As the season of migratory birds has begun, a large number of birdwatchers are spending their weekends in places like Vedanthangal and Karikili to catch a glimpse of the birds that fly several miles from their home to spend their holidays here.
Hopeland P,an independent wildlife researcher, says that as many as 64 species of birds were seen during the first round of birdwatching trip held recently. “During our trip to Vedanthangal and Karikili,people from various walks of life joined us to learn more about birds,” he adds.
On an average, more than 100 migrant bird species visit Chennai every year between October and March. “You can also spot them in Pallikaranai, Sholinganallur, Adyar estuary, Adyar Poonga, Pulicat,Guindy National Park and also in the campuses of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras,Madras Christian College,and Anna University,”says Hopeland,who also accompanies amateur birdwatchers to help them understand the basic concept of birdwatching.
FUN AND FASCINATION
Birdwatching is a fun as well as a facinating activity that helps birdwatchers learn more about them and their habitat. Sridhar Lakshmanan, who organises wildlife treks and heritage tours, says, “Chennai has a lot of birdwatching sites within the city itself. But most people don’t know about these spots and often go to other cities. We are planning our next trip to Pulicat.”
Christy Bharath, a writer and birdwatcher for the past five years, is thrilled to spot ibis and spoonbills in Vedanthangal.
Man-induced factors have added to the loss of birds’ habitat
“After I became a birdwatcher, a lot of things have changed in my life. I met quite a few interesting people because of the birding tours. The interesting part is, when I started writing about the birds in my blog, I even got job offers. My retirement plan is going to be just birdwatching,”Bharath adds.
It’s his love for macro photography that prompted Venkatesh Subramanian, a software professional,to become a birdwatcher. “This has given me an opportunity to be a birdwatcher and keep my passion for macro photography alive. But I had a pure birdwatching experience in Vedanthangal when we were accompanied by an expert. Earlier, I had a similar experience in Thattekad Bird Sanctuary in Kerala. It is always better to have an expert like an ecologist with you. Also, some basic preparations like reading and researching about the place, and knowledge on how each bird looks, really helps. We should avoid wearing flashy clothes and making noise while on the trail. We need to be attentive to the sounds we hear.”
Migratory birds and ecosystem
Migratory birds help in keeping the tropical breeding species under control. For example, insectivorous birds like warblers and flycatchers eat insects, mosquitoes, and flies. Hopeland explains,“A single leaf warbler eats an average of 180 insects every hour, or about 1,980 per day.Now imagine removing all the insectivorous birds from the area.In a few weeks, plants will start to appear ragged,with their foliage tattered due to the insect attack, and plants will produce fewer flowers and fruits as they are forced to spend too much energy in self-defense. This, in turn, will affect the eco system.Regeneration of forest will slow down as fewer seeds will be produced and dispersed and the ground will start to dry faster because the canopy is thinner and more sunlight gets in.”
Number of migratory birds visiting the city have become less over the years
Environmentalists and regular birdwatchers have noticed a drop in the number of migrant birds visiting Chennai in the past five years. Ram Balaji, an IT professional and an avid birdwatcher who has covered all the birdwatching spots in and around Chennai and Madurai, says, “Collectively, there has been a reduction in the number of birds coming down annually. The decrease may be due to pollution in water bodies.Also,we are losing out on so many habitats because of that. For ex-Pallikaranai is more contaminated now; it wasn’t this bad two years ago when I spotted greater flamingo there.One side of the place is good, but the other is polluted because people are dumping garbage there.Earlier, it used to be one of the places in the city where we used to see a lot of migratory birds;now,not even resident birds are spotted there.”
Hopeland says that spotting less number of birds doesn’t mean the birds are not there. “It may be because they are scattered.They might be going to places where there is better availability of resources, and hence, we are unable to spot them.”
Experts say that food, water and wind current play significant roles in the arrival of these birds. Hopeland adds,“The fluctuation in the number of migratory birds can be due to lack of food. Most migratory water birds are called waders;they prefer shallow waters which make it easier for them to catch their prey. Maninduced factors should have added to their habitat loss. Wind turbines, pollution and change in climate can also contribute to it. They are also susceptible to weather conditions and sometimes,drift away due to wind currents.”