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A small patch in Karapakkam draws winter migrant birds

A swampy and grass-ridden patch in Karapakkam, just outside Pallikaranai marsh draws little migrants

On a recent morning, when I called KVRK Thirunaranan, a go-to man for information about Pallikaranai birds, I learnt that he was waiting for the Citrine wagtail. Seeking directions, I headed to this spot in Karapakkam, lying just outside the Pallikaranai marsh and within spitting distance of a massive residential colony. A shock of reeds and grasses stood on swampy ground where the water looked murky. Beyond this busy-looking patch of earth was a tall bund raised by the Forest Department to protect the marsh area.

It is however here that the Citrine wagtail chooses to keep its date with Thirunaranan, year after year. It is also here that two other related winter migrants — the White wagtail and the Yellow wagtail — meet up with him.

“Though the water here is dirty, these migratory birds don’t seem to mind it. I am certain of finding them here, during this season,” says Thirunaranan.

After a short wait, I get to see the Citrine wagtail in its winter plumage. The bird sticks to a feebly flowing water course lined with grasses. The Citrine wagtail is said to make its winter journey here from North-central Asia where it is at home amidst sedges. That seems to explain its predilection for this patch of land in Karapakkam, off Old Mahabalipuram Road.

This bird derives its second name from its propensity to wag its tail, but in the minutes I spent watching the bird, I did not see it engage in this behaviour in any striking manner.

That same morning, on the same patch, I watched another winter visitor — the Wood sandpiper — which displayed more emphatic tail-wagging. A wading bird, it came across as voracious and a bit on the bolder side, foraging for insects in the soggy earth close to the end of the patch.

In contrast, the Citrine wagtail shied away from peering eyes and kept to the interior section. But it was not as cautious as the Common snipe, another winter visitor, which also showed up.

And, with this birdwatching trip, I started my official Pallikaranai-migratory-bird count for this season. It is three boxes ticked now. According to Thirunaranan, there are 50 more to go.

What is refreshing about this trip is my discovery of a new patch of the marsh, one that is easily accessible and full of small surprises.

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