When birds of diverse feathers flock together

Six hours a day during weekends, Pavendhan and his fellow birders scour woods and jot down details to build a massive avian database. Their spadework helped Kovai to be front-runner in conservation data
A Pavendhan
A Pavendhan (Photo | Express)

COIMBATORE: The Blyth’s Reed Warbler, not bigger than a feathered thimble, bobs its flat forehead as it pierces its darktipped bill through the wind to undertake an arduous journey. The warbler requires no GPS; it embarks on a natural odyssey using the stars. Its path begins in the northern part of Eurasia, soars down in a straight line across the southern part of India, and finally settles into a wetland reed in the lush tropics of Coimbatore.

“About 13 centimetres long, weighing around 10 grams, the petite bird travelled more than 3,000 kilometres!” says A Pavendhan (57), a member of Coimbatore Nature Society and president of The Nature and Butterfly Society (TNBS). His team was credited with forming the first checklist for butterflies in the state. A native of Kattumannarkoil in the Cuddalore district, Pavendhan is an Associate Dean at Kumaraguru College of Technology (KCT).

Pavendhan stumbled upon bird watching in his early 40s after he came across an article on migratory birds in Coimbatore. His curiosity was piqued—how could such a tiny creature travel from one corner of the world to Coimbatore? Unable to shake off the inquisitiveness, he picked up an old Sony telephoto lens camera and travelled to the nearby wetlands daily with his kids to observe the birds and started recording every species he came across.

“As my species list hit 200, I had a rather accidental meeting with the Coimbatore Nature Society (CNS), which was taking a census of birds in the Singanallur wetlands. My sons encouraged me to talk to them,” he said. Since then, Pavendhan has been an active member of the organisation formed by R Selvaraj along with six others for bird conservation. The team sets out on bird and butterfly watching every weekend, spending a minimum of six hours a day, noting down data for analysis. This tryst soon led to a fruitful association of over a decade where they would go birding every week, “neither the rains nor the elections” stopped them. He soon realised that there was no exact data about the number of species, butterfly migration, and other aspects until then.

Hence, Pavendhan decided to start formulating them into data collection. With his active participation, CNS released its first checklist on bird census in 2015 with 321 species. Periodically, they revise the checklist after confirming the identification of new species. Pavendhan is also the lead author of Birds of Coimbatore – First Edition (2016) and its second edition (2021). In the conservation of birds and butterfly databases, Coimbatore is the front-runner in the state due to the voluntary efforts of Pavendhan and his associates.

Pavendhan, coupled with the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, came up with a Synchronised Bird Census at the Tamil Nadu level. He is one of the coordinators of the work. Every year, he works along with CNS to conduct a water bird census in January and a terrestrial bird census in March. In 2015, TNBS released the first checklist that recorded 326 species of butterflies in Tamil Nadu.

He played the main role in the data collection work, which is a great help to the government authority, especially the forest department, for their role in protecting the insects. Now, TNBS has recorded a total of 329 species so far in the state. Along with the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve (STR) in the Erode district, TNBS conducted an observation of butterflies in the forest cover and released a book in Tamil and English in 2018 – 2019. Pavendhan was the main author of the work.

“Conservation of butterflies and birds is part of protecting biodiversity and the ecosystem. The conservation mainly includes three parts: (i) Fundamental Data Collection— gathering details of the prevalence of species, endangered species, rare species, their living locations and nests, etc.; (ii) Plan for protection of the species; and (iii) Execution. The second and third parts come under the purview of the government authorities, and they may include volunteers like us for the purpose. We predominantly work for fundamental data collection and analysis of species in order to simplify the work for the government authorities,” he told TNIE.

Post collection, the data is handed over to the forest department officials and local bodies, which would then take steps for conservation. Apart from fieldwork for data collection on butterflies and birds, he also educates students about the conservation work of insects. TNBS has been distributing butterfly checklists to government schools in a book format for free in order to raise awareness of butterflies among school students.

“My passion for observing birds has taken me to several parts of India, including the North East. These creatures will always keep fascinating me,” he said. Wordsworth rightly put it 222 years ago on the kinship between creatures of flight and man.

“Here rest your wings when they are weary;

Sit near us on the bough!

We’ll talk of sunshine and of song”

(Edited by Mary Catherene

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