I’ve been a bit of a lazy birder these past few months. I do most of my birding virtually, licking my lips and sighing at the abundance of posts and pictures turned out by internet birders everywhere. In early December, Anitha I began to take morning walks at Kasavanahalli Lake, a location I have written about before. These were not birding walks — they were meant to be brisk, energetic sessions intended for cardiovascular exercise and weight loss. The wife, assuming the role of coach, wouldn’t let me dawdle and waste my time birding. I struck a bargain, though. Sundays, I get to devote my morning to winter birding and suchlike pleasures.
It’s winter, I say. Which birder isn’t excited by those tidings? The past year, the monsoons — both of them — have brought abundant rain. The lake is fuller than in previous years. The marshlands retain more water. Yet, there aren’t as many migrants to be seen. Reading the newspapers have confirmed my fears — even Odisha’s Chilika Lake has seen fewer migratory birds this year.
The Blyth’s Reed-warbler, whose chek-chek announces winter, straggled in a few days behind schedule. I’ve scanned the marshes and the thickets frenetically, but I’ve seen no other reed warblers. As for the wintering wagtails, there was barely any sign until a few days ago when I saw a small number of Western Yellow Wagtails huddled on a tree in the early morning. I began to despair. In previous years, I have seen this lake and the nearby Kaikondrahalli Lake play host to a full spread of migrants — from raptors and waders and terns to ducks like Northern Pintails.
Two years ago, the swamps between Kaikondrahalli Lake and Kasavanahalli Lake hosted Common Moorhens, Black-winged Stilts, three species of sandpipers and Common Teals. Today, that entire stretch of swamp has been filled up with refuse and turned into a gigantic garbage dump. The birds are gone. Kaikondrahalli Lake is a sad ghost of itself. But it struggles and its wealth of birdlife has been dimmed but not extinguished. It’s only a matter of time, though, before all is lost.
I have a lot of pictures from two recent mornings spent at Kasavanahalli Lake. This lake, too, is hemmed in by towering buildings and raw sewage is seeping from these apartments into the southern corner of the lake. The dung-spattered walking paths are proof that once the walkers are gone, cows are allowed to graze. People walk their dogs and a licensed gang controls the fishing, but there remains a certain wilderness that I treasure about this place. I’ve seen basking Checkered Keelbacks and skulking mongooses on my cycling trips here, and I’m certain that one of these days a surprise will emerge.
It’s not just the birds that ruffle the nature-lover’s soul in this urban wilderness. Snakes can be seen basking in the mellow winter sun. The flowering of seasonal trees marks the passage of time. The ecology of water and vegetation offers plenty of grist to the curious mind. Feral dogs and pigs have the run of the place, and sometimes they pose a threat to nesting birds.
Winter birding is not what it used to be. Time was when a short foray outside Bangalore produced an enviable list of waders and ducks. Today, the birder must travel far, and often fruitlessly, to salvage these sights. But then again, if we do what we must as citizens to preserve our lakes, we can assure ourselves of at least one more winter birding pleasure.