In search of firebirds

In search of firebirds

Pulicat Lake

When our photographer group’s van from Bangalore reached Sullurpetta on National Highway 5, I asked our local contact about the name Sullurpetta.

 “Petta I understand,” I said, “but what does sullur mean?” He shrugged stating his ignorance.

It turned out that sullur in local parlance means little waves so the town near our destination Pulicat Lake got its name from the waves that are a feature of the vast water body. This enormous lake extends to 450 sq km with a depth of four metres. This sprawling brackish water body, due to its size, has sullur (wavelets) and hence the town name. The lake is India’s second largest brackish lagoon. It is said to have formed some 6,650 years ago during the Holocene geological period and lies along the Tamil nadu-Andhra Pradesh coast.

What got us there with our cameras are the 15,000 flamingos that visit this lake every year. The flamingo is a striking bird to look at. About four feet tall with a white body its neck curved like that of the swan, it has beautiful rosy pink wings edged with black, and the legs are also rosy pink. In flight, the pink shows such that they are called firebirds.

They were far away on the sullur wavelets, but we were prepared with special zoom lenses and expert guidance from some of our group. We observed how the flamingo’s bill, which is bright pink at the top and black underneath is bent in the middle, and the birds were using it to collect mud. With the top part of the bill, they scraped along the bed of the water and scooped up mud.

Then they were straining the mud away through the bill and eating the small seeds, insects and worms. The ‘ah’ moment came for us when one of them flew, its pink wing justifying the name firebird. Our camera shutters were busy at the lake bank.

There were ibis, egrets, ducks, herons, terns, curlews, cormorants, spot billed pelicans, little grebes, and gulls. The painted storks, in their multihued plumage, provided extra colour in the backdrop of the blue sky and blue grey of the lake.