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Feathered Friends of Vedanathangal

Bibhas K. Dey shares his love of birds through his impressions of the Bird Sanctuay at Vedanthangal, near Chennai.

Every year between December and March, I look forward to visiting some of the bird sanctuaries in and around Chennai. One of the most frequented (and crowded on weekends and public holidays) is the good old Vedanthangal bird sanctuary located approximately 80 km from Chennai. One can see plenty of resident as well as migratory birds here.

My wife, seven year old son and I began our journey on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon. We drove through Mount Road and then continued through GST road. En route, is a junction where the road forks on the left to Chegalpattu. We continued to drive straight down the main highway. Time to slow down is when one reaches the village of Paliyanur.

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When we reached Paliyanur, we took a right turn from the highway through a narrow road to reach the sanctuary. I really enjoyed the drive on this stretch. It was like driving through rural Tamil Nadu. I relished the rustic and idyllic charm it exuded. We reached the sanctuary at 3 pm.

The sanctuary consists of a large body of water interspersed with some islands heavily covered with shrubs and bamboo plants. At the perimeter of the sanctuary, an elevated and crescent shaped brick-laid path takes visitors for a short walk around the sanctuary. As we entered, we noticed the path both on our left and right, but the forest officials were only allowing entry on the left side.

The first striking thing is the sheer numbers of birds. Whichever way we looked, we found the omnipresent painted storks, open-billed storks and grey pelicans. As they are larger birds they get noticed first. After the initial encounter, we started looking through the binoculars and found other species like grey herons, great white egrets, pond herons, cattle egrets, little egrets, intermediate egrets, little cormorants and darters.


All the trees and shrubs were heavily laden with these avian creatures and the whole forests of acacia looked white at the tops. Some of these birds are breeding species and come from distant North Europe, Russia and also from the northern parts of India, to avoid the chilly winter. The congregation of these migratory birds has been happening in Vedanthangal from time immemorial. Even though these birds face many obstacles, they never fail to turn up here at this time of year. Some of these species are resident like painted storks, pond herons, little egrets.

Most of these birds are gregarious in nature. On the same tree, one can see painted storks as well as open-billed storks and pelicans roosting happily. They were all busy building their nests and interacting with each other. They feed on the fishes, small snakes, snails etc that infest the water of the pond that surrounds them. They are continually chattering noisily. They hop from one tree to the other, swoop down to the water, and take away their prized catch to the treetops where they enjoy their meal unhurried and undisturbed, for the most part.

The grey herons and the great white egrets are loners and found in solitude. Their majestic figures standing on the overhung branches over the water are really a feast for the eyes. The cormorants, black in colour, and darters with black body and orangeneck, popularly known as snakebirds, are very fond of water. Often they swim on the water and dip their heads to pick-up a fish or two.


We walked along the bank to see the rest of the sanctuary. There is a watchtower in the sanctuary equipped with a powerful field glass. From the watchtower we had an uninterrupted view of the entire sanctuary. It was breathtaking. The unhindered panoramic view of the wetlands with the numerous islands of shrubs and acacia trees the distant hills touched by the golden rays of the late afternoon sun, the trees and shrubs with hundreds of feathered tenants and their off spring, the cool breeze creating ripples on the water, was mesmeric. Eventually we were compelled to retrace our steps before closing time at 6 pm.

The sanctuary is located 86 Kms from Chennai in Kanchipuram district.
Nearest town: Chegalpattu
Nearest railhead: Chegalpattu, 30 Kms away
Nearest airport: Chennai, 70 Kms away
Another bird sanctuary called Karikili, located 9 Kms away from Vedanthangal.

Getting There:
One can reach the sanctuary by taking a city bus or local train via Tambaram to Chegalpattu. From Chengalpattu there are regular buses which ply to the sanctuary. The best way is to arrange one’s own transport.

Basic information about sanctuary:
Vedanthangal is the oldest bird sanctuary in the country. It has been in existence since 1858. Annual rainfall here is 1200 mm. The sanctuary covers an area of 30 hectares and basically a tank interspersed with numerous small islands dotted with Barringtonia acacia nilotica trees as well as dry evergreen scrubs and thorn bushes.

Best time to visit:
The congregation of birds begins in October. They begin their breeding around that time. The birds leave the sanctuary around February-March. The best season to visit is November-February and the best time of the day is between 3 to 6 pm.

Where to Stay:
One can stay overnight at the forest rest house at Vedanthangal located nearby. For bookings, please contact :
Wildlife Warden’s Office
DMS Compound
Anna Salai, Teynampet
Chennai – 600 006
Tel : (044) 2432 1471

Photo Credit: Bibhas K. Dey

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