Birders in Visakhapatnam report a drop in number of species during the Asian Waterbird Census

Feb 7, 2024

The ongoing Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) has revealed that some of the major threats faced by wetlands and the birds in and around them are habitat destruction, poaching, construction activities and landfills near water sources.

The team of Wildlife Conservation Through Research and Education and Vizag Birdwatchers Society led by Vivek Rathod, A Yagnapathy, Vikram Penmetsa and Janardhan Uppada are covering 22 wetlands in Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam in the AWC this year.

The birdwatchers team at Boni Lake in Visakhapatnam during the Asian Waterbird Census.

The birdwatchers team at Boni Lake in Visakhapatnam during the Asian Waterbird Census.
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Initial observations by the team have reported a fall in the number of birds at the wetlands of Visakhapatnam. According to Vivek Rathod, the migratory bird season started late this time. “They usually start arriving by November; however, this time it was in December that the birds started coming,” says Vivek, adding that the numbers are down by 50% this season.

Three years ago, WWF-India did a study of the status of wetlands in the State to support the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department. During the survey at Meghadrigedda Reservoir in Visakhapatnam, the WWF team noted the presence of bird species such as river tern, little grebe, northern pintail, northern shoveler, pheasant-tailed jacana, purple heron, red-crested pochard, rose-ringed parakeet, tufted pochard, yellow wagtail, spot billed duck, among others.

Red crested pochard

Red crested pochard
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From the past one year, the number of birds sighted have gone down significantly. This year, the birders recorded 66 species (with 555 individuals) from Meghadrigedda but most of the ducks like red crested pochard have not been spotted yet. “The red crested pochard used to visit in flocks of hundreds in Meghadrigedda. Last Sunday when I visited the place, I could not spot any. During our visit, we recorded the presence of just two migratory bird species – common pochard and Eurasian wigeon – in big groups,” says Janardhan Uppada and adds: “We have so far covered 30% of the reservoir during this AWC; in that area the presence of birds have gone down.”

According to him, one of the likely reasons for the drop in number could be the floating solar power plant set up by the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation a year ago. “This could have disturbed the birds,” he adds. The birding team will be visiting the place again.

Rapid urbanisation and poaching activities have added to the problem in Podugupalem Lake, one of the major birding hotspots of the region. Last year during AWC, as many as 83 species (with 783 individuals) were recorded from the lake. This year, the numbers have fallen to 53 with 409 individuals. “The area was once a winter migratory hotspot and home to notable species such as pied harrier, great crested grebe, tufted duck, lesser whistling duck, Northern pintail, fulvous whistling duck, pallid harrier and black redstart. Over the past two years, the habitat has been affected due to hill destruction at one end of the lake,” says Vivek Rathod, who has been conducting periodical bird-watching trips at the spot over the past couple of years.

Janardhan adds that poaching activities have become rampant here in the recent past. “I was hoping to record a family of Indian rock eagle owl, a species that used to be commonly spotted here. But I could not spot it this time; it must have got displaced because of habitat destruction. Even the rosy starling that used to come in large numbers was missing this season,” he says.

First record

The rarely spotted shorebird, the pied avocet, with its conspicuous upcurved long bill, showed up for the first time in recent years and surprised the birders at Tagarapuvalasa pond in January this year. “It was in a flock of eight or 10,” says Vivek, who was pleasantly surprised to find the striking black and white wader at this water body for the first time. “It might have made a stopover during this migratory route,” he added.

However, the numbers of commonly spotted winter species like the greater-painted snipes, have gone down. “Snipes used to come in hundreds here. This time, the numbers were abysmal. Snipes are shy birds and can get affected by the slightest of disturbances,” says Janardhan. Vivek points out that recent renovation activities like the building of walking tracks have heavily disturbed the habitat of the birds.

Last season, a rare occurrence of breeding of great crested grebe was recorded at Boni Lake. “This was the first time we saw four to five breeding pairs. But this year, only one pair was recorded. While the place has no apparent vulnerability, somehow water birds have not returned,” adds Janardhan. At Boni Lake, the number of species is down to 62 this year from 84 reported last year.

At water bodies adjacent to the airport, 57 species were recorded this year, a slight increase from 49 reported last year. However, many of these are common birds; waders are missing this season. “The canal adjacent to the airport has now become a drain for residents of Akkireddypalem. This has affected the habitat and significantly reduced the diversity and number of birds,” adds Janardhan.

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