21 raptor species spotted at Delhi’s Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary

Delhi: 28 March, 2022 (Hindustan Times)

A near threatened pallid harrier (Circus macrourus) was also recorded for the first time in November 2017 and more recently, officials at the Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary recorded the northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) in February 2022, the first ever photographic record for the Himalayan species in Delhi.

 

This winter (2021-22), 18 different raptors have been recorded at the sanctuary, including the common kestrel – a local migrant.

An ongoing five-year-long winter raptor survey at the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary in south Delhi has recorded 21 different raptor species (birds of prey) at the sanctuary, 14 of which are schedule-1 species (prohibited to be hunted, except under threat to human life or in case of a serious disease) under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, officials said.

The census has been held every winter since 2017, with the 70 surveys held so far recording the presence of, among others, the critically endangered red-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus), the endangered Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis) and the vulnerable greater spotted eagle (Clanga clanga). A near threatened pallid harrier (Circus macrourus) was also recorded for the first time in November 2017 and more recently, officials at the Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary recorded the northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) in February 2022, the first ever photographic record for the Himalayan species in Delhi.

The survey is being carried out by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) in collaboration with the state forest and wildlife department in order to ascertain the raptor population in the area and gauge the impact of rejuvenation efforts inside the sanctuary on fauna.

Noting that 28 raptor species have been historically recorded at the sanctuary, Sohail Madan, centre manager of BNHS at Asola, said the winter survey has recorded 21 of these species in the last five years.

“Of these, 14 species are currently under Schedule-1 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, highlighting their importance. Further, of the 21 species recorded, eight are resident species, eight are migrant species, one is a vagrant and the status for four is difficult to define,” said Madan, adding that habitat improvement along with soil and water conservation schemes being carried out with the forest department had led to a stable prey population for the raptors. He said the shikra (Accipiter badius) count has almost doubling in the last few years.

This winter (2021-22), 18 different raptors have been recorded at the sanctuary, including the common kestrel – a local migrant; the black-shouldered kite and the white-eyed buzzard – both resident birds; and the booted eagle – a winter migrant, among others.

Among the rare species recorded at the sanctuary are -- the peregrine falcon (falco peregrinus) during a common bird monitoring programme in September 2021; the black eagle, a rare species first sighted in 2018 and again in December 2021, and regularly seen till February 2022; a flock of Egyptian vultures along with its migratory subspecies seen near the Asola lake in January 2022; and the northern goshawk in February 2022.

Madan said this is the first ever photographic record of the northern goshawk, a Himalayan species, in Delhi.

“Goshawks are the bigger versions of the resident shikra or migratory Eurasian sparrowhawk, so possibly this species could be much more common than earlier believed. With a group of 40 enthusiasts looking specifically for raptors on the day, it became easier to spot and photograph this cryptic species,” he said.

Sanctuary officials said the Asola lake is also turning into an important stopover for migratory raptors such as the steppe eagle, with a flock of 12 recorded in November last year.

“Typically not social, raptors often concentrate in specific prey-rich locations during winter, returning each year if proven to be beneficial. These wintering habitats are therefore crucial to raptor population health, and require protection and management,” said Geeta Yadav (naturalist) at BNHS.

“Connecting volunteers with wildlife programmes like these help in cultivating ownership for green areas in our city and raising the level of awareness around these majestic birds,” she added.