Jagdishpur emerges as nesting habitat for Whiskered Terns

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Photo by Rajesh Dhungana

Kathmandu, Sept. 12: Jagdishpur Wetland in Kapilvastu has emerged as the latest nesting habitat for Whiskered Terns (Chlidonias hybrida), locally referred to as 'Thimaha Phayalfayale'. This marks a significant shift for a species that was previously only observed as a summer visitor.

More than 100 of these birds have flown over the Jagdishpur area, and some are caring for their new-borns, making this a historic first, according to birdwatchers.

The nesting record and a significant gathering of these birds were captured on camera by senior wildlife photographer Rajesh Dhungana on Thursday, August 31, at 1:35 PM, on the northern side of the Jagdishpur wetland. He claimed to be the first person to capture the nesting of the bird in the area. 

This is the first documented record in Nepal because previously it was taken as non-breeding visitors in the country, said noted ornithologist Dr. Hem Sagar Baral.

Several wildlife photographers, including Sugam Tamrakar, have documented the bird's nesting activity in the Jagdishpur wetland. This valuable footage has been submitted for record-keeping, he confirmed.

The Jagdishpur Wetland spans an area of 225 hectares (2.25 square kilometers) and has long been a sanctuary for various avian species. However, the recent arrival of the Whiskered Terns has captured the hearts and attention of both ornithologists and the local community.

The Whiskered Tern, part of the Laridae family, was last seen here in 1982, with more than 400 being spotted near the Koshi Barrage, a memorable event for locals. Now, after 41 years, these birds have returned in large numbers to Jagdishpur Wetland. Ornithologist Dr. Baral believes this might be due to changes in climate caused by oceanic climate change.

According to Mohan Bikram Shrestha, Senior Research Officer at the Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN), in the organisation's database, the Whiskered Terns have only recently been observed nesting in the Jagdishpur Wetland. This shift in their habitat choice could be linked to rising temperatures and other environmental factors.

The Whiskered Tern mainly eats fish and insects. When there are not many fish around, it relies on insects for food. The wetland could be a great place for them to breed because it likely has lots of insects during the warmer months, Dr. Baral explained. He said that over 100 of these graceful birds have decided to spend their summers here, and some are raising their young. This has become a delightful sight for birdwatchers, he added

However, Dhungana said, “It is essential to remember that getting too close to the birds' nests can disturb their environment and violate international wildlife photography guidelines. To ensure the safety and well-being of these magnificent creatures, we encourage all visitors to maintain a respectful distance while observing them.” 

Dhungana shared a concerning incident where some photographers inadvertently caused a Whiskered Tern to abandon its nest. While the individuals responsible have apologised for their actions, it serves as a reminder of the need for public awareness and responsible behaviour in the presence of these fragile birds.

No official population survey has been conducted for the Whiskered Tern in this region. The previous record of over 400 birds near the Koshi Barrage in 1982 remains the largest population sighting to date. However, recent observations near Jagdishpur have seen a revival of interest in this charming species, he said.

As the Whiskered Terns continue to grace the skies and waters of Jagdishpur Wetland, bird enthusiasts and conservationists hope that their presence will inspire greater efforts to protect and preserve this fragile ecosystem, experts said.

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