The winter migration season has begun with sightings of these winged guests

“All migratory birds have patterns. Research papers show that the path migrating birds take is specific down to the tree in your backyard. If a bird stopped at that tree, generations after it will stop at the same one,” says bird watcher and naturalist Yuvan M. So what do Pulicat lake — on the Andhra Pradesh-Tamil Nadu border — and Pallikaranai marshlands — in Chennai city — have in common with Odisha’s Bhitarkanika mangroves and Gujarat’s Nal Sarovar? They are all well-known bird havens, and attract generations of birds like this. They are also major Indian locations on the Central Asian Flyway — a migratory route that thousands of species of birds take every year, extending across 30 countries, from breeding grounds in Siberia in the North, to Maldives and the British Indian Ocean Territory in the South.

The winter migration season has begun with sightings of these winged guests

Birds of a feather

That might seem like an extensive area to travel through, but the route that each migratory bird takes is precise and unwavering, even the points at which they change direction. And as of a couple of weeks ago, they have already begun stopping by Chennai. The tree in your backyard is one example, other, larger sites in Chennai include Odiyur lagoon, Kelambakkam and Kovalam backwaters, and Perumbakkam lake.

While October is when the earlier migratory birds begin to trickle in, it is around November that sightings really pick up, before peaking in January. No wonder, then, that Chennai’s birding community is getting ready for a number of bird counts that will take place over the next couple of months. “The largest every year is Bombay Natural History Society’s Asian waterfowl census in January, which Madras Naturalists’ Society [MNS] helps conduct in Chennai,” says Yuvan, an MNS member himself. “But before that, there will be a couple of counts held by online database eBird, including a Christmas count in December.”

You do not, however, need to be an avid birder or take part in coordinated, cross-country counts. As Yuvan points out, you can always just keep an eye out and notice migratory birds in and around your neighbourhood. There are already quite a few species to be spotted.

“We haven’t begun to see any warblers yet, but there are a fair number of waders, around the city, including a range of sandpipers and stilts. Pintails, which are usually the earliest migrants, have been around since August,” says Yuvan. “In Odiyur, there are already between 8,000 and 10,000 ducks, of five or six different species,” he adds.

The winter migration season has begun with sightings of these winged guests

Kovalam, he adds, is playing host to curlews including whimbrels, and golden plovers. Most of the activity, however, is at Perumbakkam for now, and for good reason. “That area is a mix of marshland, grassland and forest, and is also less polluted than other water bodies in the city. We have started to see a lot of godwits, a few openbill storks, some western marsh harriers, marsh sandpipers, wood sandpipers and common sandpipers. But we have not spotted any ospreys yet,” says Yuvan.

On the other hand, Pallikaranai in the past month had been host to residential birds such as spot-billed pelicans and black kites. Harrier sightings have also begun — these migrant birds of prey had caused some concern about their dwindling numbers last year. For this year, though, there is still time for the winged guests to arrive, and other spots in the region are more abuzz with activity. “There are a number of gulls and turnstones in Pulicat,” says Yuvan by way of example.

Things are almost certain to look up over the next two or three months — not just in Chennai but also around the country. A number of Central Asian Flyway spots have been recognised by the Centre as part of a conservation action plan.

Many of them are large enough to host congregations of over 1,000 birds of any given species for weeks. Numbers for many species are dwindling, and the need for conservation is on the rise year by year. But for the next few weeks, bird-lovers of Chennai have much to look forward to.

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Printable version | Jun 11, 2021 11:59:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/here-they-come/article29877347.ece

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