Saturday, December 4, 2010

It’s Bird Watching Season in Tamil Nadu

It’s Bird Watching Season in Tamil Nadu
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Hello bird watchers, the bird watching season has arrived in Tamil Nadu. If you are looking for fun frolic and excitement, then its time to pack your backpacks with cameras and embark on an enthralling bird watching trip to three different circuits in the southern state of India.

The bird watching circuit is divided into three regions s based on the ancient kingdoms that once flourished in this part of the world. They are the Pallava Kingdom, the Chola Kingdom, and Pandya Kingdoms.

The Pallava dynasty ruled for about six hundred years until the end of the 9th century AD in the northern Tamil Nadu region and the southern Andhra Pradesh region

The Pallava kingdom for bird watching is in and around Chennai home to India’s one of the oldest bird sanctuaries and the largest brackish water eco-system.

The potential bird nesting locations in Pallava kingdom are Vedanthangal bird sanctuary, Karikili bird sanctuary, Pulicat lake bird sanctuary, Kaliveli lake nackwaters of Mahabs and Muttukaadu.

Vedanthangal bird sanctuary is one of the oldest water bird sanctuaries in the country. Vedanthangal in Tamil language means 'hamlet of the hunter' and this area was once a favorite hunting spot for the local landlords some 300 years ago.

The region attracted a variety of birds because it’s dotted with small lakes that acted as feeding grounds for the birds. The sanctuary features thousands of birds coming from various countries, some of which can be easily identified.

Some easily found bird species include Cormorants, Darter, Grebes, Large Egret, Little Egrets, Moorhen, Night Herons, Paddy Bird, Painted Stork, Pintails, Pond Heron, Sandpiper, Shovellers, Terns, White Ibis and many more.

The migratory birds include Garganey Teals Canada, Snake Bird Sri Lanka, Grey Pelican Australia, Grey Heron Bangladesh, Open-billed Stork Bangladesh, Glossy Ibis Sri Lanka, Painted Stork Siberia, Spoonbill Burma and Spot Bill Duck Canada.

Karikili Lake bird sanctuary is a haven for ducks and waders. Pintailed ducks, Garganey teals, common teals, Shovellor, Little Grebe or Dab chick, Herons and Egrets are the other avian visitors.

Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary is the second largest brackish – water lake or lagoon in India. It straddles the border of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu states on the Coromandal Coast in South India.

The lake encompasses the Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary. Every year approximately 15,000 Greater Flamingos are reported to visit the lake along with pelicans, kingfishers, herons, painted storks, spoonbills and ducks.

The highest concentrations of flamingo are found in the periphery of the lagoon where the water level is below 40 centimeters (16 in). The concentrations of flamingos are also associated with high algal, fish and benthic diversity.

Other water birds in the area include Spot-billed Pelican, seven species of herons and egrets, Painted Stork, Greater Flamingos, ducks, 20 species of shorebirds, gulls, terns, Little Grebe, Indian Cormorant, Little Cormorant, Asian Openbill Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Lesser Whistling Teal, Spot bill Duck, Great Thickknee and Stone Curlew.

Several species of wintering waterfowl have been noted including Bar-headed Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Brown-headed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Whiskered Tern, Gull-billed Tern and Caspian Tern. Birds of prey which appear in winter are the: White-bellied Sea Eagle, Osprey, Harriers and Peregrine Falcons.

The Chola kingdom flourished till the 13th century AD around Thanjavur and Tiruchirapalli districts of Tamil Nadu. The Chola Kingdom is home to important water birds like High flying Barheaded Goose, long migrants like White stork and White necked Stork, Grey Pelican, Ibis etc.

One can enjoy the bird watching at the Karaivetti bird sanctuary, the Kallaperumbur bird sanctuary, the Vaduvoor bird sanctuary, the Udhayamarthandapuram bird Sanctuary and Point Calimere bird sanctuary.

Karaivetti bird sanctuary is now home for more than 180 species of birds which includes 100 species of land birds. During peak season more than 25000 birds has been recorded. In the last season about 250 nests were counted and is a breeding ground for Grey Pelican, Spoonbill, Ibis, Openbill stork, Cormorant etc. Important land bird species are Rosy Pastor, Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Tawny Eagle, etc.,.

Vaduvoor Bird Sanctuary is a favorite flyaway spot for migratory birds and has recorded congregation up to 20000 birds in November. The ideal time to
visit the sanctuary is November – December when congregation of migratory birds is maximum. One can spot more than 40 species of water birds like Ibis, Painted stork, Grey pelican, Pintail, Cormorant, Teals, Herons etc.

Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary is providing shelter both for the animals and birds. It is the home for near threatened Blackbuck Antelope. Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary has the largest population of Blackbucks in South India. Other notable animals include: Spotted Deer, Jackal, Bonnet Monkey, Wild Boar, Monitor lizard, Short-nosed Fruit Bat, Small Indian Civet, Star Tortoise, Indian Grey Mongoose, Black-Naped Hare, Jungle Cat and Feral Pony.

Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary has recorded the second largest congregation of migratory water birds in India, with a peak population in excess of 100,000, representing 103 species.

In October these water birds arrive from Rann of Kutch, Eastern Siberia, Northern Russia, Central Asia and parts of Europe for their feeding season and start returning to those breeding places in January.

The water birds include threatened species like Spot-billed Pelican, Spotted
Greenshank, Spoonbill Sandpiper and Black-necked Stork. Near threatened species include White Ibis, Asian Dowitcher, Lesser Flamingo, Spoonbill, Darter and Painted Stork. Not only that, if lucky, one can spot Bottle nosed Dolphins. Also, the shoreline beaches of the sanctuary are a regular nesting site of the endangered Olive Ridley Turtle.

The Pandyan Kingdom flourished until the 15th century AD and the great traveler, Marco Polo mentioned it as the richest empire in existence in the world.

The bird watching region of the Pandya Kingdom roughly comprises the area near Madurai and Ramnad districts of Tamil Nadu. It includes; Vettangudi Bird Sanctuary, Chitrangudi Bird Sanctuary, Kanjirankulam Bird Sanctuary, MelSelvanur-KeelSelvanur Bird Sanctuary, Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary, Suchindram-Theroor Bird Sanctuary.

Kanjirankulam Bird Sanctuary is one of the preferred nesting sites for heronry species a colonial bird migrating to South India. This bird sanctuary receives nearly 170 species of birds. Breeding population consists of Painted stork, White Ibis, Black ibis, Little egret, Large egret etc.

While MelSelvanur-KeelSelvanur Bird Sanctuary is the biggest bird sanctuary in Tamil Nadu and located near Sayalkudi in Ramanathapuram district, the Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary is home to the largest reserve for breeding water birds in South India.

Suchindram -Theroor Bird Sanctuary is noted for the wide variety of migratory water birds that winter there, including: near threatened painted stork and spot-billed pelicans. Also seen here are cattle egrets, great cormorants, darters, purple swamphen, and bronze-winged Jacanas. Resident raptors include pied kingfisher, brahminy kite and marsh harrier.

Other water birds are Dabchick, grey heron, Garganey, purple heron, cinnamon Bittern, open bill stork, cotton pygmy goose, whiskered tern and little tern, black-winged stilt, greenshank, little ringed plover and the common sandpiper.

The Pallava Kingdon tour is on 18 and 19 December 2010. The Chola Kingdom tour is on 24, 25 and 26 December 2010. The Pandya kingdom tour is from January 3-6 2011. The contact person for these tours is Mr. "Krish" a.k.a Krishna Kumar K J. He can be reached at (

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He ca be contacted at His earlier writing is “Eco-Adventure Camp”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Omar Khalidi- A Campaigner of Social Justice of Indian Muslims

Omar Khalidi- A Campaigner of Social Justice of Indian Muslims

Syed Ali Mujtaba

The untimely death of the Cambridge based scholar Dr. Omar Khalidi is quite shocking. He was 57. Preliminary reports suggest that he was fatally struck by a subway trolley near the Kendall Square station in Cambridge, USA.

He was working at MIT and left behind his wife and daughter. I have known to him for his unending passion for the pursuit of social justice of Muslims in India. My deepest condolences go to his family.

Dr. Khalidi was born in Hyderabad and was the son of Professor Abu Nasr Khalidi, a well known scholar of Arabic and Islamic studies at Osmania University. He got his BA from Wichita State University, ALM from Harvard University School of Extension Studies and PhD from University of Wales-Lampeter, UK.

I have come to know about Dr Khalidi when I was in Hyderabad working as reporter in 1995-6 and also researching on the princely state and Partition of India. I was fresh with my doctoral work “The Partition of India and British policy 1940-45.” I had read his work “The fall of Hyderabad,” that graphically brings out the police action against the princely state of Hyderabad and the atrocities committed against the Muslims in its aftermath.

