The Singanallur Lake has welcomed its winter visitors. But, why have their numbers dwindled? K. JESHI joins a team of birders to check out

A grey heron is the first bird we spot at the sprawling Singanallur Lake. As we zoom in on the bird, a beautiful purple heron comes into the frame and completes the picture. “Purple moorhen!” calls out a birder and we catch a glimpse of the bird as it looks for food amid the greenery.

At the crack of dawn, I am at the Singanallur Lake to watch the avian guests that have landed from as far away as Siberia and Eurasia. Joining me are members of the Coimbatore Nature Society, “During winter migration, Singanallur is where birds from the Himalayas, Northern Siberia and Russia land and then disperse,” says P.S. Selvaraj, CNS president, as we take a winding road to the farthest corner of the lake. He says the dense green bushes, reeds and flowering plants on the bund attracts many birds, butterflies and dragonflies.

Ashy prinias make a quick appearance and when we look up, we catch three wagtails in flight. Birder A. Pavendhan Bharathidasan points to a tree. He calls it the ‘spotted owlet tree’, as one can always spot the owlets there. A tawny coster butterfly flutters by drawn by the purple and yellow flowers. A small salmon Arab butterfly joins the show too.

Asian palm swifts and migratory barn swallows make a buzz in the air. “Palm swifts are aerial masters,” says birder G. Parameswaran. “Predators always cull unhealthy birds and you need them to keep the ecosystem going.” A milky white little egret with its yellow feet and black beak looks beautiful. There are greater egrets with yellow beaks and intermediate egrets too. Klik klik….goes the red-wattled lapwing and a yellow bittern, which belongs to the heron family, makes a flash.

CNS members discuss the migration of flamingos that fly from Gujarat to Point Calimere. N. Saravanan Natrayan mentions how the peregrine falcon (a raptor) follows the little stint (a shorebird, the falcon’s prey) during migration. “While hunting, falcons fly at 200 miles per hour,” explains Selvaraj. At the other end of the lake, it’s almost like a spot-billed pelican zone with hundreds of pelicans lazing around.

The birders point out that there is a fall in the number of winter visitors this time around. They mention the absence of shorebirds, wintering ducks and other water birds such as storks. The reasons attributed are habitat change and pollution of the water body. The lake is filled with water hyacinth that thrives on drainage, industrial waste and home-waste. “The vegetation chokes the aquatic ecosystem and it becomes dead zone,” says Parameswaran.

Selvaraj points to the hundreds of fish seen on the surface of the lake; this is an indicator that they don’t’ get enough oxygen. A sewage treatment plant is the first step needed to control the pollutants at the entry point, they say. Wetlands contribute so much to the ecosystem and environment and we need to conserve them before it’s too late, the members add.

They expect more birds once the water level recedes. Pavendhan captures the blue-tailed bee eaters, considered strong migrants. They have come from South East Asia, including The Philippines. As we return, we spot a northern shoveller, a pair of bhraminy kites, blyth’s reed warbler, a beautiful pink damsel fly and a joker butterfly whose face mimics a joker…..