Gir is renowned as the exclusive habitat for Asiatic lions in India. Recently, bird enthusiasts made an unprecedented spotting as they identified a Chinese white-cheeked ashy drongo, which seemed to be a new member of Gir. 

On January 17, 2023, Bhavesh Trivedi, assistant program coordinator of the Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation in Gandhinagar, was leading a group of participants during a nature education camp organized by the Sky Forest Youth Club in the Batheshwar area within the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (GNPWLS). During this expedition, a bird sighting caught his attention, sparking his curiosity.

Bhavesh Trivedi, also the honorary wildlife warden of Gujarat, narrated - “Observing a bird resembling a drongo in shape and size, I noted a distinct difference in its plumage compared to the resident black drongo species in Gujarat. Capturing photographs for documentation, I revisited the Shingoda River area ten days later with Divyarajsinh Parmar, a school teacher from Surendranagar. Unfortunately, the elusive bird remained unseen during this second visit. Nevertheless, subsequent identification revealed that the bird spotted on January 17, 2023, was a Dicrurus leucophaeus leucogenis, commonly referred to as the Chinese white-cheeked ashy drongo. This is a specific sub-species within the ashy drongo species. 

Trivedi's documented bird sighting has been featured in the latest issue of Flamingo Gujarat, a quarterly journal published by the Bird Conservation Society, Gujarat (BCSG). However, in an attached note to Trivedi's and Parmar's article, Raju Vyas, the editor of Flamingo Gujarat, suggests that the bird observed in the Gir forest might be a white-cheeked ashy drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus salangensis) subspecies. Vyas emphasizes the need for additional evidence to conclusively establish that the bird sighted on January 17, last year, was indeed a Chinese white-cheeked ashy drongo.

While Bhavesh Trivedi witnessed the bird in flight, revealing its underwing coverts, he regretfully couldn't capture photos of this fleeting moment. "Regardless, this marks the first documentation of the white-cheeked ashy drongo or Chinese white-cheeked ashy drongo in Gujarat," states Prasad Ganpule, former editor of Flamingo Gujarat and co-author of 'A Field Guide to the Birds of Gujarat.' While Trivedi's identification is likely accurate, Ganpule emphasizes the need for independent verification through evidence. He notes that Trivedi's photos strongly suggest the bird was either a Chinese white-cheeked drongo or a white-cheeked drongo, both of which haven't been previously recorded in Gujarat.

As per Trivedi and Parmar's suggestions featured in Flamingo Gujarat, the ashy drongo encompasses a diverse range with 15 subspecies. Its habitat spans from Afghanistan to the southwestern Philippines, extending across the Indian subcontinent and reaching from China to Indonesia. The article details that the Chinese white-cheeked ashy drongo subspecies breeds in central, north, and east China, migrating to Cambodia and Malaysia during winter. Trivedi notes that several ashy drongo subspecies are present across India, except western Rajasthan, and are prevalent in most regions of Gujarat. 

Contrary to this, Ganpule pointed out that white-cheeked drongos have been documented only up to Madhya Pradesh. In contrast, Chinese white-cheeked drongos have been observed in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Highlighting that white-cheeked drongos are winter visitors to India, typically not extending beyond MP, he expressed excitement over the groundbreaking news of an ashy drongo subspecies being recorded so far west in India. The seasoned birdwatcher emphasized that while Gir Forest is often renowned for its Asiatic lions and leopards, this sighting underscores its equally rich diversity of bird species.