Last week of January when my good friend Shivashankar called me whether I am interested in exploring pelagic birds around Mulki coast, I gladly agreed as I had not ventured to explore such an opportunity. Any water in a sea or lake that is not close to the bottom or near to the shore can be said to be in the pelagic zone. The word pelagic comes from the Greek pélagos, which means open sea. Pelagic birds, also called oceanic birds, are birds that live on the open sea, rather than around waters adjacent to land or around inland waters. Pelagic birds feed on planktonic crustaceans, squid and forage fish. Examples are the Atlantic puffin, macaroni penguins, sooty terns, shearwaters, and procellariiforms such as the albatross, procellariids and petrels.
We started in the morning of 29th Jan 2011 in a small fishing boat from Mulki. As we headed into the sea we could see quite a fishing boats actively fishing. We were 7 of us including myself, my daughter Neethi, Shivaprakash Advanne, Girija, Ashwini Kumar Bhat, Anush Shetty and Shivashankar. What I found out during the trip was large lenses were totally useless in a wobbly boat. Even at very high shutter speed it was impossible to focus or shoot any bird which was visible. So I switched to my 70-200mm f/2.8 without any tele-converter. Even at that magnification getting any good photos was impossible task. So Most of my photos during our outward journey into the sea were relegated to recycle bin ;). We traveled from the mouth of the Shambhavi River at Mulkhi to a unnamed Island 8km off Kaup and then back to Mulki.
Even though we set out on pelagic bird watch we were lucky to see only the winter migrant waders! You can check our traveled track along this gps map of Shivashankar . I used my new Qstarz BT-Q1000XT GPS Travel Recorder to track the whole track. It was used to geotag all our photos.
As we re-entered the mouth of the Shambhavi River of Mulki after finishing the trip at noon, we could see a large flocks of Gulls and terns sitting on the estuarine mouth. The photographs presented here are all taken there. There were lot of Pallas’s Gulls, a few Caspians Terns along with Brown Headed Gull and Gull Billed Terns.
Great Black-headed Gull or Pallas’s Gull, Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus, is a large gull. As is the case with many gulls, it was traditionally been placed in the genus Larus.
This species breeds in colonies in marshes and islands from southern Russia to Mongolia. It is migratory, wintering in the eastern Mediterranean, Arabia and India. This gull nests on the ground, laying between two and four eggs.
It occurs in western Europe only as a rare vagrant. In Great Britain a recent review left a single occurrence in 1859 as the only acceptable record of this bird.
This is a large gull, nearly the size of the Great Black-backed Gull. It is 58–65 cm long with a 1.4 to 1.6 m wingspan. Summer adults are unmistakable, since no other gull of this size has a black hood. The adults have grey wings and back, with conspicuous white “mirrors” at the wing tips. The legs are yellow and the bill is red.
In all other plumages, a dark mask through the eye indicates the vestiges of the hood. The call is a deep aargh cry. Young birds attain largely grey upperparts quite rapidly, but they take four years to reach maturity.
These birds are predatory, taking fish, crustaceans, insects and even small mammals.
Pallas’s Gull is named after Peter Simon Pallas a German zoologist and botanist who worked in Russia. A number of animals are named after Pallas, including Pallas’s Cat, Pallas’s Long-tongued Bat, Pallas’s Tube-nosed Fruit Bat, Pallas’s Squirrel, Pallas’s Warbler, Pallas’s Cormorant, Pallas’s Fish-eagle, Pallas’s Gull, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Pallas’s Rosefinch, Pallas’s Pika, Pallas’s Reed Bunting and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler.
The Gull-billed Tern, Gelochelidon nilotica, formerly Sterna nilotica (Bridge et al., 2005), is a seabird of the tern family Sternidae. It is now considered to be in its own genus.
It breeds in warmer parts of the world in southern Europe (and a very small isolated population in northern Germany and Denmark), temperate and eastern Asia, both coasts of North America, eastern South America and Australia. This bird has a number of geographical races, differing mainly in size and minor plumage details.
All forms show a post-breeding dispersal, but the northern breeders are most migratory, wintering south to Africa, the Caribbean and northern South America, southern Asia and New Zealand.
This species breeds in colonies on lakes, marshes and coasts. It nests in a ground scrape and lays two to five eggs.
