A chance click of a flock of birds on a Sunderbans island by a forest official is being billed as the first recorded sighting of an extremely rare migratory shorebird in Bengal.
Two birds in the flock that Milan Mondal, divisional forest officer of South 24-Parganas district, captured on February 11 have been identified by veterans in the birders' community as juvenile Nordmann’s greenshank (Tringa guttifer), one of the most endangered shorebirds on earth.
The pigeon-size bird is named after a 19th-century Finnish biologist and parasitologist, Alexander von Nordmann.
Apart from the fact that it nests in Russia and winters in southeast Asia before returning to Russia in spring, not much is known about the bird, said experts. They are spotted on the shores and mudflats of Thailand and Malaysia in winter.
“This is the first recorded sighting in Bengal and second in India. The first one was in Alibaug in Maharashtra in 2020. There have been several other claims of sightings but none backed by archival evidence. The plumage of a juvenile bird is different from that of an adult, which is capable of breeding. The identification of a Nordmann's greenshank needs expertise and equipment," said Sujan Chatterjee, birdwatcher and conservationist.
Chatterjee was part of the team that identified the pictures clicked by Mondal.
In the summer of 2019, The New York Times reported that an American graduate student and Russian ornithologists spotted a pair of Nordmann’s greenshanks in a larch forest near a coastal bog in far eastern Russia.
“One of the few things known about the Nordmann’s greenshank is that it is one of the most endangered shorebirds on earth. No one had studied the bird in depth since 1976, and its nesting habitat remained a mystery.... Their research marked the first in-depth investigation in decades of the Nordmann’s greenshank.... There remains a lot to learn, including the bird’s migratory paths, its food sources and the threats it faces during migration, breeding and overwintering,” the report said.
The pictures by Mondal were taken off the Lothian island in the Bhagabatpur range in the heart of the mangrove delta, around 125km from Kolkata. A sanctuary on the island is home to turtles, crocodiles and other animals, besides being the destination of several migratory birds.
Mondal was leading an operation to release into the wild a group of crocodiles bred in captivity when he went near the island. The picture was taken from a boat.
The flock captured by Mondal had two Nordmann's greenshank and four grey plovers, another migratory bird from the Arctic region.
"I did not know the type of the birds while clicking the picture. I love wildlife photography and keep sharing pictures with the birding community. I did the same in this case,” Mondal told Metro.
Nordmann's greenshank is declared endangered and recent estimates say up to 2,000 exist in the world.
Cornell University’s e-Bird platform describes Nordmann's greenshank as a “rare and declining shorebird”.
“Similar to Common Greenshank, with a burlier, more bull-headed appearance, shorter legs, and thicker bill,” it says.
“Here is some incredible news...Nordmann's Greenshank sighted at Sundarban...The species is a vagrant winter visitor... very, very rarely seen,” said a Facebook post by Shubankar Patra, veteran birdwatcher and the driving force behind SundayWatch, a nature lovers’ forum.