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Now the chestnut-winged cuckoo has more pit stops in and around Chennai 

A passage migrant in these parts, the species is spotted while it makes its way down the Coromandel Coast towards its wintering habitats further south and in Sri Lanka. This season, it has been sighted in newer spots around the city 

January 23, 2023 12:21 pm | Updated January 26, 2023 10:20 am IST

A dash of colour to Puzhuthivakkam lake

Aravind AM works for habits that have worked for him: He protects them from everyday concerns and fits them into his workaday plans, even amidst overwhelming work schedules. The morning walk is one of those habits, as it has brought him multiple benefits — physical fitness and a fly-in-the-wall engagement with birds, thanks to the binoculars and the telephoto-lens-fitted camera he unfailingly carries with him.

Also a stickler for patch birding, Aravind has always inked the Puzhuthivakkam lake into this walks, irrespective of where in Chennai he resides.

“When I resided in Madippakkam, the lake was a thirty-minute walk away. Now, from Velachery, it is a one-and-a-half-hour walk away.”

Only the distance has changed, not his fascination for the lake.

This faithfulness has been richly rewarded, particularly this birding season. On January 13, he sighted a chestnut-winged cuckoo, a passage migrant in these parts, in the greenery along a bund of the waterbody. It was a first for the lake. This cuckoo is now an integral part of his morning walk.

The bird was found at the Puzhuthivakkam lake on January 13, and has continued to be present in that space to this day.

“The first day, I spent an hour watching the bird; and after that, I knew where exactly I had to wait for it; and when.”

In the mornings, he has been seeing the bird after 7 a.m. and once found the bird “at its post”, when he returned to the lake around 8.30 a.m. In the evening hours, he has seen the bird between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

The chestnut-winged cuckoo’s presence is clearly doing much for Aravind’s physical fitness.

“The bird moves around a patch of greenery consisting of a moringa, two papaya and one neem tree — usually while feeding. One day, I saw it take ten to 12 caterpillars from the moringa tree. I have also seen it feeding on tree barks. I have seen the Coucal do it (the Coucal is also a member of the Cuculidae family). Once it has had its fill, the bird retires to a prosopis juliflora thicket. Mobbed by drongos, it would leave the comfort of the prosopis juliflora thicket. On two occasions, I also saw a flock of babblers flushing the chestnut-winged cuckoo out of the thicket,” Aravind gives an engaging summary of his observations.

Apart from giving the idea that the chestnut-winged cuckoo is beginning to sink deeper into love with Chennai, these observations about the the bird at the Puzhuthivakkam lake also illustrate the fact that a stickler for effective habits is bound to watch others’ effective habits just as closely as they do, theirs.

The bird’s romance with Nanmangalam continues

For the last four years, a widely-held view among birders is that the Nanmangalam reserve forest is a favourite pit stop for the chestnut-winged cuckoo, a passage migrant for Chennai.

The chestnut-winged cuckoo has always done everything it could to bolster this conclusion, and this year has not been any different.

While the bird has been showing Chennai residents this year that it has other cherished hangouts within the metro, it has simultaneaously increased its visibility in Nanmangalam.

Jithesh Babu, a resident of this locality and a member of a group of birders who have been documenting the species in these parts year after year, notes: “One of us, Kumaresan Chandrabose has had sightings of this bird eight times so far. Two birds — one adult and the other juvenile, to all appearances — seem to be in attendance at Nanmangalam.”

This group has been watching the chestnut-winged cuckoo around the migratory season, on the fringes of the forest accessible through a gated community (where one of them, Sriram, lives) and on the side of the forest overlooking the Nanmangalam lake.

Jithesh notes that Leo Vino, Kumaresan and he sighted a chestnut-winged cuckoo at Karikili on January 8, adding fuel to the speculation that the bird is open to adding greater surface area to its pitstops.

Kumizhi: Taking to the hills?

At the time of this article going to print, there was a call from birder Sundaravel Palanivel about a chestnut-winged cuckoo sighting at Kumizhi, near Gudivanchery, in the morning of January 21. Kumizhi has around a dozen hamlets ringed by hills. Sivakumar Shanmugasundaram and Sathyakumar Shanmugasundaram, brothers; and Sundaravel Palanivel had sighted the bird and documented it.

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