Shutter Therapy at Annamalaicheri, Pulicat

 

After two trips to Ranganathittu, we were really bitten by the birding bug and wanted to venture out of Bangalore to see something different. We are entering the summer here and we are close to ending the birding season other than the local species. We had heard of flamingo sighting in Pulicat in Chennai. Being born and partially brought up I Chennai, this was a surprise for me and I wanted to have a look and photograph the vibrant flamingos and more importantly see them for the first time. 

 After weeks of planning, we decided on a common weekend off work, rented a couple of telephoto lenses and headed to Chennai. I took the Double Decker and had a cramped but neverthless  uneventful trip. On reaching Chennai, I went straight to a parotta shop to have the famous 'koththu porotta'. Booked a Fasttrack cab for the next morning to take me to Pulicat and hit the bed. 

Woke up at 3 a.m., and left home at 6 a.m., to reach the placeby 7 a.m., hopefully to catch a glimpse of the birds during their favourite hours.

 

Thanks to my cousin Paul, who had so helpfully provided the location and contact details of the boatman, we had no trouble in locating the place. This was just after the famous St. Jude's Church in Minjur that I so often visit with my family not knowing what lay just a few kilometres beyond. Anyway, its never too late for something as good as this. We stopped on the shores of Annamalaicheri which is a little fishing village on the border of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. We were forewarned that there would not be any place to have breakfast, so we had packed our supply of bread, butter, cheese and plenty of water. We quickly had breakfast and waited for the boatman. He promptly took us out to sea. 

As soon as we left shore, Annamalai, our boatman showed us what we came there in the first place - Flamingos. It was mixed reactions at looking at the birds. There were so many and so far. I had with me a Sigma 150-500mm and it was nowhere enough to fill the frame with sufficient details of the birds. To add to my woes, the lens I had was not sharp at all at 500mm and it seemed like a doomed trip. And then, as if to lift my spirits, a couple of Egrets came my way and  offered me, as usual, some spectacular shots. This bolstered my somewhat sagging spirits. I also came to the conclusion that I would be making my images with subjects that were in the range of 400mm. Sigh.

Next off, I spotted gulls for the first time. I've been to beaches in Chennai and Pondicherry where all you see are crows. So I had always assumed that gulls were not endemic to India. Guess I was wrong again. They are beautiful, pure white underbody with spots of grey on the head or otherwise and black tipped wings and reddish beaks. They were swooping down to catch fish from the lagoon or from the fishing boats that had already done the fishing part for them. 

I then turn around and I see a tern of course (pun intended). These guys are are slender, lightly built birds with long, forked tails, narrow wings, long bills, and relatively short legs. They are pale grey above and white below with black spots on the head. Their wings make amazing patterns as they fly overhead giving off wonderful highlights in the various wing positions. They were beautiful to photograph. There were also the common terns with a black cap on their heads who I could not photograph as they were flying a lot higher and too damn fast.

I had read up on Wikipedia about the raptors in the area and in the list were the White Bellied Sea Eagle, the Harrier, Peregrine Falcons and Osprey. I was thrilled about the possibility of seeing an Osprey! I don't know why, but I love them and spent countless hours reading up on them and being their images and videos on the internet. I had a hope in hell to catch a glimpse of one and it was an awesome experience to actually see one on your very first outing to Pulicat. The bird was a speck in the lagoon when our boatman pointed it out to us. I quickly looked through the lens and my heart skipped a beat. It was an Osprey! We spent the next 45 mins trying to crouch in the most uncomfortable positions on the boat to keep steady as we were handholding at 500 and 600 mm (the other was a Sigma 150-600 lens and a beauty at that). We had swapped lens and I was ogling away at the Osprey in all 600mm of glory and it was still a postcard size image that I would be making. I knew at this distance, the image would involve a lot of cropping and I had to be really stead to expose correctly for the bird against the harsh blinding light of the hot summer morning and the equally reflective pale blue of the lagoon. It didn't make it any easy that the Osprey was extremely shy (you're a fierce Raptor for crying out loud!) and would graceful take off and perch further away (oh! the frustration). Annamalai patiently took us around the bird and this guy knows a thing or two about photography and took us around to ensure the bird was not in the shadows. We then camped ourselves and fired away for a good 30 minutes before my friend tried to be Jesus and got down from the boat to walk on water. Seconds later, the Osprey took off and I made a series of images which, my friends, is my pièce de résistance