CHENNAI: The cacophony inside the campus of the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) has nothing to do with the students there. It is coming from the backyard, where a lake and long trench are buzzing with large and colourful storks, pelicans and other water birds that are here to nest, and look ready to take to flight. Amid the hustle and bustle of the metropolis, this right here is peace.
The 50-acre campus in Pallikaranai was set up in 2000. “But these birds have been residents long before that,” says V Gautaman, scientific assistant at NIOT and an avid bird watcher who was spotting Pelicans through his binoculars. “That’s a Purple Heron,” he says pointing towards a bird that was busy scratching its back with its beak.
Spread across 20 acres in all, the unnamed lake and its surroundings inside the institute has been receiving birds including the rarely-spotted great cormorants, black-winged stilt, oriental pratincole, common ringed plovers, red wattle, yellow wattle, cattle egret, pond herons, grey heron, night heron, glossy ibis, black headed ibis, eurasian spoonbill, painted and open billed stork, pintails, shovelers and common teals during the nesting season - from September till March. “We also have seasonal birds like marsh sandpipers come in during winter,” says Gautaman.
“The number has only risen over the years,” says Dr M A Atmanand, director of the institute. “You must come in the evenings, the time these birds come back from their flight. That is the time when the decibel levels reach the maximum,” quips Atmanand.
While the other lakes and marshlands in Pallikaranai carry the eerie calm of emptiness, this lake was over-crowded and buzzing with their noise. “You must see during the peak months, you will be awed by the numbers,” says Gautaman.
“The best way to make the birds come back is by not disturbing their habitat, which is why we have left their surroundings pristine and undisturbed. There is no deepening of water beds or extension of trenches, it is just the way it used to be, and you can see the result, “ said Atmanand, with a big smile on his face.
City-based ornithologists, too, feel that the protected and undisturbed environment at NIOT has increased the bird inflow. “The birds have been coming before the institution was set up, but the number has been on a rise,” says K V Sudhakar, president of Madras Naturalists Society. “Unlike the marshlands around where they can only feed, here they get food and can nest too. They feel safe and protected inside,” he adds.
Over the years, everyone at the institute has developed a sense of attachment and responsibility towards the birds and their habitat. As the campus is receiving a substantial number of birds, officials are planning to conduct a survey to find out the bird flow. “It is something that few of us bird watchers want to do. This way, we will get to know the species and number of bird inflow here,” says Gautaman.
“Every year during our annual function, we allow everyone to come and watch the birds. Even the forest officials appreciate the beauty,” adds the director. Not many know about this though. For a few who do, this is a place where they find peace amid the urban chaos.