Birding in the backwaters

The migration of birds to the Almatti Dam not only attracts birders, but also unlocks lessons on conservation.
Greater flamingo.
Greater flamingo.(File Photo)

VIJAYAPURA: As November approaches South India, the backwaters of the Almatti Dam, built across River Krishna in Vijayapura and Bagalkot districts, turn into an abode for birds, making it a visual treat for birdwatchers and ornithologists.

There are a range of species that arrive from different regions of the world. Some perch themselves over the green patches, while others can be spotted wading around in the water body, or just waddling about. And they come in different sizes, motley colours and varied anatomical features -- a paradise for birding.

Spending their time feeding on small fish, crabs, insects or smaller creatures found in the river, these birds make the backwaters their home till March, before flying back to where they came from.

HB Doni, Range Forest Officer of Bilagi taluk in Bagalkot district, who is also a bird enthusiast, has been collecting data on migratory birds for several years. He has photographed innumerable birds in their natural habitat across the backwaters, and also captured images of territorial birds in Bilagi.

With deep knowledge on the birds, Doni says that until now, his team has identified at least 34 different birds arriving from across the world in the Almatti backwaters and the Krishna’s banks.

Indian cormorant
Indian cormorant

“We have identified at least eight bird trails, of which seven are in the backwaters, and one, a territorial bird trail in the Chinkara Wildlife Sanctuary in Bilagi taluk. The places include Herkal, Chikkasangam, Beerkatti, Mallapur, Bennur, etc.,” he says.

MR Desai, environmentalist and wildlife warden, who has dedicated his life to the protection of wildlife, predominantly migratory birds, informs that these birds fly in from as far as China, Mongolia, Australia, Siberia, Europe, and Alaska.

“They essentially arrive in summer to avoid the harsh winter near the North Pole, where the temperature dips below freezing. There is intense snowfall, with water bodies turning into ice, preventing the birds from finding food. Therefore, before the start of winter, they begin their migration towards the equator, where they find a warmer climate. They fly for at least 7,000 km to reach their desired destinations to feed, breed and hatch their eggs, as they use these places as stopovers,” Desai says.

He adds that since the Almatti backwaters cover a 100-km area, vast shallow ponds are created, fostering an ideal ground for birds to move around and pick up food. The birds that temporarily call the backwaters home include flamingos, spoonbills, pintail ducks, river terns, seagulls, bar-headed geese, and Oriental pratincole. During summers, these migratory birds number over 15,000.

Oriental pranticole
Oriental pranticole

Protection of birds

Meanwhile, officials, aware of the constant threat of the birds being hunted, have appointed watchers at different stations. In order to provide a secure habitat to the birds, so they can live naturally without any mortal fear, the entry of heavy vehicles and sand extraction have also been banned in the area. Local farmers have been sensitised about protecting the birds too, and warned of legal action if they choose to harm the creatures or steal their eggs.

“We have deployed staff to prevent poaching. We observe that if these birds are well-protected, more will come, turning this place into a haven for birding and ornithology,” Desai says. The officials add that they have recommended the government to declare all the stopovers as protected areas, so that these natural habitats are protected.

Desai also feels that awareness must be generated among the local population, about the importance of these birds, not only to their own ecology, but also to life in general in this region. For instance, the birds could naturally tackle any insect menace impacting local agriculture, while they also help in pollination and flag infections, such as avian flu. Hence, people must be educated not to disturb the birds’ natural habitat.

The Almatti backwaters are truly a treasure trove for birding, and a chapter in thoughtful conservation efforts, towards a nature of co-existence.

Bird Festival for awareness

The Karnataka Ecotourism Development Board, in association with the Department of Forest, has organised a three-day ‘Bird Festival’ in the Almatti backwaters for bird lovers. Workshops and field visits are being organised to introduce participants to these migratory birds and their life. The Board holds such events across the country each year, by selecting a particular bird as the mascot of the region, to educate participants. This year, for the Almatti backwaters, the flamingo was chosen as the mascot, as these birds are found in abundance here. Flamingos have an elongated neck, a lamellated beak (with tooth-like ridges used to strain tiny plants and animals from the water), and webbed feet. They are normally found in Kutch, Gujarat, and have been spotted near the Almatti Dam for several years. Ornithologists say that these birds have so much strength in their wings that they can fly for thousands of kilometres without landing.

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