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In dry city, a hint of an avian oasis

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The Times Of India
16th April, 2019 06:48 IST
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CHENNAI: After the northeast monsoon skipped Chennai, avian visitors from afar were a no-show at Pallikaranai as most parts of the wetlands remained dry. A small 10-acre patch, however, had painted storks, spot-billed pelicans and purple moohens nesting and breeding in the trees around a small pond.

This little oasis is on the campus of the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), with plenty of water and little noise or other pollution. “We have left the place to nature, undisturbed and untouched. We were not aware that our efforts could reap such a result,” said NIOT director MA Atmanand.

NIOT scientist V Gowthaman, an avid bird watcher, said the number of birds was nevertheless less this year — down from around 800 every year to 500 to 600 this year. “It was a slow start to the season. The number of nests were also less,” he said.

According to environmentalists, at least 13 species of migratory birds come to the Pallikaranai marshland and the NIOT campus, every year. These are spot-billed pelicans, white ibis, spoonbills, cormorants, grey herons, night herons, painted storks, little egrets, median egrets, spot-billed ducks, green herons, pond herons and painted storks. Most of these migratory birds arrive between October and May for roosting and breeding. The only other places in the city where these birds could be seen were Perumbakkam and Sholinganallur, but they were only feeding there.

Bird watcher and retired chief photographer of the Geological Survey of India E Seshan said though the season started late in the city, it picked up later, as more birds came down south due to the severe winter in the north. “We spotted raptors like the Greater Spotted Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier and Osprey in Perumbakkam and around the marsh area,” he said. “There must have been a total of 450 birds.”

Environmentalists said the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary, which attracts more than 40,000 birds every year, saw only 2,500 birds this season due to monsoon failure and a dry lake. “Maduranthagam lake nearby would usually be the feeding ground for these winged visitors,” said KVRK Thirunaranan, Nature Trust. “Open billed, white ibis and pelicans are the first ones to arrive at Vedanthangal while painted storks are the last.”

At least 370 species of migratory birds have been reported to visit the Indian subcontinent every year, of which 310 predominantly use wetlands as habitats.

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