Towards the end of last summer I was being a workhorse for my company, deployed on a project in Hyderabad. I happened to read in the newspaper about Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) being spotted at the city’s Osman Sagar Lake, popularly known as the Gandipet lake. As I had never before seen flamingos, I made a mental note to brave the blazing summer heat and scout the place once before I left. The chance came when my friend Subbu said he would be glad to take me there. Early one Sunday morning, Subbu picked me up on his bike and off we went to look for flamingos.
Once we reached the place we looked around the lake bund road for flamingos, but in vain. (The lake is man-made. In 1920, Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam of Hyderabad, created the lake by damming a tributary of the Musi River known as Isa). Then we moved away from the bund road to another side of the lake. We took a mud road that looked like it was a path to the lake. The path ended at a tall fence built around this side of the lake. To our luck we found a gap in the fence and made our way in.
As we walked toward the water’s edge, which was about 200 meters away (the water had receded due to the intense summer heat), I spotted the first bird – a Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia). It was foraging in one of the shallow pools that formed as the water receded further away into the remainder of the sprawling lake.
As I was watching the spoonbill I spied a movement ahead – a Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius). Ah, finally! I had been longing to see this little fella for quite a long time. It continued foraging but was always on high alert, looking at me every once in a while just to make sure I maintained the right distance.
The sound of a Red Wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus) made me look away from the plover and look up, only to spot a distant cloud of pink floating away from us to the other end of the lake. I was elated and dejected at the same time as I saw the flock of flamingos gradually becoming a distant speck of pink in the sky.
But I soon got my enthusiasm back for I had seen another bird I had not seen before – the Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark (Eremopterix griseus). The smart male boldly perched on a rock and surveyed his territory.
There was another bird not far away. A Crested Lark (Galerida cristata).
As Subbu and I observed the birds, we spotted the flock of pink making its way back from the opposite end of the lake. The flamingos came towards our side of the lake but soon started disappearing from view as they moved to a far corner of the lake.
I called Subbu and set a brisk pace in the general direction of the flock, hoping that they would not leave the lake and go somewhere else. As we were walking, almost running you could say, we came upon an Asian Openbill (Anastomus oscitans) flying right past us. It landed right next to the water’s edge and started foraging. Soon after that came a River Tern (Sterna aurantia) sporting its clear breeding plumage.
Suddenly the lazy morning seemed abuzz with bird activity or, rather, sightings. Next up was the Small Pratincole (Glareola lactea). There were two of them calling close by but I could spot them only when they moved, thanks to their plumage that blends well with their open habitat. Grimmett and Inskipp describe it as sandy grey, but to me it seemed more sandy than grey.
As we walked further, I came upon a Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) in the exact way Salim Ali describes it in The Book of Indian Birds – head and neck submerged in the water and the hind part of the body sticking out at a steep angle, probing for food.
Soon this one was joined by a few more and they started foraging in the same area. They were probing the mud near the bank of the lake, probably looking for worms or aquatic insects.
After observing them for some time, Subbu and I moved on, only to turn a corner and see a flock of Glossy Ibises (Plegadis falcinellus) foraging in shallow water.
As I was trying to get a few photos of the ibises, I saw a small flock of flamingos flying overhead and going further. I quickly followed to find them joining the larger flock that we saw earlier, in a shallow corner of the lake.
Subbu and I sat ourselves down near the water’s edge and spent some quality time with the flamingos. We observed them going through their routine – they fed lazily, chattered loudly and even squabbled intermittently, at least that’s what it looked like to me. There was also a Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) near us, in beautiful breeding plumage.
After spending close to an hour with the flamingos, the seething heat of Hyderabad’s late summer morning told us it was time to leave. As I left, I couldn’t help but fret over the threats to this wonderful lake. All around the lake were buildings. How long would the lake be able to survive the pressure of encroachments and the real estate lobby? For now, it is safe, I guess, as the lake is a source of water to the parched twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. The lake should belong to all its denizens. It is their home. It is their oasis!
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