Mumbai Bird Race: Rare birds give concrete jungle a skip

  • Snehal Rebello, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Feb 04, 2015 15:33 IST

Bird sightings at the 11th edition of the Mumbai Bird Race have hit an all-time low this year since it was started a decade ago. The preliminary findings of the race held on February 1 have revealed that a total of 221 bird species were logged as compared to 277 in 2005.

While the bird race recorded 225 sightings last year, the total tally has been fluctuating between 2005 and 2014. This year, 69 teams comprising 325 bird enthusiasts participated.

As many as eight species were not sighted at all across various locations. While very few woodpeckers were spotted, bird species such as White Stork, Black Redstart, Ashy Woodswallow, quails and Oystercatcher were not seen at all. Also except two sightings of Marsh Harrier and Rufous-Tailed Lark, no other harrier and lark species were observed.

“The open scrublands are disappearing, the quality of wetlands has deteriorated and so fewer birds are being spotted. The massive expansion of the port (Jawarharlal Nehru Post Trust) has also taken a heavy toll on the birds,” naturalist Sunjoy Monga, who conceptualised the bird race in 2005.

This year’s Bird of the Day was the Oriental Darter, also popularly known as the snake-bird. Three of these birds were located by two teams on a water body near Murbad. A specialised fish-hunter, Monga said there have been “barely half a dozen reports of this bird being spotted across Konkan region over the past quarter of a century”.

Unlike last year, there was a marginal rise and dip in the number of sightings at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and the Karnala Bird Sanctuary (KBS), respectively. While 55 species were recorded at SGNP this year as against 52 last year, the participants sighted 48 species at KBS this year as against 50 in 2014. In 2005, SGNP and KBS had spotted 108 and 78 species, respectively.

The bird race also witnessed some uncommon bird species such as the White-Bellied Sea-Eagle, which is a predominantly coastal species erratically spotted in the northern stretch of the region, except for more regularly sightings around Alibaug.

Three teams sighted the Spotted Owlet that has declined alarmingly in the built-up urban localities. "Their numbers have particularly nose-dived in several of the Greater Mumbai localities over the past decade and half," said Monga.

Species that skipped the bird race
* White Stork

* Black Redstart

* Ashy Woodswallow

* Harriers, except for two sightings of Marsh Harrier

* Larks, except for two reports of Rufous-tailed Lark

* Ruddy Turnstone

* Oystercatcher

* Quail

Uncommon species that were made an appearance
* White-bellied Sea-eagle: Coastal species, which is erratic in the northern stretch of the region, except for more regularly sightings around Alibaug. Last fortnight was sighted on Manori Creek

* Spotted Owlet: This species has declined alarmingly following urbanisation, especially of Greater Mumbai

* Four woodpeckers species: A pair of the tiny and highly-elusive Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker on their nest at Karnala Sanctuary

* Black Eagle: Found in the forested, hilly areas of India, this large raptor is more often seen around Mahabaleshwar, only occasionally straying in the Mumbai region

* Waterfowl Knob-billed Duck (popular called Nakta) and the Cotton Pygmy-goose: Both reported by a solitary team, each only towards the extreme eastern perimeters of the Mumbai BirdRace area of coverage

* Caspian Tern

* Blue-capped Rock-thrush: Sighted only by two teams

* Red Spurfowl: Spotted only by two teams

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