The Gull-billed Tern does not normally plunge dive for fish like the other white terns, but feeds on insects taken in flight, and also often hunts over wet fields, to take amphibians and small mammals, as well as small birds.
This is a fairly large and powerful tern, similar in size and general appearance to a Sandwich Tern, but the short thick gull-like bill, broad wings, long legs and robust body are distinctive. The summer adult has grey upperparts, white underparts, a black cap, strong black bill and black legs. The call is a characteristic ker-wik.
In winter, the cap is lost, and there is a dark patch through the eye like a Forster’s Tern or a Mediterranean Gull. Juvenile Gull-billed Terns have a fainter mask, but otherwise look much like winter adults.
The Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia, formerly Sterna caspia; syn. Hydroprogne tschegrava) is a species of tern, with a subcosmopolitan but scattered distribution. Despite its extensive range, it is monotypic of its genus, and has no subspecies accepted either. In New Zealand it is also known by the Maori name Taranui.
It is the world’s largest tern with a length of 48–56 cm, a wingspan of 127–140 cm and a weight of 574–782g. Adult birds have black legs, and a long thick red-orange bill with a small black tip. They have a white head with a black cap and white neck, belly and tail. The upper wings and back are pale grey; the underwings are pale with dark primary feathers. In flight, the tail is less forked than other terns and wing tips black on the underside. In winter, the black cap is still present (unlike many other terns), but with some white streaking on the forehead. The call is a loud heron-like croak.
Their breeding habitat is large lakes and ocean coasts in North America (including the Great Lakes), and locally in Europe (mainly around the Baltic Sea and Black Sea), Asia, Africa, and Australasia (Australia and New Zealand). North American birds migrate to southern coasts, the West Indies and northernmost South America. European and Asian birds spend the non-breeding season in the Old World tropics. African and Australasian birds are resident or disperse over short distances.
The global population is about 50,000 pairs; numbers in most regions are stable, but the Baltic Sea population (1,400–1,475 pairs in the early 1990s) is declining and of conservation concern.
All three of these species – The Great Black-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern & Caspian Tern are protected under the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA).
The Brown-headed Gull, Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus, is a small gull which breeds in the high plateaus of central Asia from Turkmenistan to Mongolia. It is migratory, wintering on the coasts and large inland lakes of tropical southern Asia. As is the case with many gulls, it has traditionally been placed in the genus Larus.
This gull breeds in colonies in large reedbeds or marshes, or on islands in lakes, nesting on the ground. Like most gulls, it is highly gregarious in winter, both when feeding or in evening roosts. It is not a pelagic species, and is rarely seen at sea far from coasts. This is a bold and opportunist feeder, which will scavenge in towns or take invertebrates in ploughed fields with equal relish.
The Brown-headed Gull is slightly larger than Black-headed Gull. The summer adult has a pale brown head, lighter than that of Black-headed, a pale grey body, and red bill and legs. The black tips to the primary wing feathers have conspicuous white “mirrors”. The underwing is grey with black flight feathers. The brown hood is lost in winter, leaving just dark vertical streaks.
This bird takes two years to reach maturity. First year birds have a black terminal tail band, more dark areas in the wings, and, in summer, a less homogeneous hood. This is a noisy species, especially at colonies.
Below is the checklist of the birds we saw on that trip (thanks to Sri.Shivaprakash Advanne & Shivashankar for this list).
- Stork-billed Kingfisher
- Small Green Bee-eater
- Small Blue Kingfisher
- Blue-tailed Bee-eater
- Great Crested tern
- Terek sandpiper
- Brown-headed Gull
- Caspian Tern
- Great Black headed Gull
- Brahminy Kite
- Black Kite
- Gull billed Tern
- Blue-rock Pigeon
- Common Redshank
- Common Greenshank
- Marsh Harrier
- Lesser Sandplover
- Greater sandplover
- Spotted Owlett
- Common Sandpiper
- Little Green Heron
- Pond Heron
- Common swallow
- Grey Heron
- Little Cormorant
- White-bellied Sea-eagle
- White-breasted Waterhen
- Reef Heron/Egret
- Kentish Plover
- Ruddy Ternstone
- Cattle Egret
- Yellow-legged Gull
We also saw few dolphins as we returned to the shore at noon for lunch.
You can also view the Shivashanker’s GPS tagged images of this trip.
We plan to go again on this Saturday again on a similar trip; hoping to see at least a few pelagic birds this time!