A ballerina’s winter programme in Chennai

A Forest Wagtail at IIT-M. Photo: Rama Neelamegam   | Photo Credit: Rama Neelamegam;Rama Neelamegam;Rama Neelamegam

The ‘dilscoop’ is a revolutionary stroke in cricket, over-the-top in its audacity and innovation. In the world of wagtails, the side-to-side shake by the Forest Wagtail is the equivalent of the dilscoop. While all wagtails wag their tail by bobbing their body up and down, the Forest Wagtail does it with the side-to-side movement of its frame. It is anything but a hurried sideward-thrust. It is a swaying movement, smooth in execution; so exquisite that it gets the bird to be compared to a balerina for having it.

In fact, that is the first thought that crosses ornithologist V. Santharam’s mind when I bring up bird. It is a strikingly handsome bird, with its markings drawing more comparisons, some cross-kingdom and some others, anthropomorphic.

Santharam likens the markings on its wings to the stripes of a zebra. A fertile imagination is likely to see a salesperson’s tie in the upper black band and the vertical stripe running perpendicular to it. There is also a lower band, which is broken, much like extravagant flourishes of the brush from an artist bringing his magnum opus to a close.

Though a winter visitor in Chennai and many other parts of peninsular India, this bird largely remains a hidden beauty, partly because it is a picky “home buyer”.

“It is bird of wooded areas, but it would not want to have it too densely wooded. It needs canopy, but it would want only the kind of canopy that would allow for some open floor,” explains Santharam.

For a long time it was that while the bird believed was wintering in south-western India, it would just be passing through the rest of peninsular India, including Chennai. A paper “True winter distribution of Forest Wagtail Dendronanthus Indicus in India” by R. Kannan, V. Santharam, Amrit Kannan and Vikas Madhav Nagarajan published in 2018 in Indian Birds, presented evidence that vigorously militates against this notion.

Santharam explains: “We summarised all our records of the bird in Chennai. It was thought to be a passage migrant in Chennai on its way to Sri Lanka. This is what many field books would say. At the time these books were compiled, there was not much information. We collated all our records, covering nearly four decades (1979 to 2017), in the winter months, and showed that the bird is indeed a winter migrant, though there is a lot of passage movement. They do pass through in October and November; and again in April and even early-May when there is a large influx of birds and they stay for a few days and move on. That way, the Forest Wagtail is both a winter visitor and a passage migrant.”

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 2:49:07 AM |

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