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Migration story of a Great Knot and Bar-headed Geese


Migration story        Migration and Banding        Great Knot

Bar-headed Goose 'C6' - Pune

Bar-headed Goose '1D' - Kaziranga

1. Great Knot 'LW' sighted on the West Bengal Coast, India (2008)

© Sumit Sen

A few of us, members of the bengalbird google group, planned to survey the West Bengal coast in the winter of 2007-2008 for shorebirds. The long coastline on the Bay of Bengal, much of which is occupied by the protected Sundarbans Tiger Reserve, remains understudied for migratory waders and gulls/terns. One of the important wintering areas that we established during the course of our survey was the uninhabited rocky coast of Henrys Island a few kilometers east of the coastal resort of Bakkhali. 

© Sumit Sen

© Sumit Sen

We made four trips to Henrys Island over the winter, but perhaps, the most significant was the trip that four of us made on the morning of the 3rd February 2008. The coastline of Henrys Island stretches for a few kilometers and that morning we chose to survey the northeastern part. A long trudge through soft sand brought us to a sparkling beach teeming with shorebirds. A quick scan established that the flocks consisted mainly of Great Knots (a scarce visitor to India), Ruddy Turnstones (Arenaria interpres), Pacific Golden Plovers (Pluvialis fulva), Greater Sand Plovers (Charadrius leschenaultii), Terek sandpipers (Xenus cinereus), Curlews (Numenius arquata), Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) and Grey Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola). Great Knots were new to many of us and we spent considerable time looking at the two flocks comprising 40 odd birds. The close scrutiny paid handsome dividends - amongst the flock was a bird with a white flag on its leg and the digital photographers quickly secured the prized observation for posterity.

Back home after a rewarding day, the photographs revealed the secret of the Great Knot in bits and parts. The most obvious mark was a white flag inscribed 'LW'. In our excitement we only focused on this mark and off went emails to various international bird-related groups. 

© K S Ray

By the next morning, thanks to help from David Melville and the superb Australasian Wader Study Group and the dynamic Alice Ewing of the Department of Zoology University of Melbourne we had some inevitable questions and offers for help. A few emails exchanged, and we started to learn how to properly observe flagged shorebirds. The very obvious black flag over the white one, so long dismissed as a shadow artifact, supplied a piece to the puzzle - more peering and more digital magnification later a neat ring on the other leg was discovered supplying the last piece to complete the puzzle. Now we knew that 'LW' could only have been caught and marked in faraway Chongming Dongtan (Chongming Dao) near Shanghai, China. Chongming Dongtan Nature Reserve is located in the Yangtze River estuary and Chongming Island is the third largest island in China and the largest alluvial island worldwide. It is an important staging area for migratory shorebirds and had been using the white flag with black inscription below a black flag from April 2006.

Great initiative and help from faraway friends closed the mystery, but more remained to be learnt before the sighting could be closed. When was 'LW' caught and tagged. Was it on the way to our coast 3,500 km away or was LW travelling to the breeding grounds 5,000 km away when tagged? The answer came from Ma Qiang in China. The Shanghai Chongming Dongtan Bird National Nature Reserve tagged ‘LW’ on 22nd April 2007 as an adult bird. Most Great Knots spend very little time at Chongming and depart by the end of April. 'LW' would have left for the breeding grounds in eastern Siberia shortly after release - raised a family and then headed for the warm sunny shores of coastal West Bengal by October 2007. 'LW' may have taken a different route to arrive on the Bay of Bengal and may even have spent a few months travelling and putting on lost weight - but by February 2008 LW and mates found a safe and plentiful haven at HenrysIsland.

© www.kolkatabirds.com

Sighting and banding details:
Band Number: F04-1195 (engraved flag LW)
Date of banding: 22/04/2007
Age of bird when banded: Adult
Banding details: Flagged at Chongming Dao, China
(31°28'8.96"N & 121°57'8.18"E)
Locode: WS0578 (Chongming Dao)
Re-sighting location: Henrys Island, West Bengal, India
(21°34'30. 34"N & 88°18'3.18"E) 
Re-sighting details: 
Left leg: metal band on tibia (upper leg) above nothing/unknown on tarsus
Right leg: black flag on tibia (upper leg) above white engraved flag on tibia

The re-sighting was a distance of approximately 3505 km, with a bearing of 260 degrees, from the marking location.
Sighted by: Sumit Sen ; Bhaskar Das; Kshounish Shankar Ray; Srikumar Bose
Processed by: Clive Minton for the Australasian Wader Studies Group on 12/03/2008. Their reference: 00015054 (UNK24492).

This story appeared on the 14th March edition of  'The Telegraph' newspaper, Kolkata. Read it here 

2. Bar-headed Goose 'C6' sighted at Veer Dam, Maharashtra, India (2008)

© Adesh Shivkar

In the summer of 2007 a team led by Martin Gilbert, of the Wildlife Conservation Society caught and fitted 30 Whooper Swans ( Cygnus cygnus), 50 Bar-headed Geese ( Anser indicus) and 21 Bean Geese ( Anser fabalis) with coloured neck collars at Darkhad Valley, Hovsgol province in northern Mongolia. The Bar-heads were fitted with yellow collars with black lettering (A0 to A9, B0 to B9, C0 to C9, D0 to D9 and E0 to E9). Darkhad Valley is a wide floodplain interspersed with rivers and dotted with a network of lakes and ponds. Bar-headed Geese arrive here during early April and leave by the end of the August.

