Mrs. Shakti & Mr. A S Bishnoi

Point Calimere: Journey to a Bird Paradise

Point Calimere: Journey to a Bird Paradise

Since the day I first saw a migratory bird near Vishakhapatnam airport, my interests in watching migratory birds have increased manifold. When the busy, rusty and boredom inducing life style in the concrete jungles of the cities with its attendant problems of honking and smoke laden air wears down your mind and body, it is time to escape. And there is perhaps no better way to escape than get behind the wheel to visit a wilderness place to indulge in the fascinating hobby of birdwatching. We planned to visit Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary in Nagapattinam district, in Southern India, Tamil Naidu which is hub of migratory birds. Migratory birds arrive in Point Calimere from the Rann of Kutch, Eastern Siberia, Northern Russia, Central Asia and parts of Europe for their feeding season and begin their journey way back in January.

Flamingos in Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary

The courage to drive long distances comes when your hand is firmly on the grip of the steering wheel of a trusted motor vehicle. For us the trusted vehicle is an 8 year old Santro shod with Apollo tyres. This is not just an ordinary decision as my wife Shakti Bishnoi, who is equally enthusiastic in her love for the wilds and in bird watching, was 7 months pregnant and was accompanying me.

The started our journey winding through some fascinating stretches of paddy fields and villages – some vibrantly active and some serene amidst tranquility of nature. It took us 3 days of drive to reach Bombay Natural History Society Centre for Migratory Birds study, Pt. Calimere (Vedaranyam) after halts at Rajamundry and Chennai.

Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary

Point Calimere (Nagapattinum)

The Point Calimere sanctuary is situated in Nagapattinum District of Tamil Naidu. It is the only Ramsar site in the state, affirming its status as a wetland of global importance. The habitat of sanctuary is a unique mix of grasslands, mudflats, backwater, sand dunes and tropical dry evergreen forests. It also has salt pans spread across a huge area. It attracts a large variety of birds, not only local birds but also a number of migratory birds.

As we reached late in the night, after braving the storm Neelam which just touched the BNHS study centre. We woke up late, had speedy and steamy breakfast and went to see Point Calimere Wildlife sanctuary with due permission from Forest officials. We saw herd of deer and jungle birds as well.

Herd of Spotted Deer at Point Calime

The weather was clear and we headed out for bird watching. The birds in the Point Calimere includes threatened species such as Spot Billed Pelican, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Spoon-Bill Sandipiper, Black Necked Stork. Near threatened species include Black Headed Ibis, Asian Dowitcher, lesser Flamingo, Darter etc.

Bird Ringing

Third day onwards, we started observing the ringing phenomena carried out by Dr Balachandran, who has been working with BNHS since 1980s and doing this bird ringing for a decade. We could capture migratory birds i.e Black tailed Godwit, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank etc and resident birds viz, Indian Pitta, Common tailor bird, Asian paradise flycatcher etc and saw Ringing/banding. Captured birds were fitted with BNHS metals rings and biometric of birds were recorded.

Bird ringing with Dr. Balachandran of BNHS

Ringing helps to study their population, the breeding origin, migratory routes and stopover sites of select long distance migratory birds. The migration data collected for birds is interesting and educating. As part of birds banding or ringing we learned bird trapping using mist net, clap trap, technique to remove birds from mist nets and then how to hold birds without injuring them.

Carrying the trap nets to the field

All birds have different kinds of bands/rings depending upon their tarsus bone and accordingly a band is fixed while holding them safely. We were also taught about sexing and ageing by looking at the morphological features or by examining the cloaca. And more importantly we learned was moulting and taking morphometric measurements viz wing, bill, tarsus and tail using measuring devices and then making data entry in sheet for records. Birds after ringing were released at the place of capture but not in front of predators like Brahminy kite.

Brahminy Kite with prey

The BNHS has captured, ringed and released over, 2,00,000,birds during the course of several ornithology courses. The serious problem faced by migratory birds is that of poaching and hunting on their stop- overs. For example, the population of Siberian Cranes declined due to hunting when they cross Afghanistan and Central Asia.

At Beach

In the evening as the clouds cleared the sky, we headed for beach. There it was fun to see Heuglin’s Gull, Brown Headed Gull, Caspian tern, Lesser Crested Tern, Large Crested Tern, Whiskered Tern etc. We were glued to our Binoculars for atleast an hour with Dr Balachandran constantly guiding us and helping us to identify them. Since the birds don’t stop midlfight, we had to be attentive enough to capture the image in mind and refer the Field guide for understanding. We found that “A field guide to the birds of Pt Calimere” written by Shri Balachandran to be an excellent and handy book for bird identification. That evening entire course had fun to see almost all Terns we could within one hour. We came back and had nice dinner prepared by the dedicated staff at BNHS. With a happy note, early morning we headed back as per our plans. Some preferred to stay one more day. And why not, given an opportunity a avian lover would definitely prefer to stay more as the place itself is an enthralling and enchanting Paradise for birds.

bird watching by the enthusiasts at Point Calimere

Concern

Point Calimere, the traditional and famous wintering ground of waders and other waterfowl, has certainly undergone tremendous changes, which is evident from the salt water intrusion. The increase in salt content is primarily caused by extensive salt work (both edible and industrial salts) excessive pumping of groundwater by villagers, heavy/significant decline in annual rainfall; blocking of feeder channels to the swamp by extensive bunds raised for salt works. The degradation in soil quality is indicated by changes in traditional livelihood practices—rain fed agriculture replaced by salt works and fishing. This has affected the microhabitat diversity and therefore the bird population.

The Lessons

Visitors of any species are a joy to have around. We, as hosts must make it our responsibility, that they are treated well before they leave, whether they be two-legged or feathered. Birds contribute to the beauty of the natural world in their own incomparable way. They command our instant attention, whether seen close by or soaring high up in the air, radiating their joy of inner and outer well being. Can we imagine the world without the varied colours of our migrant –feathered friends? A world without birds is unthinkable, yet most of us take them for granted and pay scarce attention to their valuable ecological role as saviours of other life forms on earth. The statement “If birds die, we die” sums up this ecological truth with utmost brevity. It is therefore the paramount duty of everyone interested in birds to save them and their habitat, not only for their good but also for the good of our own selves and of generations to come.

Taking a break enroute

Gaining knowledge and developing awareness about wildlife particularly of colourful birds is not only entertaining but also helps in motivating people towards conservation. Also, the journeys into these wilderness areas remain etched forever in the memories. When you look back, you realise that each stop that you have taken while moving towards the destination was a moment of discovery, a moment of joy and part of life’s journey. As a responsible citizen of this earth, one needs to savour the joys and save these enchanting places for the future generations.  

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Mrs. Shakti & Mr. A S Bishnoi
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