Chennai birders scan sanctuaries, backyards for avian life during Pongal bird count

The Bar-headed goose, the Eurasian oystercatcher and the Gadwall were some of the birds spotted in sanctuaries; over 180 species have been recorded in Pallikaranai

At the end of Pongal bird count in and around the city, birders have found the avian life to be alive and abundant, not just in the sanctuaries but also in numerous small water bodies and even backyards.

The Pongal bird count, which has been taking place in Tamil Nadu since 2015, is a model based on the Christmas bird count in Western countries.

Bar-headed geese seen at the Pulicat sanctuary  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The aim is primarily to encourage people to go around to water bodies near their residences, says P. Jeganathan of the Tamil Birders Network, who is the coordinator of the Pongal Bird Count. People can upload their lists on the portal, e-bird. Mr. Jeganathan says this is a citizen science activity that takes place for four days. Over the years, the statistics give an idea of the population and habitats of bird. Every year, the response has been tremendous, and this year many people did their bird watching from their homes. The compilation is on and the final list could take some time, he adds.

During the count, Nature Trust volunteers spotted the Bar-headed goose on the Andhra Pradesh side of the Pulicat, and the Euasian oystercatcher, both rare, on the Tamil Nadu side. Bar-tailed Godwits and Great knots were also seen, along with many waders.

The Long-toed Stint  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In Pallikarnai, 182 species of birds have been recorded despite the constraints, and the bird count is estimated at over 40,000 in number. The Gadwall, that was first noticed in south India in 2018, has been coming regularly to Palliakaranai for the past four years, says KVRK Thirunaranan, founder, Nature Trust.

Another interesting feature birders have noticed is that Melmaruvathur has become a successful habitat with pelicans nesting in large numbers. The delay in Vedanthangal bird sanctuary realising enough water has forced the pelicans to change their habitat to Melmaruvathur and the temple administration has provided facilities, they said.

Vedanthangal has 26 species but the number of birds now is lower compared to five years ago. “About 60,000 birds used to come but the numbers have dwindled to below 20,000 now,” says a regular birder to the sanctuary.

Karikili, a very old sanctuary and a paradise for wild ducks that gradually faded from the conservation map, is slowly regaining its habitat. This year about 1,500 Northern pintails have come.

The Terek Sandpiper  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Another birding hotspot in Tiruporur forest range is the Kelambakkam Kovalam creek that has Eeurasian curlews, Whimbrels and Ruddy turnstone as visitors. Greater flamingos, pelicans and painted storks can also be openly seen here.

“It’s not just birding — habitat is also important. It can be a backyard or sanctuary, and birders should also note down the threats to the eco-system and help in sustaining the habitat. This helps in conservation,” says Mr. Thirunaranan.

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