RoundGlass Sustain is a media-rich resource on India’s natural world. We have some very bird-rich areas. Amur Falcon posters were plastered throughout the region. Every year, the small, resilient birds make the daring voyage from breeding grounds in Russia and China to winter in southern Africa. Since the last falcon season, Mehta said, trees on the edge of the main roost grove had been cut down to plant teak seedlings—a common agroforestry practice here, but one that obviously could threaten the whole local operation were the falcons to abandon the Pangti roost for a less disturbed site. These images were taken at their wintering grounds in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Unlike most raptors, Amur Falcons are highly social most of the year. There was a more immediate issue, though. Along with Conservation India, she led a campaign to stop the rampant poaching and to sensitise the local community about the monetary benefits of being nature guides and homestay owners. Then he was gone—someone had spied a Philippine Brown Shrike along the edge of the lake. +91-11 39585644 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. It had rained the previous night and many falcons were soggy. 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. Although Pangti is far from the tourist track, we were pleasantly surprised to find we weren’t the only visitors. The Amur Falcon, a slim little raptor that feeds largely on insects, is slightly bigger than an American Kestrel. That was the stick, but in the months that followed, conservationists presented the carrot to village leaders as they described the global migration of the falcons—and the worldwide revulsion expressed at the slaughter in Nagaland. Taking our cue from the falcons, we headed back for breakfast. Trapping and selling falcons had become a universal cottage industry. 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. Instead, hour after hour we’d seen little in the air except a few swallows. (The Wildlife Trust of India built a small guest house in Pangti in 2017, but it wasn’t yet furnished or ready by the time of our visit.). We pulled into Pangti just as the sun dropped below the horizon. This should be just a highway of falcons,” said Abidur Rahman, a young ornithologist from the neighboring state of Assam and our guide for this trip. For Pangti as a whole, the end of falcon-trapping meant foregoing about 3.5 million rupees annually, a huge sum in such a remote, cash-strapped area, especially because many people used that money to pay their children’s school fees. Two satellite-tagged Amur Falcons have been tracked on their migration route, clocking up some 29,000 km in the process. 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. Enabling Holistic Wellbeing & Meaningful Living, Enabling Wholistic Wellbeing & Meaningful Living, PRIVACY POLICY 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. The story of the incredible Amur Falcon migration stopover in Nagaland, India, broke to international news in 2012. In Doyang, the Amur flacons were not poached for livelihood, but to be eaten as a local delicacy. Poachers would suspend their fishing nets on long poles and unsuspecting falcons would fly straight into them and get tangled. 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. 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). Amur falcons (Falco amurensis) are swift, agile, and little larger in size than the common blue rock pigeon. We had no idea how much farther ahead lay our destination, a village known as Pangti, or whether we’d actually reach it before nightfall. After two years of planning, and days of wearying travel, it seemed our journey had all been in vain. Despite this, they remained perched with a sense of tranquillity, while thousands of falcons continued to paint the sky with their flight. 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 ride to the main roost site down by the reservoir took 45 minutes, and given the hour and the mood, no one had much energy or inclination to talk. 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. 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. A panoramic view of the Doyang reservoir, which was built in the year 2000, across the river Doyang, a tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra. The raptors breed in southeastern Siberia and northern China, and migrate in millions across India and then over the Indian Ocean to southern Africa before returning to Mongolia and Siberia. Several families in Pangti invested in improvements so they could take in visitors; the Tsopoes, with whom we were staying, built a two-stall, Western-style bathroom in their side yard, and a dirt-floored washroom with a sink. Can we succeed in doing so? During migration, Amur falcon cross eastern and southern Asia, including China, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Lao, Myanmar, Thailand, Pakistan and India. 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. One cannot possibly fathom the hazards of long-distance migration. And I wanted to learn more about how a shocking conservation tragedy had, in a very short time, become a stunning conservation success. The sky was abuzz with what from a distance appeared to be a gigantic swarm of bees. The act of migration is a delicate and synchronised performance, involving numerous players. But Kevin plans to be back this autumn with a full group of Americans (and mattresses for their beds) to buttress the nascent industry. Haha ! Together they convinced the tribal elders that the falcons needed to be protected, and the elders agreed. Passage records of Amur Falcon Falco amurensis from SE Asia and southern Africa including first records from Ethiopia. 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. “At first [the residents] were angry, because the government has not compensated us. This means the falcons must beat their wings continuously on their transoceanic trip, which may take them four or five days. It was cool, with a light breeze and no stars, but soon I could see the silhouette of a 40-feet-tall wooden watchtower, newly built for visiting birders, which rose against the slightly lighter sky as we emerged along the edge of the lake. 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. enjoys sharing stories about nature and is currently a Post-Doctoral fellow at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science. 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. The completion of the Doyang Reservoir also created the site for what may be the greatest concentration of raptors in the world. One of them was Nchumo Odyuo, a slender, soft-spoken man who is a neighbor of the Tsopoes, a former trapper now active in the protective union. My colleagues and I had come here, to the state of Nagaland, in search of what’s reputed to be the single greatest gathering of birds of prey on the planet. So far it has radio-tagged about 15 Amur falcons to study migration pathways and environmental patterns. During the day, the falcons (right) rest and feed on grasshoppers, as they need to fortify themselves for the arduous, nonstop journey across the Arabian Sea into Africa. The Amur Falcon is a small raptor and weighs only about 150 to 200 grams. Flying thousands of kilometres from their breeding grounds in northern China and eastern Mongolia, nearly a million Amur falcons, a small grey bird of prey, regularly descend across northeast India for nearly a month in October to feed and rest before continuing their journey to southern Africa. Along the way, they fly 2,400 miles across the Indian Ocean. New fields on the mountain slopes were less productive, and wild elephants often trampled the crops. By and large, bird migration continues to be a mystery to nature enthusiasts and scientists. We covered the last half-kilometer on foot, still walking in silence, passing beneath tall elephant grass and arching bamboo. We saw four. Amur Falcon (Falco amurensis) is a small raptor (bird of prey) of the falcon family. Once or twice we were startled by the explosive warning “bark” of the small forest deer known as muntjacs off in the blackness. As the light grew, so did the number of birds, the whisper of their wings rising now to an omnipresent swish, like fast-flowing water. It was perhaps the largest non-human congregation anywhere on the Indian subcontinent. Raptors returning to their roosting sites at dusk seeking safety in numbers. 