Cyclone Amphan brings sea birds into Bengal
Pelagic birds that spend most of their lifetime on the ocean and move towards the coast only to breed have been sighted by the hundreds for the first time in the southern districts of West Bengal after cyclone Amphan battered the region on May 20, bird watchers said.
Amphan, which hit the Sunderbans at a speed of 155-165 kmph, carried the birds deep into the mainland with its sheer force, experts said. The phenomenon is called bird fallout.
The sightings have been recorded by some scientists from the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) and birders in Kolkata, South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganans, Howrah and Hooghly districts.
Among the pelagic birds sighted are different types of frigatebirds, a family of sea birds, such as the greater, lesser and Christmas frigatebird, Wilson’s storm petrel, sooty tern, lesser crested tern, great crested tern, brown noddy and short-tailed shearwater.
“While terns of some varieties can be spotted in coastal areas where they even feed on freshwater fish, frigatebirds of so many types are never seen in mainland Bengal. Some may not survive the exhaustion and hunger. They cannot find food,” said G Maheswaran, scientist and ornithologist at ZSI. “Some of my colleagues have photographed these frigatebirds.”
“Frigatebirds can survive only in oceans where they dive deep to catch fish. The cyclone has killed and maimed many of these birds. Had the cyclone hit the coast during the movement of migratory birds from central and south Asia, the devastation would have been even more severe,” Maheswaran added.
A couple of the birds sighted last week were seen in the past but only in small numbers. According to a research paper published in the journal Indian Birds, the short-tailed shearwater, for example, was recorded for the first time in India in 2013 at Namkhana in the South 24 Parganas.
“While the terns and shearwaters have moved towards the ocean, the frigatebirds are caught in different districts. There are reports of some found by villagers in critical condition. We are preparing reports by cross-checking information with birders in different districts and consulting experts,” said Sujan Chatterjee, secretary of the West Bengal-based Birdwatchers’ Society. “Restriction on movement during lockdown and disruption in telecommunication have made the job difficult.”
Sandip Das, a data reviewer for eBird, an online database of bird observations, said: “For the first time, greater frigatebirds have been spotted at New Town in the eastern fringes of Kolkata. I photographed a few near Bally bridge. Some have been spotted in Hooghly district as well.” Bally bridge connects Kolkata to Howrah.
Swarup Saha, a birder at Batanagar in South 24 Parganas district, visited the local river jetty with his camera on the morning of May 21. “There were a few hundred terns of different types. I could not believe my eyes. The flocks were moving towards the coastline. I spotted around 30 roseate terns among 300-odd bridled terns,” said Saha.
“There have been many cyclones but Amphan was a different experience. Pelagic birds found at Lakshadweep or around the western coast of India have been seen in Bengal for the first time. A fellow birder spotted a Wilson’s storm petrel right here at the Kolkata riverfront. It was beyond imagination,” said Sandeep Biswas a birder from Dum Dum in the north-eastern fringes of Kolkata.