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Thursday, October 3

Cory’s Shearwater spotted in South Asia, off Northern Kerala Coast

The Northern coast of Kerala is gifting unexpected surprises to birders for the last one week. In a straight row, the state has witnessed five rare species getting reported from here for the first time, - Caspian Plover, Pectoral Sandpiper, Common Swift, Roseate Tern and Cory’s Shearwater, the last one making the first record for the whole of South Asia, according to experts.

Caspian Plover
(Image Credit: Dr. Khaleel Chovva/Kerala Birder)

Pectoral Sandpiper
(Image Credit: P C Rajeevan/Kerala Birder)

Pectoral Sandpiper, the second record for India
The winged surprises started coming in right from September 19th, when a group of birders spotted a Pectoral Sandpiper at Madayippara, a hillock in Kannur district of Northern Kerala. This turned into the first report of the bird for the state and the second for India, when the birders consulted ornithologists including Harkirat Singh Sangha, who is the only person in the country to see and report it before, from Harike Wetlands in Punjab.

The next in the line of surprises was the Caspian Plover. The bird came to the delight of a group of birders carrying out a pelagic expedition at the Muzhappilangad beach in the Kannur district on September 21st. Among the 30 odd  pelagic bird species they recorded, two important names were Pectoral Sandpiper and Caspian Plover. Caspian Plover was the first record from the state. The bird, according to sources with MNHS and Kerala Birder who organized the expedition, was earlier reported from Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu also.
However, what was in the store was yet more surprising.

Cory's Shearwater, South Asia birds, Kerala pelagic birds
Cory's Shearwater spotted in the Northern Kerala Coast. It is the first record of the bird from South Asia
(Image Credit: Jafer Palot & C. Abhinand Image Courtesy: Kerala Birder)

The Cory’s Shearwater shocker

Based on information from locals, the birders including a scientist at the Zoological Survey of India on September 21st, went to exhume a dead bird which the locals have buried the last day. On closer inspection, it turned out be a Cory’s Shearwater, which made it the first record, not only for India, but for the whole of South Asia.

It was first thought to be a dead specimen of a Streaked Shearwater. “The lack of any white on the face and thick bill with black tip eliminated Streaked & pale morph Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and it became clear that this has to be a Cory's Shearwater”, says the birder team that went to check the bird.

“We thought the identification was a cakewalk; however - it turned out that the two races of Cory's Shearwater (C. d. borealis & C. d. diomedea) are now considered full species (Cory's & Scopoli's Shearwaters) by all authorities and a much better photograph of the underside primaries and biometrics are necessary to ascertain the id.”,  said Kerala Birder sources in their online forum. Later, the measurements and the under wing plumage confirmed it as Cory's C. borealis., they said.

Huw Roberts, an ornithologist, has reportedly confirmed that the bird is regularly seen on the Western coast of Arabian sea in the Persian Gulf. However, it shall be the first record for the South Asia, says birding activists in the state.

Common Swift and Roseate Tern sightings

Roseate Tern (R) off the coast of Neeleswaram
(Image Credit: Raju A K /Kerala Birder)
The rally of first records was just not going to stop with that. While returning to shore after the second day of the pelagic bird survey on September 22nd, the survey team encountered a group of terns off the coast of Neeleswaram. However, one bird in the group was different from others since it was in breeding plumage, says the birders.

“While we were returning back to the land we had seen a flock of pale terns feeding very near to the coast and initially called out as Common Tern. The Tern in breeding plumage was standing out not only because it was in breeding plumage, but looked extra-ordinarily beautiful for a Common Tern”, says the birders while sharing their experiences in the online forum Kerala Birder. 

Later, close examinations of the photographs revealed that it is the enigmatic Roseate Tern, the fourth in the list of first record for the state within the week.
Common Swift recovered from Neeleswaram
(Image Credit : Praveen J/Jafer Palot/Kerala Birder)

The last in the line was a common Swift, which was recovered some 40 km off Thaikadappuram in an exhausted state. The bird later died of exhaustion, despite the attempts to keep it alive. According to birders, Common Swift is regularly sighted in Maldives, the neighbouring island nation in the Indian Ocean, but makes it a first record for the state.

Thus, the days September 19th to 26th have made the most surprising days in the history of bird watching in Kerala. “The one week from 19th - 26th September has been quite fabulous for a narrow strip of coast in N. Kerala - turning up five new species for Kerala. I don’t think this has ever happened in the history of the state.”, says Praveen J, a prominent ornithologist and activist of Kerala Birder, in a note in the online forum.

The specimens of Cory Shearwater and Common Swift are deposited with the Zoological Survey of India repository at Calicut, Kerala.

Lately, pelagic bird surveys in the Kerala coast has been harvesting new species records for the state. An year before , on 30th September 2012, a Pelagic bird survey team near Neeenkdakara harbor recorded Red Necked Phalarope for the first time in Kerala. Just two months before to it, in July 2012, Pelagic bird survey teams have spotted Streaked Shearwater off Kannur coast, another first record for the state. 

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