BHUBANESWAR: An unusual bird sighting at the Chilika Lake prompted a bird watcher to embark on a frantic quest for its identity. This, in turn, which was taken up by other bird lovers and was threatening to become a thriller, before a 32-year-old photograph came to the rescue and helped crack the mystery.
The winged guest, in turned out, is an Australian stilt and its sighting in Chilika's famed Mangalajodi is the first ever, bird watchers claim. The Australian stilt, which is also called the pied stilt (Himantopus leucocephalus), was spotted by a local bird guide, Madhu Behera, on Saturday morning.
"I captured a few photos of the bird but could not identify it. It looked like the black-winged stilt but was morphologically different, having a ridge of black feathers in the upper part of the neck," said Behera, who is part of the Mangalajodi Conservation and Tourism Trust.
Behera immediately dusted off his copy of the 'Bird Atlas of Chilika', published by the Bombay Natural History Society (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/topic/Bombay-Natural-History-Society) (BNHS) and the Chilika Development Authority (CDA), but found no mention of the bird in the Chilika region. "None of the other popular bird guide books and field guides showed any bird that looked like the one I saw. Finally, I found a photo resembling the bird I saw in 'A Field Guide to Birds of Chilika', written by Odia ornithologist Uday Narayan Dev," Behera explained.
When Behera reached out to fellow enthusiasts, they confirmed that what he had seen was indeed the Australian stilt. Noted wildlife photographers and bird experts like Siba Prasad Parida, Gahar Abedin (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/topic/GaharAbedin) and Shakti Prasanna Nanda concurred with the finding.
The photo that ended the confusion was clicked in 1987. Dev, whose book helped Behera when others had failed, recalled that he had seen the Australian stilt in the Nalabana area of Chilika (another stretch of the vast lagoon that is a favourite of birds). "Australian stilt sightings in Nalabana were reported till 1997, but stopped afterwards" Dev said. Siba Prasad Parida, an associate professor of zoology at Centurion University who has participated in all the bird censuses at Chilka since 2002, hailed the sighting. "This indicates that the weather and the food in Mangalajodi favours the bird," he said.