Great Fair of Flamingoes
I was going through a study on lovely flamingoes by Dr. Salim Ali He observed that when the conditions are favorable and breeding has started, a sudden drop in water level provokes the flamingoes to desert their nests. The eggs rot and chicks die. Large scale deaths are not unknown. The study is about a less explored destination – Point Calemere Bird Sanctuary – in the district of Tanjore in Tamil Nadu. The place hosts a fair of flamingoes every year.
From where do the 60,000 flamingoes come to Point Calemere, and why do they desert the soda lakes? Do they return straight to their resting places or stop en route? What are the routes they take? Being a bird lover, I had countless questions. I picked a guide of Bombay Natural History Society and headed for this virgin forest land.
Point Calemere, covering over 17.29 sq km, was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1967. Mammals like blackbuck, chital, wild boar, porcupine etc. also inhabit the area. As I entered the dense forests, I observed that there is no source of fresh water in the sanctuary, and the wild animals have to quench their thirst with the saline water available in the area. As the vast saline marshes of Vedaranyam act as a sanctuary for water birds, it is known as the Vedaranyam Bird Sanctuary too. During winters, about 90 species of birds visit this area, of which a few also come from Soviet Union, Iran, Australia, England & northern India.
While exploring the virgin forests, I clicked some greater & lesser flamingoes, egrets, wild ducks, painted storks, pelicans and little stints. I also found a few snakes prowling in the saline waters. They had tails flattened like a paddle. A guide told me that Point Calemere has the largest congregation of flamingoes, second only to the one in the Great Rann of Kutch. The birds visit it for feeding. They do not breed here, but they do bring along their young. The best part with my trip to Point Calemere Sanctuary was when I spotted a greater flamingo, which was about 130 centimeters tall. It was whiter in color, and its wings coverts were more white and red than those of lesser flamingo. I clicked it lowering its slender neck between its legs and dipping its head completely under water. The design of its bill was also adapted to sieve food from mud or water. Its pointed bill was longer than its head. The guide told me that they usually stay here up to March every year.
On observing a painting in blue and pink in the sky, I asked my guide about that. To which he replied that these were thousands of flamingoes flying off together from a lake. They do so when fishermen arrive to cast their nets to catch fish. Point Calemere used to be a holiday resort for the British, but today it serves as a small village where life runs at a slower but fruitful pace.