On 13th January 2008 Adesh Shivkar, a noted birder working in western India, visited Veer Dam, about 55 kms south of Pune - a known wintering area for Bar-headed Geese. Amongst the flock of 44 Bar-heads that he could spot was one carrying a yellow neck collar with engraved black letterings. Adesh had seen a similarly marked bird in the forums of India Nature Watch (INW), and in his words " due to the electronic media (INW and bngbirds) I was already were aware of such a tagged bird in Mysore and was particularly cautious when I first saw the BHG near Veer Dam and once found I noted down the number and immediately informed the concerned people.......a classic example on how the electronic media is helping out. Another important thing to note is that unlike the Rings that were used in past where it was difficult to observe the number unless the bird is re-caught......here it was very easy for us to read and identify the bird as the tag was of striking colour and tagged at a very prominent part (Neck)......"

Adesh's own stunning digital image reveled the identity of the Bar-head. This was 'C6' - a female, tagged on 18th July in the Darkhad valley by Martin Gilbert's team about 4,300 kms away. The sighting established new evidence of migration of the Bar-headed Goose from Mongolia to India. 

© www.kolkatabirds.com

Along with 'C6', three other Bar-heads tagged by the Mongolian team were spotted and photographed in India. They include 'E6' seen by Niranjan M. near Somnathpur, Mysore in December 2007; 'C9', photographed by Madhukar and Mohanram Kemparaju in February at Magadi Tank in Shirahatti Taluk, Gadag District, and a bird seen with a yellow neck collar at Nagpur by Aditya Joshi in January 2008.

Sighting and banding details:
Band Number: Engraved neck collar 'C6'
Date of banding: 18/7/2007
Age of bird when banded: Adult (female)
Banding details: Flagged at Darkhad valley, Mongolia
(51°21'7.56"N & 99°24'9.61"E)
Re-sighting location: Veer Dam (near Tondal Village), Maharashtra, India
(18° 7'55. 43"N & 74° 4'42. 85"E)
Re-sighting date: 13/1/2008
Re-sighting details: Yellow neck collar with black lettering
The resighting was a distance of approximately 4,300 km from the marking location.
Sighted by: Adesh Shivkar

To report collared goose sightings send mail to Martin Gilbert, Associate Director - Asia, Global Health Program, Wildlife Conservation Society at mgilbert@wcs.org

3. Bar-headed Goose '1D' sighted at Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India (2009)

© D. Dass

Sighting and banding details:
Band Number: Engraved neck collar '1D'
Date of banding: 24/7/2009
Age of bird when banded: Adult (male)
Banding details: Flagged at Khunt Nuur lake, Bulgan aimag, Mongolia
( 48° 4'29.06"N; 99°31'6.39"E)
Re-sighting location: Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India
(26°40'3.48"N; 93°33'3.49"E)
Re-sighting date: 8/12/2009
Re-sighting details: Orange neck collar with black lettering.
The resighting was a distance of approximately 2,400 km from the marking location.
Sighted by:
Debiprakash Dass
Additional sightings: Female '79' was sighted by Anush Shetty on 3/12/09 at the same location. '79' was tagged at Sharga Nuur, Bulgan aimag on 14 July 2009. Sharga Nuur is a few miles north of Khunt Nuur.

© Sumit Sen

Khunt Nuur, Mongolia © M. Gilbert/WCS
Kaziranga, Assam © Sumit Sen

Wildlife Conservation Society

The Wildlife Conservation Society has been engaged in water bird surveys in Mongolia since 2005. During the summers of 2007 and 2008 part of this work has focused on the marking of birds to facilitate studies of migration and population characteristics.
How to report resightings?
If you observe a marked bird, please make a note of the sighting and record the date and location on which the observation was made. Neck collars are marked with a two or three digit code that enables us to identify the individual bird. Where possible please try to include this code as it increases the value of the observation. Observations can be reported by email to Martin Gilbert at mgilbert@wcs.org
Where have birds been marked?
The birds have all been marked in the aimags (provinces) of Bulgan, Hovsgol and Arkhangai in northern Mongolia.
How are birds marked?
Birds have been marked using a number of techniques appropriate for use in each species. Methods used include:
1) neck collars
Each collar is inscribed with a unique alphanumeric code comprising two or three digits depending on the size of the collar.
2) leg flags
The technique uses coloured plastic tags applied to the right leg of the bird, which denotes the country, or region in which the bird was marked. The Australasian Wader Studies Group manages the scheme for the East Asian-Australasian flyway and has nominated the flag combination blue over green to indicate birds flagged in Mongolia.
About the Wildlife Conservation Society
The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild lands through careful science, international conservation, education, and the management of the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks.
For more information contact us at the Wildlife Conservation Society, 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, New York 10460, or visit us on the web at www.wcs.org

[This is an abridged version of a PDF document entitled "Look out for wild birds marked in Mongolia" which can be accessed here.]

Mail comments to : Sumit Sen



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