A lagoon yawns in
watercolour prints, as
spindly ghosts, bathed in
pink, like tall orders
of strawberry cream,
spread their wings
and sing their songs,
haunting sepia skies
at the break of dawn.
I had spent a good deal of time and energy with Greater Flamingos in 2014. The first time I ever spotted them was during last summer. They had descended from the skies to the Annamalaicheri backwaters. A month or two later, I spotted them at the Pallikaranai Marsh. Again, towards the end of the year, during a satellite launch at the Pulicat Lake.
Despite these sightings, I just could not establish a bond with them. Unlike with many other birds, the sentiments I shared with the flamingos seemed perfunctory. It was neither personal nor profound.
Earlier this year, in January, we fell in love the right way (assuming there is one).
I had woken up later than usual for a Sunday. I was on panic mode because bad things tend to happen if I don’t leave the house for birding by 4:30 am during weekends. I had planned yet another trip to the Pulicat Lake in hope of seeing an Osprey – a bird of prey that still eludes me.
I drove as fast as I could. Unfortunately it turned out to be a windy day, which isn’t conducive to birding. I prepared myself to walk away empty-handed. I had only seen a few Purple Moorhens, Northern Pintails and Painted Storks in about three hours.
I then spotted about a hundred Greater Flamingos chilling out by the river shore. At first I wasn’t too thrilled considering our unsentimental history. And since it wasn’t too uncommon to find them here.
But then I saw something peculiar.
As the flamingos were heading towards the river, they suddenly started moon-walking! The wind was so strong that they had to dance to maintain balance, often going back and forth to remain as a group. It was one of the most mesmerizing spectacles I had ever seen.
And that’s all I needed to see. It was love at fourth sight.
Pulicat Lake, near the Tamil Nadu-Andhra Pradesh border, is India’s second largest brackish-water ecosystem. It is a wonderful place for birding one’s heart out. Seabirds and raptors roam, in large numbers. Several flocks of Greater Flamingos visit during the late summer – early monsoon season. The nearby shrub forests and marshlands also host a hearty selection of passerine birds.
(Photographs – Pulicat & Annamalacheri)