Sighting of Caspian Plover, Koonthankulam, Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu

Jainy Kuriakose
Jainy Kuriakose

Chosen as 'Picture of the Week'

This sighting heightens the importance of Koonthankulam as an important wetland for wintering migrants. Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary is a tiny 1.3 sq km sanctuary adjoining the village of Koonthankulam in Nanguneri Taluk of Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu, India.

The Caspian Plover (Charadrius asiaticus) is an attractive wader that belongs to the family Charadriidae. The bird is similar in size to the Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, but slimmer and longer-legged. The breeding male (as seen in the photograph) has a chestnut breast bordered with a black band below.

The first sighting of this beautiful vagrant this season was reported by Suresh Elamon and Bal Pandy, the “ birdman” of Koonthankulam on 25th January 2013. To see this rarity, I made a quick trip to the village on 3rd February and Bal Pandy himself took me to a small lake in the village where he had first spotted them. We couldn’t find them and Bal Pandy mentioned that he generally found them in the company of Bar-headed Geese. He suggested we go to another lake about 2 kms away where there is a probability of finding the Geese. We neither found the Geese nor the Plovers there. Bal Pandy made one more attempt at a third lake a km or so away (the three lakes would more or less form the corners of a triangle). On the way to the lake, we found a flock of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark and a Montagu Harrier circling around. Once we reached the lake, to our sheer delight we found a pair of the star birds, crouching and well camouflaged on the lake bank. We approached them very slowly and I was able to photograph them without disturbing them.

Editor’s note: The bird breeds in open grasslands in Central Asia, to the North and East of the Caspian Sea. Historically, the Caspian Plover has been treated as a vagrant to the Indian Subcontinent but recent sporadic sightings indicate that the bird could be “less rare and overlooked” (credit).

This sighting heightens the importance of Koonthankulam as an important wetland for wintering migrants in India. Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary is a tiny 1.3 sq km sanctuary adjoining the village of Koonthankulam in Nanguneri Taluk of Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu, India. This is one of the the largest reserves for breeding water birds in South India and is an Important Bird Area (IBA Code: IN269).

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