“Maybe…what? It is believed to be possibly the biggest falcon roosts in the world. The people of Nagaland are a Tibeto-Burmese culture who lead a subsistence lifestyle—one that until recently included the mass-trapping of Amur Falcons. But Bano Haralu and others are glad there’s a road to Pangti, and they wish it was nicer. In some areas, wind turbines, pitted as green energy, are set up in critical habitats causing injury to and, death of birds. Binoculars revealed what our eyes alone could not yet see—that the dimly lit air was filled with tens of thousands of falcons, rising in the gloom like a dense insect swarm from their roost a few hundred meters away and spreading out overhead. Villagers were able to sell four of the falcons for 100 rupees, Bano said, a little more than $1.50—a sizable amount, since just eight falcons would equal roughly a day’s wages in the region, and trappers were selling thousands a day at the peak of the season. Females have a pale, white underside with streaks. 1756 114th AVE SE Cover Photo: Seshadri KS. It is a long distance, trans-equatorial migratory bird travelling, … For now, the falcons are safe—not only in Pangti, but across Nagaland. Still, the hunting was affecting their population, which had declined over the years. I struck up a conversation with one of them, Ulhas Anand, and discovered we had several mutual birding friends from his time living in Philadelphia. Year-round Satellite Tracking of Amur Falcon (Falco amurensis) reveals the longest migration of any raptor species across the open sea The title for undertaking the most arduous of all raptor migrations, belongs certainly to the Amur Falcon, which is a complete transcontinental, transequatorial, long-distance flocking migrant. #Due to the annual migration of one million Amur Falcons in this region, which of the following has earned the nickname of the "Falcon Capital of … CORBET , P. S. 1962 . The falcons flew with smooth, languid wingbeats, mostly gliding toward the roost trees, the morning’s shivering noise of tens of thousands of rising wings replaced now with an almost eerie silence. Amur falcons travel up to 22,000 km in a year, this being one of the longest migration routes of all birds The Amur Falcon (Falco amurensis) is a complete, long distance, trans-equatorial migrant. Once or twice we were startled by the explosive warning “bark” of the small forest deer known as muntjacs off in the blackness. Within minutes the sky was full of birds, turning our disappointment into joy. “Maybe twice that,” Catherine said in a hoarse whisper. “At first [the residents] were angry, because the government has not compensated us. Bellevue, WA 98004. There was a constant drone in the air, and a monotonous chatter of birds. They travel in tremendous flocks, often with large numbers of Lesser Kestrels, and on their wintering grounds in southern Africa they gather by the hundreds or thousands each night in traditional, communal roosts. Every year, the small, resilient birds make the daring voyage from breeding grounds in Russia and China to winter in southern Africa. In barely more than a year, the villages made a hard transition with serious economic consequences, giving up the income that falcon meat represented—partly because it was the right thing to do, and also because they’d been told by conservationists that tourism could make up the loss. When we arrived at our destination in Doyang, we alighted from the jeep, and walked on a narrow trail to reach a watchtower: our vantage point for the spectacle. In most wild parts of the world, conservationists abhor new roads. Male (left) and female (right) Amur falcons vary slightly in appearance, with females displaying a mix of black and white plumage on their chest. But as we’d found out, just getting to Pangti was not for the faint of heart, and not surprisingly, tourists have been thin on the land. Combining the two sites would be an ecotourism no-brainer, if the travel time between them was a couple of easy hours on a well-paved road instead of the bone-grinding, eight- or nine-hour marathon that travelers face now. The white disk flickered and trembled with black silhouettes as falcons beyond count came home to roost, their bellies full and their instincts already pulling them toward the next stop on a global journey that—at least here, at least now—is not as dangerous as it was just a few years before. The campaign managed to stop the hunting of the falcons. Worker termites chew tunnels to the surface, out of which emerge trillions of winged, inch-long fertile adults known as alates—fat-rich and the perfect food for an insectivorous falcon about to risk an ocean crossing. The forested, gently crumpled Naga Hills looked lovely in the late, buttery light, but we’d been repeatedly warned to be off the road before dark given the risk of bandits and armed insurgents in this remote and troubled corner of northeast India, not far from the northern border of Myanmar (Burma). Poachers would suspend their fishing nets on long poles and unsuspecting falcons would fly straight into them and get tangled. At this same time of year, just after the monsoon, there is a great stirring