The crack of dawn goes unheard
even though it is drizzling songs inside.
No matter the crooked ways of the world –
birds aren’t chained to our skies
For a few years now, Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary has been a nesting spot for the birder in me. It was where my love for birds grew a pair of wings. In November 2013 I had revisited the sanctuary after two decades. Before that, I had been there just once during a school trip in the late Eighties. I remembered nothing about it other than queuing up in front of its rusty front gate .
I returned in the winter of 2013 on an unplanned whimsy. I wasn’t a birder then. I just had a Sunday morning to spare. Upon reaching the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary, I first realized that it was much smaller than I had remembered. Matter of fact, it looked nothing similar to the picture I had of it in mind.
There was a crowd of noisy uniformed children on a school trip. Once they had gone out of sight, I walked along the cemented pathway that scissors the sanctuary. There were plenty of seabirds. But I couldn’t tell a Pelican from a Pranticole back then. Not much love in me for them either.
Soon a Black-Headed Ibis flew right past me. She reminded me of the Martian bird from Looney Tunes. I giggled to myself and continued to stroll, still unsure of what I was doing there. I spent most of the day, sitting quietly on a bench, with the cool breeze gnawing my ears. I can’t recall seeing any other bird. I wanted to come back soon though. I wasn’t sure what made me feel that way. I just really wanted to.
But I couldn’t for the next few months due to a broken leg. And so I went back about six months later; this time as a fledgling of a birder. It was an incredible day.
An Orange-Breasted Thrush and a Common Hawk Cuckoo had us tongue-tied within minutes. A pair of Spotted Owlets mooned me in broad daylight. By the end of my first birding trail in Vedanthangal, I managed to spot 10 new species of birds. Since then I have had many wonderful additions to the list.
Nowadays, the bird sanctuary has become my backyard of sorts. I still live about 70-odd kilometers away but I act as though I own a piece of its tranquility. I have become that guy who asks visiting schoolchildren to hush down if they really want to see birds. Someone who talks down to adults on being patient and positive. A unimposing figure who lectures litterers.
I am not associated with the sanctuary in any way. I would love to volunteer to clean the place but they aren’t the nicest folks to engage with. Still it greatly bothers me when visitors don’t show the proper love and respect to the hundreds of birds that have a home in one of India’s oldest sanctuaries. They treat it like a tourist center without ever seeing it as a tribute. After all this sanctuary was started by people with strong anti-poaching sentiments.
If you ever visit this beautiful place, please do remember that the entrance fee you pay is merely to help with the maintenance of the sanctuary. The birds are under no obligation to come and find you. If they do appear, I insist that you leave some love and trust behind with them. They will reward your kindness and patience.
(Vedanthangal Sanctuary is usually closed between July-November every year; in 2015, it was closed in May due to dry weather conditions and lack of rainfall. But birders can still visit the shrub forests on Vedanthangal road. There are plenty of shrub forests and marshlands where one can spot a variety of resident and migratory birds)