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Sandwich Tern’s summer surprise

- Winter migrant spotted on Henry’s Island shore

The Sandwich Tern, a migratory bird found along coastlines, has been recorded in Bengal for the first time.

An amateur wildlife photographer from Chinsurah in Hooghly spotted and photographed the bird at Henry’s Island in South 24-Parganas on April 13.

“We had gone in a group for birdwatching. The bird, which was flying with a flock of Little Terns, stopped on the shore for a minute,” said Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, who took photographs of the Sandwich Tern.

“The different colours of the bills of the two birds and the large size of the Sandwich Tern made it stand out. I clicked the bird. Later, the identification was done by senior birder Shubhankar Patra,” said Bandyopadhyay, who runs a business of designing electronic gadgets.

A bird that lives on shores and flies over seas and oceans, the Sandwich Tern is identified by its shaggy crest and yellow-tipped black billand. It has grey upper parts and white under parts.

The Sandwich Tern is about 43cm long. At 23cm, the Little Tern is little in comparison.

The name Sandwich may have come from the place where it is presumed to have been first reported — Hawaii, which was earlier known as Sandwich Islands.

“The Sandwich Tern is an annual visitor to the west coast of India — the Gujarat and the Konkan coasts. In the east, the bird was sighted in Odisha and Bangladesh. Presumably, this is the first time it has been sighted in Bengal,” said veteran birder Sumit Sen.

The bird’s summer habitat and breeding grounds include east European coasts and the south and east of the US, between Virginia and Texas. During winter, it flies towards warmer places.

The winter bird, however, has stayed back well into the Indian summer, which birders said is not unusual among migrants. “I think more than the heat, birds determine the timing of their return on suitability of breeding sites,” said a birder.

Sandwich Terns feed on surface-dwelling marine fish, marine worms and small shrimps. The males usually offer females fish as part of courtship, said a birder.

Another bird that has rarely been seen in the country was recently spotted by a city birder. Parthasarathi Mondal, a postgraduate student of surgery at SSKM Hospital, spotted a Firethroat at Piyali Island in the Sunderbans on April 6.

A few days later, Meghna Banerjee, a corporate lawyer, clicked the bird at the same place. The Firethroat has been spotted six or seven times across India.

The bird, about the size of a house sparrow, feeds on insects. “It breeds and comes from southeastern Tibet and northwestern Yunnan in China,” said Shubhankar Patra, a veteran birder.

“I had gone with my batchmate Arka Nath. It was in the afternoon when I spotted something on the ground. I first thought it to be a tailorbird but on moving closer I spotted the red fire-like tinge on the throat, the tell-tale sign of a Firethroat,” said Mondal.