Stories: A journey in search of Pelicans

A journey in search of Pelicans

Photographs & Article by Hermis Haridas

I have been interested in photography for a long time; before moving to Dubai I was more into videography.  In Dubai, I was introduced to a small photography group called Shutter Bugs Creative Forum led by Mr. Arfan. We used to go for shoots every Friday morning. His guidance, strict policies and support helped the entire group to brush-up our skills.  In two months time I kind of felt that my interest is more towards nature, mainly birds. Once the passion started to get into my heart I started to experiment on Saturday mornings and afternoons, as well; and sometimes I would spend an hour on weekday mornings before I go to office. When you do something you like, this is what happens. And now the hobby became my love and my life. Photography is my pure love and passion. 

Every time I saw a wonderful picture of the Pelicans, the image fascinated me. That’s when I thought of planning a trip to shoot this bird. Like everyone my search too started with Google. During my search I came across Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary. Vedanthangal is located in Kancheepuram District of Tamil Nadu, a 30-hectare sanctuary. Vedanthangal is Tamil word for 'hamlet of the hunter'. This sanctuary is a home for migratory birds, such as Pintail, Garganey, Grey Wagtail, Blue-winged Teal, Common Sandpiper and many more. The best time to visit this sanctuary is from November to March. When I took my flight from Dubai to Chennai; I couldn't have guessed that I will see so many of Pelicans in Vedanthangal. Villagers near this sanctuary are really concerned about the Sanctuary and the birds migrating, so they have taken many serious steps to avoid the disturbance in the flow of the birds. 

I went there in the month of January and the weather was nice and cool. It was a two days trip like a weekend trip and I stayed in a hotel in Chennai and traveled every day to the location. Vedanthangal is around 75 kms from Chennai. It was about two hours of drive. Since I was concentrating only on Pelicans I didn't think of visiting any other place. On my way I could spot the nest of a Spotted Owlet, so was trying my luck on this and got some decent shots as well of this beauty too. The road from Chennai to Vedanthangal was really good.

The first day I left from the hotel a little late since I couldn’t sleep the previous night because of the odd flight timing. And I reached the sanctuary by noon. Since my driver told there won’t be any good restaurants nearby, we had heavy food and left to the location. When we were about to reach the sanctuary I was so touched by seeing the beauty of this place. The greeneries, the small small mountains, innocent faces of the villagers and lot more. I was really amazed by the view and the number of birds in first sight. Since the first day was a weekday there were less crowd in the sanctuary. So it was really a peaceful time and we can also feel the silence of nature at this place. Vedanthangal has over more than 30,000 birds of different varieties. The first day sighting itself was awesome. It was really a visual treat for any bird lover. Spot-billed Pelican, Pintail, Garganey, Grey Wagtail, Blue-winged Teal, Grey Heron, Open-billed Stork, Painted Stork, Cormorants, Large Egret, Little Egrets… I walked in by the lakeside and spotted a good place where I could go to a lower level to capture the Pelicans landing to the lake and also to get a good light in favour of me. And after some hours sitting with them I could see them coming towards me so closer and some will fly on just above my head. I actually enjoyed the six hours in the sanctuary watching these birds’ movements, flying down to the water and carrying food for their chicks and fly back to the nest. I forgot to shoot many beautiful moments! 

The second day was weekend in Chennai, so as expected huge crowd was visible. School students, families, lovebirds, birders and the list goes on… I went to my regular spot and even there I could see lots of people. When I took out my tripod and the 600mm lens after sometime I could hear people whispering from my back that I am a National Geographic photographer, which I took actually as a credit. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings and even its an all time dream for me. So I didn’t try to correct them even though I know I was selfish. Even the second day I could see all the species. But this time because of the huge crowd the birds were staying a little far and didn’t fly over my head as well. But still the whole day was so much interesting. Many children queued behind to see through my lens. I was so happy by seeing their happy faces. With lots of memories we started our drive back to the Chennai city!

Spot billed Pelicans are relatively small birds of this species. They have a large expandable spotted throat pouch, which they use to scoop up fishes from the surface of the water. They have two lines of spots on their beak. During the breeding plumage their color turns to dusky grey and the crown is tufted at the back of the head.  They nest in colonies, mainly in old trees; they use the same tree and same position every year. In India they start to build their nest in September.  From October to November, they lay their eggs, usually a clutch of one to three eggs. The chicks start to fly after 3 months. In a single tree you may be able to find up to 15 nests. We can spot these giants mainly around wetlands, be it freshwater or saline, open or forested areas. These birds usually nest in large colonies near to human habitations.

The main threat these wonderful birds are facing is the environmental changes due to human activities. Their habitats and breeding colonies are often destroyed and sometimes the wetlands are converted into construction /agriculture sites. It’s high time for us to realize that every creature on earth have the right to live their life here, earth is not just for humans!

When I took my flight back to Dubai, I decided to make another trip to Vedanthangal next year, same time but for more days to stay. For each nature lover or anyone it was such a beautiful place that call you back once you visit.




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