Chennai's water source is birds paradise

Chembarambakkam Lake
Location: Chembarambakkam Lake near Chennai
Date: Feb 18th 2012
To get there: [Click here for Google Map].
It is close to Queensland Amusement Park on the Chennai-Bangalore National highway. To get on the Lake Bund Road, turn right into a narrow kutcha road next to corner temple (small) while going towards Chennai, about 3kms after Queensland and 10kms after Sriperambattur. From Chennai, this road comes about 4-5kms after Poonamallee,  right after some official water treatment plant and you have to turn left onto it.
Distance: About 10 kms from Sriperambattur or 25kms from Chennai.
Trail type: There is a motorable road on the Bund, wide enough for 2 cars that one can also walk on comfortably. We drove on it for about 4kms and I believe it continues for couple more and joins the highway near Sriperambattur. Ideal for car birding by stopping along the way or if you prefer, park the car at any widened area and walk the trial.

Facilities: None, though the highway has plenty of eateries and lodges.

It was a family get-together planned at an resort near Queensland Amusement Park near Chennai that prompted me to scout that area for potential birding sites. One look at the Google Satellite view of the area was enough to show Chembarambakkam Lake and its magnificent spread. As always, myself and my wife planned to get there early morning on Sunday for a much anticipated birding session.

Crow harassing Brown-headed Gull
Finding the turn-off road was a little tough as it is quite narrow from the main road but with help for several roadside vendors we finally found it and were soon bumping along a bad road. After about a kilometer, the road becomes a bit smoother as we reach the bund with the huge lake spread to our right.

Eurasian Wigeons
We stopped as soon as we reached the edge of the lake where there was much vegetation taking in the early morning freshness of the water body. Immediate sightings were of a many Open-billed Storks flying overhead. They were leaving their roosting trees in the periphery for some undisclosed destinations! The lake itself had plenty of common birds such as Herons, Phesant-tailed-Jacana, Moorhens, Egrets, etc.

Whiskered Tern
In addition there was quite a bit of fishing going on. As we slowly drove along the road stopping every few hundred meters at any spot which we fancied, we attracted the attention of the local people, who it turns out, were hanging around waiting for the catch to come in. They advised us to move further up as the birds were "better" there. Accepting the local knowledge we drove up further quickly as the sun was ominously climbing up higher and it was getting hotter.

Cotton-Pygmy Goose
As we moved towards the center of the lake, we were greeted by many flocks of ducks and water birds. Eurasian Wigeons, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Pelicans. Wigeons were by far the largest in number, about 300-400 in the stretch we traveled on.  Barn Swallows and Whiskered Terns could be see flying overhead all through. We also got lucky in watching a Brown-headed Gull struggling to feed on a large dead floating fish. It was however harassed badly by crows causing it to abandon the fish and move to another spot. The Crows were not anymore successful in getting a bite of the dead fish!

Early morning Fog over the Bund Road  on Day 2
On the 2nd day, ie Monday morning, only I ventured out to the lake. But the fog rolled in about 7am and pretty much covered the whole lake. Visibility was about 10mtrs which made birding near impossible. I still drove the trail and was rewarded with some Brahminy starlings, Grey-Francolin sightings on the other side of the bund. Spotting an unidentified Quail foraging in the shrubs was also exciting.

This is not really, what you may call a family trekking trail but surely a nice birding trail of a lake habitat if you happen to be near that area for whatever reason. Since you are on the asphalted road atop the bund, you avoid the usual unpleasantness when walking along edges of most lakes in India.

Highlights from the Bird Checklist:

  1. Eurasian Wigeon (100's)
  2. Cotton Pygmy Goose (50's)
  3. Spot-billed Pelican (50's)
  4. Lesser Whistling Teal (pair)
  5. Asian Open-billed Stork (100's)
  6. Barn Swallows (many)
  7. Brown-headed Gull (solitary)
  8. Pheasant-tailed Jacana
  9. Whiskered Terns (many)
  10. Little Grebe

Birding in an urban Lake

Location: Puttenahalli Kere or Puttenahalli Lake, near JP Nagar, Bangalore
Date: Dec 15th, 2011
To get there: [Click here for Google Map].
It is located in South Bangalore next to Brigade Millenium.

Distance:  < 10Kms from Vidhana Soudha! :)
Trail type: Walking path going around the Lake. Educative and a good work out for kids aged 1 to 8. Too easy for older kids and adults. So, it is more of a nature walk for them.

Facilities: Benches to sit in few places. I did not notice any toilet facilities but should be there. Food, you are still in the city so plenty of places close by. Avoid picnicking. If you have to, get only finger food in reusable boxes and do not litter.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana

One of my favorite birds to spot whenever I see a lotus covered pond is the Pheasant-tailed Jacana. PTJ and its cousin Bronze-winged Jacana are 2 beautiful birds which gingerly walk on the wide leaves of the Lotus plants earning the name leaf-walkers. Nature has provided them with feet having long fingers which are suited for this type of life style.
Mom and Me! Common Coot 

Unfortunately, one usually needs to drive to the outskirts of Bangalore to spot them. Lalbagh and Yediyur Kere both of which contain lotus vegetation have not been successful in attracting and protecting these birds long enough for them to call it their homes. But, Puttennahalli Kere, in JP Nagar, is an exception now. This lake which was once a dump yard and encroached upon has been restored through a citizens initiative PNLIT led by Usha Rajagopalan. The key point in this restoration project is that, they have not made this lake into a "soup bowl" like Ulsoor, Sankey or Lalbagh tanks. The edges are left to nature to create an habitat which can sustain these and other birds.
Purple Swamphen

So, for us nature enthusiasts, we no longer need to drive 30-40 kilometers out of town to see these beautiful birds. One can take nature stroll, or ramble if you will, around this lake in the middle of Urban sprawl and enjoy them in leisure. When we went there, we also spotted many other equally colorful water birds such as Herons, Coots, Purple Swamphens, Lesser Whistling Teals and the migratory Garganeys.

So, if you have a couple of hours to spare one day and wish to observe and enjoy some nature, head out to this lake and you wont be disappointed.

As always, do not litter the place. Even though some spots may look bad, we don't really want to add to that, do we?

 Lesser Whistling Teal(open wing), Common Moorhen (Red knob),  Pheasant-tailed Jacana (foraging on left) and Garganeys (huddled at the top)