Monday, October 30, 2017

SPOT the birds - Article on The Hindu Newspaper about wetland bird destinations (October 17, 2014)

After journeying thousands of miles across mountains, vales and rivers, migratory birds have flocked to Kerala’s warm climes once again, much ahead of schedule. Thanks to its long coastline, extensive wetlands and leafy forests, the State is an ideal winter home for these birds. Local birding enthusiasts, who have been tracking the movement of the birds for several seasons now, checklist destinations nearby where you can spot the birds in plenty this year. 

The evergreen lowland forest, part of the Kulathupuzha reserve, is a pristine ecosystem, packed with diverse flora and fauna, just an hour and a half or so from the city, on the Thiruvananthapuram-Shencottah highway. It’s the place to go in search of migratory forest birds such as Flycatchers and Warblers of various varieties. Birds such as Ashy Drongo and Paradise Flycatcher are important winter visitors to the area. “It’s a great birding site because it’s very easy to walk around in the forest, spot birds, hear calls and take photos,” says birding enthusiast and eco-tourism entrepreneur Praveen Muraleedharan. Count yourself lucky if you can spot the Indian Pitta. However, prior permission from the Forest Department is necessary before you venture into the reserve forest.

If you want to see shore birds in plenty then Poovar is the place to go. “The highlight of Poovar is that it’s an estuary. It has an extensive sandbar plus mangroves and quiet brackish canals, which has become a haven for migratory shore birds such as Gulls, Waders, Terns, Plovers, Shanks, Herons, and Sanderlings, to name but a few. Many of them fly down from beyond the Himalayas. Since the sandbar is largely undisturbed it’s possible to observe the birds at close quarters,” says Ramesh M.B. of Travancore Natural History Society (TNHS). Flocks numbering over a 100 birds each have been observed here during the past seasons. It’s best to hire boats manned by drivers knowledgeable about local avifauna, available from the boat jetty at reasonable rates.


Just outside the city limits, Veli is another great place to spot birds, particularly on the stretch of beach beyond the floating bridge of the Veli Boat Club. Most of the migratory shore birds that are found in Poovar can be found here too, given that’s it more or less the same kind of ecosystem. “The numbers of birds found here is often comparatively less than Poovar, mainly because food availability here is less thanks to pollution in the backwaters. Nonetheless, over the years, we have observed that it’s a place where rare species such as Saunders Tern and Little Tern choose to make their homes during the season,” opines Kalesh Sadasivan of TNHS.

Although construction has marred the shore of the once serene Akkulam lake and clumps of water hyacinth have choked large portions, many birds from afar thrive here during the season. Interestingly, both wetland birds and forest birds can be spotted here, given the plentiful green cover that surrounds the lake. “Over the years there’s been a decline in the number of Waders because of the destruction of sandbars, which they need for survival. Nonetheless, it’s a site where you can spot migratory wetland birds such as Marsh Harriers, Whiskered Terns, and Ospreys, apart from forest birds such as Ashy Drongos,” says Kalesh. “It’s actually less disturbed a spot than Veli. Last season a huge flock of Whistling Teals, numbering some 500 to 600 were recorded there,” says Praveen. It’s also a destination for regional movements of local migratory birds such as the Open-billed stork.

If you are serious about bird-watching then a trip to this bird sanctuary, a couple of hours away in Thirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, is worth your while. “It’s a vast wetland where you can see flocks numbering in their 1000s, birds such as Pelicans, Open-billed storks, Painted storks, Flamingos, Ibises, Lapwings, Plovers, Shanks… Since there is less of tree cover, it’s fairly easy to spot the birds,” says Praveen. Ramesh adds: “Koonthankulam is the centre for huge water birds during season. Spot billed ducks and Comb ducks have already arrived. Species like Bar-headed geese and Darters will turn up soon enough.” You don’t need permission to enter Koonthankulam but make sure to have a chat with the sanctuary’s resident birdman, Bal Pandian, who is a fount of knowledge on local avifauna, having, over the decades, studied the nesting, feeding, and other behaviour of several bird species. He currently has a checklist of over 203 bird species in the area.

Birding Dos and Don’ts

  1. Early morning or late evening is the perfect time for birding.
  2. Be as quiet and as unobtrusive as possible.
  3. Never disturb nests or handle eggs in the nests.
  4. Don’t use flash photography.
  5. Wear clothes in colours that blend with the environment, preferably greens and browns.
  6. Take care not to spray on perfume before you go birding. The smell can put birds off.
Original Article - SPOT the birds - The Hindu October 17, 2014


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