Scouring the city for the elusive bush-haunting orphean warbler or spotting the dainty black shouldered kite was part and parcel of the adventure that unfolded for bird enthusiasts in the fifth edition of the Chennai Bird Race hosted by the Madras Naturalist’s Society (MNS) that kicked-off in the city in the wee hours of January 22.
Young bird watchers created sparks at the ‘dawn to dusk’ event that had participants jet set to biodiversity hotspots, the likes of the picturesque setting of the Pallikaranai marsh and the sprawling IIT campus. Armed with high-resolution binoculars and the quintessential guide book on Indian birds authored by world-renowned ornithologist Salim Ali, they scored high with their ability to observe the characteristics of the 200 diverse bird species that reside in Chennai.
The event began at 6 am with each group comprising four members picking out their favourite birds to name their team. The 41 motley teams which registered for the bird race literally raced against time to spot the maximum number of feathered friends, jotting each down meticulously in their record book to keep track of their findings that were later judged by celebrated ornithologist Shantharam.
Vikas Madhav, a Class 8 student of Shishya School and member of the Bridled Tern, the team that won the first prize for spotting 121 bird species shared his experience during the race.
“We went to Nellapattu and Pulicat Lake for bird spotting. I saw many birds like the peregrine falcon, ruddy shell duck and the common teal. I came across many rare birds this time,” confessed the eager bird watcher, who has been participating in the race for the past three years.
His team mate, Dr Bhadrinarayanan, senior member of MNS, who flew all the way from Madurai to participate, underlined the core theme of the event. “Bird watching is about good observation skills. It’s a simple hobby, you don’t have to go to a bird sanctuary to be initiated, it can start right in your backyard,” he noted.
The Bonelli’s Eagle team that spotted 117 birds placed second, the Indian Pitta that traced 93 birds bagged the third prize in the edition sponsored by HSBC this year that witnessed the second highest participation.
Green Birders of Olcott Memorial School
Of course, the highlight of the race was the ‘Green Birding’ category that had 11 teams pursue an environment-sensitive bird-hopping venture using public transport. The gung-ho debutants of Olcott Memorial School, Besant Nagar spotted nearly 62 species of birds and bagged the second place in this category.
“It was really exciting. Initially we thought of wrapping up with 35 species, then once we started, we couldn’t stop,” grins A P Madhavan, a Class 6 student and member of Golden Back Woodpecker team that traversed the Guindy National park, Theosophical Society and Pallikaranai to get their facts right.
Bird of the day.
The black-tailed Orphean Warbler was the prize winning catch of the race in the ‘Bird of the Day’ category that witnessed S Kumaran and his family bag the prize for capturing the rare sighting near Vedanthangal in the outskirts of Chennai.
Humour-filled feedback session
Founder of Snake Park and well known nature-educator A N Jagannnatha Rao, who presided over the prize distribution ceremony in the latter part of the day, entertained the audience with trivia on the unique characteristics of different birds like the Egyptian vulture’s gait and the nesting behaviour of weaver birds.