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A fleeting encounter

In the high arctic regions of North America and Asia where it summer breeds, and the wintering grounds in South America and the Oceania where it flies long distance to escape icy winters, the Pectoral sandpiper is found in abundance to justify as an IUCN species of "least concern". Vikram Jit Singh writes.

chandigarh Updated: Nov 24, 2013 20:54 IST
Vikram Jit Singh

In the high arctic regions of North America and Asia where it summer breeds, and the wintering grounds in South America and the Oceania where it flies long distance to escape icy winters, the Pectoral sandpiper is found in abundance to justify as an IUCN species of "least concern". However, it is the rarest of rare passage migrants to India.

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A field lying just outside the Harike Wildlife sanctuary in Punjab and Kerala's Muzhappilangad beach are now joined by a line of ornithological history. The first sandpiper to be ever recorded in India was on May 10, 1998, when Per Undeland and HS Sangha spotted a lone sandpiper in wet fields outside Harike. The second record came during September 19-22, 2013, when birdwatchers spotted a lone sandpiper at Muzhappilangad among Lesser sandplovers and Little stints.

In fact, their photographs from Kerala earn the distinction of being the first such clicks of the sandpiper in India. Sangha and Undeland had not taken a photograph of the sandpiper in 1998. (PHOTO COURTESY: Ashwini K Bhat)

One of the reasons why such "rare vagrant" birds are increasingly surfacing in India is that more and more bird enthusiasts armed with easily available pictorial guide books, spotting equipment and digital cameras are roaming the wilderness with a vengeance for spotting rarities.

So, it is not that these birds have started coming to India in contemporary times. It is just that they are being spotted now. The sandpiper eats insects and larvae, but may also take snails, crustaceans, and fish.

It is known as a "wader", feeding along inland and coastal shorelines.

Some cobra tweets
There are a few more divine pleasures to be savoured than a walk at the Sukhna Lake on a November afternoon, intoxicated by cold, sweeping winds and brooding sunshine. My brisk walk was halted by a small Spectacled cobra, not more than 1.5-feet long, which occupied the earthen jogging track. It had difficulty raising its hood, and I discerned a peculiar immobility in its spine that prevented the small fellow from fleeing at sight.

It was not at all intimidating, though the hatchling was armed with venom glands. I sensed a deep terror in the cobra's eyes, not unlike what a street kid will harbour when confronted by a burly, bully cop who stares down. I gently eased the hatchling towards the bushes with a stick, where it painfully crawled into. The hatchling had been born this monsoon and being inexperienced was probably wandering in search of a warm nook to tuck away in winter.

A similar situation had arisen at St John's High http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2013/11/cobra300_compressed.jpgSchool, Sector 26, Chandigarh, in November 2009 when a cobra hatchling was discovered wandering helplessly in the playing pen and was rescued by a senior student, Pritam Singh Pardesi. Another cobra, this one was 4-feet long, was sunning itself along the same jogging path when a Jungle babbler pecking at its head caught my eye. The cops rushed in and were preparing to dispatch it to the heavens under the Public Safety Act when I persuaded them that it was the avataar of Lord Shiva.

There was a change in mood. The lathicharge was dispensed with and cops profusely thanked me for having facilitated the blessings of Bhola (Lord Shiva). The day had turned out to be an auspicious one, murmured the cops solemnly. The grateful cobra slunk away taking advantage of the theological melee, and the cops reverentially touched the dust left in its slithering wake. (Photo courtsey: Pritam Singh Pardesi)

Nursing a hobby
With the onset of winter, the plains stretching out from the foothills are regaled with the flying prowess of migratory raptors or birds of prey. One such raptor, the handsome Eurasian hobby (Falco subbuteo) distinguished by its black hooded face, was found lying on the ground in the Railway road market of Nawanshahr, Punjab.

The bird had damaged its leg but fortunately alert passersby informed Nikhil Sanger of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Though Sanger is well versed in rescuing reptiles, this was the first hobby he would nurse.

Injured raptors are not the easiest of birds to deal with but it soon settled down in Sanger's home, and greedily plucked morsels of chicken and drank water from a syringe. The leg healed with time, and soon the hobby was eager to fly.

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Sanger took it in his Maruti Gypsy to a nearby open piece of scrubland dotted with small forests, and the hobby soared high into the skies after perching for some moments on the vehicle as if to say, "Thank you, indeed!" Though Sanger has done his best for the hobby, its subsequent survival will depend on whether it is able to re-orient itself and find its way back home after winter to the higher Himalayas.

It is named a hobby as it derives from an Old French word, 'hobe' meaning 'to jump about' for its agility to catch insects on the wing. The other prey of the hobby include small birds, termite swarms, butterflies, bats etc. Photo courtsey: Nikhil Sanger