An account of a day trip to Pulicat Lake to see the migration mania of Lesser Flamingos
It has now become our weekly routine to be up and ready and gearing to go for weekend birding. This day was no exception as we headed towards “Pulicat Lake”. This lake is an extensive brackish or saline lagoon, the third most important wetland for migratory shorebirds on the eastern board of India. Part of the Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary, the bird haven is nestled across 481 km² in the Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh and the protected areas of Thiruvallur District of Tamil Nadu.
After a pleasant 1 hour early morning drive we arrived at the place some 60 kilometres north of Chennai. It was an amazing sight that welcomed us as we embarked upon our bird quest at Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary. If you have visited this particular place before, you will not need to be told about the freshness & beauty that boating in the backwaters in golden hours brings on. As the day dawned, the colors of night changed quickly from dark blues to gray to light purples and then to a vibrant, lively orange. The sun was rapidly making its presence felt, its golden rays reflecting off the serene backwaters to break the golden hues into lively ripples, riddled with life. This scene, along with the plethora of birds that were cooing and cackling away to morning glory, made the scene wonderful!
The wind was warm and we were surrounded by the shallow waters. Our eyes searched for the birds, while our silenced minds soaked in the beauty; we motored the boat towards the North. Far away, the greys and goldens were broken by a thin line of pink moving at the distance. We thought these were the usual Greater flamingos, and as we approached closer & closer, we were surprised to witness a bevy of bright pink Lesser Flamingos. Amazed by the presence of these pink birds, we started on a counting spree, and were flabbergasted to note almost 96 individuals! The bright pinks blended well with the surrounding Greater Flamingos, which were wading in the backwaters some distance behind. It was like the “Magic of Harmony” being unveiled before our eyes. The pretty pinks appeared exquisitely beautiful as they waded in the waters. To my surprise, the Lesser Flamingos were wading right in front of us with their curvy necks in the water in search of food. As the long, pink legs helped them glide effortlessly through the ripples, their necks bounced musically with each step they took. And then they took off to the skies, in unison, as if they were harboring a hidden agenda all along. A flight of pink prettiness! The wings, a combination of orange-pink and black on a creamy-pink body, looked like an artist’s stroke of mastermind. The flight of flamingos is a sight that has to be experienced and cherished forever.
I was glad to have encountered these majestic pink birds, for the Lesser Flamingos had been spotted in Pulicat Lake after a period of two long years. Their last sighting dated back to 2014 in this bird sanctuary.
The Lesser Flamingo is classified as ‘near-threatened’ due to the low number of breeding sites, which are threatened by human activities. If you are lucky enough to sight the lesser flamingo in Pulicat Lake you will be able to compare the two birds ‘in person’ but the greater flamingo is much larger at about 130 – 160 cm tall as opposed to about 90 cm for the lesser flamingo. Apart from the size, the key difference lies in lesser flamingos having much more black on their bills, compared to greater flamingos.
Keep out an eye on lesser flamingos when you visit Pulicat Lake the next time around!