Archive for January, 2011

Chempallikundu: A Mangroved Lagoon in the Lap of Ezhimala

// January 31st, 2011 // 6 Comments » // Eco Watch

Mangroves of Chempallikundu wetland, Ezhimala in the horizon

This unique wetland is caught between Madayipara plateau and Ezhimala hills in Kannur district of Kerala.  Many rivers join nearby to drain into the Arabian sea.  It is a marvel in terms of its rich mangroves and associated vegetation.  It also attracts a lot of fish, crustaceans and birds into its bountiful and beautiful habitat.

The team in the breathtaking landscape: From left; VCB, Jafer, Sasikumar, Vishnudas and Raju

The very name Chempallikund means the pond of Climbing Perch or Chempalli (Anabas Testudineus).  Once it was full of such endemic fish and fowl and fed the local people with rich marine nourishment and shelter for the migrants for ages.

Glossy Ibises, Purple Marsh-hen and Little Egret at Chempallikundu

It has always fascinated me on my train journeys through this spectacular wetland between Pazhayangadi and Ezhimala railway stations over the years.  Yesterday (30 Jan. 2011) I joined the Malabar ornithological survey team that is following the trail of Salim Ali after a few decades under the leadership of Sasikumar, the veteran ornithologist of MNHS, who is originally from Kunjimangalam near this threatened ecosystem.  Jaffer Palot and V C Balakrishnan were also with the regular team members comprising of Raju and Vishnudas.  In a few hours in the morning we saw more than fifty species of birds in this biodiversity hot-spot.

Black-winged Stilts in Chempallikundu wetland

The Sunday morning was bright and glorious with the golden sunshine.  It made the whole wetland glow in luring hues.  We saw plenty of Black-winged Stilts, Glossy and White Ibises, Red Shanks, Great and Little Egrets, Spotted Sandpipers, Asian Open-bill Storks, Darters, Cormorants, Purple and Grey Herons, Black Bitterns,  Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Purple Marsh-hens, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Pied Kingfishers, Dabchicks, Kites and more…

Asian Open-bill Stork, Chempallikundu

But the highlight of the day was a soaring Booted Eagle (pale morph) with the lucid ‘spotlights’ on either side of the neck and an awesome fishing Osprey!!  A Marsh Harrier also showed up when the Osprey was in flight.  It was carrying a big fish, probably a Chempalli in its sharp talons.

Osprey with a fish (a Chempalli perhaps!) in Chempallikundu

The flood plain like topography of Chempallikund offers plenty for the birds and birders.  This unique estuarine ecosystem houses numberless varieties of mangroves and associated fauna.  This magic pot of nature must be conserved for posterity and the sustenance of life at large in this region of the world. It is also home to diverse dragonflies and butterflies.  Various Pansies, Grass Yellows and Tawny Coasters were seen in plenty.  The fish and crustacean population must be studied and documented.  So is the world of snakes.

Brooding presence: Soaring Booted Eagle above Chempallikundu

This spectacular site in the lap of Ezhimala and adjacent to Madayipara must be protected and preserved for its eco-cultural significance.  It is a unique site of immense relevance in terms of natural and cultural history.  The birds are protected and given asylum by an elderly woman called Narayani who lives alone at the heart of this wetland in a secluded coconut palm grove.

Sasikumar with Narayani Edathy in her Chempallikundu home

Narayani Edathy is offering valuable models of co-existence and conservation for policy planners and researchers as Kandal Pokkudan has shown us close by.   It is a kind of human symbiosis inspired by nature.  She provides shelter to the birds and chase away the shooters and trappers; the birds in tern fertilize her land with their precious droppings.  I am eager to visit this earthly paradise again and again in future.  Hope it will survive the onslaughts of time and the pressure of development.

