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Spotted in May, a winter bird

- Homemaker clicks Grasshopper Warbler first time in city

A homemaker from Lake Gardens spotted in mid-May a Grasshopper Warbler, a tiny migrant that has never been recorded before in south Bengal even in winter.

Mitali Das, a 45-year-old former theatre actor, became on May 14 the first person to photograph the bird in Calcutta.

At 13cm from beak to tail, this fast-moving hopper blends with its preferred grassy environment. It is not an easy bird to spot — more so for somebody who is not an active birder.

“I generally go for walks with my camera. I was roaming around inside my housing complex on Wednesday when I spotted something moving on the ground,” she said.

She took pictures of the bird from several angles over nearly an hour. “It was difficult because of the heat but I didn’t leave till I got a good shot.”

Das had no idea what bird it was but confident that the photographs she clicked were not that of common house sparrow, abundant in her Lake Gardens complex. “Since I couldn’t identify the bird, I sent the pictures to Rupankar Sarkar (a birder) and posted them on the Facebook page of Sunday Watch, hosted by a group of birders.”

The Facebook post triggered a flurry among veteran birders Shubhankar Patra, Arka Sarkar, Sumit Sen and many others as they pored over books and dug into years of experience to identify the bird.

Was it a Grasshopper Warbler or a juvenile Rusty-Rumped Warbler or a Lanceolated Warbler?

The Grasshopper Warbler breeds in temperate Euarasia, including the north of Kashmir, and migrates to India during the winter months. Patra said the insect-eater scampers through beds of reed, tall grass and paddy field in a hopping motion looking for meals.

It is a regular visitor to north Bengal and spotted elsewhere in the country too. But the bird might have never flown down south or could have gone unnoticed, according to experts.

Unable to come to a conclusion, Sen emailed the pictures to English scientist Peter Kennerly, an expert in this field and the author of Reed and Bush Warblers. Kennerley confirmed that it was indeed a Grasshopper Warbler.