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Flamingo tagged in Mumbai lands in Bhavnagar after 32-hour journey

According to scientists, the flight will help understand migration routes.

Written by Gopal B Kateshiya | Rajkot |
Updated: July 5, 2022 2:53:42 pm
File photo of lesser flamingos foraging in a wetland in Porbandar. (Express photo)

A LESSER FLAMINGO which had been tagged in the Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary (TCFS) near Mumbai early this year has flown to Bhavnagar via Vasai and Surat. The bird was tagged with a solar-powered GPS-GSM (global system for mobile communication).

‘Humayun,’ the lesser flamingo tagged by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) on April 19 in Navi Mumbai, is named after Humanyun Abdulali, a renowned ornithologist who was associated with BNHS. It is one of the six flamingos, three greater flamingos and three lesser flamingos tagged by the BNHS.

Humayun took off from Trombay at 10:28 pm on June 28 and reached Vasai an hour later, stopping there for a few hours.

It took off from Vasai on June 29 and landed at Tena creek near Surat at that day after a 4:15-hour-long flight. After having a 16-hour-long stopover at Surat, the bird took off on June 30 from there and landed near Bhavnagar coast after a 2:29-hour-long flight across the Gulf of Khambhat, completing the journey from Mumbai to Bhavnagar in around 32 hours, scientists of BNHS, the Mumbai based organisation which one of the oldest scientific organisations of India and which works for nature conservation, said.

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“After landing in Bhavnagar, Humayun has remained localised in saltpans near Bhavnagar harbour,” Rahul Khot, deputy director of BNHS’ natural history collection division said.

“The main objective of the project of tagging the flamingos is to understand the migration routes of flamingos from their breeding grounds in Gujarat to their feeding grounds along the west coast of India and make suggestions for conservation based on the outcomes,” he added.

The map of migration undertaken by lesser flamingo Humayun. (Courtesy: BNHS)

Khot is leading the BNHS team, comprising scientists Mrugank Prabhu and Sameer Bajaru, who is studying through telemetry the migration of flamingos.

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Besides the GSM tag, Humayun is also tagged by a leg-band bearing code ALD and the project is supported by the forest department of Maharashtra

S Balachandran, the well-known ornithologist who is deputy director in the research division of BNHS says the project will help understand migration and ecology of and habitat utilisation by flamingos.

“There have been records of flamingos ringed in Iran being recorded in Gujarat and those recorded in Gujarat seen on the east coast of India. For flamingos, Gujarat is their home but they do migrate in search of food,” Balachandran said

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“There is also something known as leapfrogging migration wherein the birds from farthest northwest migrate to the farthest southeast of their range. For example, a flamingo had travelled from Chhari Dhand in Kutch to Andhra Pradesh,” he added.

Ornithologists have long believed that flamingos migrate from Gujarat to the southern and east coast of India as well as to Sri Lanka.

“The only known breeding site of both greater and lesser flamingos in India is the Great Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. Therefore, these flamingos return to their breeding grounds during monsoon,” Uday Vora, the retired IFS officer who is now the honourary secretary of the Bird Conservation Society of Gujarat (BSCG) said.

“The BNHS project as well as the ongoing project of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in collaboration with the Gujarat forest department has the potential to throw light on the migration and habitat use patterns by these birds,” he added.

Incidentally, the WII, the premier research institute functioning under the aegis of the Union Ministry of Environ, Forest and Climate Change, is also studying migration of flamingos since 2019 by tagging five lesser flamingos and four greater flamingos. Prof R Suresh Kumar, a senior scientist and faculty at WII who has studied migration of species and who is leading the study of flamingo migration says he is not surprised the lesser flamingo has stopped in Bhavnagar. “The flamingo breeding season starts with the south-west monsoon setting in Gujarat. During summer, you see massive congregation of lesser flamingos in Thane creek and also in quite a few wetlands within Gujarat. From July onwards, they start going towards the Rann of Kutch and Bhavnagar falls on their route,” Prof Kumar said, adding the lesser flamingo populations seem to confine themselves to western India.

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One of the lesser flamingos tagged by WII had taken the southward migration flight from Gujarat to Maharashtra and reached Bhavnagar when its transmitter started malfunctioning, Prof Kumar says, and therefore, the scientists couldn’t track its entire migration route.

Prof Kumar says more studies are required to establish migration patterns of greater flamingos seen in Chilika Late on Odisha Coast, Pulicat Lake in Andhra Pradesh and Point Calimere in Tamil Nadu. “Of the four greater flamingos that we have tagged, one flew to Miani Hor, about 90 km west of Pakistan in 2019, stayed there for a day and returned to Kutch. Another bird flew to Ajmer in Rajasthan. The rest have remained confined within Gujarat. The migration of greater flamingos on the east coast is yet to be fully understood and more studies are required by tagging more birds,” said Prof Kumar, adding “It appears the greater flamingos of the east coast are residents of that area and migrate to Sri Lanka also and it’s possible they could be breeding in Sri Lanka but nobody has located their breeding site there so far.”

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Balachandran also agrees that the flamingos could be breeding in parts of Sri Lanka which have remained inaccessible due to the civil war and where landmines have been laid.

One of the two greater flamingos tagged by the WII in Thol Wildlife Sanctuary near Ahmedabad this May has remained in Thol while the other returned to Thol after visiting Navagam in neighbouring Kheda district for a short duration. Prof Kumar believes there are two types of greater flamingo populations in Gujarat, resident breeding and non-breeding international migrants. “There are records of greater flamingos coming to Gujarat from Kazakhstan during the non-breeding season here. So, there is a possibility that we have a resident population of greater flamingos who breed in Gujarat and occasionally migrate and an international migratory population which breeds in Kazakhstan, Afghanistan etc but visits India,” he said.

Incidentally, greater flamingo breeding was recorded in Bhavnagar in 2018.

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First published on: 05-07-2022 at 04:00:00 am

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