The call of the common coots punctuates the still morning air, a number of darters glide across the sky with their wings spread out, peacocks perch on the branches of the Karuvelam trees, a little grebe pokes its head out of the water and dives in back shyly… The Saamantham Kanmoi is a haven for nearly 15 species of water birds.
Several tanks flank either side of Madurai Ring Road and many native and migratory birds visit them in search of water and food. “I have identified over 75 species of birds in the area out of which 35 species are resident birds,” says N. Raveendran, doing a detailed study of birds in Madurai for the past two years. “In August, stilts and painted storks visit the tanks in thousands. Spotted Pelicans can be seen in hundreds almost every morning in the breeding season.”
“Some of these birds breed in the later part of summer and their plumage are long and colourful,” points out Tamil Dasan, a member of Naanal Nanbargal Kuzhu. Over 40 kinds of darters are found around the tank. “Darters spend most time in the water for fishing and hence their ventral side is darker than the dorsal. This is to hoodwink the fishes under the water,” points out bird watcher Dr. Badri Narayanan. He also notes the presence of Gull Bill Turns as significant. “By this time, these turns usually migrate up north. But it looks like they have stayed put even after summer.” Another variety called the Bronze winged turn is mostly found in the water bodies around Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari.
Spot bill ducks, moorhens, grey herons and the coots swim in the water, while Magpie robins, ibis and pheasant tailed jacanas flap their wings and make merry in the sky. A pied-crested cuckoo calls out from the bushes and doves walk around the banks of the tank. “Oriental wing dove and Eurasian Collar dove are the two kinds spotted here,” says Tamil Dasan.
A little away from Saamanatham is the Kizhankulam Kanmoi, another place, where water collects round the year and egrets, spot-billed pelicans and painted storks are found in many numbers. “Pelicans are shy birds. But they are huge, bigger than peacocks and when they land it looks like a flight landing,” says Raveendran. “Painted storks can be seen in the tank for eight months in a year.” Apart from these, a peculiar variety of Baya weaver is also native to the region. These birds are said to nest only in the reed (naanal) bushes around the tanks. Raveendran has identified nine varieties of raptors such as harrier, shikra, booted eagle, honey buzzard and spotted owl. “Black kite and Brahmini kite have become very rare these days,” he says.
People remember spotting brahmini kites in many numbers in the past when Vaigai was full. Sudakar a nature lover recalls a huge Banyan tree on the now busy Kamarajar Salai that had thousands of Black kites. “Unfortunately, the tree is not there anymore,” he rues.