Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Sand Martin and a White–cheeked Tern: Two vagrant species captured at Bundala National Park

During a bird ringing session carried out at the Bundala National park, a Sand Martin (Riparia riparia) and a White-cheeked Tern (Sterna repressa) were captured. Bird ringing session which was planned to capture birds at the middle of the migratory period was held at the Bundala National Park from 9th to 14th December 2008. This ringing session was conducted as a part of the National Bird Ringing Programme (NBRP) which is a collaboration programme of Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) and the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC).

Ringing session was conducted at the Bundala Salterns adjacent to the Bundala Lagoon that located within the National Park. During the netting operations in the morning of 12th December, a Sand Martin was captured on a net established to capture waders and terns. Large flock of Barn swallows was flying in the area from early morning but none was captured. It was not difficult to identify the species as a Sand Martin by its morphological characteristics. It’s prominent brown breast band, partial white collar that not going across the nape and sandy brown upperparts were helpful to distinguish it from the other similar species Pale Martin. Sand Martin is considered as a vagrant to Sri Lanka.

Large flock of around 5000 terns was roosting at the salterns during the period of ringing operations. This flock contained few species while the majority was Common Terns, crested terns and little terns. On the night of 13th December, we found a bird which was different from the other terns we captured so far, on a one of our mist nets. It was kept in a cardboard box until next day morning for the processing. Based on the morphological characters and the measurements, we decided it as a White-cheeked Tern. However, since it is considered as a vagrant and there was only one previous record from Sri Lanka we needed further confirmation on the identity. Fortunately, well-known ornithologist and Principle investigator of the NBRP, Prof. Sarath Kotagama and Mr. Rex De Silva who recorded the species from Sri Lanka (the first record), were at Bundala with the team of FOGSL members having a workshop on Waders. We arranged to examine the specimen by themselves to get further confirmation. After studying the bird and referring some books we had at the field, we all concluded that the species is the White-cheeked Tern. This is the second record of the species from Sri Lanka. FOGSL members who participated in the workshop on waders at Bundala also got the opportunity to observe the bird and photograph it.

Birds were ringed, photographed and released later. Both of these records are first specimen records of the species in Sri Lanka.

C.D. Kaluthota, Rahula Perera, Kasun Dayananda, Sameera Ariyarathna, Hasith De Silva and Dilshan De Silva of FOGSL and five officers from the DWC participated in the ringing session.

Reported by C.D. Kaluthota.


Mike Prince said...

Congratulations on two great records. Note that distinguishing Sand Martin from the tibetana or fohkienensis subspecies of Pale Martin is apparently very difficult, e.g. see Birds of South Asia, Rasmussen and Anderton (2005). Because of this I was unsure of some birds seen in Karnataka, south India in 2008: see photos on I haven't been able to find much convincing information about field id of tibetana and, in the absence of this, consider the birds seen by me, and the Bundala bird, to indeed be Sand Martins. I would welcome further information though.

Chinthaka Kaluthota said...


Thanks for the information and photos.

Detailed article on this record with the measurements of the birds will be published later.