At the beginning of every year, birders young and old in Chennai, set out before daybreak, notebooks and binoculars in hand. The Madras Naturalists’ Society’s (MNS) annual Chennai Bird Race has become a ritual for seasoned birders as well as novices interested in the natural world. Organised by MNS for India BirdRaces, supported by HSBC, the event is back with its 17th edition.
According to G Vijaya Kumar, honorary secretary of MNS, this year’s event will contribute to understanding the effect of climate change on birds and their migratory patterns. “Since we’ve had good rains recently, water levels in wetlands are high in some places, and low at others,” he says, adding that it will be interesting to see how this has affected birds. “Recently, birders who visited the Kolavai lake could not spot that many birds since the water level was too high.” The focus, will hence be on noticing if there is a change in the number of species being spotted every year.
The race has contributed to understanding Chennai’s many winged residents and visitors over the years, and also documenting the landscape of a constantly changing city. The race is open to anyone interested in birding, and participation is in teams of four. MNS provides a document with birding sites in Greater Chennai, but participants can choose to explore other sites to their liking as well. They then document their observations in a Google Doc provided by the organisers.
The event will culminate in a dinner and get together in the evening, a crucial part of the race, in which friendships are formed and knowledge is shared. “Participants talk about special sightings and their overall experiences,” says Vijaya Kumar, “Every year, new participants sign up for the race, for whom this will be an eye-opener. They can also hear seasoned birders talk about habitat change over the years, among other issues.”
Vijaya Kumar has been part of the race since its inception, and says that a lot of participants have gone on to become MNS members. “The simple exercise has triggered an interest in everyday people understanding our biodiversity, and the city they live in,” he says, “This is something very peaceful to be part of; in which one pauses to look at a bird that flits by.”
The Chennai Bird Race is on February 3, 6am to 6pm. To register, visit blackbuck.org.in, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.