Point Calimere
Trip Report

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Trip Report symbol © Sumit SenBirding at Point Calimere
by Mike Prince
20 November - 22 November 2009



I recently spent a weekend birding at Point Calimere on the SE Tamil Nadu coast, together with Dipu K and Vijay Ramachandran. We took an overnight train from Bangalore to Thanjavur where we collected a car for the 2.5 hour drive to Point Calimere. There we met Dr Balachandran from the BNHS ("Bala") who provided us with plenty of advice over the whole of the weekend, not to mention plenty of food, and accompanied us on several trips. Whilst Point Calimere is a shadow of its former self as far as waders in particular go (see one of Bala's papers on their decline here) it was great birding nonetheless, especially for some wader-starved birders from Bangalore.

Initially we spent some time birding around the Chemplast factory area where we had close views of several small waders. We spent the late morning and early afternoon in the sanctuary forest area and walked from the old lighthouse along the beach to the start of the lagoon. Despite some torrential rain and no nearby shelter, an experience from which neither my phone or camera have unfortunately recovered, we saw good birds here including two local rarities with Black-capped Kingfisher and Bar-tailed Godwit. Several waders, including a few Broad-billed Sandpipers, and large numbers of terns, mostly Gull-billed and Caspian, were present distantly on the lagoon. The sanctuary held a few Pacific Golden Plovers and at least two definite Richard's Pipits, with a few Paddyfield/Richard's not positively identified to species. In the late afternoon we watched the bird sanctuary area to the west, near the pump house. Spectacular numbers of gulls and terns were seen here, with several waders and ducks too. Over the course of two afternoon visits we roughly estimated 10,000 Brown-headed and 7,000 Heuglin's Gulls, the latter including a flock of 5,000 adults and near-adults. Relatively few paler mantled large gulls were seen: presumably barabensis. Pallas's Gull was also recorded and many Slender-billed Gulls, including one flock of 600 together. The wader highlight was a flock of 25 Great Knot.

The following morning we walked into the sanctuary, hearing a few Indian Pittas and seeing several Grey-bellied and Pied Cuckoos, with excellent views of a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo. Blyth's Reed Warblers and Lesser/Hume's Whitethroats were common and a few of each were caught and ringed. We struggled to tell in the field whether we were seeing Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) or Hume's Whitethroat (Sylvia althaea) and in the hand it was quite clear why! There was considerable variation between adults and first-winters, with various different stages of moult and wear. For example, this led to some individuals showing white on just the outer tail feather whilst others showed white on the three outer feathers. I feel they were most likely all althaea and managed to get a few photos (on a borrowed camera) which I haven't yet looked at in detail, but will post in due course. Later we visited the freshwater Muniappan Lake which was relatively birdless, and the Chemplast area again which produced much the same variety as the day before, but also a nice group of Pacific Golden Plover. Several Spot-billed Pelicans and Greater Flamingos could be seen in the far distance and there were likely more out of sight. The afternoon was spent in the same area as the previous day.

On the final morning we caught a boat pre-dawn to visit some otherwise inaccessible mudflat areas to the west. This was a great experience with Great Crested Terns following the boat for much of the journey and eight species of terns altogether, with at least 4000 Caspian. We stopped at a couple of points but were disappointed with the lack of waders. They did however include a Eurasian Oystercatcher. Afterwards we returned to the sanctuary and lighthouse lagoon area where the tide was higher and birds unfortunately much further away. A flock of c600 Marsh Sandpipers was noteworthy though, as was a single Greater Sand Plover on the beach. Other birds seen included a Common Kestrel and an Oriental Pratincole.

Overall it was a very enjoyable trip with some spectacular birding, albeit with low numbers of waders generally. Our thanks to Dr Bala and his staff for his excellent hospitality.

The complete trip list is given below. Numbers given are personal estimated single day maxima:

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Spot-billed Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) - 200
Little Cormorant (Phalacrocorax niger)
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Intermediate Egret (Egretta intermedia)
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Western Reef Egret (Egretta gularis) - 60, relatively few dark phase
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii)
Striated Heron (Butorides striata)
Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala) - 500
Asian Openbill (Anastomus oscitans) - 150
Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) - 120
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) - 200
Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope) - 60
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) - 800
Oriental Honey-buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus)
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) - just one bird seen
Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus)
Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)
Shikra (Accipiter badius)
Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) - 3
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) - 2
Grey Francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus)
Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus)
White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - 1
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Oriental Pratincole (Glareola maldivarum) - 1
Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus)
Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva) - 43
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)
Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus)
Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii) - 1
Pintail/Swinhoe's Snipe (Gallinago sp) - 4 seen briefly. Latest findings
consider these two species to be impossible to distinguish in the field.
Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) - 1500
Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) - 2
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata)
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) - 700
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)
Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris) - 25
Little Stint (Calidris minuta) - 2000
Temminck's Stint (Calidris temminckii) - 15
Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) - 15 (surprisingly few)
Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus) - 8
Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) - 1
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) - 700
Brown-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus) - 10000
Heuglin's Gull (Larus (fuscus) heuglini) - 7000
Steppe Gull (Larus (fuscus) barabensis) - 30 (probably underestimated, but
clearly relatively few compared to heuglini)
Pallas's Gull (Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus) - 30
Little Tern (Sternula albifrons)
Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica)
Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) - 5000
Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida)
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)
Lesser Crested Tern (Thalasseus bengalensis)
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
Great Crested Tern (Thalasseus bergii)
Feral Pigeon (Columba livia 'feral')
Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)
Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)
Pied Cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus)
Chestnut-winged Cuckoo (Clamator coromandus) - 1
Cuckoo Sp (Cuculus sp) - female in flight only
Grey-bellied Cuckoo (Cacomantis passerinus)
Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus)
Blue-faced Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus viridirostris)
Greater Coucal (Centropus sinensis)
Spotted Owlet (Athene brama)
Asian Palm Swift (Cypsiurus balasiensis)
White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)
Black-capped Kingfisher (Halcyon pileata) - 1
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)
Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis)
Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus)
Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
Indian Pitta (Pitta brachyura) - 4
Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Richard's Pipit (Anthus richardi) - 2, others unidentified probably this
Paddyfield Pipit (Anthus rufulus) - just one
Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer)
White-browed Bulbul (Pycnonotus luteolus)
Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia)
Oriental Magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis)
Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius)
Blyth's Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus dumetorum)
Hume's/Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia althaea/curruca)
Yellow-billed Babbler (Turdoides affinis)
Purple-rumped Sunbird (Leptocoma zeylonica)
Long-billed Sunbird (Cinnyris lotenius)
Pale-billed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum erythrorhynchos)
Indian Golden Oriole (Oriolus kundoo)
Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus) - several cristatus, 1 lucionensis ("Philippine Shrike")
Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)
Rufous Treepie (Dendrocitta vagabunda)
House Crow (Corvus splendens)
Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos)
Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)
Brahminy Starling (Temenuchus pagodarum)
Rosy Starling (Pastor roseus)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Black-headed Munia (Lonchura malacca)

© Mike Prince


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