Chosen as 'Picture of the Week'
This sighting of the Red-breasted Merganser in Gajoldoba, West Bengal, along with the one in Vasai, Mumbai form the first records of the bird in the country.
The Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) is a polytypic species (ie has several variant forms) with a distribution range covering North America, Europe, Greenland and Asia. Through this note, we would like to establish the presence of the Red-breasted Merganser in the northern part of West Bengal, by presenting photographic evidence.
On the morning of 18th December 2016, we were coming down along the river Teesta towards Gajoldoba (teesta barrage) in North Bengal. At that time I saw a bird through binoculars moving on the surface of the river. The place was in between two big sand banks. The bird resembled a Common Merganser from a distance — common and familiar birds in these parts. This particular bird appeared smaller than the Common Merganser and was solitary and sluggish.
There were Common Mergansers fishing in fast-flowing waters. They were fast and restless plus operated in a team. In contrast, the solitary bird was in the deeper, slower-flowing part of the river and feeding on the surface. The bill of this bird was thinner. I immediately took some record shots.
When we returned, we started comparing our images with the oriental bird images (OBI) database and the Grimmett field guide. It seemed like a female Red-breasted Merganser. Overall thinner appearance, thin scarlet-orange bill, sign of double-crest structure as well. Back, wings and tail slaty grey.
Incidentally, just a few days before this sighting, a lone Red-breasted Merganser was recorded in Vasai, Mumbai. Jointly, these form the first records for the country.
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Shashank Dalvi for confirming the species from the photographs.