East Coast Road — the Odiyur backwaters and a section of the Mudhaliarkuppam backwaters — a flock of 40 birds can be expected at the best of times.

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“I have seen a flock of around 10 Common Pochards at Siruthavur lake, when it was filled to the brim,” says birder Sundaravel Palanivelu. “During a trip to Odiyur, I counted around 50 birds, but the flock would have been much bigger, as the birds were at a considerable distance, hogging the deeper sections.”

A diving duck found in freshwater and brackish water lakes, the Common Pochard is concentrated around the middle sections.

So, usually, photographic records of the Common Pochard would be long-shots of Common Pochards bobbing around in deeper waters.

“Generally, pochards would fly in flocks neither small nor big — usually, in a flock of 20 to 40 birds,” says Vikas.

Another diving duck — Tufted Duck (earlier called Tufted Porchard) — can be a “presence around the fence” depending on the location.

Pochards from the 1980s
  • V. Santharam, ornithologist and director, Institute of Bird Studies, Rishi Valley, reminisces about how considerably less uncommon pochards would be around Madras during the wintering season
  • In the 1980s and early-1990s, we used to see all the three — Common Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Tufted Duck — regularly in certain waterbodies around Madras. There was also a fourth one, the White-eyed Pochard, very uncommon, which was found in Chembarambakkam.
  • “To see these species of diving ducks, you have to go to reservoirs where there is a lot of depth. They would be found in Sriperumbudur tank. Tufted Duck was fairly common at Chembarambakkam lake.
  • “Chengelpet lake used to have a fairly good number of Common Pochards and Red-crested Pochards. The Madurantagam would not have so much Red-crested Pochards as Tufted Ducks.”

“Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) is a regular occurrence now at Thaiyur lake, as illustrated by records of the past few years. The species keeps to a small flock, usually just 4 to 5 birds. It has been been recorded at places like Manimangelam Lake on the way to Padappai; and Kattur Lake, near Kelambakkam; and Siruthavur Lake, near Thiruporur,says Vikas.

With the Red Crested Pochard, the “hen’s-teeth” metaphor fits like a glove.

A female Red Crested Pochard at Nathapettai lake in Kancheepuram. Photo: Rama Neelamegam

A female Red Crested Pochard at Nathapettai lake in Kancheepuram. Photo: Rama Neelamegam   | Photo Credit: Rama Neelamegam

Says Vikas, “The Red-crested Pochard is essentially a wintering bird of North India. During winter, you would get hundreds of them at places like Ghajoldoba in West Bengal. However, as it comes south, it becomes scarcer. Pulicat has the best record in this region. Around Shar Road you find the Red-crested Pochard. Every wintering season, you will get to see the Red-crested Pochard at Kudri tank in Sriharikota — in a flock of around 30 to 40.”

Otherwise, sightings are extremely uncommon.

In February 2019, birder Rama Neelamegam and Vikas documented the sighting of a female Red Crested Pochard at Nathapettai lake in Kancheepuram.

(‘Migrant Watch’ is a column about birds that visit Chennai and surrounding regions during the migratory season)

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 10:29:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/dive-in-with-the-pochards/article34060981.ece

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