Birdwatchers on Sunday photographed a desert finch in Sirsa district, marking what is possibly the first sighting of this avian species in the country. As a passerine bird, native to southern Eurasia, the finch typically resides at higher altitudes in south-west Pakistan, particularly Balochistan. However, it has not been previously reported from India.

The incident created ripples among the birding community in Haryana and Delhi-NCR. The sighting comes on the heels of another significant recording in Faridabad’s Mangar Bani, where a Himalayan bluetail was photographed on November 21. This marks the perhaps the first recorded appearance of the bluetail in Delhi-NCR, although it can otherwise be seen in the hilly states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

The desert finch, which has been identified as a female specimen from its wing pattern and black bill, was spotted by birders Sanjeev and Shafina Goyal in the Nathusari Chopta, about 20 kilometres from Sirsa. “At about 8:30am on Sunday, I noticed a group of doves in an open, marshy area. One of the birds stood out and when I peered through my binoculars, I saw there was a marked difference. I was able to follow it for a few minutes and take pictures before it flew off,” said Goyal, who did not immediately recognise the species.

“The bird was finally identified by others in the community through my pictures. I also did a reverse image search on my photos and the results threw up a lot of finches. We were eventually able to identify it as a desert finch. I was extremely surprised since it has never been seen in India before,” said Goyal, who first took up birdwatching about seven years ago. “The finch was a purely lucky find,” he added.

The bluetail, meanwhile, was photographed by Pritpal Panjeta, a Gurugram-based birder who frequents Mangar Bani for walks and birding excursions. “On November 21, I noticed a bird which has a slight tinge of blue in its plumage. I initially thought it was a juvenile Tickell’s blue flycatcher, but after examining my photographs, I confirmed that it was a female Himalayan bluetail. This bird is usually seen at an altitude of 3,000-4,000 meters in summer. During winter months, it makes an altitudinal migration to about 1,500 meters, but it’s very rare to see one in the plains,” Panjeta said.

Birders speculated that cold weather conditions in the north may have driven these birds, both finch and bluetail, to the plains. Rakesh Ahlawat, a birder from Dighal village in Jhajjar who helped identify the finch, said, “Places like Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh have received fresh snowfall in the last few days. When it gets cold in the hills, it’s not uncommon for birds to travel to lower altitudes where it is warmer.” Ahlawat also said that the Himalayan bluetail has been previously seen in Haryana’s Kalesar National Park, though he was unable to recall the year of the sighting.

Others partially agreed with Ahlawat’s view. “I’m not entirely sure what brought the desert finch to Haryana. It’s a freak sighting. With the bluetail that was spotted in Mangar, it is likely that colder conditions in the hills drove it into the plains, but with the finch, we really don’t know,” said Pankaj Gupta of the Delhi Bird Foundation.

Asad Rahmani, a former director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and a veteran ornithologist, was also reluctant to speculate on what caused these sightings to happen within a day of each other. “It is certainly possible that colder weather has something to do with it, but we can’t be entirely sure. Birds move around for a lot of reasons. Nevertheless, the finch is a significant find. It is always exciting to add a new species to India’s checklist.”

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