There are more birds in Chennai than we thought…That’s what the Bird Race showed. NINA SIMON
With two bikes between four of us, Arun, Hopeland, Rajkumar and I spent our time after an unfair Saturday at college (they don’t call it a weekend for nothing!) criss-crossing the city searching for birds. January 29 was the bird race held by the Madras Naturalist Society and we were in a hurry to finish our homework and be free. Arun named our team “The Common Crows” as we entered the race.
“D day”: I never wake up in time; my college attendance or rather its lack is proof. So Arun had to leave home at 3.00 a.m. to wake me up! At 4.30 a.m. we were on the road, cold wind whipping our skin and the first bird we saw was the common crow! Soon we were on the East Coast Road on the way to Vadanamali Village.
As dawn appeared we searched the bushes for lark, whimbrel, curlew, sandpipers and other birds found near the backwaters. We ticked more birds than we expected on our checklist but a fast fading “flamingo pink” sky told us that we had to get back on the road. This time to Pallikaranai spotting 46 species and seeing an eagle hunt a snake and feed on it.
Next visit: Sholinganallur where we spotted wagtails, pintails and greb along with a few raptors.At 9.00 a.m. we passed through Nanmangalam to see the booted eagle. Reaching Ponmar by 10.30 a.m. we got to see harriers up close perched on the electric cables as we searched for paddy birds while allowing our bikes to cool down. We visited Arun’s old friend the barn owl at Vijayshanthi Apartments too. We then spent a stiff one hour on the 365-acre campus of Madras Christian College since we knew where to find the birds (we study there).
Above us a Montagu’s harrier hovered in the air trying to find prey in the dense scrub jungle below. We spotted the yellow wattled lapwing, which made our day! Hopeland had to write down the birds we spotted sitting on a moving bike because we had no time.
It was already 12.30 p.m. and our next stop was one—and –a- half hours away! We reached Vedanthangal and set ourselves spotting birds: in no time we’d ticked off painted storks, pelicans, open bills, cormorants, darters, greb and a whole list of water birds from our list.
We drove back to the city just in time for a rush-hour traffic jam. Looking like vagabonds we limped past the President Hotel parking lot trying to look a little bit more presentable only to find that we were not the only ones around. Kids of eight and 10 were talking about their passion for birds, rattling off bird names; and old men and women were acting like children comparing notes like secrets!
All through this race I had only one thought other than spotting birds: “would we win?” But now I realised it didn’t matter for the experience of driving 310 km and spotting 131 species and sharing my experience with the rest was a trophy in itself. After the meeting and dinner hosted by the Madras Naturalist Society each of us walked out with a treasury of tales and a satisfied smile.
Each of us had contributed to a conservation movement that might one day save the birds of our city. If you have ever heard the owl hooting at night you will understand the satisfaction I got that day!
Nina Simon is a IInd year student of Zoology, Madras Christian College
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