2nd Pelagic Bird Survey-3rd & 4th April 2021

Greater and Lesser Crested Tern

Trip Report

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
Great Frigatebird

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.

Balaka-Lunch-Bakkhali

Lunch being served at Banashree

Maj Parihar taking group photo

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!

Rishin and group

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).

“Some 50 species of seabirds have been recorded from the Indian subcontinent; except for some terns, most are non-breeding migrants (Birdlife International 2014). Of the 11 tern species recorded from the region, nine breed on the Indian subcontinent and most are coastal species that forage from inland estuaries to the edge of the continental shelf (Mondreti et al. 2013). In contrast, Sooty Terns (Onychoprion fuscatus), a super-abundant pan-tropical species, breed on some of the islands of the Lakshadweep Archipelago (Arabian Sea) and in this region are thought to occur only in pelagic waters of the BOB and Arabian Sea. The BOB is potentially an important foraging site for oceanic species such as Sooty Terns (Jaeger et al. 2017), shearwaters (Le Corre et al. 2012) and petrels (Legrand et al. 2016). Annual primary productivity in BOB is at least twice that of the Benguela upwelling ecosystem and the North Sea (Sherman & Hempel 2009, Mondreti et al. 2013), from which one might presume that the BOBLME possesses numerous seabird and cetacean species.”

– Mondreti et al.: Seabird and cetacean occurrence in the Bay of Bengal - Marine Ornithology 48: 91–101.

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 and Lesser Crested Tern

Broadbilled Sandpiper

Great Knot

Great Knot

Red-necked Stint

Red-necked Stint

Greater Crested Tern

Sanderling Flock

Sanderling flock

Whimbrel

Whimbrel

Brown-headed Gull

Brown-headed Gull

List of Species - Bay of Bengal - 4th April 2021

Common NameScientific NameS86396168S86396173S86396171Total
Brown-headed GullChroicocephalus brunnicephalus11
gull sp.Larinae sp.11
Little TernSternula albifrons11112
Common TernSterna hirundo11
Great Crested TernThalasseus bergii95519
Barn SwallowHirundo rustica12719
Red-rumped SwallowCecropis daurica33

List of Species - Frazerganj - 4th April 2021

Common NameScientific NameS84871795S86396280S86396166Total
Spotted DoveStreptopelia chinensis336
Common Hawk-CuckooHierococcyx varius11
Black-bellied PloverPluvialis squatarola11
Pacific Golden-PloverPluvialis fulva11617
Lesser Sand-PloverCharadrius mongolus170170
Greater Sand-PloverCharadrius leschenaultii44
Kentish PloverCharadrius alexandrinus77
Bronze-winged JacanaMetopidius indicus4040
WhimbrelNumenius phaeopus448
Eurasian CurlewNumenius arquata235
Broad-billed SandpiperCalidris falcinellus11
Curlew SandpiperCalidris ferruginea99
Red-necked StintCalidris ruficollis11
SanderlingCalidris alba33
DunlinCalidris alpina11
Terek SandpiperXenus cinereus77
Common RedshankTringa totanus235
Brown-headed GullChroicocephalus brunnicephalus171229
Little TernSternula albifrons6814
Common TernSterna hirundo123
Asian OpenbillAnastomus oscitans99
Little CormorantMicrocarbo niger22
Little EgretEgretta garzetta6713
Cattle EgretBubulcus ibis6060
Indian Pond-HeronArdeola grayii268
ShikraAccipiter badius11
Pied KingfisherCeryle rudis11
Green Bee-eaterMerops orientalis112
Ashy-crowned Sparrow-LarkEremopterix griseus22
Purple-rumped SunbirdLeptocoma zeylonica11

Participants

  1. Major B Parihar (Expedition Leader)
  2. Dr Anirban Bhaduri
  3. Mr Samrat Kumar Haldar
  4. Mrs Gopa Halder
  5. Ms Tapasi Mukherjee
  6. Mr Priyam Chattopadhyay
  7. Mr Rishin Basu Roy
  8. Mr Suman Das
  9. Mr Bidyut Baran Bhattacharya
  10. Mr Bhaskarjyoti Banerjee
  11. Mr Sankha Misra
  12. Mr Amitava Dutta
  13. Mr Swarup Saha
  14. Ms Pampa Mistri
  15. Mr Sandip Das
  16. Mr Sujan Chatterjee

Photo Courtesy

  1. Priyam Chattopadhyay
  2. Maj B Parihar
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