Love in the time of thunderstorms: Birds of Chennai

I hope the people of France are safe. I wish them a speedy recovery. But today I support my state of Tamil Nadu. She has been ravaged by heavy storms. People have been losing their homes and livelihoods, and others – their lives.

For the past 12 hours, there have been nonstop thunderstorms in Chennai. My city has turned into a helpless, soaking-wet mongrel. Her roads have turned into death-traps and her buildings – into dirty sponges. Trees have been falling by the wayside. Electricity is a problem as is public transportation. The rumour mill has been working overtime, spreading paranoia.

And birding season has begun.

Glossy Ibis / Cattle Egret, Chennai

As the city celebrated Diwali, I quietly went ahead and met many of my feathered friends. It was an unexpectedly rain-free evening, which started with a chance encounter with the Grey-Headed Swamphens. It ended with a Common Kestrel photo-shoot.

There were others along the way. I found a Glossy Ibis foraging in a marsh with Cattle Egrets.  She looked as though she recognized the contrast in their colours. A few metres away were flocks of Spot-Billed Pelicans in a feisty mood.  There were Black-Winged Water Stilts, dapper as usual, lounging by the lake. Pied Kingfishers, Painted Storks, Cormorants, Common Terns, Spotted Owlets, Indian Rollers, Rose-Ringed Parakeets and Black Kites too.

Right before I managed to spot the Kestrel, I saw a tiny damsel dancing upon a wire. She looked like an Ashy Prinia in the middle of her metamorphosis into a Bay-Backed Shrike. But she had a familiar bandit mask on.

It turned out that she was a Brown Shrike juvenile. Afraid of scaring her, I surreptitiously clicked a few photographs. She was a feisty one though, as she hopped back and forth, inviting me to the center of her perfect little melody.

Ever since that lovely evening, it has been pouring down. It’s as though the skies want to wash away the filth we have brought into this planet.

In fact every time a natural disaster has occurred over the years, it has gotten me wondering if we deserved it. I think most of us would have to admit that we do. Still I can’t get over the fact that the poorer amongst us are always the worst-hit. They seem to bear the brunt of nature’s fury.

I can only complain about dangerous driving conditions. Leaking walls are a nuisance too.  About half-a-kilometer away my home – there is a community of underprivileged workers. They have had to wade through muddy filth to gain access to drinking water, and deal with a lot more damage to their property.

How messed up is our world that even nature seems biased about the beatings she dishes out?

Irrespective of any of that, everyone please stay safe.


I don’t need
an oxygen mask
to scream into
you unflood me
you unearth me.

(Photographs: Medavakkam, Sholinganallur, Mahabalipuram)

One of the reasons I have stuck with WordPress is because it give me access to some wonderful reading material. Over the past year I have connected with writers/people through their verses too. Unfortunately it has been two weeks since I went through many of your posts. It’s because of a new time-consuming routine I have had to recently adopt. The constant power outages haven’t helped.

I intend to catch up very soon. Keep observing and writing. Love it as much as waking up to the sound of birds.  And thank you, as always, for coming here. 

29 thoughts on “Love in the time of thunderstorms: Birds of Chennai

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  1. thank you for this. I left Chennai on November 1 before the worst of it started but I have friends who have viral fever, who are sandbagging their house. I have been thinking about the street animals and homeless in this. sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks HB, I hope we pull through without any more damage. It wasn’t just missed by the Western media, it was by our own national media too. And the local channels are conflicted between spreading paranoia to spike ratings and reporting the truth to make sure we don’t die.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not sure about penguins in general but where I grew up about 100km north of Sydney we never got snow but fairy penguins used to regularly come ashore at a local beach. As more people moved into the district their dogs and cats put paid to that though.

        For a few years they retreated to Lion Island a couple of kms offshore but there wasn’t enough sand above the high-tide mark for them to maintain a breeding population and they soon disappeared. Hopefully they moved somewhere else but I suspect the actual outcome was grimmer than that.

        Usually you only saw them on land at night but you could see them on stormy days sometimes too.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah TP, sigh. Last I heard, it was at 55. These are the moments when I feel as though as separatist state isn’t a bad idea. It might sound a tad strong, but the indifference towards the south, at times, is just alarming.


      1. Absolutely! A few years ago, 40+ kids were killed in a fire mishap at a school in Kumbakonam. It was due to a violation in safety regulations. It was wiped away from the national consciousness. Recently a girl was brutally assaulted and murdered in chennai. Again, gone from national media coverage. I just don’t know anymore, Sandy!


      2. I thought it was pretty bad that the Australian press gave more space to killings by US police than by Australian ones but it sounds like things are even worse in India.

        I wouldn’t count on Dravidian secession to fix the problem though. Sounds more like a cultural issue with the media than a political one.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t possess much knowledge on birds. But just curious, did you happen to sight any rare species this time before the onset of monsoon? The reason I ask this is, we are receiving unusual amounts of rain this year (easy to just say El Nino, which could be the reason). And birds are better predictors of unusual season changes (better than Met any day). So I am trying to link arrival of any rare species and the crazy monsoon.

    Or maybe (if not rare species), any particular behaviour change in the birds found normally. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Intriguing question, Sanky! I am not too sure though. Let me pick some birder’s brain and do some research, and get back to you. One of the reasons the winter migrants come to Chennai is because of the monsoon, as far as I know!

      Liked by 1 person

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