FIRST FLIGHT: Grey pelican chicks at the Nealpattu Bird sanctuary in Andhra Pradesh.
As the silver moon slowly fades and the huge crimson sun rises over the horizon in the Pulicat Lake, storks, both painted and open billed, surf the sky in flying formations. With spring in the air, the storks search for food along the vast expanse of the lake. In silhouette, three fishermen walk away from the placid yet radiant waters carrying the catch for the day.
Swallows dart around and there are a few resplendent bee-eaters here and there. A lonely parrot preens itself and in a still pond, a few large egrets fish and cause ripples. At the end of the road to Sriharikota, thousands of migratory ducks occupy the mud-brown lake. A pod of pelicans, the big birds of the lake, cruise along effortlessly as painted storks poke around the pristine waters in search of their breakfast.
A kingfisher, a beauty to behold, sits on a lone pole craning its neck left and right. Further down the road, the blackish coots with pink-red little ones wade through the reefs. In Pulicat, life is as normal and natural as it can be. The flamingos, the flagship species of the lake, were seen deep in the waters over the past two months, much to the disappointment of bird photographers, and not in great numbers as it used to be, says K. Thirunaranan of Nature Trust. The highlights this year was the spotting of Red Crested Pochards and Bar Headed Geese, he adds.
Some 20 km north, open billed storks, white ibis and pelicans, all parent birds, circle the late morning sky with their newborn ones in the nests on Barringtonia trees in the centre of the lake waiting to be fed in the Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary in Andhra Pradesh. Cormorants criss-cross the lake often. Amidst a pile of dry sticks, the new-borns laze around and play with one other as they wait for food. A few small monkeys scurry on, to the dismay of the little birds, picking up the spilled fruits.
Hussain, a guide with the Andhra Pradesh tourism, presents binoculars to visiting school children, who take wing to watch the birds up close and vivid. Many open billed storks, still busy with building nests, thoughtfully pick and choose the branch they want.
A few pond herons jump in to catch a fish and, once back in the branch, begin to munch. Now and then, a parent pelican swims across the greenish lake to quench its thirst. Soon, the birds circling above descend to their respective nests. The young pelicans are seen sticking their bills into their parents' throat. “Each parent bird has a throat pouch which can store 2.5 kg of fish,” says Hussain.
On Monday, foresters at the sanctuary had a rough count of the birds.
“There are 1,611 pelicans with 1,558 chicks; 1,327 open billed storks with 1,316 chicks; 1,318 white ibises with 332 young ones and 1,313 cormorants with 384 new-borns,” said N. Balaji, range officer, Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary. “The young ones will learn to swim and fly in March and the winged wonders will take off from the sanctuary one species after another, heralding the end of nesting season, with the pelicans leaving last in April,” says Hussain.