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Grey-winged blackbird spotted for first time in Gurugram

Birders this week confirmed the first sighting of a male grey-winged blackbird in Gurugram, in the Aravalli forests near Bhondsi Nature Park, on Bharat Yatra Kendra Road
By Prayag Arora-Desai, Gurugram
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 11:13 PM IST

Birders this week confirmed the first sighting of a male grey-winged blackbird in Gurugram, in the Aravalli forests near Bhondsi Nature Park, on Bharat Yatra Kendra Road.

Prior to this, the species was last spotted in the region in 2016, in New Delhi. Experts said the sighting, though rare, isn’t surprising, as there has been an increase in the number of Himalayan birds spotted during winter months in Delhi and Gurugram, in recent years.

The grey-winged blackbird is a large, passerine bird belonging to the thrush family, and may be recognised from its silvery wings and bright orange bill. It is a resident of the northern Indian subcontinent, with a habitat that extends all the way to parts of South-East Asia (including Myanmar and Thailand). While commonly seen in India’s Himalayan states, the bird has been previously photographed in Delhi-NCR on just one occasion — at the Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary on January 4, 2016.

Amit Sharma, the Gurugram-based birder who first spotted the male blackbird on Tuesday, said, “There is also another sighting of the same species, recorded by veteran birder Suresh Sharma, over three decades ago, from Sultanpur during the winter season. More recently, another fellow birdwatcher, Pritpal Panjeta, has seen the bird near Damdama lake. But this week’s sighting at Bhondsi is the first photographic record of the species in Gurugram. We also saw the bird again at the same place on Thursday.”

Sharma also happened to photograph three other rare species in Bhondsi this week, including a black-throated thrush, Tickell’s thrush, and an orange-headed thrush. “This forest in Bhondsi has yielded some very interesting finds recently. I have especially noticed that there is a very healthy population of thrushes there in the winter season. There are only a few remaining patches of Aravalli wilderness left like this and protection for them needs to be increased,” Sharma said.

Experts said that the blackbird’s sighting bolsters the theory that Himalayan birds are seeking habitats with little anthropogenic stress, after similar sightings of the Himalayan bluetail in Faridabad and the Himalayan desert finch in Sirsa, this winter. Last year, a flock of fire-capped tit (another Himalayan species) was also seen in Bhondsi, while birders in Delhi had sighted two black-hooded orioles (also native to the Himalayas) at Buddha Jayanti Park. More recently, in 2021, a sub-adult of the same species was spotted at the Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary as well.

Dr Surya Prakash, a former head of the School of Life Sciences at Jawahar Lal Nehru University, said, “It isn’t that there are more birds migrating to Delhi from the Himalayas during winter. My sense is that this might have been happening all along, and we are only observing it now because of an increased number of birders. We have recently also seen the Tickell’s blue flycatcher in Delhi, another rare sighting. It seems that these birds are seeking out places in the Aravalli hills, like Bhondsi and Mangar, with very little anthropogenic stress that resemble their native habitats in the lower Himalayan foothills.”

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