underground as countless subterranean termite colonies prepare for the mating season. The Amur Falcon (Falco amurensis) is a trans-equatorial migrant (crossing the equator) and has one of the longest migratory routes of any raptor in the world. News of this poaching made a global splash and international conservation organisations upped the ante to ensure the birds were not harmed at their staging site in Nagaland. Over water, the hot-air thermals and deflection currents that assist raptors migrating over land, allowing them to soar for hours and save energy, are largely absent. Although the greatest spectacle in pangti was the morning liftoff, one evening we returned to the roost area at dusk, hoping to see the falcons come in for the night. But the story stuck with her, and two years later, in autumn, she and her colleagues from Bangalore-based Conservation India returned to investigate. Lying on my wooden bed, I wondered in the dark what happens when poor people make a wrenching decision, expecting an outcome that may take years to materialize, if ever. Photo: Seshadri KS. As we would learn in the days to come, the bare bones of that story are basically correct. Travelling with Rockjumper means you basically don’t have to worry about anything other than getting the birds in the binoculars, the guides take care of the rest which results in a really relaxing and enjoyable bird watching trip.” But the fishermen also noticed something they’d never seen before—that the falcons were now gathering in incredible numbers each autumn night in small groves of trees along the lake, then fanning out to hunt termites and other insects during the day. They see the awful condition of Nagaland’s roads–often cited as the worst in India—as a major hurdle to conservation, and the tourism that could support it. “They taste very good.”, “It was a huge loss of money,” Bano admitted, but some in the village saw the potential for tourism. In Asia, the Amur falcon can be found around the Amur river region, in southeastern Russia, northern China and eastern Mongolia, sometimes all the way east to the Korean peninsula. The Amur Falcon is a small raptor and weighs only about 150 to 200 grams. An Amur Falcon local-pride effort followed the same model that has worked elsewhere for other threatened birds in need of a PR campaign. Passage records of Amur Falcon Falco amurensis from SE Asia and southern Africa including first records from Ethiopia. Hiking down to the reservoir, we passed trails pushed through the dense vegetation—the paths of wild elephants, perhaps the same ones we’d heard trumpeting across the lake that morning. Initially birds were thought to use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate, but there is increasing evidence that their sensory abilities allow them to navigate by smell, and by variation in light levels. Witness the spectacular migration of Amur Falcons in Nagaland as they arrive end of October till early November in thousands from Sibera & northern China before taking off for Africa. The Cornell Lab will send you updates about birds, birding, and opportunities to help bird conservation. Photo: Seshadri KS. Every year thousands of Amur falcons descend upon this remote corner of Nagaland. For that, Kevin needed willing guinea pigs—me; Catherine Hamilton, a California bird artist whose participation was underwritten by Zeiss Sports Optics; and birders Peter Trueblood of California and his cousin-in-law Bruce Evans of Maryland, who thanks to a visa snafu would be joining us the following day. Nzam Tsopoe, our host and the village’s assistant schoolteacher, greeted each of us in turn with a slight bow as he clasped our hands; he and his wife would be sharing their small, three-room house with us for the next week. Considering the sheer scale of the effort they put in to survive, the least we can do is to ensure them a safe passage. Conservationists started eco-clubs for children in Pangti and surrounding communities and gave “Amur Ambassador Passports” to those who pledged to protect the birds. The females and juveniles are very different, their white undersides barred with black and lightly washed with buff on the chest, the face distinctly “mustached” after the fashion of most falcons. Tourism is building slowly, as we saw. Some of the men shifted to fishing in the new reservoir, despite forests of sunken trees that tore up their nets. For the next hour, the falcons would rise from the roost in a great tide, enveloping us in a chaos of wings and movement, then settle back down again until the air was empty. Although some migration count sites such as Veracruz in Mexico tally up to 4.5 million passing raptors each season, only in Nagaland do raptors remain for long periods in such extraordinary numbers. It also is unusual in migrating over sea and migrates during the night (Meyburg 2010). Losing the money from selling falcons was hard, he told me one morning as we watched hundreds of Amurs flying in to perch around the edges of a small teak plantation, some miles from the main roost; the birds preened in the sun, and occasionally dropped to the ground to snag large mantises or grasshoppers. Every time a crow