The Indian Skimmer, with its black wings and unusual orange bill with a yellow tip, used to be a vulnerable species till last week, when the International Union for Conservation of Nature upgraded it to Endangered. On Saturday and Sunday, bird lovers from Pune joined their counterparts across India, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh to conduct a survey of the population of the Indian Skimmer. This was the first such global count and was conducted by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and Bird Count India.
“I was at Kavdi Pat birding point and we didn’t spot any Indian Skimmers. I remember birding in the 1990s here when I was being introduced to the art. I had seen a skimmer, which the expert Kiran Purandare had pointed out to casually. I didn’t know how special that moment was to be. I haven’t seen it since. The place used to be very clean. Now, the river is a mighty drain. This was heartbreaking,” says Ranjana Gosavi, a software engineer from Pune.
What prompted the count was experts stating there was inadequate knowledge about the bird, especially its numbers. Many researchers and birdwatchers estimated there to be around 6,000 to 10,000 birds but the actual population could be closer to 2,000 to 3,000. “We needed to understand more about many numbers that exist throughout the distribution range, which is India, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh. It is very difficult for an individual or a group of people to go to every place and count them. So, why not involve individuals, groups and bird watchers, who have been a resource for a lot of information on taxa, species and climate conditions throughout the world?” says Parveen Shaikh, scientist at BHNS.
“Indian Skimmers are not inconspicuous birds that it will be difficult for people to identify. It is a very beautiful and prominent bird and if it is there in a place, a person would be able to see it very easily,” she adds. The project also looked for absent data. So, the more than 55 sites that birdwatchers were directed to across countries included those where the Indian Skimmer had been sighted in the past. “If the birds are not present now but were present five to seven years ago, it’s data. It is not that the sites have not been visited; we wanted the sites to be visited and confirmed that the birds are not seen,” says Shaikh.
Skimmers migrate between breeding and non-breeding sites. Being riverine, their breeding sites are the sand banks on the Godavari and the Mahanadi, among others. Subsequently, they move from where they are breeding and scatter. Post August-September, populations of skimmers can be seen flying to Bangladesh, which has no breeding records. Pakistan, historically, had breeding records but do not anymore.
In Maharashtra, which is not a stronghold for Indian Skimmers, there have been one or two sightings before in Pune’s Kavdi Park and areas in Mumbai. “This time, birdwatchers in Amravati went to look but did not see any Indian Skimmer,” says Shaikh, adding that several participants uploaded data in on the e-bird site or Google forms but others were perhaps collating the information to send in. The last date for the information to come in in January 10. Reports of a good count has come from Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, among others. The count will be held again, with a second phase planned for January.
Meanwhile, Gosavi adds that though her group did not spot the Indian Skimmer, they did see a large number of other species in Kavdi Pat such as Black Stork and Black-Necked Stork.
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