A for Apathy, B for Birding

Chennai, with its wooded forests, shrublands and water bodies, is a bird-friendly city. I should feel lucky that I live here. There is a wide variety of birds to spot. Our residential bird count is impressive. A large number of migratory visitors show up every winter. Their songs fill the air during early mornings and late evenings.

Falcons and pelicans soar – like winged ballerinas – across the graying blue skies. While the sparrows may have been chased away, crows, parakeets, owls, treepies, woodpeckers, and orioles remain our next-door neighbors. For over 100 years, naturalists have been recording bird behavior and writing in local newspapers about it.

Unfortunately, my city hasn’t been friendly to birds in a long time.

Pallikaranai, a residential locality, is privy to one of the three surviving wetland ecosystems in the State of Tamil Nadu. Only a few remain in southern India. It is a hot-spot for many species of birds – familiar, rare and endangered. Thousands visit these wetlands from all over the world. During winter, it has been known to have a higher bird count than the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary (which recorded the lowest bird count ever in 2015).

Shockingly, Chennai Corporation has been dumping and incinerating garbage here for years. It comprised nearly 12.000-acres of marshes and forests in the 1960s. Today, it stands – shrunk to approximately 1,400 acres, around 150 acres of which is filled with toxic filth. It has turned into a hostile territory for any living creature. Even the people working in garbage disposal units.

Some birds look to nest in and around the area. But I don’t think they feel welcome at all.

The authorities are still figuring out a waste management system that doesn’t harm the ecosystem. Meanwhile, we have figured out how to order food without talking to anyone or leaving the couch. And how to turn bloggers into writers through digital publishing platforms.


Over 3 years, I have been going to the Pallikarnai wetlands to photograph birds. I feel like a gutless bystander privy to a heinous crime; infuriated at myself and everyone else.

Black-Winged Kite

I remember, growing up in Chennai during the 80s, how I was in awe of development. It seemed like an attempt to improve the quality of living and ensure better security measures. Lately, the onus seems to be on saving time and effort for doing the simplest of things. Talking to each other. Traveling. Taking care of the bare necessities. Creating art.

We just don’t want to leave our houses. And when inside, we spend all the time we have to find out how we can save a little more time. A cyclical framework of sloth, greed, and gluttony.

Clearly, our focus is on the availability of white-collar jobs. High-speed Internet. Luxury retail outlets. Closeted communities. Even if it means that we the heart of the city – its natural ecosystem – starts to burn and fade away.

Last year, during the Chennai flood crisis, we were rudely awakened. We realized that we have been spoilt brats for ages. But I doubt if anyone had learned any valuable lesson from it. So complacent we are about our priorities as caretakers of this city and this dirty blue planet. Heartily, we encourage and allow cruelty under the guise of development.

I wonder if we will ever find the civility and sovereignty to hold ourselves accountable on a daily basis. It may help us contribute in little yet meaningful ways. Or at least, support those who raise their voices with persistence and passion.

It’s not as though we are merely turning a blind eye to issues that desperately need our support. We can live with that. Because who are we kidding? We are a flawed species. But we are actively contributing to many of the problems that have been affecting our feathered friends. Just like how ignorantia juris non excusat, the ignorance of our own actions is no excuse either.

Under the influence
of her iridescent plumage,
drunk on her songs
and tattooed over her fears,
two pairs of lips whispering,
“I sort of like you but
I like myself much more, my dear”.

Black-Winged Kite

(Photographs – Pallikarnai. Shollinganallur)

21 thoughts on “A for Apathy, B for Birding

Add yours

  1. I too am saddened about how we ‘take over’ many ecosystems for the sole benefit of ourselves. Here in America, migratory populations are also diminishing, leaving many urban centers and large cities scrambling to make change where it may already be too late. (New York City is dimming lights mostly for energy saving, but also to help migratory birds make it to their destination.)

    Your photos are making my day! That stork is something gorgeous, as is the Roller.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww Shannon, my dear friend, your comments set my hair on fire in the most beautiful way possible. While scrambling may not work at this point, hope – however dim – flickers. It didn’t occur to me that lights would pose that problem, I am glad someone somewhere is found something about it.


      1. Me too. When we hear about ‘pollution,’ we generally think of water and air, but light pollution — not only for us, for for others as well — is a really problem. The world literally NEVER SLEEPS anymore.

        Check out FLAP.org (Fatal Light Awareness Program) to learn more. Then check to see what your locality is doing and help support these efforts. I think a future post on this very issue might be in order. Thanks for the cattle prod!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. C for Careless and D for Doom….cause that’s what most city slickers and authorities in the development departments are . We have a Nature Park in Mumbai ( a garbage dump earlier ) meticulously and painstakingly transformed into a green haven and now we are going to lose some part of it again in the name of development . When will we ever learn?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gosh such a sad turn of events for Mumbai’s nature park. At this point, comrade, it’s as though we are at the business end of a heist and just grabbing any wad of cash we can get our grubby hands on. I think there is a collective understanding that we have ruined things beyond of a point of repair. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Anger is passion and passion is the antidote for apathy. I’m glad you are tormented by the mounds of foul garbage in what should be a sanctuary. I feel the same way and I believe we, the angry ones, must use this emotional burning to stand for change.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You can, comrade but it’s closed until September I think. Do visit pulicat sanctuary anytime, there are always a good number of birds there.

      Chennai is unfortunately not bird friendly as it once was but you can say hello to the many ones still around.


  4. Oh my gosh!! I am just thinking right now about how much I am missing the Mississippi Kites (which have moved on already), and what pops up in my reader? Thanks for that, Christy. 😀

    My previous comment reminds me that my bird strike posts is still trapped forever in my drafts folder. As is my grass-watering one. Ugh. I need a secretary.

    ‘I like myself much more, my dear.’ This is the problem of the world today, Christy, that we humans feel that in EVERY situation we put ourselves first. I’m reading a book called ‘The Thing With Feathers.’ Birds rule, mate. Thank you for re-posting this so I can go to bed with a picture of this beautiful bird (shikra) in my head. I will be dreaming of her.

    PS – Here’s a video of my beloved kites. You saw it here first (not even on my own blog…it’s busy!). Can’t wait until they come back in spring.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “The thing with feathers” – now there’s a name, dear friend. Will check it out on the Amazonian void.

      The last one I read was “insects are just like you and me except they have wings”. You d really like it (and I shall send you a copy soon).

      Just saw your youtube update pop up, hungrily running towards the mississippi kites. Have so much blog-catching up to do. This weekend will be one for the birds, I hope.

      And yes, Shannon, birds rule! (big smile)


      1. Turns out he’d already watched ‘Indie,’ and yes he completely relates. We are a household of creative non-conformists, and my teens always stay a step ahead of me.

        I now have a new respect for independent game developers. Great movie. Thanks for the recommend.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This makes me very sad.
    Was once part of a group that collected samples from the Pallikaranai Marshlands and tested them for hazardous substances… Toxic toxic toxic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah anu, it’s not one for the birds. Or birders. Matter of fact for anyone with a problem with genocide and ethnic (species) cleansing because that’s what this is. Many don’t pay heed to such evil because of their preferred form of communication doesn’t include chirping, quacking and whistling.

      Just sad, mate.


  6. I maintain that human beings are a self-destructive species. No other animal form would destroy the land that sustains them.
    We can feel indignant until the end of time, but I doubt if anything will come of it = we are on a trajectory to destruction.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Can’t imagine the world without them! That’s why they say ‘shoot birds and animals but only with cameras’! Even I just posted some lovely pics from my birding trip to the Nilgiris, which you’ll surely like! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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