would caw, there would be an ‘explosion’ of falcons as they took to the air, settling down again once the jungle crows had moved on to harangue another flock. We covered the last half-kilometer on foot, still walking in silence, passing beneath tall elephant grass and arching bamboo. Along the way, they fly 2,400 miles across the Indian Ocean. In other parts of the country, wetlands and naturally occurring grasslands — prime habitat for several species of migrant ducks and harriers — are being converted to agriculture fields or plantations, which are suboptimal habitats. Enabling Holistic Wellbeing & Meaningful Living, Enabling Wholistic Wellbeing & Meaningful Living, PRIVACY POLICY We returned to the watchtower that evening to see the birds coming in to roost. Yet within a year or so, the community decides to embrace protection and preservation; the killing grounds become a sanctuary, the trappers become guards and wardens, and residents of the village prepare to welcome birders. Conservationists worried that they may begin to avoid this place entirely, thus having to stopover at areas with suboptimal conditions for roosting and food availability. Unlike most raptors, Amur Falcons are highly social most of the year. No one spoke; this time not from disappointment, but from awe. I slept poorly—partly because the Naga don’t use mattresses, and my wooden-plank bed had just a thin cotton blanket for a cushion, but mostly because the whole effort to come to Pangti now seemed to have been an enormous waste. “I witnessed a massive swarm of these little falcons flying into the South African town of Cradock to roost for the night,” one commenter wrote on YouTube. “Another amazing trip with Rockjumper. From the Summer 2018 issue of Living Bird magazine. “It was overwhelming, you know. Then he was gone—someone had spied a Philippine Brown Shrike along the edge of the lake. When this was witnessed by a local conservationist, she quickly jumped into action, gathered help and shared the story of the Amur Falcon migration, from Siberia to South Africa and back. Photos: Derek Keats –CC BY 2.0. Thankfully, we did not have to wait long, and by 4 am, there was enough light to see the horizon. The act of migration is a delicate and synchronised performance, involving numerous players. None of this obscured the fact that the community had taken a financial hit when it suspended the hunt. We were sitting in a jeep, groggy-eyed, as we drove through Doyang Reservoir in Nagaland — a state, rich in culture and biodiversity. Subscribe now. In Doyang, the Amur flacons were not poached for livelihood, but to be eaten as a local delicacy. The Amur Falcon and the Mysteries of Bird Migration Every year, tens of thousands of Amur falcons descend upon Nagaland, creating a natural history spectacle that is both rare and riveting By Dr Seshadri KS It was a little after 3 am and the forest was shrouded in darkness. The small birds hardly put up a fight and were no match for the skilled poachers. We asked them, are the falcons here? The Amur was long lumped with the very similar Red-footed Falcon of western and central Eurasia. 2nd Floor, Sector 67,SAS Nagar Amur Falcon © Shutterstock Abu Dhabi, 10 November 2020 - In October each year, communities in the mountainous parts of Northeast India, gather in anticipation of the arrival of a small grey bird, the Amur Falcon, which annually migrates over 30,000 km. Studies show they cover upwards of 20,000 km every year. But when Catherine raised her binoculars to peer through the murky twilight, she gasped. In 2012, an investigation revealed that thousands of Amur falcons had been trapped and sold for local consumption in Nagaland. Today, they are proud that Amur falcons choose to visit them every year. It has one of the of longest migration routes of all birds — doing upto 22,000 km in a year — from eastern Asia all the way to Southern Africa and back. The intensity of the flight only increased with darkness, as a nearly full moon rose overhead. In 2010 she was helping the state produce a book on Nagaland’s birds, hence the trip to Doyang. Although Pangti is far from the tourist track, we were pleasantly surprised to find we weren’t the only visitors. The quality of not only the Rockjumper guides but the local guides as well was first class. How many? Ali & Ripley (1987) and Naoroji (2007) both noted that the birds fly across China to India and Bangladesh in the first stage of their massive flight across the ocean to Africa. It was a jaw-dropping tale, with reports of over 100,000 birds seen at a time at the newly created Doyang Reservoir. +1 (425) 454-2113 Their migration to Africa coincides with the time when due to rains swarm of insects will be everywhere, making South Africa a great feeding ground. They turned out to be plucked falcons. Amur falcon feeding mechanism : The Amur falcons feed mostly on insects, mainly mid-air. They also found that local fishermen, stringing their nets among the roost trees, were killing an estimated 140,000 falcons in just one 10-day period during the peak of the migration—-plucking the carcasses, smoking them over open fires to preserve them, then selling the birds in