Coimbatore Nature Society takes stock of the water birds at the wetlands of Coimbatore

A flock of Whiskered Terns took a group of birders by surprise. They were at Sundakamuthur or Perur Lake from 7.30 a.m. onwards counting wetland birds. “It was an unusual sighting. That’s the beauty of a bird survey. You never know what you are going to run into,” says G. Parameswaran of Coimbatore Nature Society. Members of CNS, split into various teams, took up the exercise as a part of the Asian Water Bird Census 2014. The census is conducted annually by Wetlands International in South Asia. In India it is being coordinated by Bombay Natural History Society and Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN).

The presence of terns, Parameswaran says, is also an indicator that the water at Perur Lake is unpolluted and that there is abundant prey that includes fish. As the water level is just right for the shorebirds, it attracted Spotted Stints, Wooden Sandpipers, Commom Green Shanks, and Plovers in large numbers.

Parameswaran’s team recorded over 250 little cormorants, 40 Indian pond herons, and about 50 little egrets, and Asian openbill or naththai kuththi naarai.

During the bird census, a group of four led by an experienced birder carries out the count of birds in a chosen wetland. “We begin with a checklist of the water birds we spot and then methodically count the number of every single species.”

Birder Saravanan Natryan calls bird census a scientific endeavour. “It’s different from appreciating nature or bird watching. We scan the lake completely from one extreme to the other end. Then, focus on one species and start counting,” he says. They carry a sheet with a list of birds and keep adding the number next to the name of a bird they spot. While Parameswaran with his spotting scope counted the smaller birds such as the shore birds and the ducks, his team of birders armed with their binoculars took note of the bigger ones such as the Painted Storks and Larger Egrets to name a few.

“Our teams surveyed over 25 wetlands of the Noyyal basin such as Kalapatty, Achaankulam, Kallampalayam, Pallapalayam, Kannampalyam, Sulur, Ramachandra Lake, Singanallur, Vellalore, Valaankulam, Krishnampathy, Selvampathy, Narasimapathy, and Ukkulam,” says P.R. Selvaraj, President of CNS. The preliminary observation is that global warming has affected the migratory pattern of birds. “We see a fluctuation in the numbers,” he says.

The survey of water birds is done during the winter as the migratory birds settle down to enjoy the weather here. They are largely classified into three groups as herons and egrets, ducks, and shorebirds. “Winter is the time where one can look at the grand diversity of the bird population. In Perur Lake alone, we counted 60 Spot-billed Ducks, 50 Northern Shovellers, 40 Northern Pintails, and good number of Garganeys,” says Parameswaran. Among the shore birds, they recorded Black-winged Stilts (35), Wooden Sandpipers ( 45), Little Stints ( over 80)… Some of the long-distance migrant ducks such as Northern Pintails, Garganeys, and Northern Shovellers that come from as far as Siberia were seen in large numbers.

Saravanan who was a part of the bird census team at Perur, Munthannakulam and Vedapatty Lake says very less number of birds are spotted at Muthannakulam and Vedapatty because of unfavourable water levels.

The objective of CNS is to tell people to look out for the birds in your neighbourhood. Parameswaran says the census is a starting point for a long-term study. It paves the way for a comparative analysis on the population of water birds in the wetlands. “You cannot draw any conclusion from a one-year study. May be over five years we might be able to track a trend. What we need to stress is wetlands are community assets. The birds visit wetlands during the winter when the water is clean and pristine. They use it as a base. Wetlands are not to be used as garbage dumps. Birds tell you with their presence whether a wetland is clean or not.”

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