”Did he do it, did he do it?” the cries were distinct and clear in the briny air near the Buckingham canal. We spotted the red wattled lapwing that screeched his “accusation” as he was ferociously being chased by crows. We learnt that this was a trick of the lapwing to deviate the crows from the precious store of eggs that were laid on the rocks. They sit on another rock away from the “egg rock” and hoodwink the crows.

This was one interesting episode that the birders witnessed on the Bird Race that was held recently. The race started a little later in the day for this special team (for the others it was from six am. to six pm). Four kids from the Spastic School along with their helper-friends from the Mctm Chidambaram Chettiyar M.H.S.S., in three cars were first ready to take on the birds in the Pallikaranai Marsh.

“I saw lots of ducks” said Prakash smiling shyly at me. Little grebes, Pond herons with their peculiar hunch-backed stance were the visitors that day in the water body, apart from the hordes of egrets. A white breasted kingfisher was a bonus sight.

A dash down ECR road, towards Kovalam proved more fruitful. At the Buckingham Canal stretch, there were swifts and swallows flying about while painted storks, a group of whimbrels and a lone pelican enjoyed the waters. The field books were shown to the kids from the Spastic school. As their eyesight is rather weak, focussing on long distanced objects, even through the binoculars is not too easy. Therefore, looking at the field guide to birds at close quarters was important as they would link the picture of the bird to the actual bird. This was how Tariq was able to identify the pelicans all on his own.

Prakash, Rakesh, Tariq and Rohith belonged the Nature club in their schools and were enthusiastic about the tree walks and the tree surveys they had participated in. By touching the trees they were confident about what they were doing. They were also part of the “waste audit” in their school. Four waste bins were kept for the different types of rubbish, the bio gradable and the non bio gradable. But sadly, the man who came to collect the rubbish mixed them all up.

But speeding to the different destinations, peeing through the bino, spotting the birds and then off again, lent much excitement that was immensely enjoyed along with the munching of snacks. And the next stop was Adayar Poonga. Shamnad, Shanmugam, Meera and Saranan the students from the Mctm school, helped them on the wheelchairs and made their way to the small lake. Comorants, common moorhens and a pair of pied kingfishers were spotted. But then, the day came to a close too soon for some and it was time to head back to the Hotel Savera, for the finale of the Bird Race.

Around 41 teams registered and 33 teams came back with their log books on time! The Bird of the day was the Ruddy Breasted Crake. Some interesting rare birds like the Red munia, Lesser Whitethroat were spotted. There were contestants who had come all the way from the Palani foothills to participate in the race. Hilarious moments were part of the race like when a team spotted an ostrich which turned out to be in a farm and tree pies were confused with “tree pipes.”

Bird spots

Chennai has several places for bird watching. They include:

Guindy National Park: Located at Adayar. Entry into the park requires written permission from the Forest Ranger, whose office is located to the adjacent Childrens' Park. Phone number of the Rangers office (may need to speak in Tamil): 044-22301328

Indian Institute of Technology, Madras: Located at Adayar. Entry is restricted. Contact Prakriti, IIT Madras Wildlife Club or the IIT security section. Walker's passes are issued by the security section on request.

Pallikaranai marshes: Marshland near Thoraipakkam. Is a protected area, but usually can go there.

Nanmangalam reserve forest: Protected forest. Birders can walk in, but Forest guards may deny entry without permission.

Do’s and Don’ts on a trip

Wear sober/neutral coloured clothes (preferably dull greens, browns, khakhis, greys), that are comfortable

Ensure that there are no loose flapping pieces of clothing that are likely to get caught in the bushes and undergrowth

Wear comfortable shoes appropriate to the trip (walking/trekking)

Bring a water bottle and cap

Bring medicines (if prescribed by your doctor)

Bring Binoculars (recommended) cameras (if needed)

Bring your own mugs and spoons in order to avoid creating unnecessary trash in the places we visit.

Carry a plastic bag for non-biodegradable litter.

Keep your mobile phones on silent/vibration mode if you must bring it along (best to leave it at home!)

Travel light.

Don'ts

Bring expensive jewelry/things that might cause anxiety during the trips

Use soaps with a strong scent during trips into forests.

Wear strong perfumes or deodorants during the trip

Go off trail, or separate from the main group

Play loud music or indulge in loud talk.

Leave any trash behind. Carry it all back to the nearest big town for disposal.

Website: http://www.indiabirds.com/