larger towns for badly needed cash. Later, in Pangti itself, “We saw birds in almost every home,” she said. Observing the falcon swarm in action was riveting, as was watching the flock disappear: In barely 10 minutes all the birds in the sky had settled down for the night. We pulled into Pangti just as the sun dropped below the horizon. As we ate, we tried to ease the kinks from our long-suffering bones. “It was 2010 that I first came to this area with some birder friends, in the month of April. To fuel up for their big open-water crossing, Amur Falcons stop over in Nagaland to feast on a seasonal eruption of trillions of termites from their underground colonies. The village sat at the peak of a broad, defensible ridge—typical of the Naga, a Tibeto-Burmese culture whose tribes were traditionally headhunters, each village warring constantly with its neighbors. We have some very bird-rich areas. She was initially skeptical of the accounts she heard—after all, in April there were no falcons to be seen. But nothing like this,” he said, gesturing to the multitudes of falcons emerging from their roosts. New fields on the mountain slopes were less productive, and wild elephants often trampled the crops. A Naga herself, Bano left the region as a young woman, earned a graduate degree in New Delhi, and became a respected television journalist specializing in India’s northeast. Males have a sooty, grey plumage, white under-wings, and rufous-coloured feathers on their thighs. Mr. Tsopoe introduced us to two young men, whom he said would be our guides in the morning. While the 6,500-acre impoundment brought welcome electricity to the village, it also flooded many of those farms, including more than 2,000 acres of land cultivated by Pangti. There must be a special hell reserved for these bastards.”. This means the falcons must beat their wings continuously on their transoceanic trip, which may take them four or five days. This went on for hours, each new, departing rush of birds seeming as though they must be the last in the roost—yet when we’d peer through our scope, the trees would appear as heavily laden with perching falcons as before. The sky was abuzz with what from a distance appeared to be a gigantic swarm of bees. The Amur falcon is a small raptor of the falcon family that breeds in Siberia and Northern China and migrates to winter in Southern Africa. The peak of the falcon migration neatly coincides with the seasonal, post-monsoon opening of Kaziranga National Park in neighboring Assam state, a UNESCO World Heritage site that attracts visitors from around the world. We can work towards this in a number of ways: By educating locals and authorities on the importance of grasslands or wetlands where birds forage or roost; by enforcing existing wildlife protection laws; and by monitoring the migration patterns with the goal of conservation and better understanding of the species. Amur falcons are known to have among the longest migration routes, covering 22,000km. Can we succeed in doing so? Instead, hour after hour we’d seen little in the air except a few swallows. Prof. Bernd-Ulrich Meyburg, the Chair of the World Working Group on Birds of Prey, and his team satellite-tagged 10 Amur falcons in South Africa as part of a ground-breaking attempt to track their epic migration. Amur Falcons roost on tall trees in Doyang (left). traversing as much as 2,400 miles of the Indian Ocean. As the day progressed, the sky remained overcast. The combination of more rigorous law enforcement and pervasive education campaigns has proven so effective that conservationists were unaware of even a single bird being trapped during the past several migration seasons. One cannot possibly fathom the hazards of long-distance migration. We were near the convergence of a great inrushing of wings and movement, coming from all points on the compass, like a black hole drawing everything toward itself. The disturbing videos Haralu and her colleagues took, showing trappers ripping tangled falcons from the nets, and small boys bent beneath the weight of hundreds of dead and dying birds, went viral among outraged conservationists worldwide. Baptist ministers were persuaded to preach pro-falcon sermons and conduct special church services, and villagers were given “Friends of the Amur Falcon” buttons. Sheltered by hills that are steep and surrounded by water, the falcons roost here for about a month, foraging on insects, and building their body mass so they can fly across the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean into Africa. By all accounts, the skies should have been alive with lithe, sickle-winged Amur Falcons, pausing here on their epic migration from eastern Asia to southern Africa. Then Conservation India and the local wildlife trust launched a massive, multipronged community educational campaign with funds, materials, and support from BirdLife International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the venerable Bombay Natural History Society, and other conservation groups. Instead, hour after hour we ’ d seen little in the morning Pangti, but across Nagaland its extension! 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