I contacted Dr Khalidi at his e mail address (okhalidi@MIT.EDU) and he responded to me immediately. Though my project was indefinitely postponed but my contact with him remained intact.

He was in Chennai in 2002 and stayed at Chola Sheraton and we had a late evening conversation on the theme Indian Muslims that went on till the wee hours and we both needed a bad sleep still the talk remained inconclusive.

We talked about Muslim publications in India the defunct ‘One Nation Chronicle’ rechristened ‘Nation and the World.’ We talked about Mili Gazatee, Muslim India, role of Syed Shahabuddin in Babri Masjid, role of Syed Hamid in education and Hamadard University. We talked about M.J. Akbar and Seema Mustafa and Sultan Shahin and many others.

Our conversation did touch up Hyderabad, and we talked about Prince Mukaram Jah, the fabled Falaknuma, Chomohalla and the Nazri Bagh Palaces. The Telegana politics too came up for a thought.

Dr Khaladi, was more of a researcher than an armed chair commentator. He had advised me not to loose track of research and base my submissions on hard facts.

To hammer home the point, hard facts should be the only arrow, in one’s quiver, he told me, adding he had all the copies of Muslim India, because it contains huge data to rely upon.

Among several of his work, the one we talked was “Romance of the Golconda Diamonds.” He explained that in the state of Golconda that was later absorbed in Mughal India mining activity for diamonds once flourished.

Dr Khalidi did a interview with me that day on his pet topic the current status of Indian Muslims. He was amused to hear me say that a middle class is fast emerging among contemporary Indian Muslim community and this is happening at breath neck speed after the liberalization of the Indian economy since 1990s.

Now India Muslim youth are not much interested in going to Gulf countries for jobs as they did so in the 1970s and 80s. They prefer to stay back in India where there exists an ample opportunity to make a living. I told him after liberalization, the general discrimination theory does not work, the entrepreneurs mostly Hindus do not have any inhibition in recruiting Muslims, because they are hardworking, honest and upright.

Dr Khalidi was bemused; perhaps my thoughts did not fit into discriminatory stereotype. I remember him talking about Muslim presidents of India that were to show to the world that Indian Muslims are not discriminated but then do a head count in the government and private offices and you will get a real picture of Muslim discrimination.

I told him now, this is no more the case, the software industry, so many other industries which is driving the Indian economy, has countless Muslim youth in its folds and they are doing well in privatized corporate Indian economy.

I remember Dr Khalidi asking me to give him contacts in various India cities, so that he can do a survey on this issue through his questioners and promised to pay those who get involved with him in this project. I think he may have incorporated these points in his book is “Muslims in Indian Economy” published in December 2005.

Dr. Khalidi will be remembered for his courage in taking on issues that others feared to tread. .He was known for his commitment to the cause of justice and fairness for Indian Muslims.

His last article was on the recent Babari Masjid judgment was seminal. He lambasted the Archilogical survey of India (ASI) that provided the clinching evidence for the ‘learned’ judgment. Read through the link- “ASI: Hindutva's handmaiden.”

Dr. Khalidi was a pioneer in the field of research on Indian Muslims and contemporary Indian politics. He left behind him a monumental legacy that had a significant impact on the political landscape of India and a multitude of people were motivated and inspired by his work.

He authored the much acclaimed book “Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India: Armed Forces, Police and Paramilitary During Communal Riots”. The book is in its second edition, revised and enlarged edition came out in December 2009.

As an independent scholar his research interests were in the sociology of politics, upward and downward economic mobility of ethnic groups, nationalism and diaspora and Islamic architecture.

His other works include 'Indian Muslims since Independence', 1996, and edited 'Hyderabad: After the Fall', 1988, a collection of academic papers.

He is the author of several articles on Islamic architecture like “Approaches to Mosque Design in North America” and “Import, Adapt, Innovate: Mosque Design in the United States.”

Even though he was based in the US he had the pulse of Indian Muslims in his hand. He could fearlessly speak about the discrimination of Indian Muslims and he supported this with hard facts, be it the head count of Muslims in Indian Defence forces or in the news rooms.

Passing away of Dr Omer Dr. Khalidi is a great loss to Indian Muslim. He lived every moment in India.Perhaps the best way to carry forward his legacies would be to create a chair in his name in any of the Indian university to carry out research on the social issues of Indian Muslims. It may be a humble way to pay tribute to late Dr. Khalidi.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at