Chempallikundu: A Mangroved Lagoon in the Lap of Ezhimala

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

Ezhimala: The Landmark on the Malabar Coast

Ezhimala from Arabain Sea

I rode up to the summit of Ezhimala early this september 2010.  As this ancient and legendary miniature mountain at the edge of the Arabian sea is now almost engulfed by the Indian Naval Academy there are very little view points left to explore.  Only the huge concrete idol of the monkey god awaits the common visitors to this panoramic hillock that rises more than 250m from the sea.

Pazhayangadi/Kuppam regions from the top

In the middle ages it was the capital of Nandan the pre-eminent ruler of the Mushika dynasty.  Later it fell into the hands of various rulers including the Kolathiris, Mysore and the British.  Today rubber plantations and crude private resorts are colonizing the top road regions.

Kannur shoreline from Ezhimala

I could not see much natural life and vegetation at the top, except a few babblers and Blue-tailed Beeeaters. The view around from the top is still spectacular.  We can see the whole deltas and backwaters related to Pazhayangadi river and watch the whole area from Payyannur to Kannur.

A unique seascape to the west

The sandy and bright Kannur coast is a breathtaking sight from the top.  To the west the sea offers an amazing sky like expanse which is a unique spectacle that only Ezhimala is capable of offering in the Malabar coast.

During the recent first ever pelagic survey of Kerala I had great views of this awesome little mountain from the sea.   It was visible even from 30km offshore.  Its shapes and contours keep on changing as the location of the viewer changes.  Some times it looks like an elephant submerged in water and sometimes like a fairy or Yakshi lying on a rocking ocean bed. It is also a visual voyage when we travel on train between Payyannur and Pazhayangadi.

I am sure that this unique geographical formation has inspired generations of sensitive and creative human subjects, poets and painters and sculptors in purticular, like Kanayi who reproduces its human vistas in every shape that he creates, especially in the Mermaid at Sanghumugham and the Yakshi at Malampuzha.