Unlike previous years, flamingos flock to the marsh; this could be an indicator of the wetland's health

This year, enthusiastic birders have not had to travel to Pulicat Lake, 70 km from the city, to catch a glimpse of flamingos. The Pallikaranai marsh now has scores of these graceful pink and white creatures, often seen strutting single file across the water.

According to an established theory, around 1.5 lakh flamingos migrate from the Rann of Kutch to Pulicat during the northeast monsoon. From there, they disperse to various parts of Tamil Nadu, most notably Point Calimere.

Earlier, Pallikaranai did not figure prominently on this dispersion map. Now, the map is up for revision.

A count carried out this month by a naturalist group puts the greater flamingo population at Pallikaranai at around 350. When this figure is set against those obtained from previous years, the picture is staggering.

“In 2011, a sighting of six flamingos alone was documented. In 2008, only one flamingo sighting was reported with documentation. In 2009 and 2010, there was no documentary evidence of flamingo sightings,” said K.V.R.K. Thirunaranan of The Nature Trust.

The incredible spurt in flamingo numbers at Pallikaranai, reported from November 2012 to May 2013, has led to numerous theories.

R. Nagarajan, of the zoology and wildlife department, AVC College of Engineering, Mayiladuthurai, subscribes to two of the better theories that are doing the rounds.

“One, when their regular habitats have dried up, flamingos move to other areas with sufficient water. Two, improvement in the quality of a wetland can lead to flamingo congregations. When they find food and feel protected at a wetland, they stay there. Flamingos discriminate between areas. Even if they find a wetland that is marginally better than the one they are used to, they make the switch,” he said.

The wildlife scientist also said efforts at protecting Pallikaranai marsh could have contributed to the increase in flamingo numbers.

Mr. Thirunaranan agrees. “Certain areas abutting the Pallikaranai marsh have been freed of human intrusion. For example, on the western side, which includes parts of Ambedkar Nagar, encroachments have been removed. This just shows what a haven for all kinds of birds Pallikarani could become, if the wetland is given the status of a sanctuary and provided with greater protection,” he said.

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