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| Last Updated::04/06/2016

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A strange seabird sighted in Manipur

Obviously, birds are great indicators of the state of change of our environment. Just observing them and recording their behavior can go a long way in understanding the global climate 

A strange seabird which had no record of sighting in inland India has been sighted in Loktak Ramsar,(IBA) Toubul village, Manipur on 29th June, 2015. The species has been identified as Jouanin's petrel Bulweria fallax belonging to Procellaridae family. The biometric measurement of the species is 28 cm in length and weighing 150 to 180 grams with a wingspan of 66-70 cm. The species is dark sooty with wedge shaped tail. They are pelagic, marine and natural habitats are open and shallow seas. It has been recorded to breed on Socotra, a small archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean, the most alien-looking place on Earth. Further investigation reveals that the species is a Near Threatened (NT) as per Birdlife International Red List of Threatened bird species. 

It is a poorly known species of the north-west Indian Ocean, occurring widely offshore in the Arabian Sea and Gulfs of Aden and Oman, where it is often the commonest pelagic. The species was sighted at Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, East Coast of India on the 28th July, 2013 and that was also a record itself in the east cost of India. 

On the night of 29th June, 2015 at around 10.30 pm, I got a call from E. Premjit Singh, a dedicated conservationist and a dynamic member of Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN), Manipur that a strange bird with an odd –nostril as that of pig had entered at the residence of one of their sister in law's house in Toubul village near Loktak Lake in Manipur. He told me that the bird seems to be the species belonging to Squas but further checking of the species through the photographs sent by him and hectic discussion on the morphology and plumage reveals the species as Jouanin's petrel Bulweria fallax belonging to Procellaridae family. 

But the problems before us was that there was no record of sighting of the species in any of the scientific reports of Hume's Stray Feathers, Jerdons, Bakers and Higgins records in Manipur and North-East India. Spending a sleepless night could not bring a conclusion and disclosure of the species as I had neither gone for a seabird quest nor for an expedition of the pelagic avian species except once at Chilka Lake that turned out to be the most bizarre in identifying the species. The species obsessed the whole night and in the late next morning of 30th June, Premjit brought the species death at my residence in Ningthoukhong. 

The strange bird species could not be saved despite all his exertion as it was engaged much in recreation by a cat without hurting it before handing over to Premjit. 

Members of the IBCN, Manipur with Kh. Brajesh, R.K. Jyotin Singh, M. Norenchandra, H. Bangkim Sharma and Y.Naba Singh. L. Surjit Singh along with E. Premjit Singh and the author of this article gathered at Thinungei village for taxidermy and stuffing of the species with an interesting and strange discussion on the new record of sighting of the species not only in Manipur but to the whole inland parts of the country. In the evening, IBCN, Head Quarter at Mumbai, Dr.Raju Kasambe, Project Manager,IBA/IBCN further confirmed the species as the same species of Jouanin's petrel. 

This is not the single case that such kind of strange birds has been sighted from this particular part of Manipur in Toubul village near Loktak Lake. Earlier, Common crane (Grus grus) was sighted and photographed on 25th Jan, 2012 for the first time in Manipur by the same person, E.Premjit Singh. In respect of his acute and enthusiastic sighting, the IBCN, Manipur had named the species in local name as "Leima wainu" in living memory of his beloved mother Smt. Elangbam Ongbi Leima Devi of Toubul village. Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata) locally known as "Sana nganu" was also sighted and photographed from this area on the 10th December, 2013 at around 7.45 am by the members of IBCN, Manipur with Dr.Raju Kasambe of IBCN, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Mumbai. 

But the question remains, why a seabird took a risky flight thousands of kilometers far away beyond his habitat range? Migration is the regular phenomenon and seasonal movement, often north and south, undertaken by many species of birds. Sometimes, journeys are not termed "true migration" because they are irregular (nomadism, invasions, irruptions) or in only one direction (dispersal, movement of young away from natal area). Non-migratory birds are said to be resident or sedentary. 

Such kind of erratic movements and unusual sightings of birds as in this case are the early indicators of climate change. Birds live in almost every type of environment, have varied diets and are at the top of the food-chain. They are easy to see and observe. Climatically-induced distributional change of birds has been studied by ornithologists. Weather, not only affects the metabolic rate of birds but it also influences the birds' foraging habits and courtship. Nature always gives clues and we just need to look out for them. 

Many long-distance migratory birds are arriving earlier than usual and spending shorter and sometimes longer stints here in Loktak Lake in Manipur. Unlike in the past, waterbird population in Loktak Lake has been surpassed by Common Coot (Fulica atra) locally known as "Uchek Porom" from the rest of the other resident and migratory waterbirds in Loktak despite it's more prone and vulnerable in insecticide poisoning and hunting in Loktak. This can also be one of the key factors of climate change. 

It has been found established fact that birds do anticipate rainfall and nest accordingly. The peak breeding season of the birds in different parts of the country occurred one month before the arrival of the monsoon rains. And the peak food demand of chicks coincided with the arrival of monsoon." 

There is enough evidence of changes in breeding, timing of migration, breeding performance (egg size, nesting success), population size and distribution, to prove climate change. But only now are these facts been associated with changing trends in climate. "The focus now is on the impact of climate and local weather on the population dynamics of birds. Even observations of unusual sightings of some of the charismatic species hold vital clues. 

If the Govt. agencies and stake holders take a little interest and support certain initiatives in exploring the trail of changing nature and environment through birds in the state with the involvement of students and birdwatchers, it will definitely contribute a lot and help in understanding and combating climate change in local level and as well as at global scale. What we have to keep in our mind is that if the birds are in trouble, soon we will be in trouble. 

"Hope is the thing with feathers 
that perches in the soul 
and sings the tune without words
and never stops--- at all" 
,.....Emily Dickinson