A change in the climate ushered in by monster storm Phailin appeared to have sent migratory birds away from Chilika lagoon this winter as their number has fallen by more than 1.5 lakh compared to the previous season.
At least 7.19 lakh birds were enumerated during the annual enumeration, which concluded on Sunday at the 1,100 sq km brackish water lagoon, a major winter birding site of the country. In 2013, their number stood at 8.77 lakh.
This winter, the Chilika Wildlife Division sources said, at least 158 species of birds thronged the lagoon, 99 of them were migratory, while the rest were resident and terrestrial. Last year’s enumeration had found 180 species, out of which 112 were migratory in nature.
The very severe cyclonic storm Phailin, which was followed by rains in October, is believed to have made the waterbirds susceptible to changes in their migratory sojourn. When wind direction changes, the individual birds fail to complete their migratory journey. Since the peak season was affected by the uncharacteristic changes in climate such as rain and poor visibility during the winter onset, the birds are believed to have been displaced from their migratory route as well as trajectory.
However, the heartening news was Nalabana Sanctuary remained the main destination of the birds where more than half of the birds visiting Chilika congregated. The census teams found at least 4,15,135 birds in Nalabana, compared to 3,46,877 in 2013 and 3,18,108 the year before. The submersible island measures about 15.45 sq km. In fact, barely 15 days ago, the mudflats of the sanctuary had dried up exposing cracks, but the huge congregation suggests that the birds have a safer haven in the sanctuary.
Some of the major species that were sighted by the census teams included Eurasian Wigeons, Pintails and Gadwalls while the Greylag Goose and Barheaded Goose showed a decline in number. So did the wader species. The number of magnificent Flamingoes was found to be about 200 this year. Last year, at least 2,000 of them had arrived in two different phases.
Over 20 teams, featuring wildlife officials, bird watchers, local community members with expertise, voluntary organisations and officials of Bombay National History Society carried out the enumeration that had started on Saturday.