Posts tagged with “Buff-breasted Sandpiper”

Participant Profile: Dr. Jayan Thomas

Tuesday, 20 November, 2012

Where do you live?
I live in the coastal city of Cannanore (Kannur) in Kerala.

When did you start watching birds?
As a lad I was interested in birds, but mostly as targets for my Diana .22 air gun! Then I joined medicine and became an eye specialist and forgot all about it. However, my curiosity about birds and their behaviour was sparked again in the year 2004 when at the beach I witnessed a Blue-tailed Bee-eater catch a bee, smash it against a wire and swallow it. From then on I began birdwatching more seriously.

Who would you consider your birding mentor?
My mentor is Mr. P.C. Rajeevan who is arguably one of the greatest birders in Kerala. His motto is “ birding all day”. I learned my birding basics from him. I was also inspired by birdwatchers like Mr. Sashikumar and Praveen J. and received support from Suhel Quader and Aasheesh Pittie.

Please describe a memorable birding experience.
Sighting of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Cannanore by Rajeevan and myself was the greatest birding moment of my life. This is a North American bird which had never before been reported from South Asia! I was giddy with excitement at this sighting. Moreover, I received a certificate from the Limca Book of Records for becoming the first Indian to ever take the photo of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper in South Asia.

What are your favourite migrants?
Since I live by the sea, my favourite migrants are, of course, the waders. Waders are the most engaging  birds whose identification may be challenging too. Just watching them gives me great joy.

What is your favourite place to watch migrants?
My favourite birding playground is Madayipara, which is a laterite hillock on the coast, 23 km from Cannanore. Madayipara is the place for passage migrants in Kerala. Some of the migrants seen here are the Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Oriental Pratincole, Tawny Pipit and Isaballine Wheatear.

Do you have any advice for beginning birdwatchers and naturalists?
Birdwatching is great fun, but one has to be honest with their data and sightings. Not seeing a new bird is nothing to be ashamed of, but faking sightings certainly does make one a bad birdwatcher. Naturalists should be pragmatic to their approach on all issues concerning nature.

Why do you think people should care about birds and nature?
The world is for everyone both big and small. Homo sapiens and birds are like the sides of the same coin. We can’t live separately. We either live together or perish together.

Any other information that you’d like to share with MigrantWatchers?
MigrantWatchers are doing a wonderful job tracking birds across India. The eye does not see what the mind does not know. Hence, riffling through one’s favourite bird book once in a while and learning about various migrants is an excellent way to get familiar with them and identifying them in field.

You can see Dr. Jayan Thomas’s MigrantWatch contributions here, and his photos here.

North American sandpiper in Kerala

Saturday, 26 November, 2011

By Dr Jayan Thomas

Dr Jayan Thomas is an ophthalmologist by profession; but early in the morning and on Sundays, he is an inquisitive birdwatcher and photographer. Watching a Blue-tailed Bee-eater catch its prey and smash it against a wire before swallowing the bee sparked his curiosity about birds and their behaviour. He lives in Cannanore, Kerala, near the ocean and is President of the Cannanore Ophthalmological Society.

It was Sunday the 30th of October 2011, and myself and Mr. PC Rajeevan had decided to go to a place called Ezhome about 23 Km from Cannanore (Kannur), on the coast of northern Kerala. I woke up at 5 AM and started my journey to Ezhome by 5.30 AM. Rajeevan was at Ezhome waiting for me and after a cup of hot roadside café tea we were on to a slow birding walk, with binos, camera and an umbrella, as it was drizzling. The first bird to be seen was a Purple Heron, then a Blue-tailed Bee-eater and so on. After 2 hours of birding we counted about 40 species and were about to call it a day, when we decided instead to first go to Madaipara, since it is close to Ezhome. We reached Madaipara just before noon, and so bird activity was very low. Suddenly Mr. Rajeevan spotted a group of birds across the road and we went to check them out. There were about 200 Lesser Sand Plovers feeding on a burned patch of grass, and some bathing in rock pools. Among these Lesser Sand Plovers was a smaller and slimmer bird with yellow legs and pearly edged wings. What could this be? We were intrigued.

With caution we approached the bird and found to our surprise that it was quite unusual. Since the bird was feeding and walking around we had ample time to take some decent photos. During flight the upper parts appeared uniform, with no prominent wing pattern. Driving back home we discussed the possibilities of a new species being sighted in Kerala.

We whittled down our “differential diagnosis” of the bird to three species:
1. Buff-breasted Sandpiper.
2. Long-toed Stint
3. Reeve (Female Ruff)

Long-toed Stint is almost similar to this new bird, but the stint has prominent facial markings. Reeve was a possibility, but this new bird did not have a post-ocular stripe. A post-ocular stripe is essential for the bird to have been a Reeve. Moreover this bird was substantially smaller in size than a Reeve. (For a visual estimate of size see the photos below, which have this bird together with Lesser Sand Plovers.)

Now the only other possibility was the Buff-breasted Sandpiper, a New World bird. Yes, this bird looked like the Buff-breasted Sandpiper in size and all other features. This bird was about 19 cm with a plain face, an eye-ring , streaked crown and yellow legs. The picture of the bird was sent all around the world by MigrantWatch and others. We are thankful to Praveen J., Sashikumar, Aasheesh Pittie, Bill Harvey, Rex De-Silva and Krys Kazmierczak for having identified the bird as the Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis) breeds in the Arctic tundra of North America and is a long distance migrant to South America, mainly Argentina. The Canadian wildlife service estimates that there are only about 15,000 birds in the world and hence it is classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List. This bird which came to Madaipara could have been lost: instead of going to Argentina, this bird might have been wind-blown from the Great Plains Flyway of North America and landed up in India. Our sighting appears to be only the third of this species from South Asia.

Madaipara is a laterite flat hillock near the Ezhimala Naval Academy. On one side of Madaipara is the Arabian sea and the other side a mountain range of seven small hills (Ezhimala in Malayalam means seven hills). Sandwiched between the sea and the seven hills is a long meandering river. Madaipara is basically a flat land with few trees and shrubs and a lot of weeds. The vegetation is sometimes set on fire, and these spots are ideal for birds which come in search of insects. There are occasional rock puddles too on the hillock up to Spring. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper was seen here for 4 days. Of these, I sighted it on two different days and my birding pal Rajeevan sighted it on all 4 days.

Finding a rare bird like this is one of the dreams of the serious birder. Locating and identifying a species that is least expected is a great challenge and great thrill. You have to be ruthlessly honest with yourself for this. Reporting a rare bird carries a lot of responsibility. It becomes part of science. If you believe that you have seen a rare bird, study it carefully, take photos, video if possible and note the circumstances of the sighting. Then as soon as possible alert other birders.

You can see Dr Jayan Thomas’s MigrantWatch sightings and photos here.

More about the Buff-breasted Sandpiper from Wikipedia and from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.