Part 02: Heuglin’s Gull (Larus heuglini)
We reach a key milestone of our bird migration studies in Sri Lanka, as one of our GPS-tagged Heuglin’s Gulls (nick named ‘Manike’) arrives back in Mannar, after completing a full migration cycle; a 19,360 km round trip to European arctic & back.
The Heuglin’s Gulls were GPS-tagged in Taleimannar, Mannar Island in April 2021, by our crew led by Prof. Sampath Seneviratne and Ms. Gayomini Panagoda. As one of the Heuglin’s Gulls (‘Megha’) departed north right away after the release, the other bird (‘Manike’) stayed back for 20 more days & left Mannar on late-April.
Travelling up to northernmost Russia, Megha was the first to arrive in his breeding site in Yamal Peninsula of Arctic region, by mid-May. Following him soon after, Manike also reached Yamal Peninsula, using a slightly different route: she crossed the Ural Mountains & entered European Russia prior to her arrival in the nesting site in Yamal Peninsula.
Staying there till late-August during the arctic summer, Manike was the first to turn back & begin the southbound migration. Megha was bit late for his southward journey: he departed arctic on early-October only. Manike who departed early, arrived back in Mannar, her winter destination first, on 4th November, 06 months & 09 days after her departure from Sri Lanka. With her safe arrival, she becomes our first tagged bird to complete a full migration cycle. She is also the first known bird to travel to European arctic from Sri Lanka.
The timing & distances she covered during this epic journey are as follows. She spent a total of 35 days (05 weeks) for her northbound trip in which she covered a distance of eight thousand kilometers (7,880km). Her southbound trip was slower: it took 91 days (13 weeks) during which, she completed a distance of eleven thousand kilometers (11,480km). This adds up to a total of nearly twenty thousand kilometers (19,360km) – the total distance she covered during her full migratory journey, from Mannar to arctic & back to Mannar.Megha is also at the final stages of his southward migration at the moment.
Heuglin’s Gull is a large white-headed Gull who is found only in the north-western and northern coastal regions of Sri Lanka, during the migratory season. It is a member of Lesser Back-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) complex, which consists of five similar looking gulls. The migration & breeding destinations of the south Asian wintering Larus fuscus Gulls are not well-understood. Manike & Megha are the first tagged large Gulls in South Asia. Therefore, the enormous amount of data that they carry will be invaluable in understanding the poorly known migratory behavior of these species.This study is a collaborative study which is led by Prof. Sampath Seneviratne (Principal Investigator) while Ms. Gayomini Panagoda works as the main Research Associate, conducting her PhD studies under this project. The technical partnership is between the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) of the Department of Zoology, University of Colombo (led by Prof. Sarath Kotagama) & the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences of Chinese Academy of Sciences (led by Prof. Lei Cao and her team). This work is primarily funded by the Palmyrah House (Pvt) Ltd. and the Vayu Resort, Mannar. The Wetlands International is also a partner in this study. The Department of Wildlife Conservation and Sri Lanka Navy are also providing assistance through permits and site clearance.