FIELD NOTES Environment

With winter nearing an end, look out for these birds

As numbers of some winter visitors dwindle, there are splashes of colour from elsewhere to keep the spirits up

For a good part of the mornings in Chennai now, the view is marred by a heavy haze effect. Recently, through a white film of fog, I sensed something bumbling through the branches of short trees overlooking the southern section of the Perumbakkam wetland. Following the clutter of claws on these branches, I saw a shock of brown and black settle awkardly on a redwood tree on the other side of the road. It was a greater coucal jumping from branch to branch with its characteristic two left feet.

Walking down the road in Sholinganallur that trots alongside the southern section of the wetland, I once again focussed on the waterbirds. And then it caught my eye again; this time, with its partner in tow. They were exploring this heavily wooded residential area, which is still sparsely populated. A few mornings later, a resident told me about the pair. The same day, I laid eyes on them again. There is a glimmer of a hope that I may chance upon these birds with their brood soon. In these parts, greater coucals are known to breed after the monsoon. The koels and greater coucals belong to the Cuciloforms order. However, unlike the koels, which are brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nest of other birds, usually crows, the greater coucals raise their young.

As a pair ranges over a really wide area, considering it their territory, they may build their nest far removed from their many stomping grounds.

However, knowing that these birds see the leaves of screw-pine trees as a great nesting space, I may take my luck with me to Thaiyur lake, where screw-pine trees grow wildly along the bunds. Well, birdwatcing is not only about patiently waiting for birds to show up. It's also about showing up wherever a bird life cycle takes it.


With winter nearing an end, look out for these birds

The other day, a bird watcher remarked that the northern shovelers have dwindled in numbers at the Perumbakkam wetland, which led me to focus my attention on this spatulate-billed dabbling duck.

The northern shoveler is one of the four migratory ducks that arrive in large numbers in our parts at wintertime.

This observer seemed to have got it right — their current number at the wetland is probably just one-fifth of what it was, only a month ago.

The northern shoveler displays sexual dimorphism, which is striking during the breeding season. The male northern shoveler is a riot of green, white and chestnut. In the rest of the time, during various periods, the male may lose its iridescent green sheen due to factors such as moulting. At some of these periods, it may take on a shade that is not too removed from the female's. However, at any time, the black bill and the yellow in the eye, serve as the distinguishing marks of the male northern shoveler.

Most of the male northern shovelers hanging around at this wetland still display some shades of their arresting combination of colours.


In the last column, I echoed birdwatchers' concern over fast-receding water levels on the southern section of the Perumbakkam wetland. However, this week showed that the situation is nowhere near as bad as feared. The section is hardly bleak. In the early part of this week, I witnessed a huge congregation of ruffs. On Sunday last, marsh sandpipers put on a great display.

However, the news from a boggy patch near Akkarai, where I have noticed interesting birds flock, is disappointing. It has gone dry, dashing my hopes of clicking some good photographs of the little ringed plovers, which have been flocking there in modest numbers of five or six in the mornings. Last morning, when I set foot in this patch, I felt like Thomas Moore, who expressed desolation the best way it could be in his immortal The Light Of Other Days: “I feel like one/ Who treads alone/ Some banquet-hall deserted!”

With winter nearing an end, look out for these birds

There is however a happy takeaway from this section, this season — An image of a spotted dove as it was perched briefly on the dead branch of what had earlier been a prosopis juliflora tree. This bird, which is native to our parts, is a necklace-wearing beauty. Judge for yourself.

Field Notes is a weekly column about the resident and winter-visiting birds of Chennai

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 9:25:40 AM |

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