The morning sun dissolves into an orange squash in the waters of the Avaniyapuram Lake. Lanky coconut palms sway lazily over the droopy karuvelam thickets. Koels sing in tune with a woodpecker’s knock as a large flock of Rosy Starlings flutters across the sky. A lone Yellow Wagtail hops on the low-hung branches of a tree, while a family of Sandpipers rummages through shallow waters for insects and a Spotted Owlet lets out a muffled hoot.
The group of birders recently recording all this activity carefully wade through thick green sheets of water hyacinth, little knowing that a pleasant surprise awaits them. It dawns on them only when one of the birders notices an unusual ‘pink wall’ far in the middle of the sprawling expanse of water. “We immediately zoomed in with our binoculars: We couldn’t believe that we were seeing Flamingos in Madurai,” says Kumaresan Chandrabose.
A flock of at least 100 Greater Flamingos have made Madurai their temporary home, and the delighted residents of Avaniyapuram having been waking up to these exotic neighbours for over a week now. With striking pink plumage, long legs and a graceful neck, this beauty of a bird is unmistakable.
“Flamingos are usually sighted in Azhagankulam and Kizhakarai of Ramanathapuram district, Koonthankulam of Tirunelveli and Valinokkam of Thoothukudi in South Tamil Nadu,” says Raveendran Natarajan of Madurai Nature Forum. “However, last year, we recorded Flamingos in Kullursanthai Tank in neighbouring Virudhunagar district. Also, just a couple of birds were seen flying over the Thiruparankundram tank, which was the closest sighting to Madurai so far.” He adds, “To see Flamnigos in Madurai is a gift to the city’s natural heritage.”
“Fortunately, Avaniyapuram tank holds water for much of the year and that must have attracted the birds. Sometimes on their routes of migration, the birds choose to stop over midway if they come across a suitable spot,” says Natarajan.
However, this is not really the first time flamingos have visited the city, says Priya Rajendran, Professor of Zoology, Lady Doak College. “In 2001, I, along with a few birders, sighted a fairly large-sized flock in the Vandiyur Tank, which had abundant water back then. Shallow waters are a rich source of algae, insects and small fish, which form the major diet of these waders.”
Waders and water birds
“The participation of youngsters in the Pongal Bird Count and Great Backyard Bird Count has been overwhelming this year and we plan to take this forward to more colleges and schools,” says Natarajan. “We have started campus bird counts, and sighted owls and flycatchers in the heart of the city,” says Mrithula Rani, a student of Lady Doak College. Irene Daniel, who has taken a count of the birds in her backyard, has listed over 10 species. “I live in Park Town in the outskirts and it attracts a variety, including the Paradise Flycatcher, shikra and oriole,” she says.
Udhay Kumar, who has been birding in Avaniyapuram, Samanatham, Kizhankulam, Arittapatti and other suburban pockets of the town, has spotted over a dozen rare species of birds there. These include waders and water birds like Dunlin, Bar-headed Geese, Red-necked Phalarope and Temminck’s Stint. He says he’s also spotted flight birds like Pied Harrier and Brown-headed Gull, which have been seen here last decades ago. “The Red-necked Phalarope is the highlight of this year’s sighting, as it’s one of the rarest birds to be seen in Tamil Nadu,” says Udhay Kumar.
“The birds that arrive first are known as pilots who test the place. Over the next few years, they might get habituated and become regular visitors if they find it suitable.”