The colourful birds of Madurai

During the lockdown, ophthalmologist Dr. Haemoglobin followed the vocals and visuals of the winged visitors in Madurai

Her name always arouses curiosity among people. But that no longer bothers the staff at Madurai’s Aravind Eye Hospital, where Dr. Haemoglobin works as a Medical consultant in the Vitreoretina services. But it was her recent revelation as a passionate birdwatcher that had her bosses and colleagues celebrating. Though her love for birds was sparked during her childhood, when her father gifted her Salim Ali’s The Book of Indian Birds, it took the Bhubaneshwar girl many more years to turn into a bird enthusiast.

While visiting Manipur in 2018, she was mesmerised by the freshwater lake at Moirang that supports 14 biosystems. There she happened to meet an ornithologist who ushered her into the fascinating world of birds. After returning to Madurai — her home for six years now, she took out her Nikon D3300 and set out in search of the feathery visitors in the city.

“I often wondered why birds choose to stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on Earth. Then I asked myself the same question,” she says. Whenever Dr. Haemoglobin was off-duty, she would disappear into the forests of Alagar Koil, Aurofarm (an 80-acre organic farmland developed by Dr. G. Natchiar, Director Emeritus at Aravind Eye Care Systems) or tag along with birdwatchers to water bodies and hills around Madurai.

It became a routine till the lockdown forced her to remain confined to her hostel room last year. As she sat for hours looking out of the window, much to her delight she spotted the Asian Koel, Shikra, and Rufous Treepie in the backyard. “I started using bird detecting mobile apps to identify more avian visitors and became alert to the bird calls,” she says.

Last September, Dr. Haemoglobin had a ligament tear in her ankle and started spending more time at Aurofarm, spotting different birds on each visit. “It instilled a sense of calm and peace in me,” she says and the idea to document birds struck her. So far her list includes 37 different species and the number is increasing. When you are in communion with Nature, you receive far more than you expect, she says.

“Not many in the hospital are aware of my hobby and neither do they know about the wondrous bird habitat right in front of them,” says Dr. Haemoglobin. Dr.Natchiar encouraged her to build a portfolio of the birds she sighted. Over the weekend she gave a presentation on the avian friends of Aurofarm, taking the audience by surprise as the screen showcased some amazing shots of Hawk Cuckoo, Sandpiper, Cormorant, Purple Heron, Black headed Ibis, Grey Francolin, White eyed Buzzard, Yellow Wagtail , Blue tailed bee eater, Indian Roller, Red vented Bulbul, Indian paradise flycatcher, Red wattled Lapwing, Black rumped Flameback , Golden Oriole, Rock Pigeon, Spotted Dove, Rose ringed Parakeet and many more.

“Birds are everywhere, we just need to be sensitised,” she says and adds, “When you spend hours watching their behaviour and activities, you will find that they have a different story to tell each time you zoom in.”

Dr. Haemoglobin says while bird watching requires a bit of luck and teaches you patience and to respect Nature, it is the best excuse to be outdoors and travel. “To be on a bird trail is a good exercise for the body, you get your dose of Vitamin D, cardiovascular health improves and so does you mental well-being,” she says. “I always feel more energetic after every bird trek.”

    The flying flock

    There are 18,000 bird species on Earth, 1349 in India, 578 in Tamil Nadu, 300 in Madurai

    (source: eBird, the online database of bird observations

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