As the annual migratory season winds up in our part of the globe there is just enough time to sight the flamboyant flamingos of Pallikaranai

They bend. They stretch. They move forward. They retreat. Then move forward again. All in perfect synchrony. The flamboyant flamingos of Pallikaranai are ready to fly.

Clearly, a mass take-off is being planned. About a hundred birds move in synchrony. “It’s a form of mass communication by the birds, indicating that they are fighting fit for a long distance flight,” says K. Gnanaskandan, avid birder and member of the Madras Naturalists’ Society. Over the last few years, the flamingos have made Chennai’s Pallikaranai marsh their winter home. Now, as the weather changes, they are preparing for their next flight. While some may head to unmanned islands close by, others will fly over 1,800 km to reach the Rann of Kutch, their breeding grounds and summer home.

Just past World Migratory Bird Day, observed across the world on the second weekend of May, the annual migratory season is winding up in our part of the globe. However, you still have time to catch the last few highlights of the year. For the migratory season was a particularly thrilling one. “We spotted 86 migratory bird species this year, including some not usually seen here,” says Gnanaskandan.

Right now, look out for the ruddy turnstone that flies into Chennai from South East Asia and Russia. This bird spends the day turning stones around with its beak, to pick up worms underneath. Lately, perhaps in an attempt to adapt to the reality of modern times, they have started turning plastic objects too. “To see them in action, head to the Pazhaverkadu lake. Here, you could also catch sight of migrants like sand plovers, sand pipers, black tailed Godwit, Eurasian curlew, terns, and Pallas’s gulls, most of them having flown in from Europe,” says birder Aravind Venkatraman.

But if you’re still hung up on those flamingos, head to Pallikaranai marshland. And while you’re there, keep a sharp lookout for waders, terns and grey headed lapwings. The Kelambakkam/Muthukadu back waters still host some gulls and terns. Further down the OMR, on the Siruthavur Lake, you can spot a few Eurasian curlew and Whimbrel from Central Asia and Europe. Meanwhile, the Adyar estuary is home to water waders from Central Asia and Europe, besides gulls and terns from across Himalayas.

The Sholinganallur and Perumbakkam marsh played host a few months ago to wintering ducks like the Northern pintail duck, Northern shoveler and the Garganey duck from Europe. “Bar-headed geese that fly at high altitudes across the Himalayas from Mongolia, have already left Pulicat Lake, but there are still some migrant flamingos, waders, gulls, ducks and terns there,” says Vinoba Anand, a birder.

So what makes this city such a hit with migratory birds? Proximity to the sea, to begin with. Then there are the many lakes in and around the city, the Adyar estuary, and Muttukadu backwaters, all of which enable Chennai to host these feathered tourists. Gnanaskandan adds, “What further encourages birds to stay here is perhaps the fact that cities like Chennai are full of bird-lovers who throng the city’s avian hide-outs. And this in turn keeps poachers at bay”.