By Vikram Jit Singh
This lone winged beauty among a flock of migrating birds has given Indian bird-watchers the goosebumps! The first photographic record from the Indian sub-continent of the globally endangered species, the Red-breasted goose (Branta ruficollis), at Bijnore (Uttar Pradesh), by wildlife photographer, Rajesh Panwar, has been confirmed by top ornithologists as a vagrant that migrated to India, which is traditionally thousands of miles off its normal winter migration routes.
Commenting on this find in the popular group, Indian Birds, Taej Mundkur, programme manager, Flyways, at Wetlands International, Arnhem, Holland, states, very important record. This is way off its 'normal known migration range'. The species used to spend the northern winter in Iran along the Caspian coast, but with changing water levels, the main non-breeding area moved over 1,000 km west to the west coast region of the Black Sea in Bulgaria.
Though the goose was photographed on March 13 by Panwar, he declared the find to fellow bird-watchers only on Monday on Holi, and it set the hearts aflutter. This goose is the smallest of the European geese species and its population has halved in the last decade due to a habitat loss, fishing, hunting, pesticides etc.
The lone goose was photographed by Panwar feeding along with a flock of migratory Bar-headed geese. It may be recalled that a pair of similar, vagrant Whooper swans had been photographed at Pong Dam, Himachal Pradesh, in January 2103, which was 113 years after the last record of these swans from India.
The excitement among modern-day Indian ornithologists is because historical records have been debunked since long and Panwar's authentic sighting at Bijnore gives the latter a very special status. Praveen Jayadevan, who is doing a project on `Indian Rarities' in association with Indian Birds, gives a historical context to Panwar's record, "Stuart Baker (1904) identified this from the description provided by MS Mondy who saw four (Red-breasted geese) on the banks of River Brahmaputra, along with Greylag geese, sometime in the 1904 winter.
Though Baker mentions the observer took a `very careful note of its appearance' and provided a `minute description', these details are found wanting. Several years later, Baker suggests Mondy saw only a `single' (goose) while he himself saw a `flock of five' that went past his steamer while travelling on the Brahmaputra in March 1907, contrary to his own earlier documentation. The record from Madhya Pradesh refers to report in the Bengal Sporting Magazine of April 1846, VIII, Page 247, of one goose shot near Nagpur from among a group of four (Blyth 1870). However, Blanford (1898) dismissed this anonymous record."
This goose is stated by international conservation organisations as the "most threatened goose species of the world." A massive project with international collaboration is underway in Bulgaria to save this dwindling goose species. It is listed on Annex I of the European Union Birds Directive and on the Ornis committee list of birds are priority for LIFE Nature funding. The species is also listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List (upgraded from Vulnerable in 2007), is on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and Appendix I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), states BirdLife In Bulgaria, the group that is spearheading this international project.