In search of … the careless vagabonds of the sea.
On 03, April 2021, a team of 16 birders of Birdwatcher’s Society (BWS) took to the sea in pursuit of pelagic birds off Bakhali coast into the Bay of Bengal. The first such expedition in the Bay of Bengal was conducted by BWS in Dec 2020. That too was a two-day exploration.
Bay of Bengal forms a large marine ecosystem, empowered by the tributaries of the largest delta of the planet. Major rivers like the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery discharge millions of litres of water per day into the Bay of Bengal. This marine ecosystem stretches from West Bengal and extends till the southernmost point in Tamil Nadu which is nearly 50% of India’s coastline. In spite of its vastness, the Bay of Bengal has remained data deficient since very few detailed surveys have been conducted in the past. Over the years pelagic bird data have been useful to study the structural and functional changes in marine eco systems. BWS has been trying to contribute to the scientific pursuits,
through its initiatives, to unravel the mystery of the Bay.
The pelagic birds are rarely seen as they do not venture towards the land except for breeding. Consequently they are amongst the most poorly known birds, as not only are they difficult to find, much less follow and observe in the vastness of the open ocean. They do sometime get blown into the landmass by storms & cyclones. During the cyclone Phani, Bulbul and Amphan few birds were rescued from places such as Rajarhat, Dankuni and Midnapore.
Dr Anirban Bhaduri (BWS Member) photographed, from his terrace, a Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor) blown towards Rajarhat during cyclone Amphan in May 2020. Few more observations were reported post Amphan from Hooghly as well. Great Frigatebirds also known as Man o’-war birds, have an ill-deserved reputation as full-time pirates because they are often seen chasing other seabird species, particularly boobies, to commandeer a meal. Apart from Kolkata similar sightings, in India, have been reported from the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu & Kerala.
Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor) – (IUCN – Least concern): A large black seabird that holds its wings in a distinctive crook. The long, forked tail may appear pointed when folded. Males are all black with a red throat pouch. Females have a white breast. Immatures have a white head and breast. Found in Indian Ocean, Indonesian Seas, South China Sea. Main food flying fish and squid. Pic credit: Dr Anirban Bhaduri – Sanjeevani Gardens, 21-22 May 2020
The 16 members of the BWS team consisted of young and old, the wise and bold, the witty and the nutty, also the sporty and the hefty (sic). Led by Major B Parihar the team embarked on its journey in the not so early hours of 03April. Breakfast was served on the move, a much sought tea stop and hygiene break at Diamond Harbour enroute to destination. Arriving just in time for the much sought after lunch at Banashree, Bakhali.
Lunch being served at Banashree
Maj Parihar capturing the smiles at the start of the trip
Maj Parihar with the team members
Post lunch while most of the team members ventured to survey the coastal birds a few preferred an afternoon siesta, and some went to work on the logistics prior to sailing. The evening however was spent, what ‘Bongs’ do best….. adda! (Major Parihar having lived in Kolkata for over a decade is a forced Bong now!
The Birders surveying coastal birds on a sunny sultry afternoon
The expedition took to the sea on a private merchant vessel from the Frazergunge Harbour and ventured approximately 45 Kms into the sea,. The Bay occupies an area of about 2.2 million sq km and the average depth is 2,600m with a maximum depth of 4,694m.
The team encountered mainly Tern species and Brown headed gull known to breed in the Indian subcontinent. (see Checklist below). Apart from birds the expedition also sighted two species of Dolphin pods (Indo-pacific Bottlenose Dolphin and the Irrawaddy Dolphin).
The continental shelf at the shores of West Bengal is around 100Kms wide and the pelagic zone is known to be beyond the continental shelf, that is where most of the marine fishes are found. It is amply clear that to observe Pelagic birds the exploration has to be carried out further into the blue waters possibly > 100Kms beyond the shore into the pelagic zone.
Since the team had permission to venture only up to 40Kms into the sea, it had to turn back unable to venture further into the sea. But such is the nature of any wildlife or birding exploration. The next expedition thus has its mission laid out.
Till we sail again !!
Greater and Lesser Crested Tern
Greater Crested Tern
List of Species - Bay of Bengal - 4th April 2021
|Common Name||Scientific Name||S86396168||S86396173||S86396171||Total|
|Brown-headed Gull||Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus||1||1|
|gull sp.||Larinae sp.||1||1|
|Little Tern||Sternula albifrons||1||11||12|
|Common Tern||Sterna hirundo||1||1|
|Great Crested Tern||Thalasseus bergii||9||5||5||19|
|Barn Swallow||Hirundo rustica||12||7||19|
|Red-rumped Swallow||Cecropis daurica||3||3|
List of Species - Frazerganj - 4th April 2021
|Common Name||Scientific Name||S84871795||S86396280||S86396166||Total|
|Spotted Dove||Streptopelia chinensis||3||3||6|
|Common Hawk-Cuckoo||Hierococcyx varius||1||1|
|Black-bellied Plover||Pluvialis squatarola||1||1|
|Pacific Golden-Plover||Pluvialis fulva||11||6||17|
|Lesser Sand-Plover||Charadrius mongolus||170||170|
|Greater Sand-Plover||Charadrius leschenaultii||4||4|
|Kentish Plover||Charadrius alexandrinus||7||7|
|Bronze-winged Jacana||Metopidius indicus||40||40|
|Eurasian Curlew||Numenius arquata||2||3||5|
|Broad-billed Sandpiper||Calidris falcinellus||1||1|
|Curlew Sandpiper||Calidris ferruginea||9||9|
|Red-necked Stint||Calidris ruficollis||1||1|
|Terek Sandpiper||Xenus cinereus||7||7|
|Common Redshank||Tringa totanus||2||3||5|
|Brown-headed Gull||Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus||17||12||29|
|Little Tern||Sternula albifrons||6||8||14|
|Common Tern||Sterna hirundo||1||2||3|
|Asian Openbill||Anastomus oscitans||9||9|
|Little Cormorant||Microcarbo niger||2||2|
|Little Egret||Egretta garzetta||6||7||13|
|Cattle Egret||Bubulcus ibis||60||60|
|Indian Pond-Heron||Ardeola grayii||2||6||8|
|Pied Kingfisher||Ceryle rudis||1||1|
|Green Bee-eater||Merops orientalis||1||1||2|
|Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark||Eremopterix griseus||2||2|
|Purple-rumped Sunbird||Leptocoma zeylonica||1||1|
- Major B Parihar (Expedition Leader)
- Dr Anirban Bhaduri
- Mr Samrat Kumar Haldar
- Mrs Gopa Halder
- Ms Tapasi Mukherjee
- Mr Priyam Chattopadhyay
- Mr Rishin Basu Roy
- Mr Suman Das
- Mr Bidyut Baran Bhattacharya
- Mr Bhaskarjyoti Banerjee
- Mr Sankha Misra
- Mr Amitava Dutta
- Mr Swarup Saha
- Ms Pampa Mistri
- Mr Sandip Das
- Mr Sujan Chatterjee
- Priyam Chattopadhyay
- Maj B Parihar