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Mumbai: Birders record rare owl in Andheri after almost 90 years

02:13 AM Oct 28, 2021 | Dipti Singh

A chance rescue of a bird way back in 2015 has now turned out to be an exciting revelation for the researchers and rescuers of the bird. The bird they rescued was a Eurasian Scops owl that had documented its presence in Mumbai after 90 years. Eurasian Scops Owl is considered a vagrant (those birds spotted outside their expected breeding spots) to Mumbai and the bird was first collected back in September 1891 followed by October 1925 with no recent records.

After working on identifying the owl which looked different from the other species of owls, the group decided not to jump to any conclusion and research further. They waited for over five years and scanned through the historical records available, to see if the bird was ever recorded before to document it in the scientific note. Based on the historical data, they prepared a note which got published on October 18, 2021, in the Indian Birds Ornithology Journal volume 17 No.5.

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On November 28, 2015, a Eurasian Scops Owl was found in the residential area of Sher-e-Punjab Colony near Gyan Ashram in Mumbai. Harassed by crows, the owl made its way into one of the apartments there for shelter, the rescuers said. The exhausted owl was rescued and kept under observation for a couple of hours before being released.

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The group photographed the rescued bird for research and documentation purposes after they realized that it was comparatively smaller than even the common myna. It had ear-tufts and yellow irides.

Peninsular India has two resident species of Scops Owls, the Indian and the Oriental Scops Owl and the Pallid Scops Owl.

One of the rescuers Yogesh Patel, who is also a naturalist and wildlife photographer said, "Our team of rescuers from NGO SARRP (Spreading Awareness on Reptiles and Rehabilitation Programme) having Kaushal Dubey, Prabhu Swami and myself as members had rescued an owl from Andheri East. The owl looked different by its small size and appearance. Hence we decided that the best would be to document the bird by capturing all possible images before releasing it."

Later on, Patel scanned and checked the historical records and verified the key characters. He also shared the photo of the bird and details via email to Krys Kazmierczak a British ornithologist with extensive knowledge of birds and birding in the Indian subcontinent having lead many bird tours in the region. Patel and his group managed to gather information and identified the bird as a Eurasian Scops Owl.

"Later we referred to the handbook written by a well-known Indian ornithologist and naturalist popularly called the 'Birdman of India', Dr Salim Ali. " The handbook documented the presence of the bird stating that it was first collected back in September 1891 followed by October 1925 with no recent records until 2015, a gap of almost 90 years later, the bird was documented by us in Mumbai," Patel said.

He added, "During our research, many people did claim to have seen the bird in Mumbai. However, there has been no proven documentation or photos of these claims. We too might have missed upon this important record like this if we would have failed to document things well. We took photos and noted key characteristics of the bird before releasing it the same evening. However, we lost the data due to some technical glitch. It was only after a year that I managed to recover the data with photos," said Patel

Others involved in the rescue and research are Shreya Sahu, a naturalist and zoology lecturer, Swapnil Gosavi, a marine biologist, who has worked extensively on marine invertebrates, Prabhu Swami and Kaushal Dubey who are naturalists and wildlife rescuers.

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