Birding in Chennai, India

Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is India’s third largest city and capital of Tamil Nadu State. It is situated half way down on the east coast of “peninsula” India and is an important port and stopping off place for touring South India. For the Urban Birder, Chenai is a great first port of call to explore before moving on. There are several areas to take a look at for birds in the city. One such spot is the Adyar Estuary that holds amongst others Pacific, Golden, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers. Nearby the Theosophical Gardens are also worth a visit with various babblers, drongos, sunbirds and cuckoos to be seen along with other common Asian birds.

Pacific Golden Plover

For me however, my favourite place in Chennai is the “secret garden” where the birding is quite unique for an Indian city. Guindy Park lies within the city limits and is a National Park and was originally a private game reserve. Some of the guidebooks say that at 270 hectares it is the smallest national park in India, whilst others state that it is the only national park within a city anywhere in the world – either way, so for the Urban Birder it is a must. The Park has three sections. The first two are a children’s park and a snake park; both are small and easily accessible to the public. The remaining area is protected from disturbance by a wall encircling it and locked gates that are only opened to those with passes. It is totally unspoilt and has herds of Spotted Deer and the beautiful Black Buck along with Jackals and other wildlife.

Birds recorded here include Yellow-watted and Red-wattled Lapwing, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark and a variety of flycatchers, minivets and warblers. On my visit I had 300 Black Baza, an impressive winter visiting raptor that gave great enjoyment for my two local guides and I. We also frequently saw other bird of prey species like the Brahminy Kite.

Using Chennai as a base, you can travel by taxi and spend a day at two other good bird watching sites. Around 85km southwest lies Vedanthangal – India’s oldest reserve where the Barringtonia trees attract nesting cormorants, herons and ibises. Cuckoos, drongos and Black-shouldered Kite should be looked out for in the scrubland. The general area supports amongst others darters, several shrike species and overhead, Palm Swift. Travel north for 50km and you reach the shores of Pulicat Lake to hire a boat from the village of Tira. The lake is a large brackish lagoon supporting Spot-billed Pelican, Black-crowned Night Heron, ibises, spoonbills and Greater Flamingo with White-bellied Sea Eagle breeding. Harriers and Ospreys are regularly recorded. There are also many waders and ducks to be seen too.

I hope this has given you a flavour of Chennai, which reminds me – don’t leave the city without trying out at the many good restaurants. The South Indian speciality dish is called Masala Dosa, I could eat that all day, even for breakfast!!

If you need a guide when in Chennai then contact Ranjit Henry at KOLAM. Further details can be obtained by contacting Ranjit at kolam@vsnl.com.

Ranjit Henry

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