DIGBOI, March 7 - Maguri-Motapung Beel � an Important Bird Area (IBA) situated in Tinsukia district is a haven for both resident and migratory bird species. Every year birdwatchers from across the globe come to witness its rich avian diversity. On March 5 last, two local birders� Deborshee Gogoi, an assistant professor of the Department of Management, Digboi College and Porag Jyoti Phukan, an employee of Oil India Ltd, Duliajan went for birding at the beel with the prime target of photographing the critically endangered (CR) baer�s pochard, which is a winter visitor to Assam valley and lower parts of south Assam hills.
At around 4 pm, after sighting the targeted species, on their way back from the beel, they saw a bird in the marshes (27�34.491'N, 95�22.792'E) that looked like a crake. They took a few photographs of the bird that had grey-black crown, yellowish-green bill, and black eye stripe that intersects white patches on their eyebrows and upper cheeks. The bird had very large yellowish-green feet that allowed it to walk on lily pads. After a few minutes, they saw another bird in the same marshes that was probably a female along with a pair of ruddy-breasted crake and a rusty-ramped warbler.
The duo observed them sitting quietly on a country boat for about 20 minutes. The first reaction for both was that they have seen and photographed a new species in the area as the birds did not resemble porzana crakes which are found in North-east India. Later on, they took the help of the �OBC image database� to identify the bird as white-browed crake (amaurornis cinerea). This is the first record of the species in the Indian subcontinent. They were also accompanied by Dipankar Phukan, a local bird guide from Maguri.
The white-browed crake has an extremely large range of 3.6 million square km. It inhabits marshes and other wetlands in parts of China, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, New Guinea, Australia and most islands in the southern and western Pacific Ocean. Although no estimation has been made in the global population of white-browed crake, it is believed to be large and stable enough to warrant a conservation rating of Least Concern (LC). However, this is for the first time that this bird has been recorded in the Indian subcontinent.
According to Pritam Baruah, an avid birder from the region, �This species is not known to be a long distant migrant, so I wonder what brought it here! It will be interesting to know if it is expanding its range!�
Craig Robson, a professional ornithologist, author and artist, specializing in Asian birds said, �It�s amazing how this bird has spread its range in SE Asia already�. He further added, �It spread through continental Thailand and Indochina to S China in recent decades�. When asked about their sighting of the white-browed crakes, the duo replied, �It is a great pleasure to identify a bird that is new to the Indian subcontinent. It will be interesting to know whether this bird is a passage migrant, a vagrant or a regular winter visitor to this part of the country or is white-browed crake following natural species dispersal to North-east India.