Guwahati: Not only Arunachal Pradesh, but Manipur is also a paradise for bird-watchers.

Two new country records of birds from Manipur have proved that the state is a great place and a paradise for bird-watchers, in addition to its rich cultural heritage.

“Manipur is a treasure chest for bird-watchers. Some of India’s rarest and threatened species of birds and wildlife are found in this biodiversity hotspot,” Puja Sharma, a bird sound recordist, told EastMojo.

Two new species in India, Rufous-winged Buzzard (Butastur liventer) and Grey-eyed Bulbul (Iole propinqua), have recently been recorded for the first time in the Kwatha area in the Tengnoupal district in eastern Manipur.

The Kwatha area is part of the Yangoupokpi-Lokchao Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the Important Bird Areas (IBA) identified in Manipur as per BirdLife International, which is a global partnership of non-governmental organizations that strives to conserve birds and their habitats, and identifies the IBAs using an internationally agreed set of criteria for the conservation of bird populations.

“Our records of Rufous-winged Buzzard and Grey-eyed Bulbul from Kwatha area, constitute the country-first reports of both species for India, contribute additions to the avifauna checklist of South Asia, and represent western extensions to the range of both species,” Puja says.

Both the country reports have been published in the Indian BIRDS journal, a bi-monthly, peer-reviewed journal that publishes ornithological research and observations on birds of South Asia.

She said, however, ongoing and foreseeable threats to the habitat, resulting in destruction and degradation due to large-scale logging and fragmentation during the course of jhum (slash and burn shifting cultivation) clearings, mean that efforts to preserve what habitat remains are urgently needed.

Through their papers, both Puja Sharma and Andrew Spencer highlight the importance of this crucial IBA of Manipur, and despite being protected as a Wildlife Sanctuary and designated as an Important Bird Area, the area is severely threatened.

Andrew Spencer works as a Digital Media Manager at the Macaulay Library, one of the world’s largest archives of bird and animal sounds, and part of Cornell Lab of
Ornithology at the Cornell University.

Rufous-winged Buzzard (Photo : Andrew Spencer)

The global population of Rufous-winged Buzzard is accounted to be probably fewer than 10,000 individuals of all age classes despite its large range. 

“Even though it uses rice paddies as hunting grounds, human disturbance and clearance of open woodland may be having a serious adverse effect on the species population. Therefore, our sightings from eastern Manipur are extremely significant, and more observations from the region, including from suitable habitats in other border areas of India with Myanmar, could help to ascertain its status in India
and whether it is a resident or regular visitor to the area,” Andrew Spencer said.

“In addition to the endangered Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus) known from this Important Bird Area, we want to bring the spotlight on the conservation issues of this area which need the immediate attention of authorities concerned and governments,” Puja further added.

Both of them emphasised that bird species records and proper documentation of those records help in the larger conservation of habitats and without documentation, it is difficult to get any attention on these issues or achieve any progress in conserving these habitats.

Grey-eyed Bulbul (Photo : Andrew Spencer)

Andrew says, “As the Iole bulbuls are visually similar, vocalisations are the best way to confirm identification, especially among potentially out-of-range records. The primary call of the Grey-eyed Bulbul is a long, medium-pitched, very nasal ‘waawh’ note, generally with a shallow but noticeable rising and falling pitch that imparts a whining quality, and very distinct from Cachar Bulbul (Iole cacharensis), a similar species that is restricted in the contiguous parts of the hills of north-eastern India, south of the Brahmaputra River in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and western Mizoram, and in the Chittagong and Sylhet Divisions in south-eastern Bangladesh.”

“The Grey-eyed Bulbul record highlights the significance of avian bioacoustics and emphasizes the importance of bird sound- recording in studying birds and bird behavior,” Puja says. 

“Avian bioacoustics and bird sound recordings play a key role in understanding bird taxonomy and bird distribution, contributing directly to the conservation efforts of natural habitats. Sound-recording any vocalisations of birds also prove as the most reliable method for correct identifications, especially in similar species, such as Iole bulbuls, when identification based on physical features alone can be challenging,” they further added.

Bird records substantiated and documented with sound- recordings, in addition to photographs, also help in better understanding the range and migration patterns of the bird species range. 

“We hope our records encourage more and more birders to take up bird sound recording in India and document their bird sightings in India with sound recordings,” Puja and Andrew further say.

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