You don’t have to be a dedicated twitcher to get pleasure from bird watching in Tamil Nadu. Whether you are in town, in the country or on the road there is always something to see. When we lived in Chennai I got considerable pleasure from sitting with my morning coffee on our upstairs terrace watching the visiting bulbuls and mynahs, the whiskery coppersmith barbet and the flameback – a species of woodpecker – who regularly tried to make an impression on our neighbour’s metal chimney.
In the front garden we saw kingfishers and flights of parakeets. We sometimes welcomed small hawks. There was one memorable occasion when we played host to a very bemused owl who had suffered some kind of trauma – we never discovered what. We offered him some water and some mince as well as protection in an outbuilding. He stayed for two nights and then vanished as suddenly as he arrived.
My evening swim at the Madras Club was accompanied by the shrieks of parakeets and occasionally by some small bats (OK not birds but they were flying) snatching a drink from the pool as I swam up and down. The gardens at the Club contain some very large old trees providing a home for many birds including hoopoes and woodpeckers.
On long drives a study of the telephone wires will reveal drongos, bee-eaters, Indian rollers, swallows and swifts as well as an occasional hawk. In the paddy fields of course you find the Paddy Bird or Pond Heron as well as hosts of egrets and cormorants. Egrets come in several varieties including little, great and intermediate – what ignominy for an egret to be “intermediate”.
Every trip provides the opportunity to tick off a few more birds from the book.
Orange County Resort produced not just a spectacular crop of birds but Ganapathy, a very knowledgeable guide who was so delighted that we were interested in the birds as very few visitors seemed to notice them.
You don’t have to go far off the beaten track to find outstanding wetland reserves with water birds of astonishing size and variety – Vedanthangal near Chennai is a short detour from the main highway. Winter breeding species include painted storks, pelicans, spoonbills and ibis who are so close that you feel you can almost touch them.
We now spend part of the year at a house at the foot of the Palani Hills where there is a group of excellent homestays. Visiting ornithologists have identified 185 species of birds in the valley – we haven’t seen all of them by any means but you can knock off 20 or 30 without moving far from your chair. As I have been writing this a lovely little sunbird has paid his daily visit to our window to check his reflection. And I can hear the red wattled lapwing and the peacocks calling through the open door.
To become a bird watcher in India all you need is some patience, a reasonable pair of binoculars and a copy of the Field Guide to the Birds of India. Enjoy.