Fast and furious: The agile Osprey above Chempallikundu

A water-snake at the edge of water in Çhempallikundu

Pied Paddy Skimmer in Chempallikundu

A lone Black-winged Stilt in flight, Chempallikundu

Loosing himself in nature: V C Balakrishnan in the mangroved lagoons of Chempallikundu

Riding the wind with spotlights: Booted eagle with diagnostic white spots on either sides of the head (pale phase)

Right on track after a hard days labour/leisure: From Left; Sasikumar with the spotting scope, Raju, Vishnudas and Jafer

Sea Eagles of Malabar Coast

// January 27th, 2011 // 3 Comments » // Culture and Ecology, Eco Watch

Awesome in the air: White-bellied Sea Eagle in flight, Bekal, 26 Jan. 2011

Its goose like nasal honking-call alarms the fishermen on fish shoals that form ”Chakara” and the turning of the tide.  In their mating falls with locked talons from greater heights to the ground they honk in unison. It has more than ten local Malayalam names says Dr Jafer Palot who did his Ph D on the White-bellied Sea Eagle.  People in north Malabar call it Mukorachan (forefather of fisherfolk) and Kamala (as it kills sea snakes as if by a magical mantra used by the indigenous medics called Kamala).

The struggle is on for survival: Less than 30 adults remaining in Kerala

According to eco-activist and author Dr E Unnikrishnan (Kavunni) it is a grace and legend of the sea.  This big, awesome grey and white bird is a rare delight for human eye and the reflective mind.  Its soaring flight and elegant movements against the blue sky are blissful and enthralling for the imaginative and visually sensitive.

Breeding adult near nest on a Pipal, Kizhur/Kalanad Sastha shrine, Chandragiri, Kasaragod

Unfortunately this unique avian creature is vanishing in this part of the world though they are present all over the south Asian coast  up to Australia.  Even in Australia their numbers are dwindling.  Once it was present all along the long coastline of India from Gujarat to Bengal.  But today It is diminished to Kannur and Kasaragod coastline alone, in Kerala.  Around 30 adults are left in Kerala.  It is literally absent from the Kochi and Travancore coasts.

Juvenile in nest, Bekal, Kasaragod

The Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department conducted a survey of Kasaragod coast from Payyannur to Kumbala today (26 Jan. 2011) under the initiative of DFO, Mr Joju C T of the flying squad in collaboration with Jafer Palot, V C Balakrishnan, Praveen Neythal and Kavunni.  The Government is also planning to financially assist the families having nests in their plots to conserve them. I was fortunate to join the party near Kanjangad this morning.

Adult WB Sea Eagle, Bekal

The team visited around 15 nesting sites of the White-bellied Sea Eagle along this coastline.  Most of them were formerly identified and visited by Jafer as part of his doctoral research.  The Sea Eagles use the same nest every year.  They may have one or two chicks but mortality is high among the juveniles because of various unconfirmed reasons.  That is why their population is shrinking.

Adult parent in nest on a Mango tree, Kottikulam Railway Station, Kasaragod

These graceful marine predatory birds use tall mango trees, Palai trees, Casuarinas etc. to build their nest within the vicinity of the sea .  The typical nest is around one meter in diameter and is made up of large twigs.  Both parents guard their young ones and bring sea food to them.  The bones of sea-snakes, eels, fish and even sea gulls are seen beneath along with the white droppings.

Adult eating fresh catch on a Banyan near Kappil beach, Uduma, Kasaragod

Most of the nests  are sheltered in ancient shrines or Kavus as in Palakunnu in Thalangara or Sastha temple Kavu in Kalanad (Kizhur) near Chandragiri.  Kavunni says he is in hot pursuit for the last fifteen years.  Some sympathetic families are also protecting the nests like the Shenoys of Bekal and Basheer family of Muttam north of Kumbala.

Adult breeding bird near nest on a Palai tree, Cheerumba Kavu, Palakunnu, Thalangara

It was a great and illuminating experience for me to be with stalwarts like Jafer, Kavunni, V C B, Joju and Neythal Praveen.  I learn a lot from them and nature at large and the ongoing struggles of this great bird for survival.  I salute my maverick friends who follow the flight and fight of this unique creature against extinction within the boundaries of Kerala.

Kavunni, VCB, Praveen & Narayanan before the tall Palai with the nest in Cheerumba Kavu, Palakunnu, Thalangara

The huge Pipal housing the nest in Sastha shrine Kizhur/Kalanad, Chandragiri

An intimate portrait: On the Pipal at Sastha shrine, Kalanad

Fighting hard for survival: Two chicks in Sastha shrine nest

Will it make a come back?