Re-sighting of a Chinese flagged Great Knot in Mannar, Sri Lanka

From Sampath Seneviratne Avian Evolution Node/Univ. of Colombo.


Mannar wetlands

Mannar Island is located in the arid northwestern coast of Sri Lanka, bordering the southern edge of the sensitive Palk Bay Marine ecosystem. Almost a million waterbirds spend the winter every year in Mannar’s wetlands, which consists of tidal mudflats, salt marshes, shallow lagoons with mangrove forests, salt pans, freshwater marshes and lakes.  Mannar covers about 200 sqkm in area, and projects northwesterly from mainland Sri Lanka to the Rama’s bridge/ Adam’s Bridge – a chain of sandy islands where large numbers of terns breed annually. Mannar is a migratory gateway which funnels the high and sub-arctic breeders to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is the southernmost tip of the Central Asian Flyway (CAF).

Sri Lanka is located at the at the southern edge of the Central Asian Flyway.

Mannar is undergoing a rapid change. Its wetlands are being encroached and utilized for carelessly planned development activities. A new development scheme of ADB funded wind turbines is coming up – a series of windmills are being erected along the western coast of the island and the associated power lines move right across the Vankalei mudflats – the largest wintering ground in Mannar – which is also a Ramsar site. This was the same site where one individual of the extremely threatened Spoon-billed Sandpiper was recorded in June 2018. Furthermore, the one and only freshwater lake that is found within Mannar island, the Korakulum lake is threatened due to illegal encroachment. Korakulum, lacking any kind of protection at the moment is among the most preferred foraging grounds of the migrant ducks which easily exceed 6000 individuals at any given time. And the sandy islands of Rama’s Bridge where close to 10,000 individuals of nationally endangered seabirds breed every year are roamed by feral dogs – causing devastating effects on the colonies of these ground-nesters.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Vankalai Sanctuary in Mannar, Sri Lanka, on 06 June 2018. Darshana, T. W. R., 2018. Rediscovery of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea in Sri Lanka after 40 years. Indian BIRDS. 14 (4): 111–112. © Ravi Darshana.

Great Knot F132608 H29 was banded on April 22nd 2014 in Chongming Dongtan, Shanghai, China as an adult

The Great Knot is a rare migrant to Sri Lanka. However it is an uncommon and a regular visitor to Mannar. Among these regular flocks of Great Knots, last week, a photographer named Debunkur Biswas, had captured a flagged bird. Black over White H29. Tracing back to its origin by contacting Russian and Chinese teams, we were told by Wu Wei (Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve, Chongming, Shanghai) that it was banded on April 22nd 2014 in Chongming Dongtan, Shanghai, China as an adult.


H29 Great Knot photographed by Debunkur Biswas, last week in Mannar. The bird was banded on April 22nd 2014 in Chongming Dongtan, Shanghai, China as an adult. © Debunkur Biswas.

The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL), which is the BirdLife partner in Sri Lanka is a conservation organization located at the Department of Zoology, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. FOGSL runs the National Bird Ringing Programme for Sri Lanka in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife Conservation. FOGSL as part of their banding programme has a research project on shorebird migration in Mannar. We have a banding station and a local field station where graduate students, wildlife officers and general public band and study shorebirds.

So far, we produced 04 banded Great Knots from Mannar. The first 03 birds which were banded in January 2019 were resighted every month since then, till June 2019. They were regularly seen in a flock of ~20 birds. Resightings were made again in October 2019 when a flock of 75 individuals appeared back to the same mudflat. We are planning to deploy GPS tags on some of these birds in the spring before they head north for breeding to track their exact migratory paths and to map the boundary of CAF, from a Sri Lanka standpoint.


Sampath Seneviratne PhD

Research Scientist – Molecular Ecology | Evolution | Ornithology

Department of Zoology & Environment Sciences,

University of Colombo

Website: Avian Evolution Node: