Birds don’t need a passport and embassy clearance to cross borders. They are truly free. Many such free birds from far-off places have settled down at Kudurugundi tank near Hassan to spend the winter, attracting bird lovers and photographers. While bird lovers spend time in the twilight hours watching birds, photographers try their lenses to capture them against the backdrop of the sunset.
Painted storks, pelicans, spoonbills, gadwits, egrets, avocets… around 20 to 25 species of birds are seen on the tank premises. Many of them have flown in from central Europe to escape the cold. They will take off in March this year. Bird lovers of Hassan, who are familiar with hotspots of birds in the district, say that this year more number of birds have visited Kudurugundi tank compared to previous years. “I have been visiting this tank for the past 10 years. This time I saw more birds than in previous years. I had not seen pelicans, which were about 20 in the tank, in such numbers before”, said bird watcher and photographer H.T. Yogananda, a banker and native of Hassan. Bird-watching and photography have been hobbies since his school days.
Kudurugundi is one among the very few tanks which have water despite the drought and this is said to be one of the reasons for the increase in the number of birds visiting this place. The University of Mysore recently conducted a district-level camp for students of the National Service Scheme in the village. The students had the privilege of watching rare birds throughout the week of the camp. R. Manjunath, a student from a college in Channarayapatna, said that it was a refreshing experience. “We spent a good amount of time watching the behaviour of birds. It was fascinating to observe their hunting skills”, he said.
Honorary Wildlife Warden H.P. Mohan is one among the few who have been encouraging bird-watching among students through college-level eco-clubs. He sees the need for preserving Kudurugundi tank as a birds’ reserve. “The Forest Department is doing little to safeguard birdlife. There is a separate wing to look after wildlife. But it has not given enough attention towards birdlife”, he said.
Mr. Mohan, with the help of interested students, had conducted an aquatic birds’ census in the district for many years. During his recent visit to Kudurugundi, he noticed that birds were facing threat in their habitat as the tank had been given to a private person for fishing. “The private person, who has got the contract, is rearing fish in the tank. He is obviously worried about his profit as birds also depend on fish. This clearly shows that the government lacks sincerity to preserve the tank”, he said. He called Kudurugundi tank a ‘paradise for photographers’. “The location throws hundreds of angles before photographers.”
The local people have found innovative ways to poach birds. B.S. Ravi Kumar, Professor of Botany at AVK First Grade College in Hassan, said that people stick chewing gum on the stigma of aquatic plants, which the birds consume. “As they pick chewing gum, birds die of respiratory problems. This is an easy way to kill birds and take them home to eat. Efforts to check such operations have been inadequate”, he said.
Dr. Ravi Kumar has been doing a research on birds in Hassan for a UGC-sponsored project. He has been studying birds for the last 20 years.
“Birds choose their place considering food, shelter and safety. They leave the place as soon as they find that it is not safe. Tanks like Kudurugundi attract more birds as human interference is minimal”, he said. He has noticed bar-headed goose, which is considered an endangered species, in tanks of Hassan. “These birds are quite heavy and cannot fly like other light-weight birds. Because of their physical characteristics they become easy prey for poachers. They are found in good numbers in the backwaters of the Hemavati reservoir”, he said.
Shantigrama lake in Hassan taluk, and Janivara lake near Shravanabelagola had been known for attracting a good number of birds every year. However, this year, drought has affected the number of birds visiting these places. “Last year, on February 8, I had photographed hundreds of birds at Shantigrama lake. This year there is not even one as there is no water in the tank”, said Dr. Ravi Kumar.
These bird lovers feel that the government agencies should take up strong measures to safeguard the bird reserves. The first thing the government could do is stop issuing fishing tenders in lakes which are visited by birds. The Forest Department should identify and develop at least two-three birds’ reserves in the district.
They also insisted the younger generation should be encouraged to develop interest in birds. If more and more people were aware of birds and their importance in the ecosystem, they would be protected. Particularly, college students should be taken out to identify birds and study their activities.
Dr. Ravi Kumar said that if efforts were made to safeguard trees around the lake, the birds might stay at the place for a longer time. “Trees are necessary for nesting activities. If birds can have nests, they can breed and stay for long time”, he said.
Kudurugundi tank near Hassan is attracting birds even in the drought season, but problems abound