Two cuckoos and four men glued to a patch

Four residents track the movements of winter and summer migratory birds at Nanmangalam to present a captivating picture to the wider world

Published - May 28, 2022 08:20 pm IST

Grey-bellied cuckoo at Nanmangalam

Grey-bellied cuckoo at Nanmangalam | Photo Credit: Pannerselvam Natarajan

The Pareto Principle has a stupendously huge surface area, one in which all the continents are subsumed. Is there any sphere of human activity that is insulated from its influence? In Nanmangalam, an informal group of four bird watchers prove the Principle, holding in their proud possession much of the data about migratory birds, winter and summer, to come from the region.

The Nanmangalam reserve forest is wrapped in civilisation on all sides, but nowhere is this fact as evident as on the Sembakkam-Hastinapuram Link Road, a densely-populated three-kilometre-long road. A part of the road lines the forest, opening up vistas of avian life for residents.

A warren of streets, tightly packed with houses, lead off the link road. But a vast majority of the observations about migratory birds visiting the peripheries of the reserve forest come from this four — Pannerselvam Natarajan, SN Sriram, Jithesh Babu and Leo Vino.

Though they may not coalesce into a bird-watching unit most days of the week, they do bring their individual observations to a shared table, a fact that has particularly helped track the toe-prints of the chestnut-winged cuckoo (CWC).

CWC is known as a passage migrant in Chennai, hurrying through the metro on its way to its preferred winter home, Sri Lanka. However, not all CWCs are inclined to follow this winter itinerary, and some do decide to cool their toes in Chennai for a longer duration, before moving on for a more extended sojourn elsewhere, but not in Sri Lanka.

Ornithologists and birders know this about the CWC just the way they might know a bird with one-tenth of a glance, thanks to the GISS factor.

And the four-member unit has sustained observations from the peripheries of the Nanmangalam forest that is believed to be buttressing this theory.

Chestnut-winged cuckoo 

Chestnut-winged cuckoo  | Photo Credit: Leo Vino

Leo explains: “The first sighting of the chestnut-winged cuckoo happened within Jayendra Nagar, a gated community bounded by the Nanmangallam Reserve Forest, in December 2018. It was being regularly seen by Sriram, who is a resident of the community, and we also saw the bird. The chestnut-winged cuckoo stayed in that area for two weeks. In 2019, the chestnut-winged cuckoo stayed in the area for one month. We learnt from senior birders that this particular bird sojourning here does not go to Sri Lanka.

We have always seen a lone bird: Whether it the same bird we have been seeing from season to season is a moot point. In 2020-21, the chestnut-winged cuckoo showed up on the lake-side of the forest. That is when a deluge of birdwatchers flowed into the locality. In 2021-22, we saw the chestnut-winged cuckoo but could not manage to have photographic documentation.”

During one of the seasons, Pannerselvam Natarajan managed a video of the chestnut-winged cuckoo.

Another cuckoo

The peripheries of the Nanmangalam receive another visitor, one related to the chestnut-winged cuckoo, but syncing its movements with the dictates of a different biological clock.

A local migrant, the grey-bellied cuckoo is unfailingly sighted at the Nanmangalam peripheries during the summer months of April and May.

A vast majority of the cuckoos can enter an avian contest for timorousness, with the grey-bellied cuckoo placed within striking distance of the prize any day.

The fact that the four have managed documentation of the grey-bellied cuckoo from year to year underlines their persistence as patch birders.

“The chestnut-winged cuckoo may sometimes be out in the open, the grey-bellied cuckoo seldom does so,” remarks Jithesh.

“I have been observing the grey-bellied cuckoo for the last 10 years. The sightings have always been on the lake side of the forest on the peripheries,” reveals Leo.

The fact that the bird sojourns in the summer months of April and May gives a misleading sense of hope.

During its sojourn at Nanmangalam, the CWC would show its face every day, as if it were fulfilling a requirement.

“Grey-bellied cuckoo sightings are irregular. It takes luck to sight one, and extraordinary luck to see two or three of them together. I have seen such a flock,” says Leo.

While he may attribute that to luck, he should also make sure that he congratulates himself and his three neighbours for sticking to the patch, and visiting it regularly to be around to receive that rare luck when it showed up.

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