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Madurai gets rare winged visitors

Yellow Bittern  

Members of Madurai Nature forum (MNF) are excited over their recent bird sightings in tanks and fields around the city. Ever since they started a detailed bird and biodiversity study five months ago, the birders have listed more than 10 species of birds that are said to be rare visitors to the region. “We had surprises in almost every bird walk we took to the various water bodies in the district. Some of our sightings were the first or second records in the entire State,” says N. Raveendran, bird watcher.

“Most of these are shy birds and not easy to sight or capture on camera. Many a times, we can only identify them with their calls. But, we were lucky to have seen and photographed them,” says Tamil Dasan, MNF member. “The forum members put in lot of effort to document the rare species. This should help to create awareness about environment and nature among the general public,” hopes Ophthalmologist and senior Bird watcher, Dr. T. Badri Narayanan, who is an advisory member of the forum.

Dr. Ravi, a veterinarian and an avid birder, recounts how the members waited well over three hours at the Vandiyur Tank to click the Clamourous Reed warbler, a rare migratory species that winters in peninsular India. “We identified it through its loud and far-crying call. Thankfully, a linear patch of reed bushes in the tank-bed is left intact without encroachments and the birds were found nesting in those bushes,” says Ravi. The rare-visitors to the Temple town included - Rudy Shelduck, commonly found in the wetlands of Northern India, Thick-billed warbler, an insectivorous bird that breeds in temperate East Asia, Siberian Stonechat belonging to flycatcher family, Greater Painted-Snipe, a wader, Striated Heron, Tawny-bellied Babbler and water-birds such as Black and Yellow Bittern, Water Cock and Rudy Breasted Crake.

“Of these, the bitterns were mostly sighted in flight, as they are generally active restless birds. This is the first time Water Cock was photo recorded in Madurai District. Certain resident birds such as Streaked weaver are also uncommon to find,” says Raveendran. “As we uploaded the data on e-bird website and our Facebook page, many birders from across the country were surprised that Madurai has such a vibrant bird life,” he adds. The birds were sighted at Malai Urani Tank at Sivarakottai, Samanatham and Kilankulam tanks on the Ring Road, Nesaneri at Tirumangalam, Siddhar Natham tank and Kakauthu at Nagamalai and Vandiyur Tank. Apart from these, the paddy fields at Kallikudi and Vadakarai near Sholavandan are said to be good catchment areas for birding.

Dr. Badri Narayanan says, “Birds that migrate from central Asia and Siberia are considered uncommon in our region, as Tamil Nadu falls at the southern most tip of their migratory route and the birds very rarely venture down south. Few members of the species may deviate to fly South due to various reasons. This phenomenon is called vagrancy.” He adds that he had sighted Tuft ducks and Common Pochard at Urappanur and Kunnathur tanks two decades ago. “I go birding at the tanks regularly but I haven’t spotted those birds after that.” Similarly, Pied Harrier remains elusive to him. The last time he saw a male bird at Vandiyur tank was 25 years ago. “One doesn’t know of if the rare visitors will become regulars to the region,” he says.

Great Backyard Bird Count

For the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count that is observed world over from February 13 to 16, Madurai Nature Forum has planned to conduct campus bird counts at various schools, colleges, offices and factory campuses. “This is to involve students and youngsters in birding. We aim to initiate birding or nature clubs in institutions and introduce nature walks as a hobby among the youth,” says Raveendran. “The count will also help people assess how nature-friendly or green their campus is. For instance, not many would know that the Madura College is the only campus inside the city limits to have peacocks. I have sighted over eight peacocks that shuttle between the college campus and the nandavanam of Koodal Azhagar Perumal Temple that is situated nearby.” The American College, Madura College and Vivekananda College are some of the institutions that have roped in the forum members to conduct the bird count at their premises.

The surprise visitor to Madurai

Of all the rare bird species identified, birders point to this one bird as the most prized sighting. It is the elusive Blue Throat, a migratory insectivorous species that breeds in bushy swamp. “We couldn’t believe our eyes when we spotted the bird at Malai Urani in Sivarakottai. It is the rarest of the lot, as no records or books list Blue Throat under Tamil Nadu birds,” says Raveendran. “In the past five years, the bird has only been sighted thrice in the state. Ours is the third record, after one each in Coimbatore and Tirupur.” The small bird migrates from Central Asia and Europe during winters to North Africa and Northern India. Called ‘Neel Kant’ in Hindi and compared with Lord Shiva because of the blue throat, it is called ‘Neela Kandan’ in Tamil.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 11:53:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/madurai-gets-rare-winged-visitors/article6887282.ece

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