Sharp-tailed sandpiper spotted in India after 137 years

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Published on Sep 30, 2019 11:16 PM IST
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By HT Correspondent, New Delhi

A vagrant sharp-tailed sandpiper was spotted in Najafgarh jheel, close to Delhi, at least 137 years after it was last spotted along the India-Pakistan border in 1882.

Interestingly, this time the bird was not spotted by a veteran birdwatcher, but an amateur birder on September 24 during a casual visit to the wetlands. The sighting was later authenticated.

According to experts, there is only one past record of the bird being spotted that was published in 1882 by John Biddulph in Gilgit, now the capital city of Gilgit-Baltistan located in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK).

The bird was photographed by Rohit Kumar Baldodia, 29, an amateur birder and zoology student, preparing for his PhD. He said, “It was just one of my regular excursions to the Najafgarh jheel, which is full of a variety of bird species. I happened to spot the bird between flocks of ruffs, little stints, little ringed plovers, and other sandpipers.”

Baldodia, along with his birding partner of six years Rohit Kumar, studied the bird before sending the pictures to experts.

“We wrote to Tim Inskipp and Carol Inskipp, co-authors of Birds of the Indian Subcontinent, as well as discussed the sighting with other veterans. They identified the bird as a sharp-tailed sandpiper. It has been one of my most important sightings. Now we are in the process of writing a scientific paper on the finding,” Baldodia said.

Sharp-tailed sandpiper (Calidris acuminate) is in the “least concern” category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) Red List.

“This is a fantastic sighting from Rohit and the only sighting from India in more than a century. The species breeds in the Arctic Siberia and migrates to the wetlands throughout Australia. It’s a vagrant,” Nikhil Devasar, founder of Delhi Bird Foundation, said. A vagrant is a bird that visits areas it doesn’t normally migrate to—usually on account of weather conditions.

The sharp-tailed sandpiper is a medium-sized sandpiper. The bird selects similar habitats to visit during its flight passage, and in winter, it is seen on the muddy edge of shallow fresh or brackish wetlands, with inundated or emergent sedges and grass, or other low vegetation areas.

“A sighting of this bird after 137 years is interesting and it shows the growth of the birding community in the country. It is one of the ‘rarest of the rare’ sightings in India. All wetlands need to be conserved to attract more such bird species. Many such wetlands like Basai in Gurugram are neglected by the state government and need to be conserved,” Pankaj Gupta, member, Delhi Bird Foundation, said.

The entire stretch from Basai to Sultanpur to Najafgarh to even Jhajjar (in Haryana) is a birding hotspot during the migratory season with even village ponds playing host to rare birds, birders said.

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Monday, October 25, 2021