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. Bellevue, WA 98004. 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. “They taste very good.”, “It was a huge loss of money,” Bano admitted, but some in the village saw the potential for tourism. Traveling to see the greatest birding spectacle on earth is not for the faint of heart, as roads into the region traverse treacherous mountain passes prone to landslides. Birds that had been milling about began to settle, while some flocks flew away, probably in search of food. 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. The males are dark gray above, paler below, with elegantly contrasting white wing linings and a splash of bright rufous on the thighs and undertail coverts. Initially we felt let a little down, for there were hardly any falcons in the skies and all the ‘fruits’ on the tree were gone, but around 4.40 pm, when the sky began to darken, we saw a distant flock of falcons approaching. Occasionally, something would flap in a tree nearby, but it was too dark to see what it was, so we climbed the rickety ladder up the watchtower and waited. “So…way more than a thousand,” I said at last. In 2012, an investigation revealed that thousands of Amur falcons had been trapped and sold for local consumption in Nagaland. It was clear that government authorities would no longer turn a blind eye to the killing, which was officially illegal. We’d met Bano for dinner in a small wooden house in Pangti that serves as the headquarters for the Nagaland Wildlife and Biodiversity Conservation Trust, a nonprofit that she founded. 1756 114th AVE SE There was a nip in the air, as we sat there quietly, wishing we had brought a flask of hot tea. 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. 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. 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. As the day progressed, the sky remained overcast. Hundreds of plucked falcons, skewered through the head, hung smoking over fires; hundreds more, alive, were jammed into zippered mosquito nets that functioned as holding cages until they, too, could be killed. But as the daughter of a decorated government official and a noted social activist, she knew how to get results. The Amur was long lumped with the very similar Red-footed Falcon of western and central Eurasia. It is a long distance, trans-equatorial migratory bird travelling, … 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 former trappers and hunters formed the Amur Falcon Roost Area Union, which posted guards, certified guides, and worked with the landowners of the roosts to build viewing towers like the one we’d visited. The villagers suffered a double blow, he told me—first they had lost much of their best farmland for the dam, then the trapping was taken away. Amur falcons, the world’s longest travelling raptors start travelling with the onset of winters. 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. Some of the men shifted to fishing in the new reservoir, despite forests of sunken trees that tore up their nets. Then something—on one occasion, a jungle crow dive-bombing the trees—would set them off once more, and they would erupt in fresh waves tens of thousands strong, layer upon layer of slender birds on long, narrow wings, swirling in counterclockwise gyres. The intensity of the flight only increased with darkness, as a nearly full moon rose overhead. They migrate to Nagaland to fill up their stomach. Male (left) and female (right) Amur falcons vary slightly in appearance, with females displaying a mix of black and white plumage on their chest. Thousands of Amur falcons spend their summers at their breeding ground in northern China and in winter, they migrate to South Africa. Amur Falcons roost on tall trees in Doyang (left). The Naga, with their torn nets and flooded fields (and being the good Baptists that most of them are), couldn’t help but see all of this, simply and literally, as manna from heaven. It also is unusual in migrating over sea and migrates during the night (Meyburg 2010). “Another amazing trip with Rockjumper. The monsoons, which usually end in September, had continued for week after rainy, flooding week through October, their southwesterly winds holding back the migrant falcons coming from the northeast. In 2012, a Naga conservationist named Bano Haralu, along with several colleagues from Conservation India, confirmed rumors that Amur Falcons had begun to gather each night by the hundreds of thousands in densely packed roosts along the Doyang Reservoir, with many more in neighboring areas—very likely the bulk of the entire global population. +1 (425) 454-2113 But the story stuck with her, and two years later, in autumn, she and her colleagues from Bangalore-based Conservation India returned to investigate. 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. About 45 minutes after sunset, falcons began streaming in—first hundreds of birds a minute, then thousands, a sheet of movement against the band of orange and purple light on the west ern horizon. 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. But I do wish I could eat one!” He laughed nervously. The Amur Falcon has one of the longest raptor migrations, but is also unique because it supposedly flies a long distance over the sea. Humans have always been fascinated with understanding the migration of birds. We returned to the watchtower that evening to see the birds coming in to roost. Later, in Pangti itself, “We saw birds in almost every home,” she said. Quickly, leading bird-protection groups within India and abroad, such as the Bombay Natural History Society and BirdLife International, decried the killing, as online petitions battered the government for action, and viewers around the world reacted with horror to the images. There was a constant drone in the air, and a monotonous chatter of birds. Photos: Derek Keats –CC BY 2.0. It was a jaw-dropping tale, with reports of over 100,000 birds seen at a time at the newly created Doyang Reservoir. Amur falcons roost on trees in the surrounding hills. Baptist ministers were persuaded to preach pro-falcon sermons and conduct special church services, and villagers were given “Friends of the Amur Falcon” buttons. Males have a sooty, grey plumage, white under-wings, and rufous-coloured feathers on their thighs. Today, they are overwhelmingly Baptists, inhabiting a defiantly un-Indian part of India and trying for decades to break away on their own. The birds travel all the way from high up in Eastern Asia to Africa every year.

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